Trees

Somme Parade walkway trees

Whanganui District Council manages more than 6000 street trees and 10,000 surveyed parks and reserve trees, in addition to thousands of square metres of as-yet unsurveyed wilderness areas, tree belts and road reserve areas.

All surveyed trees are inspected every three years, or more often if necessary depending on their location and previous maintenance history. Works are then done to bring the tree in line with the Council’s contract specification. The primary focus of all tree works is health and safety, and to maintain and enhance the Council’s tree collection for the benefit of Whanganui residents and visitors. 

Trees provide a wide range of natural benefits and their importance to Whanganui has been recognised in the Whanganui District Council Tree Strategy 2016(PDF, 554KB). The key principles of this document are:

  • The Council wishes to emphasise the value of its street trees, and the importance placed on the role of the Council as the guardian of this tree stock.
  • In its decision-making the Council places a high value on the benefits of trees to the community as a whole rather than costs / benefits to private individuals.
  • The Council strives to maintain the integrity of Whanganui’s treescape for future generations while allowing the flexibility for necessary tree removal and replacement.

As well as maintaining the Council’s existing trees, a tree-planting programme also exists to enhance and improve the environment for Whanganui’s future residents. Thought is given to popular walking routes, school routes and playgrounds to provide shade, allowing for longer periods of activity. If you have a suggestion for a good planting location get in touch with the Parks Team.

Frequently asked questions

Can I prune the Council tree at the front of my house?

No, we have experienced contractors who are trained in correct pruning techniques for maintaining the optimal health of our trees, and – most importantly – the safe methods for doing this work. However, if there are minor branches that overhang into private property that can be pruned using hand tools then this is acceptable.  

How do I get a Council tree pruned or removed?

Contact the Parks Team, who will assess your request. Please refer to the list of common complaints and actions – this outlines the likely outcome of your enquiry. The presumption will be the retention of the tree, unless structurally unsound or in irrecoverable poor health. 

Can I plant trees on the berm?

No, planting trees is a Council function. There are many factors to consider when planting trees on berms such as underground services, overhead power lines, suitability, character areas and so on. Planting is more effective when done as part of a larger programme. Newly planted trees can then be added to the Council’s maintenance programme to ensure establishment. You may request trees to be planted on your berm, and these requests will be assessed as part of the Council’s overall planting programme.

Will the Council prune my private tree?

No, private trees are the responsibility of the landowner and the Council does not offer a pruning service. A number of tree contractors operate in the Whanganui region – please contact the Parks Team for details. 

My neighbour’s tree overhangs my boundary – what can I do?

This is a private matter between two property owners. However, there is a common law right that allows you to abate a nuisance by pruning vegetation back to the boundary line. It is good practice to discuss proposed work with the tree owner for the sake of good neighbourly relations before doing any work. 

Will the Council clear the leaves and fruit / seed that has fallen from their trees?

No. The Council will sweep excessive leaf / fruit / seed fall from the streets and footpaths on a rotational basis but some seasonal clean-up is expected to be done by residents as part of general maintenance. There is an overwhelming desire from the community to have trees in our environment – however, a natural drawback of trees is the mess they can create. Please contact the Council’s Infrastructure Team if you’d like to know when your street is due to be swept.

Why has the tree in my street been cut down?

Trees are living, changing organisms and may suffer disease or injury that affects their structural integrity or overall health. In an urban environment it’s necessary to remove trees before they pose an increased risk to the public, rather than wait for them to fail. Immediately adjacent residents will be notified about tree removals with a wider consultation plan for more significant trees, such as protected trees under the District Plan. Contact the Parks Team for information on any specific removals.

Common complaints and actions


Birds or insects causing a nuisance

We will not prune or remove a tree to remove or reduce bird droppings from trees. 

Customer advice  Our response to this tree-related enquiry 

Bird droppings and insects may be a nuisance but the problem is not legally considered a sufficient reason to prune or remove a tree. Warm, soapy water will usually be sufficient to remove the bird droppings.

If you wish to exercise your common law right to remove (abate) the nuisance associated with encroaching trees please see the section on overhanging branches. 

This will not require a site inspection – you will be informed of the Council’s policy on receipt of the enquiry.


Tree sap (honeydew), falling leaves, blossom, seeds or fruit

We will not prune or remove a Council-owned tree to remove or reduce the nuisance of tree sap (honeydew), falling leaves, seeds or fruits.

Customer advice  Our response to this tree-related enquiry 

Tree sap, or honeydew, is caused by aphid infestations and is worse for some species of tree. The sugary water will leave a residue on hard, smooth surfaces and can be removed with warm, soapy water. The Council is not able to control aphid infestations and their presence is not considered a legal nuisance. 

