A request to the CHS for support on the Christchurch Replacement District Plan Heritage Trees Policy

[notice]See the Givealittle Campaign www.givealittle.co.nz/fundraiser/saveheritagetrees[/notice]

Subject: Proposed Christchurch Replacement District Plan and Reopening of the Hearing on Significant and Exceptional Trees

1. Background

1.1 In 2015 the Christchurch Civic Trust and Others (hereafter “the submitters”) made submission on the proposed Christchurch Replacement District Plan (pCRDP), which is being conducted under special legislation: Order 2015, promulgated by Order in Council (OIC) under the CERA legislation. The OIC gives wide powers to the Independent Hearing Panel (IHP) chaired by Sir John Hansen.

1.2 The submitters were particularly concerned about the Council’s proposed new tree evaluation method, CTEM, which failed 80% of the trees on private land registered under the Operative Christchurch and Banks Peninsula District Plans. In summary, the submitters were particularly concerned that:

  • Only 17 of 1623 trees had been assessed for exceptional landscape values, and very few for exceptional heritage or botanical merit, under the Council’s new method;
  • The method does not include a landscape architectural assessment component when assessing a tree or tree group’s significance;
  • The method fails native trees at a proportionally higher rate than exotic species.
  • Collectively, these failings have potentially significant detrimental effects on the landscape of the city.

1.3  The mediated agreement between Council and the Civic Trust and Others was an endeavour to adjust the method to compensate for these shortcomings. It was reached through four sessions of IHP required mediation.

1.4 The submitters have engaged in good faith throughout in the process set down by the IHP. This included two days of hearings, a further session of IHP required mediation, and responding on expert and legal issues, again as required by the IHP. This has been at considerable cost to the parties, both in terms of time and cost for the three key experts as well as legal costs.

1.5 I also note that environmental legal aid was declined because the pCRDP, while effectively a court, is not the Environment Court or a Board of Inquiry. There is also no right of appeal on matters of fact to the Environment Court, only on points of law to the High Court.

1.6 The hearing process finally closed on 20 May. However, on 21 June the IHP issued a Direction reopening the process by way of limited renotification to tree owners affected by the mediated agreement who had not made submission. The reason was that the process had not been fair to those owners because Council’s notification letter had not made the process sufficiently clear to them.

1.7 The submitters responded on 30 June by way of memorandum of counsel, questioning the limited renotification process and also raising issues of fairness and certainty over the process.

2. The Current Situation: Issues

2.1 One hundred and four late submissions have been received, seeking that approximately 250 trees not be reinstated on the register. Retention of a further 27 trees is either accepted or reinstatement actively supported. A fast track hearing process has been set down.

2.2 The Civic Trust & Others have concerns around how can respond fairly to the 250 trees and their owners concerns without an arboricultural inspection and potentially a landscape assessment in some cases. However, the fast track timeframe set down makes this very difficult, so the Trust's experts will only be able to respond to example trees that it believes are representative, rather than all trees.

3. Council has Resiled From The Mediated Agreement

3.1 As a result of this process, the Council have now effectively resiled from the Mediated Agreement, for reasons that the Trust and Others do not consider are warranted by the submissions received. The Trust considers that the appropriate response would be to address the site specific concerns raised in terms of safety, amenity and the site specific needs of earthquake recovery.

3.2 The Trust is gravely concerned at what it sees as a serious breach of good faith by the Council and very grateful for any support Canterbury Horticultural Society and its members can give under these very difficult circumstances.

Lindsay Carswell
cc. Christchurch Civic Trust and Others