Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Trees, history and politics

 Photo: Neville Exler collection, Avondale-Waterview Historical Society

Once upon a time, there was one last remaining market garden on Avondale's Rosebank Peninsula. Just one -- known to all here as the Connell Property. It had outlasted the others, swept away with rating changes which changed the landscape of vegetables and orchards to industry at one end, and residential at the other. The land was purchased a piece at a time from 1902 to the 1920s by Dan Connell senior, and sold all at once by the remaining family members to developers for $12.5 million, who in turn left their mark on the landscape with the future meaninglessness that is Jomac Place.

The developers came in, and removed the former hedges of pines which had screened much of the large property from roadside view -- and revealed two trees, an oak and a pohutukawa, which have been catalysts for battle between locals, the Tree Council, Auckland City Council, Citizens & Ratepayers councillors, City Vision councillors, the Green Party and the developers for many months now.

You'll see a picture of the trees here.

While my historical society, Avondale-Waterview, endorse the stand by those who'd like to see the trees preserved (and hopefully with at least a bit of greenspace left, if possible, and my own opinion is that they are a remnant of the market garden period of Avondale's history (a working market garden would have been better, but in this day and age, you take what you can get) -- I did question the ages bandied about by both the supporters, and the Council. That "80 to 100 years old" thing for the trees.

The Auckland Regional Council have aerials on their site from 1940, c.1959, 2001 and 2008. This is from 1940 -- and the trees, if there, aren't really substantially evident.

The site in 2008. They're there now.

I reckon the trees are around 75 years old, at best. Maybe 75-80 years old. Not touching the century, though. That age seems to be backed up by former Rosebank residents recalling Dan Connell junior as the one who planted an acorn which became the oak. You really can't judge the age of a tree by the sale date on a property title.

The fuss about the trees did come as a bit of a surprise to me. Completely out of the blue (well, I don't drive, so I don't drive past the development, and see suddenly bare ground with two trees remaining ...). I was approached by the Green Party's David Clendon (I took the train to Kingsland one day, walked to the Green Party offices to meet him after he said he wanted info on the Connells), then the Tree Council's Sigrid Shayer. All around me, at meetings of the Avondale Community Board, came the expressions of "Oh, look! We can see the trees now, let's save them!" Gives rather renewed meaning to the old saying, "Out of sight, out of mind."

Oh well. The trees are "in sight" now, highly visible, on political radar all over the place. Maybe the developer will say "Yes, I'll leave them both alone", or say no. Maybe there'll be an expensive Environment Court tussle over them. Very expensive for the losing side.

The politics of tree preservation, in this case, is not over yet.

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