Falling leaves, blossom, seeds or fruit are not the responsibility of the Council once they have fallen from the tree and are therefore not a sufficient reason to prune or remove a tree. Roads are swept of excessive leaves, blossom or fruit as necessary. If you’d like to report a street that needs to be cleaned please contact customer services on 06 349 0001. 

If you wish to exercise your common law right to remove (abate) the nuisance associated with encroaching trees please see the section on overhanging branches.

 This will not require a site inspection. You will be informed of the Council’s policy on receipt of the enquiry.

Trees blocking light

We will not prune or remove a Council-owned tree to improve natural light in a property or garden.

Customer advice  Our response to this tree-related enquiry 

There is no right to light concerning trees. The only right to light may be earned under the Prescriptions Act 1832, which relates primarily to built structures that directly block light to windows. 

If you wish to exercise your common law right to remove (abate) the nuisance associated with encroaching trees please see the section on overhanging branches.

 This will not require a site inspection. You will be informed of the Council’s policy on receipt of the enquiry.

Trees considered too large

We will not prune or remove a Council-owned tree because it is considered to be “too big” or “too tall”.

Customer advice  Our response to this tree-related enquiry 

A tree is not necessarily dangerous just because it may be considered too big for its surroundings. Trees are self-optimising organisms that grow and develop in tune with their environment. The majority of Council-owned trees are allowed to grow to their natural capacity – the exceptions being where power lines impede growth, where previous maintenance practices require repetition and where the tree requires pruning for safety reasons as determined by the Council’s arborist. 

This will not require a site inspection – you will be informed of the Council’s policy on receipt of the enquiry.

Trees blocking TV reception or solar panels

We will not prune or remove a Council-owned tree to prevent interference with TV / satellite installation / reception or solar panels.

Customer advice  Our response to this tree-related enquiry 

It may be that your satellite, TV or solar panel provider may be able to suggest an alternative solution to the problem. For example, relocating the hardware to boost signal / light ingress.

This will not require a site inspection – you will be informed of the Council’s policy on receipt of the enquiry.

If you wish to exercise your common law right to remove (abate) the nuisance associated with encroaching trees please see the section on overhanging branches.

Overhanging branches

We will not prune or remove a Council-owned tree to alleviate the nuisance of overhanging branches.

Customer advice  Our response to this tree-related enquiry 

Common law right – you have a common law right to remove (abate) the nuisance associated with trees encroaching onto your property. With this right comes a duty of care, meaning if the work you do causes the tree to fail you could legally be held responsible. The following advice is given if you wish to exercise your common law right:

  • You can only consider removing those parts of the tree from the point where they cross the boundary of your property. You have no legal right to access, cut or remove any part of a tree that doesn’t overhang your property. That includes climbing the tree. 
  • You are strongly advised to consult a professional arborist for guidance on how best to prune back encroaching trees unless for example, the works are trivial and can be done with hand tools.
  • You are strongly advised to tell the owner of the trees what you plan to do. You can find out if the trees are owned by the Council by contacting the Parks Team. 
  • You are strongly advised to find out if the trees you wish to prune are protected under the District Plan(PDF, 190KB).

This will not require a site inspection – you will be informed of the Council’s policy on receipt of the enquiry.

Trees perceived to be causing medical issues

If a request is made to remove or prune a tree because of alleged medical issues, the Council will ask for supporting evidence from a relevant medical professional. 

Customer advice  Our response to this tree-related enquiry 

A site inspection will be made to ascertain the condition of the relevant tree. The onus will be on the customer to prove, with evidence in line with the Council’s Trees and Health Policy, that this particular tree is affecting their health and that the removal of it will significantly improve their condition. 

If you wish to exercise your common law right to remove (abate) the nuisance associated with encroaching trees please see the section on overhanging branches.

Dead, dying or diseased trees and those considered dangerous

The Council will prune or remove a Council-owned tree if it is identified as dead, dying or diseased by the Council’s arborist. 

Any decisions to take action will be based on the risk to the public, the site usage and the particular disease identified on the species. The time frame given for action will depend on the degree of risk to people and property identified at the time of inspection.

Customer advice  Our response to this tree-related enquiry 

Signs to look for that may mean a tree is in such a condition as to warrant swift action include:

  • the tree is snapped or blown over
  • the tree has uprooted but is held up by another tree or building
  • a large branch has broken off and is hanging off the tree
  • the tree or branch is blocking the road or footpath
  • the tree or branch is blocking access to property.

Signs to look for that may mean a tree is dead, dying or diseased:

  • the tree is dead (no leaves present during all seasons)
  • the tree is dying (fewer leaves than normal or paler, smaller leaves)
  • bark is loose and falling off
  • mushrooms or fungi are growing on or near the tree
  • old splits and cracks in the trunk or large branches of the tree.

