Vindicated: Council U-turn over trees

STANDING PROUD: Diana and Peter Standen in front of the bush they were accused of illegally trimming.
STANDING PROUD: Diana and Peter Standen in front of the bush they were accused of illegally trimming.

Kapiti District Council has backed down in its legal fight against a pair of elderly environmentalists who felled native trees on their property.

It plans to withdraw charges against Peter Standen, 77, and wife Diana, 74, after accepting that the arborist they hired was acting on council guidance.

Levin District Court will be formally asked to ratify the withdrawal of charges when the couple's case is called on Tuesday.

The pair, of Oriwa Cres, Otaki, said last night that they were relieved by the council's decision.

"We are delighted," Peter Standen said. "We will be glad when Tuesday's court appearance is over and we can put all this behind us."

They pleaded not guilty to charges of breaching the District Plan by "modifying naturally occurring indigenous vegetation". The maximum penalty for a conviction is two years' imprisonment or a fine of $300,000.

The couple were charged with felling and trimming three kohekohe, three tawa and a mahoe in what they called "a mass of tangled and broken branches, dead, diseased and dangerous trees" in a stand of bush.

They employed arborist Craig Eddie, of Monkeyman Tree Services, to do the work, which they believed complied with regulations set out in a council brochure.

However, the council told them to stop work in November as legal action was being considered.

The council said yesterday that it was "unaware of a number of facts" when deciding to prosecute, including the fact the work was done in accordance with its own brochure.

"It was unfortunate we were not able to corroborate this information until now," a council statement said.

"We have now been able to substantiate the Standens' claim in respect to the brochure by talking to Monkeyman, who confirmed that they were shown a copy of the KCDC brochure at the time they were instructed to undertake the trimming . . .

"If we had been aware of this information at the time we were determining whether or not to lay charges . . . this would have been a very relevant consideration."

The Standens, who bought their property with its stand of native bush last year, belong to Keep Otaki Beautiful and Friends of the Otaki River.

Diana Standen devotes a morning a week to creating and maintaining Pareomatangi Reserve in the town.

They said when they were first charged: "We love native bush . . . we would never dream of damaging it."

Mayor Ross Church said last night that the case had involved a huge amount of work, and further information had made the matter clearer.

"If we had found out about the information earlier, things would have been different months ago . . . we had to make a sensible decision based on the [corroborated] information."

The Dominion Post