Protecting the Trees and Green Space in Bureta – 80 Ngatai Road, Tauranga

Protecting the Trees and Green Space in Bureta, Tauranga.

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The Chapel Street Reserve, with a view to the land behind Countdown, and the trees under threat where Mike Greer Homes plans to build houses on 56 lots, in a residential development.

Last week, residents in Bureta were shocked to learn that land which they thought was part of a local reserve will be developed for housing. The development, by Mike Greer Homes, means not only the loss of a significant part of a much-used local green space, but of 27 mature (over 40 year old) trees that the Tauranga City Council itself once recognised as ‘notable’.

In April 2018 Mike Greer Homes received consent from the council to build houses on 56 lots at 80 Ngatai Road, the space between Countdown and the Chapel Street Reserve, in Bureta, Tauranga. The council deemed that public consultation was unnecessary as there were ‘no special circumstances’ – no persons would be ‘adversely affected’ by the development and the environmental impact would be ‘less than minor’.
Perturbed residents disagree however. When a fence was erected by Mike Greer Homes
on Friday 1 June 2018 it was the first indication for many people that this ‘park’, was not
public reserve as they perceived.

The trees there were planted around 1974, when the land was owned by the Otumoetai
Licensing Trust and it is thought that two specimens came from the royal palace. Whilst 18 of the trees were once on the council’s protected tree list, updates to the City Plan in 2012 stripped them of their protected status. Perhaps of greatest concern to residents is that inspection of the landscaping assessment, submitted by Mike Greer Homes to the council for consent appears to indicate that none of the existing trees have been included in the proposed development.

tracy giacon concerned resident in front of 80 Ngatai Rd beyond the fence
Tracy Giacon – Kindergarten Manager

A group of residents took to the streets on Sunday 11 June 2018 to express their deep concern about the public’s loss of the green space and the (unconfirmed by Mike Greer Homes) felling of the trees. Residents feel that something of great value and importance has been ignored in this case and that it is still possible to remedy. The group are requesting that representatives from the council and Mike Greer Homes meet with locals to discuss the issue and see what can be done to protect the area and the trees involved.

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The land, including the formerly protected trees, for which Mike Greer Homes received consent to develop houses on 56 lots.

The trees and their un/protected status.

History of the Bureta parkland:

1974  Otumoetai Licensing Trust Hotel opens, 27 trees planted in arboretum style, apparently including two from the Queen’s Palace.

1996  ‘Otumoetai Trust’ bought by ‘Tauranga Charitable Trust’. Renamed Bureta Park Motor Inn.

2009  Bureta Park Motor Inn goes into liquidation and bought by Perry Property.

2010  18 trees on the site lose their Tauranga City Council protected status.

2012 Perry Charitable Trust sold to Progressive Enterprise Ltd.

2016 The eastern 1.4 ha section containing 27 mature trees sold to Mike Greer Homes.

April 2018 Mike Greer Homes obtains consent to build houses on 56 lots at 80 Ngatai Rd.

1 June 2018 Mike Greer Homes erects a fence shocking many residents into the realisation that the previously accessible green space and trees are not part of the Chapel Street Reserve.

aerial shot from murray guy
An aerial view of the land from 1977, showing the then newly planted arboretum east of the hotel, thought to include two trees from the royal palace.
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The area in the present day, with the newly erected fence built by Mike Greer Homes, which shocked many locals into the realisation that the trees and green space beyond the fence were not a part of the Chapel Street Reserve.

 

The trees on the Bureta site were planted in around 1974, when the land was owned by the Otumoetai Licensing Trust and a hotel was built there. It is thought that the trees were intended to form an arboretum, due to their expert positioning which allows natural light to filter through the canopy. The arboretum includes Pohutakawa, Ash, Elm, Oak, Evergreen Magnolia, Liquid Amber, Silk, and Gingko trees. Whilst currently numbering 27 (including one sick/dying specimen standing in the most flooded part of the property) 18 of these trees were once on the Tauranga City Council’s protected trees list. Apparently two of the trees came from the Queen’s Palace. We are waiting to hear back from Tauranga City Council regarding the names and locations of those 18 trees, and which two have royal heritage. 

