Revered oaks on council's agenda

Removal of two historic oak trees next to Nelson's Suter Art Gallery would not have a significant effect on the character of Bridge St, but it would have a significant adverse effect on the community's appreciation of the heritage landscape of the Queen's Gardens, a landscape assessment report says.

The report, to be discussed at tomorrow's city council policy and planning meeting was prepared by landscape architects Tasman Carter. It provides a landscape assessment of the gallery's redevelopment proposal, including the effects of vegetation modification on the Queen's Gardens and on Bridge St.

The widely revered trees were the focus of a recent hearing on submissions to the Queen's Gardens landscape conservation plan, which ranks all of the gardens' mature trees as "exceptionally significant".

The oak trees in front of the Suter cafe are on land belonging to the gallery, and would need to be removed for planned gallery redevelopment to go ahead. Both trees are listed in the Nelson Resource Management Plan as local trees, which allows for them to be felled without the need for a resource consent, provided the council is informed one week beforehand.

However, the planned gallery redevelopment would be a non-complying activity under the Resource Management Act (for zoning reasons) and would have to be "very carefully designed and implemented so that adverse effects are minimised".

Of the 114 submissions to the landscape conservation plan, 75 supported removing the trees and 32 wanted them to stay.

The Suter is a council-controlled organisation and it must now weigh up the trees' importance against public safety and that of a multimillion-dollar art collection within the Suter.

The landscape assessment report said the existing character of Queen's Gardens was created by most of the trees and shrubs now being mature. It presented a "typical tree canopy around 20 metres high, punctuated by occasional taller trees to over 30 metres tall".

The report said that since the 1880s Queen's Gardens has been Nelson's premier urban park, acting as the "de facto" botanical garden for the town.

The close connection between the Suter's display of artworks and the enjoyment of an artistically laid out landscape was recognised from the start, with the location of the gallery alongside the gardens.

The report also noted that the two mature oak trees played a "significant role" in downplaying the visual effect of the existing gallery complex in views from the gardens during summer months, and they would do the same for the new building.

"The oak trees also form the skyline to the northwest corner of the park, and as such they contribute to its strong sense of enclosure and its oasis-like character."

The Suter's grounds were a "significant part" of the gardens' setting, but this needed to be weighed against the perceived benefits that might happen from their removal, including the reduced maintenance requirement for the gallery buildings and the curatorial benefits of increasing the capacity of the gallery.

The landscape architects' report said protection of the health of many other "noble" trees in the gardens, as they grow to maturity over the next century or so, could possibly achieve a more sustainable long-term outcome than retaining the oaks, which are already mature and may not survive in good health for another 100 years.

The Nelson Mail