'500 year old' Kauri will stay; Vector gives couple the bash

In an open letter, the couple at the centre of Auckland's latest tree controversy back down — but not without a dig at opponents, and a request for compensation. UPDATE: Vector disappointed.

In an open letter, the couple at the centre of Auckland's latest tree controversy have backed down – but not without a dig at opponents over the age of the kauri in question, and a request for compensation.

The climb-down, so to speak, follows diplomatic missions by Auckland mayor Len Brown and Environment Minister Nick Smith, and the ignominious threat of David Cunliffe perching in their kauri.

The owners of the Titirangi property that hosts the tree, John Lenihan and Jane Greensmith, say in an open letter:

Let the trees stay including the kauri which we have been calling 500, and the Rimu called 300. It doesn't matter how old they are as they now need to stay. ... We don't want to play the games of others, games of blame, conflict and abuse, instead we have been trying to come up with solutions where no-one loses everything but we all compromise.

Nick Smith has referred to the Kauri — a slim looking tree that is certainly no Tane Mahuta – as 300 years old.

Despite saying the age is immaterial, the couple also chip in: "Our wise elderly neighbor reckons the Kauri '500' is only 70 years old like him."

The couple, both architects, say they wanted to build two houses on their property (spanning 40 and 42 Paturoa Road) and that Aucklanders need to compromise as the city's population grows. That compromise will now involve cutting down other trees on their section, they say.

Now they are letting the tree stay, despite the council, having given consent to its removal, the couple ask for recompense. A paragraph in their open letter suggests "Let's take Jane and I out of the equation and give us fair compensation for our land and efforts to date as we have not broken the law and we need to encourage others to build and not be punished." 

It adds, "Let's allow Treescape and Vector, Iwi and Council to own the sites on the public's behalf and let's forgive them too."

Vector 'deeply disappointed'
However, the Council immediately ruled out stumping up any cash for the site (the patch of land at 42 Paturoa Rd has a CV of $200,000).

Vector went further, saying it is "deeply disappointed to have been dragged into the dispute over the Titirangi Kauri tree. After following the media coverage with interest, Vector had a confidential conversation with the property owners to explore ways in which Vector could help to save the Kauri tree. The owners have chosen not to respect that confidentiality and as a result Vector sees no potential for further engagement with the owners on this matter."

The couple faced protests from neighbours, the occupation of the Kauri by a protestor, condemnation through national media, and a threat by Mr Cunliffe, the local MP, to climb the tree (he ultimately scaled back his campaign to a visit to Mr Brown's office).


RAW DATA: The open letter

"This is an open letter to the people of Auckland from myself ,John Lenihan, and my wife, Jane Greensmith, as today is our 20th wedding anniversary. Over these 20 years Jane and I have practiced as Architects who live and work in Auckland. We have only ever built two houses for ourselves both in Titirangi. The first house the year we got married, and I became a partner in RCG Ltd where I still work today. The second house we built 15 years ago and is the house our kids have grown up in. Both houses were on challenging sites, but as Jane's Dad who was an Architect too, used to say "those are architect's sites- difficult, complicated,fun and full of potential!" As Architects we work in a city that we believe is under stress, as there is significant population growth. This is mostly from people like us having kids and because it is a great city. 

"But Auckland is under huge stress – it needs homes for extra people, and it needs affordable homes, and it needs homes of all types everywhere. This means change and many people hate change, and this adds more stress.We wanted to be part of changing all this in our own small but optimistic way, so along with helping our clients achieve this, we thought we would try and build again and be our own client. We came across 2 lovely sites on Paturoa Rd and again they were 'Architects' sites.'

"The rules for building in this part of Auckland and a lot of other areas are in our opinion very complex, often contradictory and from an outdated planning paradigm that gets added to in ad hoc ways that just keep making things worse. The process to follow in making and processing applications is also too complex, contradictory and adhoc. 

"There is very little certainty, so it is no wonder that Auckland is not building enough. Adding to this is the rapidly rising cost of land and building materials and you have the recipe for more stress. There are no easy answers to any of this, but we believe we all have to try. This what we teach our kids. We believe that the situation that has occurred at Paturoa Rd Titirangi is the outcome of the stress Auckland is under and the systems and processes we are given to work under. We believe that there needs to be a financial return for undertaking building work. Banks require it when they give you a mortgage – they don't call it a profit they call it the banks "margin of risk". Building is very risky, difficult, time consuming and prohibitively expensive.

"Jane and I did not make the rules but we have to work with them and follow the law. If we don't, we lose the right to be Architects. We believe in law and order, but as Architects we also understand conflicting needs and different opinions, but to resolve these you need good systems and processes. We don't believe these are good enough in the present regulatory process. The Auckland Unitary Plan might be an opportunity to change this, but not by keeping those old systems and paradigms. Maybe we need to try some brand new things.

"Over the past few days we have been overwhelmed with the agendas of Council, Politicians, Protesters, and so on. We were quite normally private people but now we have been dragged into being public figures. We don't have media training and crisis management skills and there are some who want us to take all the blame.

"Our family, friends and colleagues and clients have been supporting us. So we have had to learn, adapt and change, because we are Architects and that's what Architects are trained to do.

"However, we don't want to play the games of others, games of blame, conflict, and abuse, instead we have been trying to come up with solutions where no-one loses everything but we all compromise, and is something new and hopeful that looks forward and not backward.

"This is our Plan - Architects call it a design solution;

1. Let the trees stay including the Kauri which we have been calling 500, and the Rimu called 300. It doesn't matter how old they are as they now need to stay. Some other trees might have to go - this is the compromise bit, but let's keep it to a minimum. Trees grow faster than you all think.
Our wise elderly neighbor reckons the Kauri "500" is only 70 years old like him.

2. Let's turn these two sites from a place of conflict and division to a place of hope, a place to come together and plan a different future. 

3. Let's be innovative and consider new processes and new rules and prototype these and make it part of the Unitary Plan Process. 

4. Let's build on these sites as we need to keep property law intact and create homes. Our NZ is about family and community and nature. Can we try and have it all with small compromises?

5. Let's build affordable, sustainable homes and try and fit as many as we can on these sites so that it works economically, socially and environmentally.
If we throw out the current rules we could do something a lot better than where we had got to with these houses.

6. Let's take Jane and I out of the equation and give us fair compensation for our land and efforts to date as we have not broken the law and we need to encourage others to build and not be punished. Let's respect the laws we have and try to improve them in the future. 

7. Let's allow Treescape and Vector, Iwi and Council to own the sites on the public's behalf and let's forgive them too. Give them a chance to try something new and create something better from this current mess. The compromise is they have to work together as a team and communicate quickly and professionally.

"That's our Plan and this is what Architects do. We make plans for the future.We hope everyone can support this, because then it will be the best 20th wedding anniversary!"

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