Open Letter to Developer Paul Macey: Save Canal Road Native Trees

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Dear Paul Macey,

The peaceful community resistance to the chopping down of the magnificent stand of native trees at 52-58 Canal Road began on 8 July 2020 and continues. It is the longest ever urban tree occupation in Aotearoa. The trees, which include rare kawaka and black maire, are exceptional, as is the story of this place.

In 1924, woodwork teacher Walter Burgess purchased 54 and 56 Canal Road and began planting native trees. The Raymond family took ownership of the land in the 1960s. Word of mouth accounts hold that the matriarch of that family was committed to preserving the trees. The Burgess grandchildren have always been of the understanding that their grandfather’s trees would be protected in perpetuity.

The stand was recognised as part of the Whau Wildlink which described it as a “native cluster.” In 2017 the Tree Council documented 46 mature native trees. This diverse stand contains among the most exceptional specimens of native trees in the region - a ready-made arboretum. Auckland Council rejected internal advice and community requests to acquire the land when it came to market in 2019. At that time you entered into a sale and purchase agreement with the Raymond brothers.

In July, a chainsaw gang arrived unannounced at the Canal Road trees. Local resident of 60 years, William Lee, saw the felling and spontaneously stopped his vehicle and stood in front of machinery to halt it. The next day tree sitting began. It is now 230 days since our tree protection movement was inspired by William Lee’s action.

There continues to be a daily street-side vigil. People take turns at sitting in trees. Members of the arborist community have rigged the trees with stays and ropes that make felling unsafe. There is a vibrant online community of support from across Aotearoa and beyond. Hundreds of hours have been dedicated to defending the grove. Thousands have signed a petition to save the trees. The site is thoroughly tended and neighbourhood children regularly play there.

An Aukati - rāhui was placed on this site by mana whenua on 6 September 2020. It forbids harm being done to these taonga rākau.

Efforts by contractors to return to the site have been thwarted by peaceful, public mobilisations with numbers in the hundreds. A recent nighttime poisoning attack on 18 of the trees inspired a heroic community response, with tree protectors absorbing and drilling-out poisoned wood from the trees and applying rongoā similar to the one successfully used to save the Paturoa Road kauri tree, Awhi Awhi, from ringbarking.

The community is deeply invested in keeping these precious trees standing and for this urban ngahere to become a public reserve for the permanent enjoyment of the community, and future generations of Avondale residents and for the city of Tāmaki Makaurau.

We know that you are the developer of the site, that you are part of Insight Property Group and Made Homes, and understand that you made it a condition of purchase that all of the Canal Road trees be felled (excluding the scheduled pōhutukawa). You recently withdrew a resource consent application for 32 townhouses and 32 car parks on the site. It showed similar intent for felling trees.

We need trees and houses to co-exist and that means some greenspace must be kept and made into public reserves so our future-city is truly liveable. The urban ngahere at Canal Road is one of those places.

Local MP, Carmel Sepuloni, has offered to assist in brokering a resolution with all interested parties, including Kāinga Ora, who has prepared a substantive outline of possible cost-neutral solutions including a potential land swap for an appropriate development site. This could be the starting point for a negotiated outcome. We understand the Auckland Council has approached you also.

Due to a lack of engagement on your part, we have decided as a community to approach you directly by way of this open letter. Please meet with us to find a resolution. It is not too late.
It has always been the view and position of the Save Canal Road Native Trees group that a positive outcome is possible for all parties: Mana whenua; the Raymond family; the community; the trees themselves; the ecology and climate; and you, the developer. That outcome requires your willingness.  

You need not be the villain in this story. You can meet with the public agencies and the people in whose neighbourhood you wish to develop, and we can find a pathway to preserve this irreplaceable stand of native trees at Canal Road.

Sincerely,

Mana Rākau - Save Canal Road Native Trees