Owner 'sore' about order to axe 270,000 trees

Frank Hocken.
Frank Hocken.
A Twizel businessman says he has had enough of investing in Dunedin after learning the hard way about complying with local planning rules.

Frank Hocken's company, Grant's Motels, spent more than $750,000 on a project he says should have been an investment in the local environment and his family's future, but now he is set to lose more than half a million dollars on it.

Workers yesterday started pulling out 270,000 Douglas firs planted on about 200ha of Mr Hocken's property at the top of the southern end of the Maungatuas, just three years after he had had the land cleared and the trees planted.

Mr Hocken (76) is conceding defeat after the Dunedin City Council prosecuted Grant's Motels for breaching the district plan by planting Douglas firs without consent and planting forestry in a landscape conservation area.

But he says he is ''pretty sore about it'', the rules are crazy, and if people cannot do what they want on their own land, the council should buy it.

He told the Otago Daily Times the property was largely covered in gorse and broom when he bought it about three years ago.

He believed trees would be better than gorse, suck up nutrient and water run-off - potentially easing flooding below - and provide future income for his family.

Forestry contractor William Oldham works with a team yesterday to cut out a 200ha planting of young Douglas fir trees on the Maungatuas above the Taieri Plain. Photo by Stephen Jaquiery.
Forestry contractor William Oldham works with a team yesterday to cut out a 200ha planting of young Douglas fir trees on the Maungatuas above the Taieri Plain. Photo by Stephen Jaquiery.
He asked the Otago Regional Council if there would be any issues and received a verbal confirmation, but was not told to check with the DCC and so did not.

He had no discussion with the DCC until he received a letter regarding the breaches from staff, acting on a complaint, about a year ago.

The DCC later argued in court he planted the trees knowing he needed consent, because their records showed someone from Grant's Motels spoke to staff before the trees were planted, although Mr Hocken disputes that.

He applied for retrospective resource consent, but the incomplete application was rejected.

His company was subsequently prosecuted for offences under the Resource Management Act.

The company pleaded guilty at a hearing in the Dunedin District Court in December, and is to be sentenced in May.

''I'll admit I've been wrong as it's turned out ... I'm ... off with the DCC, their red tape and that they've gone out of their way to drop a prosecution on us. They knew we'd work through it, but they didn't want to do that.''

Penalties for the offences range from fines, with an upper limit of $600,000 for an organisation, to two years' jail.

Mr Hocken said even though council staff had been to his property, he still struggled to understand what made the piece of land a natural landscape that needed to be protected.

''What's wrong with trees on it? I can't understand. What's better? Gorse and broom - or trees?''

On top of the $315,000 he paid for the land, which he hoped to get back, and the $400,000 for clearing and planting 270,000 trees, he was spending a significant amount to have the trees removed from all but a 25ha section outside the protected area, for which he planned to seek consent.

''I can carry [the cost], don't worry about that. But I just think it is so stupid.

''I wouldn't want to spend two bob in [Dunedin] any more. I've had a gutsful.''

DCC resource consents manager Alan Worthington said the landscape high on the Maungatuas was predominantly tussock grassland and the key issues with the forestry were the visual impact and that Douglas fir could cause a wilding pine problem.

The size of the plantation made the breach a serious one, he said.

He said he would expect landowners wanting to carry out those sorts of activities to check the planning rules - in place for 12 years now - before they began major projects.

The council provided free professional advice on what the district plan allowed.

Botanist Emeritus Prof Sir Alan Mark, who brought the trees to the council's attention after he spotted them from the road below, said Mr Hocken's was a ''sad'' situation.

''He probably did it in all innocence, but people planting forestry should be aware that Douglas firs are prohibited in many council areas because of the wilding threat.''

Forest and Bird Dunedin branch member Dave McFarlane was also pleased to hear the trees were coming out.

He is part of a group of volunteers who have been removing wilding pines from tussock grassland in the neighbouring Verterburn catchment over the past 10 years.