A mere 6 years ago, the City Plan saw approximately 1500 trees in Tauranga lose their protected status, including the 18 trees at the Bureta Park site – 80 Ngatai Road. Only 338 trees and 10 groups of trees (on both public and private land) are now specified in the City Plan overall. Up until then the protected status of the trees were often referenced as a barrier to the development of the Bureta site.

However if these trees were until fairly recently considered to be significant enough to be registered by the council, even though this was stopped, for unclear reasons, have they really become any less significant? And was the public included in this decision-making process?

The link below will take you to Chapter 6 of the City Plan:

“Section 6B and Appendices 6E and 6F set out the policy around protected trees and groups of trees in the City Plan. The specified trees and groups of trees require resource consent for their removal or disturbance.”http://econtent.tauranga.govt.nz/data/city_plan/ch/6/6_natural_features_and_landscapes_provisions.pdf

Previous newspaper articles on the potential development of the site included the following:

“The site also includes a number of mature tree specimens. A number of these trees were previously afforded protection (as Landscape Trees) under the District Plan. This protection however no longer exists given the operative status of the Notable Tree provisions of the Proposed Tauranga City Plan. “http://econtent.tauranga.govt.nz/data/documents/committee_meetings/2012/October/AGEN%20HComm%2031.10.12%20-%20DC360-a.pdf

“The area to the east of the site, towards downtown Tauranga, which had several mature trees, was a reserve owned by Tauranga City Council and would remain the same. Potential problems included the increase in traffic and a need to cut down 18 protected trees. The development also marginally exceeds the maximum permitted coverage area for the site, and it was the same site hit hard by the May 2005 floods.”https://www.nzherald.co.nz/bay-of-plenty-times/news/article.cfm?c_id=1503343&objectid=10982882

The unique natural value of this area.

The Bureta parkland (Chapel Street Reserve / 80 Ngatai Road development site) is unique. The collection of mostly European trees tell a story like no other green space in Tauranga. They create a gateway to the Otumoetai and Matua Peninsula, at a mere 2km / 5 minute drive from the CBD. It is a flat and sunny corner site, making it visible and inviting. It isn’t coastal, and doesn’t host a playground, allowing families to engage with pure green nature. They are not a ‘necklace’ of trees around an open ‘active’ or ‘event’ space such as Wharepai Domain. They are not a 20 minute drive away from the CBD like McLaren Falls Park or Waipuna Park, the latter again an accompaniment to an ‘active’ space and ‘playground’. They are not sandwiched between homes such as the Walnut Grove in Omokoroa. It is a rare space and grove.

As the endless subdivision of the quarter acre block continues and the size of the average back ‘garden’ shrinks, large green spaces like this are essential for the wellbeing of those around it. Yet where is Tauranga’s ‘Hagley Park’, Auckland-style ‘Domain’, ‘Hyde Park’, ‘Central Park’, ‘Green Park’, or ‘Hamilton Gardens’?

The map below reveals just how sparse tree-covered land is in residential areas within the Otumoetai/Matua peninsula. The loss of the 27 trees would constitute a significant chunk of tree space in the area overall.

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Will Mike Greer Homes honour the trees on the land? Only a week ago a fence went up severing Chapel Street Reserve from 80 Ngatai Road. The fence-builder was very cordial and suggested that residents contact Mike Greer Homes, the owner of this once publicly perceived parkland.

A couple of residents spoke with Mike Greer Homes, who confirmed there was development due on the site, and to visit Tauranga City Council in regard to the details and plans of that development, and whether the trees were going to remain.

This lead them to view the Landscape Assessment, among other plans. Within the Assessment is a full-list of the trees that will feature within the development, yet no mention of retaining any of the 27 trees currently onsite. It is perhaps difficult to imagine how Mike Greer Homes would both honour the plan (submitted to, and approved by Council for Resource Consent) and accomodate saving any of the existing trees.