Trees that sway in the wind are commonly reported as a safety concern. However, trees will naturally bend and sway in the wind, sometimes steeply, because the pliability in the branches and stem is a mechanism for the tree to avoid failure. In other words, if they didn’t sway they would snap. 

Leaning trees are also often reported as dangerous trees. A tree that has grown on a lean is not usually a concern. However, a tree that suddenly starts to lean or tilt should be reported as a dangerous tree. 

A site inspection will be made to ascertain the condition of the relevant tree. The onus will be on the customer to prove, with evidence in line with the Council’s Trees and Health Policy, that this particular tree is affecting their health and that the removal of it will significantly improve their condition. 

If you wish to exercise your common law right to remove (abate) the nuisance associated with encroaching trees please see the section on overhanging branches. 

Damage to property

The Council will take appropriate action to remove the nuisance caused by Council-owned trees for the following reasons:

  • A tree in Council ownership is touching your property (dwelling house, garage and so on).
  • It has been proven that the tree has caused damage.

We will not prune or remove a tree for the following reasons:

  • To prevent roots entering a drain that is already damaged on a private property.
  • Unproven accusations of damage caused to a private property.
Customer advice  Our response to this tree-related enquiry 

If you believe that your property is being damaged by Council-owned trees you should report it to the Parks Team. It is strongly recommended to document any damage caused and obtain any relevant professional reports before submitting a claim to the Council for consideration.

A site inspection will be made by the Council’s arborist to ascertain the extent of damage. Minor tree works will be done on a without-prejudice basis if necessary. Significant cases will be referred to the Council’s Risk and Insurance Officer for consideration.

Trees interfering with roads or footpaths

The Council will prune Council-owned trees where they have been identified as interfering with roads or footpaths.

Customer advice  Our response to this tree-related enquiry 

The clearance height for minor roads within Whanganui is 4.5 metres, creating a clear central corridor for traffic to pass along. However, this doesn’t mean kerb-to-kerb clearance of 4.5 metres will be possible in all cases because of the number of mature trees present along a given berm area. 

The clearance height for footpaths is 2.5 metres – Council-owned trees will be routinely kept clear to this height.

Root disruption of footpaths should be reported to our Infrastructure Team who manage roading contracts and are responsible for maintaining pathways. This includes trip hazards as well as degraded pathways.

Private vegetation causing issues to roads or footpaths can be reported to our Regulatory Team, who will make contact with the private owner requiring action. 

A site inspection will be made by the Council’s arborist and they will determine the appropriate action. The customer will be informed of the outcome of the inspection.

Protected trees

Whanganui has a valuable tree collection and about 400 have been selected to be protected under the District Plan. These trees have been individually assessed and their worth, either alone or as a group, has been determined to be significant. About half of these trees stand on private property with the remainder within Council management. 

Permitted works are allowed without a resource management application and can be done by the owner of the tree.  

The following are permitted activities:

  • Minor trimming and maintenance to any protected tree. This is limited to:
  • the trimming and clearance of foliage or branches from existing utility networks that have the potential to compromise the operation of (or access to) the network utility, street lights or land boundary encroachments that doesn’t alter the shape or health of the tree
  • clearance of foliage or branches no greater than 100mm in diameter from roads, footpaths and driveways that doesn’t alter the shape or health of the tree
  • removal of dead wood from trees
  • the removal of dead or diseased vegetation
  • clearance and clean-up after storm damage including broken branches
  • fencing of protected trees within the drip line when the location of the fence is approved by an arborist and the assessment submitted to the Council
  • controlling pest plants and weeds within the drip line by methods that are not harmful.
  • Destruction or removal of any protected tree with an arborist assessment submitted by the Council stating the work is:
  • as an emergency work to maintain or restore existing power or telecommunication links
  • to safeguard life or property.

It is advisable to take photographs before work starts and during operations, to support that the works done are indeed permitted works should they be questioned at a later stage. The Council’s arborist is available for clarification of works prior to engaging a contractor if required. 

If you are unsure if your tree is protected please refer to the list of protected trees in the District Plan.

If additional works are needed outside of permitted works then these may be considered either controlled or discretionary works and may require a Resource Management application for consideration. 

The following activities are controlled activities:

  • alteration of the shape or health of a protected tree as part of a tree maintenance programme
  • removal of a protected tree that will be replaced with the progeny of the same tree.

 The following are discretionary activities:

  • the modification, destruction or removal of any protected tree except as provided for above
  • any activity including excavation, construction or reconstruction work within the drip line of a protected tree, unless stated as a permitted activity.

The Council’s arborist is available for advice prior to engaging a contractor if required.