Under the microscope: Gertrude's Saddlery land, to the left, where up to three hectares of wilding trees were felled over the weekend

A stoush has broken out over the legality of a massive tree-felling operation at Queenstown’s Arthurs Point, directly above the Shotover River, last weekend.

Andrew Fairfax, whose company Gertrude’s Saddlery’s proposing a housing development on the land, says contractors legally felled two to three hectares of wilding pines on his privately-owned, rural-zoned land.

It was a permitted activity under the district plan, he claims, and was necessary because many trees were in an unsafe condition following winter storms.

A proposed ‘outstanding natural landscape’ (ONL) designation on the property doesn’t introduce any requirements for consent to be obtained for felling activity, he says.

‘‘Whatever zoning decisions are made, the wilding pines needed to come down.

‘‘As a long-term local resident, I’m doing right by the land and the community in terms of immediate ecological benefits.’’

However, Tom Dery, who owns property directly across the river and chairs the Arthurs Point Outstanding Natural Landscape Society (APONLS), says Fairfax ‘‘claims to everyone he’s just doing it because he’s a farmer and wants to clear some land, in spite of the fact he has put in a proposal for development of some 74 houses, all of which is going to a hearing in November’’.

Objector: A case of ‘cut now, sorry later’

‘‘He was not doing it so he could put more cattle on the land.

‘‘He’s saying he had approval to do all that, but clearly he didn’t, he needs to have a formal approval given the purpose of felling the trees was really for residential development, and he’s already had a request in to do that residential development.

‘‘As far as we are concerned, this is a case of ‘cut down now, say sorry later’.’’

Tree controversy: Landowner Andrew Fairfax says the felling was legal

Fairfax says immediate neighbours were notified, and specialist machinery ensured the trees were felled with minimal noise or disruption.

He points out council officers visited the site and were satisfied the felling was a permitted activity.

Dery, however, begs to differ — ‘‘the officers were [allegedly] told by the lawyers that were onsite waiting for them they had the right, and the council officers weren’t in a position to challenge or question it’’.

A council spokesperson confirms staff visited the site, along with regional council reps.

‘‘At this time, QLDC has not determined non-compliance with this activity under the district plan, therefore, a cease works notice has not been issued.

‘‘We will continue to work through this matter and keep the concerned parties updated.’’

Dery, meanwhile, also finds it interesting security guards were employed to stop people even getting close.

‘‘And why on a Sunday was this happening, when the costs clearly are very high?’’

Fairfax says access was restricted for health and safety reasons, due to the hazardous nature of the felling operation.

He adds: ‘‘Under rules applicable to our land, there are no restrictions on felling trees at the weekend or any other day of the year.

‘‘The timing of the felling operation and methods used were due to availability of machinery and manpower.’’

Fairfax maintains responsible landowners cut down wilding pines every day, ‘‘because invasive pest species of trees need to be controlled, not cherished’’.

APONLS treasurer Matt Semple, however, says landscape architects consider these trees add to the character of the area, especially given its ONL attributes.

He also argues these larches aren’t the ones causing the spread of wilding pines compared to those higher up.

Fairfax, meanwhile, says he’ll soon release a masterplan for his land, in which extensive work has gone in to providing community amenities for walking and biking.

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