If Mr Hocken's trees were allowed to spread, they would form a forest that would shade and kill surrounding tussock grassland, affecting bird and invertebrate life dependent on it, as well as the water yield from that area and grazing for neighbouring farmers.






Out of control


Hardly think they'll grow out of control somehow. 

You don't get out much, do you?


Incremental threat

Treepanda suggests Forest and Bird makes money from culling wilding pines. In fact, Forest and Bird is a charitable organisation. At is own cost and on its own straitened budget, Forest and Bird targets at-risk high biodiversity areas - of which the Maungatua Range is one - with a view to mitigating an incremental threat to our common natural heritage, the wilding conifer.

Never has that threat been more considerable than now. This is very largely because the cost of removing wilding trees has not yet been fully internalised as part of forestry operations, large or small. Conversely, exotic plantations are statutorily incentivised through the Climate Change Response Act 2002. 


Re removal critical

@ Wildingmenace I think I'm somehow more inclined to believe Treepanda. 

Remove the pines and what will take over the area?  Gorse and broom?  Yes, how pretty.  Obvious lesser of the two evils, if there was one to have some oxygen giving trees.  Hardly think they'll grow out of control somehow.

last retort

1: Yes. What's your point? That's what was in this area, Tussock and native shrubs. And no, I don't agree we're having problems with flooding and silting on the Taieri plains. It's a flood plain, that's what it's for! Unsuitable modification is the problem!

2: You're the one using the word poison, not me. I know what allelopathic means, and I didn't even have to google it - coz I'm dead clever.

3: Forest and Bird is a registered, not-for-profit charity which has ZERO contracts for wilding pines! You may be thinking of another organisation called DoC? 

4: Show me where there has been nothing for 150 years? Yeah sure, let's just plant whatever we want!

5: Don't even know where to start with how innacurate this statement is... Kowhai and Kanuka? Well le'ts see, there's succession to, and pockets of mountain Totara, moutain wineberry, beech forest in gullies that allow, mountain tree dasies and native brooms, (literally dozens of tree and shrub spp.) fantastic shrublands through schist gorges, sub-alpine and alpine bogs, cushion fields etc etc etc....

6: What? Pass... 

7: The antidote to global warming (commonly now referred to as climate change) is NOT reducing biodiversity and facilitating weeds. 

8:  Seems to counter #4 doesn't it?

9: Forest and Bird have dozens of active restoration projects and plant hundreds of thousands of native plants each year, and precisely zero pine trees. 


More facts

1) Water run off... Isn't one of the advanatges of tussock land the reduction in run off? Aren't we having problems with flooding on the Taerei Plains, silting of lake Waihola? and other wetlands? Agin the silting of the Clutha river, all would be minimised to some degree by reduced runoff,
2) Pine tree organic matter does not "poison" the soil any more than Walnuts, Kanuka, native Beech or an other trees with allelopathic qualities. Any organic matter is better than no organic matter
3)Forest and Bird has had no contracts to remove wilding trees? Come on now!
4)If there is no naturally occurring species to stop erosion, hasn't been for at least 150 years, and doesn't appear to be much going on to replace those trees, surely something is better than nothing?
5)  No other trees ( with the exception of kanuka Kowhai in some areas, Bendigo etc) are growing on the Central Otago hills. Native species are not establishing because the conditions don't allow. With a forest cover, in any great numbers, of any description, native species will grow and develop. I am no boffin, but I have worked with trees and tramped and hunted all my life so I have a pretty good practical understanding of how why and where trees grow.
6) I am not one of the people at the trough getting paid to cut down trees and dump tonnes of herbicide on the land.
7) Heard of Global warming? The antidote is trees.
8) Nature abhors a vacuum - where nothing else grows, she will put something. That's practical ecology.

If Forest and Bird and their chums really wanted to do something about wilding trees, they would be propagating native species that do flourish ie Kanuka.

flawed on many levels?

Flawed on many levels? Actually, no...

1: It's a well documented fact that afforestation of previously unforested areas will, and does reduce water yeild to lower catchments by 30%-50% 5-10 years after planting. 

