Nelson property owners stumped about their responsibilities for protected trees on their land are about to be given a say.
Nelson City Council communications manager Paul Shattock said a letter had been sent out to listed tree owners, asking for their feedback as part of the council’s revision of its Resource Management Plan.
A copy of a letter showed that the council was considering removing the need for resource consent for certain works on protected trees.
Owners could remove selected branches to allow light through, prune storm-damaged trees, prune large branches at risk of falling, and trim branches away from buildings, aerials, and power lines, all without a resource consent.
Property owners stuck between a heritage tree and a hard place may get some wriggle room to deal with trees before they cause damage.
Owners out on a limb
Nelson’s Resource Management Plan currently allows for ‘‘very limited trimming of heritage trees’’ without a resource consent but anything more must go through the consent process.
Nelson man David Monopoli has a heritage tree on his property which overhangs a road and has large cones that threaten to fall.
He said while contractors from Nelmac had come and removed the cones on his request, he was still concerned that one could have fallen and hit someone or damaged a car, and he could have been liable if the court found he’d been negligent in maintaining the tree.
He said it might be safer to have the tree removed entirely, but it was difficult to do that with a heritage tree.
‘‘I think people need to be made more aware of what it means to have a property with a tree like this, that might do some damage or requires ongoing maintenance, so they totally understand,’’ Monopoli said.
He said there should be further options for tree-owners, given the expense of arborists and resource consents, and it should include a council fund to pay for maintenance.
‘‘I think there is this imposition and people should really be able to say what happens to their property...’’
Monopoli said it shouldn’t get to a point where people felt they had to sell up because they couldn’t afford to maintain a tree.
He said while he’d received the letter from the council, he felt it would be better to have public meeting about it.
‘‘It is not usually the land owner who makes a decision to list a tree, but once listed the tree is not the responsibility of the council...’’ Monopoli said.
Following January’s wild weather, the Nelson Mail spoke to property owner Lynn Callister who woke to find her protected rata tree had crushed her fence and damaged part of the neighbours’ property.
She said council contractors had previously inspected the tree but said no work was needed.
She said she could have paid to have cut it back, but would also have had to pay between $500 and $1500 for a resource consent before anything could be done.
She said she’d been disappointed the council hadn’t acted on her concerns before the branch fell.
Stoke man Douglas Lamond had his painstakingly restored car damaged after his neighbour’s heritage tree fell and crushed his shed.
He said he’d complained to the council five times about the tree before it fell, but as it was on his neighbour’s property there was nothing he could do about it.
He took the council to both the Disputes Tribunal and the District Court over the question of liability, but in both instances the decision found that the council was not liable.
Lamond said the tree had caused him a lot of stress and with the damage to his car and the legal bills, the heritage tree has cost him $18,000.
He said he still didn’t understand why the council couldn’t be held responsible.
‘‘If I get a chainsaw and I whack off [a branch], I’m going to get a fine of up to $10,000... so that’s tell- ing me that [the council] are in control of the tree [and should be liable].’’
The root of the issue
The Nelson City Council’s position is that property owners are responsible for maintenance of any tree on their land.
There are more than 300 protected trees in Nelson, on both council and private property.
Group manager of infrastructure Alec Louverdis said any major work or removal of heritage trees needed resource consents.
He said if emergency works were thought necessary, it still had to go through the council process.
‘‘If a property owner deems there is an urgent matter, they need to approach the council and that situation will be evaluated on its own merits,’’ Louverdis said.
‘‘They have to get an arborist in to have a look at it, it’s not just somebody saying ‘I think this tree or branch is going to fall down’.’’
He said while there was always a risk that an assessment could miss something, that was a risk with any tree whether protected or not.
‘‘We cannot predict the effect of any wind event or any earthquake for example on a particular tree.
‘‘It is what it is and there is always a risk in terms of branches falling or loose vegetation falling down from trees.’’
He said people needed to ‘‘do their homework’’ and get a LIM report before buying a property to ensure they were prepared for the costs and maintenance associated with a protected tree.
As for situations where a neighbour’s tree was causing difficulty, it was still down to the property owner to be a good neighbour.
‘‘You’ve got to get on with your neighbours and if they raise an issue with the tree it’s for the neighbour to work that through. No matter what kind of tree it is, the same principle applies.’’
Tasman District Council communications manager Chris Choat said its rules were not dissimilar to Nelson City Council’s. Under the Tasman Resource Management Plan, minor trimming is allowed but any pruning within the root zone needed a resource consent. Choat said while the council wasn’t currently in consultation over the plan, it reviewed the list of protected trees on a regular basis.
Nelson heritage tree owners have until April 14 to send feedback to the council.
Douglas Lamond took the city council to the Disputes Tribunal after part of his neighbour’s heritage tree fell on his property last year.
Part of the tree crushed Lamond’s restored $30,000 Holden HQ Premier when it fell on his garage. It also damaged motorbikes.