KCDC: Can’t See The Wood For The Trees?

Kapiti Coast District Council has backed down in its legal fight against a pair of elderly environmentalists who felled native trees… Kay Blundell, Dominion Post, 4 April 2014

 Hitting the headline for the wrong reasons

By Roger Childs

The Standens in Otaki

The Case of the Missing Native Trees has been handled badly from the start and has ended in humiliation for the KCDC. Having shot itself in both feet the council now has egg all over its face.

The District Plan, currently under review, states that people cannot modify naturally occurring vegetation and this is what Otaki’s Diana and Peter Standen were deemed to have done.

The couple are keen conservationists, and arranged for an arborist to deal with tangled and broken branches, dead, diseased and dangerous trees late last year. In November KCDC told them to stop as legal action was pending.

Information and misinformation

To anyone reading the news about the case in November, there were concerns that the council was overstepping the mark. What were the facts?

  1. The Standens were tidying up an area of native trees.
  2. They had employed a reputable company: Monkeyman Tree Services.
  3. The arborist, Craig Eddie, was following the procedures laid down in a KCDC pamphlet.

Unfortunately the council did not find out about fact 3 until recently. As a consequence the Standens went through a lot of unnecessary stress and only now have been vindicated for the conservation work they were carrying out.

Not surprisingly there was a range of views on the issue as it played out.

The support of four councillors were required before the Council could  review the case (under standing Orders). Councillors Jackie Elliott, David Scott and K. Gurunathan supported this action, but failed to enlist a fourth councillor needed —  such as Otaki’s Cr Penny Gaylor.

Amy Adams

Minister for the Environment, Amy Adams, weighed in with her opinion. Trees, indigenous or not, get old, diseased, die, can be dangerous. We are talking about a 70-year-old couple dealing with vegetation in their own backyard. Do we need a council to get so uppity about what seems like a very sensible reaction?

However Cr Welsh was adamant: property owners with native trees on their land need to safeguard that ecology and be aware that if they don’t there will be consequences.

There was an impression given that the Standens had virtually clear-felled an area. The Mayor, Ross Church, told KIN in March that 70 trees were affected, 41 of which had been cut down.

Up before the courts?

So the KCDC charged the Standens with offences related to 7 trees

  • 3 kohekohe
  • 3 tawa
  • 1 mahoe

What about the other 63 trees?

It’s now all academic, as the Standens will not be charged and faced with a hefty fine or time behind bars. Sadly the KCDC started a process without doing the  homework necessary and caused considerable distress to an elderly couple who are dedicated environmentalists. As Diane Standen puts it: We love native bush . . . we would never dream of damaging it.

Naturally there have been attempts to save face. Ross Church stated the obvious: If we had found out about the information earlier, things would have been different months ago…

The outcome is ultimately the best one, but Kapiti citizens will remain angry that the large council staff and their elected representatives have let them down by

  • not doing their research
  • wasting a lot time and money
  • giving the area a bad press across the nation
  • causing an elderly, community minded couple months of stress.














One small step and advance today at the Council Audit and Risk Committee meeting.

Councillor Welsh (Chair) apologised in public for his initial support for the Standens and subsequent U turn and now in the light of the halt to legal action against them and their ordeal.

(Why not also call off the legal process against the neighbours and contractor–who should seek the legal action to be struck out in light of the withdrawal of the action against the Standens).

The deputy CEO continues the line that they only just verified the Standens two letters to Council, one copied to the Mayor, neither of which were ever responded to.

The Mayor frequently trots out ‘its the making good that counts’. So make good on your promises Mr. Mayor. We need to see actions not just weasel words or saleman’s talk.

My continuing challenge to the Mayor and Councillors is;

— lets see a route map for a change in Council and Council executive staff culture
— lets see genuine community engagement and consultation from Council
— lets see honestly in Council communication
— lets bin the spin from Council
— lets see ‘openness and transparency’ in action and reality
— lets see Councillors actually perform their Council role properly of governance
— lets see Councillors hold the executive staff to account
— lets see a sea change within Council that values and makes use of ratepayers knowledge and experience
— lets see a vast reduction in wasting rates on legal action and solving issues through consensus ($1M in legal costs=2% on rates)
— lets see a Council that is continually defensive and bullying change to one that admit mistakes and learns from them.

(Recommended reading ‘Failing Forward’ (Turning mistakes into stepping stones for success) by John C Maxwell published by Thomas Nelson)

Despite the (partial) correct but very belated KCDC backdown, the arborist is still being prosecuted. I have not seen a proper explanation of this. If he too was following the KCDC pamphlet and guidelines which the Standens had been aware of, given to him, and sent to KCDC, why should he be prosecuted? The KCDC statement I saw on this did NOT explain it. Nor did the officers involved explain how they did not know of their own pamphlet and its contents, ignored two letters from the Standens enclosing it, and wasted a large amount of taxpayers dollars on the prosecution as a result – together with causing a great deal of unnecessary anxiety to a couple who are environmentally sounder than the Council itself!