2: Pine needles acidify soils and can alter soil chemistry enough to prohibit the recruitment of previously local endemic flora (another pesky fact, sorry). 

3: Forest & Bird have made lots of money from cutting down pine trees? Forest & Bird have made precisely nothing from removing invasive trees, and they fund these operations largely out of branch funds under a no fault no blame policy. It costs F&B to clean up a mess created by regional councils, local bodies, landowners and forestors. 

4: Nothing does a better job at stabilising slopes and regulating erosion than the species that have naturally evolved there over millions of years. Leave them be (or encourage restoration) and they'll perform as they always have.

5: And most importantly, can you explain how you get back the flora removed from an alpine cushion field, or a stunted beech forest, or rare scree plants - by being blanketed in wilding pines? "In the very short term" you say. And then what? they come back? Come on man. You have absolutely no clue about practical ecology.  PS: Sorry about all the facts.

Removal critical my eye!

Your argument is flawed on many levels, " drying up lower catchments" It won't happen, tree cover will allow percolation of heavy water flows, avoiding damage from run off, soil stabilisation. How about having a look at the confluence(i?) of the Manuherikea and Kawarau rivers with the Clutha to see the silt build up from eroding land.
" damaging soils" another F & B myth, Pine trees may raise the Ph level on some soils to some degree but the negative effects are far outweighed by the deposits of organic matter on poorly structured soil and as for Pines "poisoning" the soil, that is plainly rubbish talk. Reduced biodiversity, only in the very short term, if you were to go to Europe or USA yourself, you would see that as trees mature and light is filtered through canopies/ fallen trees , other species develop, You only have to take a drive up Mt Cargill to see pine forest with a diverse undergrowth, removal of recreational and landscape values.... really?
All I can say is, thank god for the wild briar, because underneath that wildly spreading beastie, which is doing exactly the same things you say the Pines/Firs do, all sorts of lovely trees will be developing.
What then? Agent Orange?

Bureaucrats and academics

Small minded, power crazy, pedantic bureacrats and myopic academics butting their way into people's affairs in the misguided belief that they know whats best... Followed up by comments by people who obviously have no idea why and how trees grow...Forest and Bird make a lot of money cutting trees down so I have some doubt about their objectivity and have long questioned their rationalisations for removal of self sown trees where no other grow...

non-wilding reply

They would have to go through resourse consent and  the rigorous pulic scrutiny and input that it involves. They simply wouldn't get consent to plant in a seed "take off" zone such as where this plantation was situated. It would have been a nightmare to deal with in 10-15 years time.


Is it OK for City Forests, a DCC-controlled enterprise to plant pines on its approved plantations in the same general area...?

Removal critical

@ pukeko, you really have no idea what you are talking about. Removing this vast stand of trees is absolutely critical to the preservation of the maungatua plateau and the mahinerangi slope of the range. I have been removing wilding pines for over 7 years both professionally and as a volunteer. These trees, once seeding, would steadily infest these tussock grasslands and sub alpine shrublands at a rate which would eventually require wholesale aerial spraying by helicopter. Look at Queenstown, Cragieburn or Mid dome (I doubt you are aware of the scale of the problem at any of these sites) If you want the entire (unmanaged) countryside to be covered in mature pine trees, effictively reducing biodiversity to a single species, drying up all your lower catchments, damaging your soils and removing all recreational opportunities and landscape values, then fine. But go live in Europe or America if you want your landscape covered in pine trees please.

Not quite alright

Analogies are good, but comparing a harmless pastime such as planting trees to letting off firearms, dumping asbestos or hooning near schools doesnt really stack, it's comparing apples to tripe.

Cutting oxygen giving trees is ecological damage, (hardly the other way round!) especially as they help stabilise slips.  Imagine a world without trees?  And a fire risk?  Are they close to any built up areas?  Go figure.  So, because forests are a fire risk, should we remove all large clusters of trees because of that??  A house is a fire risk too, in fact anything that can be set on fire is.   I mean, theres a huge forest were planted in the Mt Allan area, simlar terrain, so the pines this guy was growing are no more a risk than there. 

