Anger at felling of 'heritage' phoenix palms

AARON LEAMAN
Last updated 05:00 10/05/2014

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Hamilton City bosses have been accused of treating the city's heritage with disdain after council staff felled six mature phoenix palms within a few weeks.

Staff justified the felling by saying the trees were home to rats and "feral pigeons" and were competing with trees protected under the city's district plan.

But the explanation and scale of the removal has alarmed some residents, who question whether the council is working to a hidden agenda to eradicate exotic species.

Hamilton man Peter Dornauf contacted the council after discovering six phoenix palms had been cut down at three sites, including two palms near the intersection of Victoria and Ulster streets. He was dismayed at the council's explanation for their removal.

"These trees were planted by our forefathers and have been around for 100 years. Suddenly staff say there's a pest problem because they harbour rats and pigeons. What? Haven't these people heard of traps?" Dornauf said.

"Their explanation that the palms also take up nutrients from other trees is absolutely laughable. If you look along the Waikato River bank the trees are cheek by jowl there. They're competing for nutrients but nobody is chopping them wholesale."

Council parks and open spaces manager Sally Sheedy said phoenix palms were a high-maintenance species which presented problems for the council and residents. The felled trees were estimated to be 30 to 70 years old.

"We understand that phoenix palms are viewed by some people as an attractive and iconic species, and at popular public locations such as Lake Domain they do enhance the environment and enjoyment of the park," Sheedy said. "That said, they can be a problem at other sites. They drop seeds which in turn sprout . . . [and] they can be a haven for pest animals."

Two palms had been chopped down on Victoria St near Mill Lane and another two on Hukanui Rd opposite Westfield Chartwell.

A resident who lived closest to the trees on Hukanui Rd and their landlord had been consulted and supported the reasons for removing the palms, Sheedy said.

There were no plans to remove any more council palms.

Dornauf said the palms were historic and because of their age had become "more than simply trees".

"They have become markers of heritage, symbols of legacy. They are our endowment from the past. Maori know about this. For less than credible reasons, these markers have been destroyed."

Heritage consultant Ann McEwan said trees contributed to the heritage character of an area but not all trees, or buildings, had significant heritage value.

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"The key thing is if we don't know why things are where they are and who planted them, how can you then balance that against some decision to cut them down. I'm quite comfortable with the argument that not all buildings are significant heritage buildings and not all trees are significant heritage trees.

"I guess we would all like to think that Hamilton City Council know the city well and, therefore, make good decisions."

- Waikato Times

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