Contractors worked over two days to remove protected pōhutukawa tree in Birkenhead

A team of six to eight contractors worked over two days to chop down a protected pōhutukawa tree in Birkenhead and turn it into a pile of sawdust, says a local resident.

The man, who does not want to be named, said the contractors spent much of the first day chopping down the large tree and putting it through a wood chipper before work resumed the next day with a stump grinder to complete the job.

Video of the illegal behaviour two weeks ago shows a contractor putting a small branch from the pōhutukawa tree through the wood chipper and a digger working alongside a pile of logs from the tree.

The neighbour said the large logs also went through the chipper.

“They were chucking huge branches through the chopper and turning them to a pulp,” he said.

Auckland Council launched an investigation after receiving a complaint on March 28 about a pohutukawa being removed from a property at 32a Hinemoa St. The resource consent application for a new house on the site is on hold, a spokeswoman said.

The penalty for someone cutting down a scheduled tree is a fine of up to $300,000 or a jail sentence of up to two years.

One neighbour said someone turned up, asked the neighbours to remove cars from a shared driveway and proceeded to chop down one of the large trees, saying they had a consent to do so.

“On checking we have discovered they don’t have a consent at all. But it’s too late, they have removed the tree.

“We are very concerned with this behaviour and hope the council takes a firm stand and sends a message this cannot be tolerated,” the neighbour said.

The council spokeswoman said the pōhutukawa that was removed is part of a group of trees listed in schedule 10 of the Unitary Plan.

“Schedule 10 gives protection to all listed trees by requiring landowners to apply for a resource consent before trimming, felling or works within the root zone can take place,” she said.

The loss of the native tree comes amid growing concerns and controversy over the loss of trees in Auckland.

A century-old pōhutukawa in Mt Eden is at risk after the council left it off its protected tree schedule; in March protesters clashed with police in a last-ditch effort to save 23 native trees on a development site in Avondale, and protesters tried to save a 150-year-old macrocarpa tree on the site of an apartment block in Avondale.

On the flip side, the council and Mayor Phil Goff made a big song and dance when the first two of seven mature pōhutukawa trees were replanted in Quay St last month.

“Trees make our city a more pleasant place to live,” Goff said.

A Forest & Bird spokeswoman said sadly trees and native habitat that should and in many cases are protected are being cleared all over the country.

“We desperately need the Government to progress the Indigenous Biodiversity Policy that will require councils to protect the important trees and wildlife in their regions, so we can bring nature back to our communities and our country,” she said.

The new house at Hinemoa St is being built by Jing Li and Yan Zhu, who have applied for resource consent to build a double storey, four-bedroom home at 32a Hinemoa St.

The 673sq m section has been subdivided from a neighbouring property.

Hinemoa St is one of the top streets in the North Shore suburb of Birkenhead with views across the Waitemata Harbour and property prices reaching $5 million.

The resource consent application submitted to the council by Holistic Planning for the owners said the “grove of pōhutukawa trees located on the southern parts of the site will be fully protected … with the proposed dwelling well set back from this area”.

The grove of pōhutukawa trees extend beyond the owners’ property and backs on to Hinemoa Park, which runs down to the harbour and the Birkenhead ferry terminal.

The Herald is seeking comment from the owners of the property and Holistic Planning.

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