It's just the DCC doing what they do best; being a pain in the proverbial with self invented ridiculous meaningless bureaucracy.  But as we have seen over the last few years, they are their own law unto themselves.  If someone else did the same as they, but not to their advantage, they would get closed down.

Missing the point

Some of those responding to this article are clearly missing the point of property rights and the RMA.
How many of them would deem it significant if they were required to have a resource consents to plant their own gardens or have to face legal action because the Council decided the plantings did not fit with the district plan?
If residential land had to have a resource consents to plant any species that was not a native species or part of the natural landscape I would guarantee the people who believe this is a good decision would be up in arms.
For example, if someone wanted to plant a vegetable garden in a residential zone should they be allowed? Residential land, after all, is not rural zone where horticulture is allowed. Some people really need to thing issues through!

Not quite...

DundeeBoy hasn't quite understood that the analogy is valid because we all live in a society with rules.  Feel like letting off firearms in your apartment block?  Or fancy punching the neighbour in the face because you don't like their loud music?  Or perhaps opening your doors to become the district asbestos dumping ground?  All are illegal actions that contravene laws for public safety reasons.  As is deciding to plant a forest in a high-fire-risk area.  (Not to mention the ecological damage.)  The "it's my land I'll do as I please" concept is thankfully a historical footnote from the wild west.

Trees in Kaikorai Valley

I refer to Wynot's comment about not allowing replanting of trees where they have been recently harvested in Kaikorai Valley. My wife, Natalie and I own the recently felled lot on the east side of Kaikorai Valley behing the car dealers.

I fully appreciate the problems pine trees impose on communities and I am in entire agreement that they are undesirable within the city.  Our own experience of having the sun blocked out by a great black wall of trees, shovelling cakes of pollen off the drive, hayfever and all that goes with it means that we won't be replanting pines.

The trees were initially established by previous owners without consent in a residential zone.  A resource consent - which required many to be removed on the higher slopes - was given in 1993, which required their removal no later than October 2017. The area was rezoned rural as part of the new District Plan from the existing residential zoning in about 1997 and so establishment of pine forests became a permitted use.  We acquired the land for our home in 2003.

We felled the forest as soon as it was economically viable for us to do so - a marginal exercise at the best of times and the expense of doing so and extracting through a residential area has been inordinately expensive. There is nothing in the law as it stands currently to prevent us from replanting, however at our request the Council is investigating the possibility of rezoning our previous forest land back to residential as part of its Second Generation District Plan. This would preclude further forest planting without consent. 

We hope that the land is rezoned residential and we would then look at a suitable residential area being established. I would value the support of those who seek a change of use away from forests to that residential rezoning proposal.

Chris Medlicott

Only one side of the story

Read the second article on this in today's ODT and you get a different picture altogether.

Seems this guy had plenty of communication with the DCC and chose to ignore the advice he was given.

Think a bit harder

zfh10's analogy is flawed.  Of course you can drive your car as fast as you like, as long as you stay within the bounds of your own property. Comparing your rights on a public road is somewhat different to comparing your rights on your property. When corrected, your analogy actually argues the opposite (of what you are saying) and supports this man's case, in that he should be able to do what he likes with his property because you can in fact drive your car as fast as you like on yours.

Think about it

'Waynewhoever': Who thinks you can do as you please on your own land without consideration for others?  By following this chain of logic, how about "It's my car, I'll drive as fast as I like, especially around schools".  

Owner's sore

One law for the rich and one law for the rest of us? This time we won!

Gorse or trees

Well, it seems to be a kiwi pastime to often want to tear down trees for no real reason. Fine if the tree has become a hazard if it's dead, but this sort of situation? So much for clean and green we are supposed to be. Though DCC clearly cannot see it, it goes without saying there is an obvious choice between gorse, broom, barren landscape, or trees which absorb c02 and also help stabilise unstable slopes. It was his property, he was doing nature a favour, trees can only be an enhancement. If it was me I'd be ropable too.

