Auckland Council fells Waitākere Tree Services in court

Auckland Council fells Waitākere Tree Services in court

Waitākere Tree Services Limited (WTSL) was recently fined US$32,500 in Auckland District Court for a notable tree felled without a resource permit at 218 Manukau Road.

The tree care company was hired to remove vegetation on the Manukau Road site in December 2020 and was instructed to remove all trees. Before undertaking the work, WTSL checked the Notable Tree Register on Auckland Council’s website but could not find that the tree was protected.

Later that day, the site’s developer, Eden Developments, noticed that the tree had been removed and informed Auckland Council that a tree of note had been removed.

Auckland Council submitted that the defendants, WTSL and its associate, failed to carry out adequate checks to ensure that the tree they felled was not a remarkable tree and that all the defendants had a high level of bear the blame.

“They should have known about the status of the tree,” says Kerri Fergusson, Auckland Council’s compliance and investigations manager.

“You have experience in arboriculture matters; This is her specialty. Failure to carry out adequate controls is not an excuse. This sends a clear message to those working in this area: appropriate controls need to be in place,” she adds.

It was learned that developer Eden Developments and developer Stonewood Group Limited had received a tree care report for the site which disclosed the status of the tree, but this was not presented to the defendants.

Judge Dickey said she was “concerned by the existence of an arboriculture report that the contractor received but did not submit to the WTSL prior to the release of the property.”

She said she had little doubt that the tree would not have been destroyed if it had been disclosed.

However, Judge Dickey still concluded that the company, WTSL, and Mr Mills-Houghton, the owner, had been negligent in checking the register and that the company’s controls should have been tighter.

“While performing a website audit, the notation for this tree was missing due to the way the audit facility is set up. The omission was compounded by the fact that people ‘on the ground’ relied only on the advice of their employer rather than making their own assessment and carrying out further checks.

“While there was no willful non-compliance, obviously the defendants should have known better as they have qualified individuals with experience in the field,” she added.

Both defendants expressed remorse and offered to take steps to put matters right. They tried to replace the copper beech with the most mature beech they could find on the North Island.

Judge Dickey noted that the environmental impact of the tree’s loss was serious “since the qualities it offered could not be easily reproduced and the destruction of such a tree meant the community would be deprived of its benefits for at least one generation.”