Gas leak causes residents to apply for protected pohutukawa to be chopped down

The 12-metre pohutukawa tree breaking Margaret and John Chatterley's gas pipes is also slowly crushing the fence to ...
TOM DILLANE/FAIRFAX NZ

The 12-metre pohutukawa tree breaking Margaret and John Chatterley's gas pipes is also slowly crushing the fence to their narrow driveway.

John and Margaret Chatterley say they have explored every option to save their protected pohutukawa tree, but fear it may destroy their house.

The Auckland couple has applied for resource consent from Auckland Council to chop down a 12 metre pohutukawa tree in their front yard.

The tree's roots have intertwined with the gas pipes below their home on Hurstmere Rd, Takapuna, and already caused one gas leak on March 6.

Roots from the Chatterley's pohutukawa tree have grown through their concrete fence into the gas meter.
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Roots from the Chatterley's pohutukawa tree have grown through their concrete fence into the gas meter.

They say a more serious leak is constantly on their minds.

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"The gas man said that, at any time, the roots could break the connection which would allow the gas to escape," John Chatterley said.

The protected phoutukawa tree in the Chatterley's Takapuna back yard is over two metres wide at it's base.
TOM DILLANE/FAIRFAX NZ

The protected phoutukawa tree in the Chatterley's Takapuna back yard is over two metres wide at it's base.

"Absolutely, we're concerned for our safety. If you go outside our door, you can see a public bus stop, where people stand in the morning chatting waiting for buses, and they smoke.

"If it blew up tomorrow what would you say? 'What a shame'?"

The Chatterley's resource consent application to Auckland Council contains documents from a private arborist, gas fitter, and the Contact Energy company, who all acknowledge the pohutukawa tree needs to be removed.

The pohutukawa tree the Chatterley's wish to chop down is one of three which line the front garden of their Takapuna ...
TOM DILLANE/FAIRFAX NZ

The pohutukawa tree the Chatterley's wish to chop down is one of three which line the front garden of their Takapuna property.

An inspection letter of the property from Always Plumbing Ltd gasfitter Brian Alexander said: "The growth of the tree at its base has placed the gas pipe work under extreme pressure which could result in the pipe work being ruptured and creating a major fire hazard."

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Tree Management Solutions private arborist Andrew Barrell also wrote in his report: "There is simply not enough room for the tree to coexist in conjunction with the wall, adjacent utilities and gates without significant risk and ongoing damage to people and property."

However, consulting arborist for Auckland Council Andrew Benson wrote in an email correspondence with Auckland Council senior planner Jason Drury that he would like to explore all options before removing the tree.

"Removing the tree to address some localised root incursion seems rather drastic. I'd rather support (with conditions) some root severance to effect the repairs," Benson wrote.

Added to the Chatterley's safety concerns is a financial one.

The roots of the pohutukawa tree block a pipe which has flooded the motor to their Italian electric gates.

"Unfortunately, that has to come from Italy, and as you can imagine that comes next week and it's as cheap as chips," John Chatterley said.

"But I can tell you that it's four months ago since we ordered it and it's still not here."

The Chatterley's need resource consent to chop down their tree because it is one of four pohutukawa trees in the area protected under the Auckland Unitary Plan's natural heritage notable trees overlay.

Forest & Bird North Shore chairman Richard Hursthouse said the organisation always scrutinise the consent applications for removing protected trees.

"We would have to look closely at the issues in this case, and often there's more than one conflicting report from different arborists and different technical people so it can be difficult to sort out if the reasons why people want to get rid of a tree are genuine or not," Hursthouse said.

"What I can say generally is we are losing trees in Auckland hand over fist and that is the city's loss because there are many benefits from having trees in the city."

Yet, the Chatterleys said they too regret having to chop the pohutukawa down.

"We said to the arborist 'we'll keep it if you can show us how' but it wasn't possible. I imagine there will be people who object but they're not living with it, we are," John Chatterley said.

"We want security and safety. If you can assure us of that, you can leave the tree."

Margaret Chatterley was even emotional about the whole process.

"We love the trees. I feel quite tearful even thinking about it, but it's going to be worse if they don't."

 - Stuff

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