A representative of concerned locals phoned Mike Greer Homes again before drafting this document, to continue dialogue and gain further clarity as to whether the trees were ‘on death row’ or not, as well as to give Mike Greer Homes an opportunity for positive PR by jumping onto the back of these communications. At the time of writing it was unclear where Mike Greer Homes stands on the fate of the 27 trees. There was no strong response as to whether or how many trees would remain and whether or how many trees would be destroyed.

The council’s recognition of the importance of inner city reserves and green areas is expressed through it’s Open Space Strategy. In it the council swears to protect and preserve the open space network from inappropriate use and development: “Protection Council uses legislation such as the Reserves Act 1977, Local Government Act 2002 and the Resource Management Act 1991 to protect and preserve the open space network from inappropriate use and development. Advocacy Through strategic documents, plans and information Council can advocate the importance of open space to the community.” http://www.tauranga.govt.nz/Portals/0/data/council/strategies/files/open_space_strategy.pdf

The open space strategy also states that “(t)his open space is significantly impacted by population growth in Tauranga with pressure on the use of land and more people wanting access to open space areas. The development and protection of the open space network and improvements to the quality of open space is therefore increasingly important. The community has told us how important open space is through strategic documents like SmartGrowth and Tauranga Tomorrow. Consultation undertaken on Smart Living Places has strongly supported the need to ensure sufficient provision of open space in Residential Intensification Areas. Smart Economy recognises the need to provide high quality open space and that this is an integral part of creating vibrant living centres. The ability to achieve a compact and balanced “live, work, play” environment as promoted by SmartGrowth could not be achieved without the provision of good quality open space such as parks and urban spaces. The Open Space Strategy responds to the issues and opportunities outlined in these strategic documents. The Open Space Strategy response to the population growth of Tauranga is to ensure existing open spaces are retained and valued, and future open space opportunities are recognised. The Open Space Strategy sets the direction to link existing open spaces with the coast, rivers, green corridors and the hills. The Strategy encourages consideration of both qualitative and quantitative open space planning to provide a good quality open space environment and the continued provision of open space to meet the needs of current and future generations. “- http://www.tauranga.govt.nz/Portals/0/data/council/strategies/files/open_space_strategy.pdf

Then how did the acquisition of this unique parkland get overlooked by council, failing to align with it’s own open space strategy? Did they neglect to identify the opportunity and therefore neglected to acquire? And does an inventory of present open spaces need to be completed so future opportunities are not missed?

“Council needs to ensure that future passive open space opportunities are identified in a reserve acquisition plan.”http://www.tauranga.govt.nz/Portals/0/data/council/strategies/files/open_space_strategy.pdf

The Council was aware any development on this Bureta site would be ‘swallowing a big chunk of the parkland on the eastern side of the motor inn.’

“The Tauranga City Council hearings panel chaired by Cr Greg Brownless ruled in favour of allowing Perry Developments to transform the site, which included swallowing a big chunk of the parkland on the eastern side of the motor inn. Barring an appeal, the Hamilton-based company has five years to  begin the staged development which will transform the site into 86 residential units, nine shops and an 1100sq m restaurant/bar and gaming complex…- https://www.nzherald.co.nz/bay-of-plenty-times/news/article.cfm?c_id=1503343&objectid=10989526

And yet from a previous resource consent application by Perry Homes for the development of the land it concluded that “The panel was also satisfied with assessments from the applicant and council experts that the effects arising from the loss of 18 protected landscape trees would be no more than minor. It noted that the redevelopment called for comprehensive site landscaping, including new specimen trees..”https://www.nzherald.co.nz/bay-of-plenty-times/news/article.cfm?c_id=1503343&objectid=10989526.

The loss of 18 protected trees would be no more than MINOR?

Globally, there’s a shift in thinking, organisations are directing councils and therefore developers to value (retain and indeed expand) green-space, protect established trees to combat environmental strain as more of us move into urban spaces.

