Kapiti council took a hard line against old folk but is keen to okay a cycling club’s tree-lopping

Some mad bastards are running freely around the country after threatening to poison infant formula. But the  news media have been just as enthralled by the antics of some tossers with a powerful urge to protect  trees.

Alf is not sure what has happened today but overnight – as you can see here – the owners of the Titirangi sites where a kauri and a rimu were scheduled for removal have released an open letter saying the kauri  can stay.

This sounds like discrimination against rimu, but Alf – to be candid – couldn’t care less.

Accordingly he thinks Environment Minister Nick Smith is looking dangerously like a greenie for saying he hoped the kauri would be saved.

“I expressed to the [Auckland] mayor [Len Brown] a preference for the 200-year-old kauri to be spared, if at all possible, but that the Government respected the fact that it was a decision for the Auckland Council.”

This fuss led Alf to recall the appalling way an elderly couple in Kapiti were treated last year for doing the environment a favour and letting in more sun by lopping a few trees.

The bloody council fairly obviously knew it was being unreasonably bloody-minded by sending in the cops to help deal to the couple because it apologised while persisting with prosecuting them. 

 

Peter and Diana Standen went public with their fight against the council over work they say was done for safety reasons.

They, their neighbours and contractor Monkey Man Tree Services were charged with trimming and cutting down native trees without resource consent.

A couple in their 70s have received a council apology after a morning door-knock from staff with police in tow, over disputed tree cutting.

But Kapiti Coast District Council stands by its prosecution of the pair after they hired a contractor to trim and cut down native trees on their property in August.

Otaki’s Peter and Diana Standen went public with their fight against the council over work they say was done for safety reasons.

The Standens, their neighbours and contractor Monkey Man Tree Services face charges for trimming and cutting down native trees without resource consent.

This week council chief executive Pat Dougherty said the council did not pursue prosecutions lightly.”But after thoroughly investigating this case we felt it was necessary to bring a prosecution under the Resource Management Act,” he said.

Mr Dougherty said the council apologised for any distress caused to the Standens during the course of the investigation.

”A police officer did accompany a council officer to the couple’s property but left after the Standens were co-operative and did not challenge right of access.”

Mr Standen said the couple had pleaded not guilty to the charges which relate to the trimming and felling of six native trees on their property.

The whole shambles had something to do with zoning.

The trees were on the couple’s property but had been rezoned as an ecologically important site in the draft District Plan.

The couple faced a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment or a $300,000 fine, although this Dougherty feller insisted the council had ”absolutely no intention” of seeking anything like the maximum penalties the law provides.

So what happened next?

A month or so later the Standens were given good news. 

Just five days before they were due in court to defend the pruning of native trees on their property, the Kapiti Coast District Council informed them the charges have been dropped.

The Standens say their decision to stand up to unfair treatment has been vindicated.

“It’s a nice word, yes it’s tremendous load off,” says Ms Standen. “You feel a lot lighter for it.”

Acting chief executive Tamsin Evans says the charges were dropped because the council received new evidence that the couple used the council’s guidance.

Fast forward another few months and we were being told: 

Kapiti Coast District Council’s prosecution of two elderly Otaki couples for trimming native trees was “inappropriate”, and “fell short of what was needed”, according to an independent review.

“The overall criminality was minimal,” the report, commissioned by the council from Wellington QC Richard Fowler, says.

“A mere warning would probably have been the most appropriate, or at worst an infringement notice.”

The council laid charges against Peter and Diana Standen, 77 and 74, and Keith and Lorraine McLeavey, 72 and 68, last year for modifying naturally occurring native trees on their properties. It withdrew them when an Environment Court judge dismissed charges against the McLeaveys as “trivial offending”.

Fowler said it would have been appropriate not to prosecute the Standens, and “possibly also in the case of the McLeaveys”.

“Even with the McLeaveys [who pleaded guilty to greater modifications], something less than that might have been open.”

The council went through a form of overall assessment and approval of the decision to prosecute, but “fell short of what was needed”, he said.

“Prosecutions are serious steps – the maximum penalties under the Resource Management Act are quite significant and the stigma of conviction can have all sorts of serious consequences.”

Peter Standen said at the time he hoped the report was “the end of the bloody saga”.

Not really.

Standen is now wondering why the same council is encouraging a cycling club to apply for retrospective consent after it cut down 80 native trees to make a bike track.

Kapiti Mountain Bike Club received consent in 2013 to develop a track through native bush on Whareroa Farm near Paekakariki, with conditions that included excavation by hand. Instead, it used a digger to plough through part of a protected site, destroying 80 native trees and 1000 saplings.

The council is now encouraging the club to apply for retrospective consent. That has sparked a complaint from Peter Standen, 77, of Otaki, who was prosecuted, with his wife, for cutting down seven native trees on an eco-site on his property.

“It shows the obvious duplicity of the Kapiti Coast District Council,” Standen said. “Why didn’t we get a retrospective consent? Why don’t they prosecute the club?”

The council’s acting regulatory services group manager, Sharon Foss, is saying anyone could apply for retrospective resource consents, though there were no guarantees they would be granted.

But he also says it wouldn’t have worked for the Standens:

“These two cases are different. A retrospective consent could not have returned the Standens’ eco-site to how it looked before being trimmed. The damage on the mountain bike track is more likely to be able to be restored.”

Alf understands the environment in Kapiti is very special.

The fauna and fauna are special, too. A mate of Alf says he spotted a pig flying over the council offices the other day.  It is bound to be accorded the same high degree of protection as was accorded the trees on the Standen property.

 

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