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Felling is ‘out of bounds’

Martinborough locals were dismayed and angered this week as the Martinborough Golf Club [MGC] organised the felling of a large number of old oak and other trees without following an agreed process.

Both the Martinborough Community Board [MCB] and South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] expressed disapproval on Thursday after it became clear the golf club had not followed a formal written process for removing the trees, with one resident referring to some of those involved as “cowboys”.

The MGC committee confirmed about 25 trees bit the dust on the course on Monday to make way for clubhouse development.

For some Martinborough residents, the sound of chainsaws on Monday morning heralded the imminent felling of the oaks and other trees – some believed about 100 years old.

The ill-fated trees either abutted or were close to the golf clubhouse just off Todd’s Rd, an area popular with local dog walkers, golfers and ramblers.

The trees came down in breach of a process requiring formal written notice to be given to SWDC, in preparation for an upgrade of the premises.

One resident who wanted to remain anonymous said the tree-felling was a significant loss to the community.

“It’s always sad when beautiful, established trees are lost. They take decades to grow, but only minutes to cut down, after which they are gone forever,” he said.

Another resident described “a lack of communication” on the issue.

“This arises from a misguided sense of entitlement which allows people to behave like cowboys,” she said.

“A number of people are at fault, which is the result of not following processes. We hope there will be better planning in the future for the benefit of the whole community.”

The MGC leases the land for the course from SWDC and is required to seek approval in writing from the council to remove trees, which it did not do.

A joint statement on Thursday from Martinborough Golf Club captain Andy Morison, president Lachie McLeod, and clubhouse project manager John Thomson admitted the error but explained the work was necessary to redevelop club buildings.

On Thursday, a meeting between MGC representatives and SWDC was held in an effort to develop what was described in the MGC statement issued by the council as “a better and more robust process” for the tree management.

“Back in late September 2022, we contacted the SWDC and had a meeting on-site to discuss our plans for a new clubhouse and the need to remove some trees. We had a series of engagements with the nearest neighbours,” the statement said.

“We took the meeting with SWDC staff as agreement with our plans but now accept that we should have followed this up in writing.”

Stefan Corbett, SWDC group manager partnerships and operations, said the council was “disappointed” by what had happened.

“Council is very disappointed that the trees were cut down without formal written permission being requested and provided,” he said.

“Felling of mature trees is understandably concerning to most people. However, council appreciates that in this situation, it was an essential step in the MGC’s development plans. We accept there was no malicious intent. Council also understands that MGC has been communicating with neighbouring properties and its club members to keep them informed of plans, and no objections to the tree removal had been raised that they are aware of.

“Under Council’s lease agreement with MGC, formal [written] permission must be sought for any tree felling. Today’s discussion has been helpful in reminding MGC of its obligation to follow our contractual agreement, including for tree felling.”

The new clubhouse site has to move away from the Squash Club and the Martinborough main town water supply, which currently runs between the two buildings. The site move necessitated the tree removals.

The felled trees included 22 oak, one gum and two pine, some of which were described in the statement as being damaged or diseased. The MGC statement restated the club’s commitment to replacing lost trees with New Zealand natives.

“Trees are an essential part of a golf course. We are consulting with biodiversity groups in relation to new planting as we have in the past. The club hates having to remove trees, but sadly, sometimes there is no alternative,” it said.

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