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Support for residents' felling plea

Silver birches are doomed to disappear from Tauranga's streetscape sooner rather than later if disgruntled neighbours can rouse enough opposition to the trees.

The issue of how long they will remain a feature of city streets reared its head at the inaugural meeting of the council's tree subcommittee.

Two silver birches in Hairini's Stephens Place face the axe following a council decision yesterday. Photo / Joel Ford

Two silver birches in Hairini's Stephens Place face the axe following a council decision yesterday. Photo / Joel Ford

Silver birches were bound to eventually disappear because they had been removed from the council's list of street trees owing to problems caused by windblown debris.

However, new questions have been raised around how quickly this will happen after the meeting voted 4-1 to support requests from neighbourhoods in Cherrywood and Hairini to fell three silver birches - despite arborists saying it went against the council's tree management policy.

Councillor Terry Molloy was the lone voice to support saving the trees until the council had revisited the policy. He was opposed by chairman Tony Christiansen and the other members Larry Baldock, Bill Grainger and Murray Guy.

The subcommittee was debating petitions from residents in Freyberg St and Stephens Place who wanted the trees removed, arguing health concerns, discomfort and the annoying debris.

Eighteen residents petitioned the council to remove two trees from outside 52 Stephens Place while a handful asked for the removal of the tree outside 83 Freyberg St.

The subcommittee voted to remove the Freyberg St tree even although the owners of 83 and 85 did not agree saying, "We, as the people most affected by this tree, are happy for it to remain".

Council arborist Richard Conning said a silver birch was removed last November from outside 73A, but the tree outside 83 was well located and in good health.

Bob Sweetman of 75 Freyberg St said they had spent many years asking the council to remove the trees and replace them with a more suitable species.

"When these trees seed, it is a nightmare trying to keep the house clean and in the hotter months we are forced to keep the windows closed."

Neighbourhood surveys by the council showed that 23 residents supported removing the Freyberg St tree while eight opposed. The count was 9-1 to fell the trees in Stephens Place.

Cr Molloy said he understood Mr Sweetman's issue with the tree, but that it was a no-win situation for the council which got into strife whether it followed the tree policy or not.

"We can't keep doing this, it is a nonsense ... if the policy was not working, we should change it."

Despite the council deciding a year ago not to change the status quo for silver birches in its review of the policy, the subcommittee was swayed by the numbers of residents who wanted the trees felled.

Cr Baldock said it beggered belief that the council would not support a neighbourhood when the vote to remove the trees was 9-1. "If we did not support them, then what sort of democracy would we have."

If the subcommittee kept on supporting knocking down silver birches then it may ask the council to revisit the policy, he said.

Cr Murray Guy said it was not appropriate to revisit the whole policy because of one decision. He said the policy did not capture all situations and silver birches were already acknowledged to be inappropriate species for street plantings.