An agreement called the New Urban Agenda will be launched, to address the challenges facing a growing global urban population that already accounts for over 50% of us…The document is littered with references to green spaces being essential for mental and physical health, community building and performing urgent ecological tasks. Research has turned up fascinating evidence as to why town councils, planners and developers – in whose hands the fate of urban trees lies – should take heed.” – https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/oct/12/importance-urban-forests-money-grow-trees?CMP=share_btn_fb

The value of trees in general is undeniable. There’s recent evidence that living around trees reduces violence, prevents infant mortality and death from circulatory diseases. Trees absorb carbon (i.e. carbon monoxide, car fuel emissions), provide oxygen (what we need to breathe, and along these lines they also reduce asthma), offer a habitat for wildlife such as birds, bees and butterflies, create an environment for people to retreat to (essential for our wellbeing), prevent flooding, muffle road sound, and (no wonder they) increase a property value by 20%.

The article referenced from The Guardian goes into detail:

https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/oct/12/importance-urban-forests-money-grow-trees?CMP=share_btn_fb

In areas with more trees,” says Bird, “people get out more, they know their neighbours more, they have less anxiety and depression. Being less stressed,” he continues, “gives them more energy to be active”. But you can’t fob people off with an empty playing field, he says. “People won’t want to go there. We are still programmed as hunter gatherers who look for trees, biodiversity, water and safety.https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/oct/12/importance-urban-forests-money-grow-trees?CMP=share_btn_fb

What is important to remember here, is this is not about saving green-space, with ordinary trees. 18 of these trees were protected a mere 6 years ago, and lost that protected status in 2012, with the changes to the City Plan. Two of these trees reportedly descend from the Royal Palace. These 27 trees were planted almost 1/2 a century ago in 1974. These trees are mature, which gives them valuable properties:

“Mature trees clean air, lower stress, boost happiness, reduce flood risk – and even save municipal money. So why are they cut down when cities develop – and how should the UN’s new urban agenda protect them?”https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/oct/12/importance-urban-forests-money-grow-trees?CMP=share_btn_fb

“A big tree removes 60 to 70 times the pollution than a small tree.”http://projectevergreen.org/resources/environmental-benefits-of-green-space/.

Regardless of its Open Space Policy, the Council should stop allowing mature trees (that pose no risk to people) to be cut as part of its climate change policy. Mature trees are important CO2 absorbers.

“A tree can absorb as much as 48 pounds of carbon dioxide per year and can sequester 1 ton of carbon dioxide by the time it reaches 40 years old.”  https://projects.ncsu.edu/project/treesofstrength/treefact.htm

That makes 26 tons (one per tree) per year. Oaks and possibly some of the other trees can live more than 100 years, so that’s another 60×26 = 1560 tons of carbon sequestration capacity that stands to be destroyed. Councils should not allow any areas with a significant number of mature trees to be cleared for development – they should be protected as an integral element in their climate change policies, or the developers must be required to work around them in a way that their survival is ensured. Yes the new landscape plan includes a number of new trees, but at 2m each they provide little sequestration of CO2 compared with the existing giants, and will take decades to reach that same capacity. Isn’t sequestration required NOW?

Again, this loss is not insignificant. Why was and is the council not thinking in these terms?

Whilst residents’ primary concern is for the protection of the trees, many also question the suitability of the land for development. Mike Greer Homes is the third owner of this property since is was sold to Perry Property in 2009. Within the consent process, whilst Perry Developments were the owners, there was feedback the property was unsuitable for development due to increased traffic and flooding. Apparently over the near to 10 years of toing and froing of consents, flooding and increased traffic are no longer issues? “Potential problems included the increase in traffic and a need to cut down 18 protected trees. The development also marginally exceeds the maximum permitted coverage area for the site, and it was the same site hit hard by the May 2005 floods. https://www.nzherald.co.nz/bay-of-plenty-times/news/article.cfm?c_id=1503343&objectid=10982882

Further explanation is also required regarding ‘the conflict of interest’ between Perry Housing (a former owner of the property when 80 Ngatai Road, and the site where Countdown now stands, were one) and Tauranga City Council as lawyer Rob Patterson points out:

“The application was lodged in the name of Perry Property, described as the trading name of Perry Developments.  However a submission to last month’s hearing from Mount Maunganui lawyer Rob Paterson resulted in the panel deciding to give their decision “greater certainty” by issuing it in the name of Perry Developments. Mr Paterson was also concerned with a potential conflict of interest from councillor commissioners hearing the application because Perry Foundation, part of the Perry Group, was a council city partner.” – https://www.nzherald.co.nz/bay-of-plenty-times/news/article.cfm?c_id=1503343&objectid=10989526

