River trees force Novotel Tainui to rebrand

AARON LEAMAN
Last updated 08:13 17/02/2014
Novotel Tainui, trees, waikato river
PETER DRURY/Fairfax NZ

Too tall: Novotel Tainui general manager Dick Breukink by a hotel window which once featured views of the Waikato River. Mr Breukink wants Hamilton City Council to prune the mature trees.

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One of Hamilton's top inner-city hotels has been forced to rebrand its rooms now that large trees block off guests' views of the Waikato River, prompting calls for a city-wide prune along the riverbanks.

Novotel Tainui no longer advertises its rooms as having river views and is urging a rethink on how the city manages the trees lining the river.

The lush greenery along the Waikato River is seen as a city asset by many, with the majority of respondents in a Waikato Times online poll preferring that the city council leave the trees untouched.

But like Novotel Tainui and Ibis Tainui's general manager Dick Breukink, many riverside residents say prime views are being blotted out by willows and other introduced species.

Mr Breukink said he approached the city council in November, worried the trees were blocking off street lighting near the hotel's car park.

"It was safety more than anything else which started the conversation, but we've also had to change our room types from river view to river side."

He said the rapid growth of trees had obscured views of the river, and wants the council to better manage the riverbank trees.

"I don't want to pull out trees because the riverbank has to be secure.

"I just want them to trim the trees and create a more healthy environment. I'm no garden expert but at the moment the trees just grow into each other and you can't see the river any more."

Long-time Hamilton Parade residents Ruth and Melis van der Sluis said there was scope to remove some of the larger exotic species lining the river.

They said the city council had done an "amazing job" planting natives along the riverbank near the Fairfield Bridge which, in turn, had attracted native bird life back to the river.

"The river needs to be part of the landscape but the landscape also needs to be planned and designed," Mr van der Sluis said.

"We love the river paths and we see hundreds of people use them.

"It would be nice if people could enjoy the greenery but also see the flowing water of the river.

"It's beautiful seeing the flax and kowhai along the river but I think that the willows could be thinned because they grow so big and block out the river."

Large trees which are growing in front of two memorial bench seats on Hamilton Parade had almost completely obscured views of the river.

Waikato University professor of environmental planning Iain White said pruning trees to maintain river views was only a "small part" of a wider discussion the city should have on its relationship with the river.

"As a general principle you've got a fantastic asset there.

"I think it's fair to say from an urban planning perspective we don't make the most of the river," Professor White said.

"If talk of trees is a route into a wider discussion on the river then it's probably a good thing."

Last year Hamilton City Council announced a 13-member leadership group to develop a strategic plan for the 16-kilometre stretch of the Waikato River through the city.

It's expected the plan will become a guiding document for how Hamilton engages with the river.

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Hamilton Mayor Julie Hardaker said the plan would be completed

in August and cover vegetation along the river corridor.

Discussions between council and Mr Breukink focused on pruning trees by the hotel to ensure street lighting and security camera systems worked properly, she said.

"Many other people do comment about whether we can thin out the vegetation along the river. [They ask] questions such as: Are there places where trees can be removed? Or what is the role of the vegetation? These sorts of things will be covered off in the river plan," Ms Hardaker said.

"What people are asking is how do we see the river, and can we get more removal of vegetation? But that has to be balanced with others who say they like the natural [state] of the river corridor."

Cushla and Mike Carroll, visiting family in Hamilton, had returned from the United Kingdom and said the city's bush-clad river was a beautiful attraction.

The pair had lived in Reading, one hour west of London, and said the River Thames had much fewer trees lining its banks.

They said visibility of the river could be improved "without necessarily chopping trees down to ground level".

"Hamilton is such a lovely city really. The trees just need a bit of maintenance, that's all," Mrs Carroll said.

Their son Brendan, who lives in Hamilton, said he sympathised with visitors who stayed in the city and expected to see views of the river.

"It's a tough one. If people are paying to stay by the river then they should be able to get some view of it," he said.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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