Auckland pōhutukawa protest 'not about the cycleway'

Protesters are occupying trees and diggers in downtown Auckland, saying they're trying to save a group of pōhutukawa trees.

But opponents say they're just trying to prevent the construction of a cycleway - again.

Lisa Prager and others from the Occupy Garnet Rd group are dug in on Quay St, near Spark Arena. They claim Auckland Transport is removing more than a dozen "mature" trees to make way for an "extra lane so the privately owned bus companies had somewhere to park their buses".

"Trees of this age play a vital role in removing pollutants, providing oxygen and keeping the city cool. For a sustainable green future, taking out trees is not the way to go."

But Auckland Transport says the trees aren't old - they were planted in 1994 - and they are actually being removed to make room for the Quay St cycleway extension. Four have already been moved.

"Auckland Transport was granted resource consent to relocate the trees in September 2017 by independent commissioners, following a hearings process," Auckland Transport told Newshub.

"The consent conditions address submitters' concern with the relocation and transplanting of trees."

Auckland Transport considered other options to squeeze in the cycleway without removing the trees - for example, by removing the bus parking spaces, which already exist - but ruled it out.

The bus parking usually used when big events are happening, for example at nearby Spark Arena or Mt Smart Stadium, spokesman Mark Hannan told Newshub.

Ms Prager said they were not notified of any consultation process.

"They didn't ring us up and go 'are you concerned, do you have an issue'? ... We weren't aware of it. There are so many things going on that we are not aware of. I only hear about things when residents or concerned individuals call me - usually when the work is underway. How fair is that?"

Mr Hannan told Newshub Ms Prager wasn't considered an affected party, as she doesn't live in the area.

Police said just before midday on Friday they are monitoring the "very small protest", but no arrests have been made. 

Where will the trees go?

Presently the trees are on the median strip, flanked by lanes with little room to grow. The Tree Council, which gave evidence during the hearings, recommended moving them so they could have "a far better chance of a long and healthy life". Most are expected to be replanted in nearby Teal Park.

The Tree Council did query the timing, however.

"We question the sense of the timing and believe it is more to do with having less traffic during the holidays than for the health of the trees," it said in a statement last week.

"Their own arborists' report said it was not appropriate to be removing trees of this age at the peak of summer," said Ms Prager.

Auckland Transport acknowledged traffic on Quay St is lighter at this time of year, and the Tree Council said as long as "the trees are well watered once transplanted they should be fine, regardless of when it is done".

'Not about the cycleway'

The Occupy Garnet Rd group made headlines in December when they occupied a digger in West Lynn, opposed to Auckland Transport's "eco-terrorism".

They demanded an end to work on the suburb's "badly designed and dangerous cycleways", but insist this latest protest doesn't have anything to do with the Quay St cycleway extension.

"Bike Auckland, Greater Auckland Generation Zero are trying to discredit me," she told Newshub. "I have a long history of being engaged in protecting trees in Auckland. I have been in council meetings for the last 17 years. There is no way they can discredit my care of trees. This issue is not about the cycleway."

The Tree Council said the debate "should not be made into a battle between cyclists and trees".

"Both are vitally important for a healthy city."