Furthermore if this is an attempt for the council and developers to create much need “affordable housing in Tauranga, it is unclear whether these homes will fall into that category. A commentator in a previous newspaper article stated that as a development would be set in what is possibly perceived as a prime location and “Considering the high value of the land, he was not surprised that a high-density development was proposed. He expected an upmarket development because of the price paid for the land in a sought-after location close to town and harbour.” – https://www.nzherald.co.nz/bay-of-plenty-times/news/article.cfm?c_id=1503343&objectid=11575521

The lack of public consultation in this matter

In Tauranga City Council’s documentation granting Mike Greer Homes resource consent for the site it states that “The application has been assessed against section 95B of the RMA. Limited notification of the application is not mandatory. There is no rule or national environmental standard that specifically precludes notification and the application is for an activity other than those specified in s95B(6)(b). The activity will not result in any adversely affected persons.”

Also that The proposed density on the site will have a less than minor effect on the landscape character of the area. There are no special circumstances that warrant the application being limited notified to any persons. As such the application can be processed without notification.”

children playing in Chapel Street Reserve, with 80 Ngatai Rd beyond the fence
Local children play at Chapel Street Reserve and ask why they can’t play beyond the fence at 80 Ngatai Road, in the ‘yellow trees’ they love.

 

And yet, as mentioned earlier, such a large, open, big tree-ed, entirely green space (rather than playground spaces with trees) in the middle of a residential area is rare in this city. Is it the Yatton Park of Otumoetai? Many locals were under the impression that some or all of the area adjacent to the Chapel St Reserve was simply part of the reserve – for many years. It was accessible to all, and it was used extensively by locals. The area was unfenced, with the public regularly passing through the space on their way to the supermarket or bus stop. Others would lie under the arboretum trees for respite on a hot summer’s day, or in solitude for ‘time out’ in a safe space out of sight of the road. Dog owners threw sticks and played with their pets who could run freely through the space. Parents would take children out to burn off energy in a positive way and de-stress when cabin fever hit. Even the youngest students from the nearby Pillan’s Point School were taken on an annual ‘Autumn Walk’ in the space, enjoying the colours and purity of the natural environment. Even commuters, simply driving by and looking into the space, will have benefited from the therapeutic effects of the arboretum trees’ natural beauty as they were often brought to a snail’s pace on Chapel street during the morning rush hour. (Not to mention the non-human space-dwellers – monarch butterflies in the silk tree, and sparrows and blackbirds who call the arboretum home.) For locals there is no comparable alternative to this deep and private green. The potential loss of this space is not of ‘less than minor’ significance as suggested by the council. MANY people will be adversely affected and feel that on this basis the proposal should have been notified, with locals given the opportunity to make submissions.

In discussions with the public there has been mixed awareness regarding the sale and potential development of the site. Some have responded with a sense of urgency. A Facebook page (Protect the Trees and Green Space in Bureta) set up to campaign for the trees reached over 150 members in just a few days. A survey has been distributed to 350 local homes to collate the community’s feedback. The survey may have been the first indication many locals had regarding the potential development of the site.

During a peaceful protest held at Chapel St Reserve, to raise awareness of the issue amongst the local community on Sunday 11 June, several members of the public were outraged and flabbergasted by the proposal. An elderly local said that he’d been there since the 1960s and was under the impression that the arboretum trees were part of the reserve. Like many, he doesn’t oppose a new development, but feels it is a no-brainer to keep the trees. Another neighbour said that he presently looks out upon the trees, and he’s unhappy about the prospect of that view changing. The health department knows that patients with beds next to the window with views of green spaces heal faster, and have better health outcomes than patients without. It is surely the same for these neighbours. The Mike Greer Homes Landscape Assessment submitted within the Tauranga City Council consent application itself says that “Those who view the change from their homes are considered to be highly sensitive. The attractiveness or otherwise of the outlook from their home will have a significant effect on their perception of the quality and acceptability of their home environment and their general quality of life.” It is fair to say that many people will be adversely affected by the proposed build, and (unless this is now to be an expected, inevitable and accepted aspect of urban living?) ought to have been given a voice in this process.