Shame on you, DCC.

What a joke

What a joke. This poor man has done all this hard work cleared all the broom and what not. The land is only good for trees. And by the way if they are worried about wilding pines spreading shouldn't they be worried about the other forestry up in the same area and a few million trees they have - what a joke.

'Sad' situation indeed

A lot of writers ask "what makes this guy think that he can go plant 1000s of trees on the Maungatuas without asking anyone?" Wel,l most likely he thinks that it is his own land and he can plant what he likes on it which he should be able to do so! But alas, they that know better than he think not.Bureaucracy it is alive well and in Dunedin!  What a ''sad'' situation indeed.

It's his land

Why shouldn't he be able to do what he wants on his own land? He brought it, paid the going rate for it. Cleared it. Pays the rates on it. It's his land, not the DCCs or any one elses. If you dont like it, offer to buy it off him at the current going rate. If not, leave the man alone to use and improve his land the way he see fit.  Next we will need a permit to invite family over to have a BBQ. Trees look better then gorse and broom.


So how does this decision fit with the "Purposes" of the RMA? I can't find anywhere in the RMA where it states that the "Purposes" of the RMA do not have to qualify under any other section including Landscape Conservation.

The Bill Of Rights Act and also the Universal Declaration of Human Rights should also give this man some protection.

Why are Otago University staff continually involving themselves in RMA issues? Does the Otago University have some internal policy that they encourage staff to go around reporting people to the DCC?  The DCC taking an old man to Court is nothing but bullying. He was undertaking an honest business transaction and made a mistake - this is bureaucracy at its worse.

If he had a chimney stack polluting the air or chemicals dripping into a waterway I could understand, but this is absolutely ridiculous. [Abridged]





Yes he did check, but he didn't check enough.

Well I read the article and I see he did ask ORC.  But how come DCC have a record of someone from Grant's Motel making an enquiry?  Did they make an enquiry, not like the answer, and went ahead anyway?  So it is hard to tell who was told what, but if you don't have it in writing it is very hard to argue or prove you have it at all.

Without asking anyone?

Get real clearly didn't read the article or he would not be asking how come "this guy thinks that he can go plant 1000s of trees on the Maungatuas without asking anyone?"

In the ODT article it's quite clear he did ask: "He asked the Otago Regional Council if there would be any issues and received a verbal confirmation,
but was not told to check with the DCC and so did not."

This is the kind of mess caused by the DCC and ORC being as far apart as Tapanui and Mars, when it comes to useful communication with the people who pay rates to both of them. It is time they pulled their socks up.

Are pine plantations in Kaikorai Valley legal?

Plantation behind Kaikorai Valley High school and further south was recently cut down. Hopefully consent will not be given for replant.

A mass of trees on the hillside was a eyesore. They also  caused high pollen levels in season and a pine needle problem.

Based on the above story, pine tree planting in surburban areas would be banned by the council. Did/do the landowners have consent?

Leave gorse alone

If the land owner had left the broom and gorse alone within a few years native trees would have started to grow through the nursery canopy, giving him a much greater asset then imported species ever would have. 

wilding trees

He 'won't invest in Dunedin again'?  Pass me the tissues please.

If he did his homework he would realize that planting trees at an altitude that causes significant pest problems in the high country is not a smart idea.  He can blame council officials all he likes...but if he was an astute businessman, he would've thoroughly investigated the situation before blowing several hundred thousand on an ill-fated 'investment'.  The fact his retrospective consent application was incomplete...quelle surprise!  I don't think he can blame anyone but himself.

Go plant your trees in Twizel

So let me get this right, this guy thinks that he can go plant 1000s of trees on the Maungatuas without asking anyone?

Perhaps he should try the same in Twizel, There is a big mountain range there called the Southern Alps, I am sure he doesn't need to ask permission there also?

It's called Environmental vandalism mate .... read the rule book next time!   

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