What are the criteria for whether something effects a minor loss or a major loss? Is there another site like this exists in Tauranga Moana, even to buy? Another site which could be Otumoetai’s “Yatton Park” or like Auckland’s Cornwall Park? The council should have known this.  When development was broached with the public in the past the trees and green space were a matter of interest to locals –

“Vale St neighbour Neal Butt said the interesting thing would be to see if the council agreed to access off Ngatai Rd, and how many of the trees would be felled to accommodate the units” https://www.nzherald.co.nz/bay-of-plenty-times/news/article.cfm?c_id=1503343&objectid=11575521

Along these same lines of public consultation, were locals informed when the 18 trees lost their protected status (or wider tauranga about the other 1000+ trees)? If not, why? It is a shame that it took a fence public blocking access from the area for residents to realise they needed to use their voices to protect trees, as no one had asked them before; and yet at the same time many fear it is now ‘too late’.

The council’s stance on the protection of trees needs review – public option on certain matters can change quickly. Look at how people’s attitudes towards plastic has increased as awareness has been raised regarding its devastating effects on ocean wildlife. It has been the same with trees. People know more of the importance of trees for the wellbeing of people and planet now than in 2010 when the City Plan changed. Maybe it is time to ask Tauranga residents how they feel about their city’s trees and rewrite the book on their protection?

Overall, in the case of the Bureta development, given the lack of public consultation, and the extent to which many locals will be adversely affected by the new development, residents ask that the council and Mike Greer Homes allow the public’s voice to be heard on this matter before anything happens to the trees or land.

Survey comments

Many survey submissions have been collected since it was delivered by the group “Protect the Trees and Green Space in Bureta”, over the weekend:

“This application should have been notified. Its clear that the public deserve their say.” 

“I would like to see council priorities green space and tree protection”.

“I understand that there is a housing crisis in Tauranga but I do not believe that the houses erected in this space would end up helping the many families in Tauranga who are either homeless or living in substandard housing. It seems apparent to me that those families are in the lower economic bracket and would be very unlikely to be able to afford one of the proposed houses on this site.Therefore I would be so bold as to say that it appears to be nothing more than a profitable venture. In the words of Joni Mitchell: “Don’t it always seem to go, we don’t know what we’ve got till it’s gone?” Please let us consider the benefits to our community of these trees that took around half a century to grow before we make such a comparatively hasty decision to irretrievably cut them down. Thank you.”

Residents were surveyed, What benefit did those 27 trees and that green-space offer you and the community?”, here are some responses:

“It is pleasing to see the trees when I drive past, also the benefit of having trees in our environment and a place where the rain water can soak into”.

“Mature trees like this should be respected from a community perspective but also an environmental perspective.”

“The trees are beautiful both to look at and in the connection with nature they enable in what is otherwise quite a developed area. I have come with groups of young children from the local school to gather autumn leaves and find wildlife. I also visit the trees on my own as a place for peaceful contemplation. I would be very sad to see them go.”

Conclusion

Overall something of great value and importance has been ignored in this case – the role the unique space and mature trees at Bureta park play for the community. The council has not met its promise to protect open green spaces in Tauranga and allowed for ‘development’ at the completely unacknowledged cost of locals and the natural environment. It is still possible to remedy this. Locals request an ongoing dialogue as to how not only these trees but the large trees and green spaces of wider Tauranga can be safeguarded, to benefit current and future generations.

Contact and Information

Residents are invited to share their views, keep up to date, and help build awareness on the issue at the Facebook group “Protect the Trees and Green Space in Bureta”
or by clicking on this link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/174542549882979 

and via an online survey at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/7QR7QKT.

Contact persons for the concerned residents, Emily Mowbray and Muriel Spenceley may also be reached via the Facebook group page, or by clicking here.

34670813_10215884836331351_333464731195015168_n
An oak tree, now behind the newly erected fence, and possibly due to be felled to make way for the housing units.

 

 

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