Developer facing angry community for pohutukawa destruction

By Stuart Dye

A developer who ordered the destruction of a giant pohutukawa tree may be forced to face a community furious about his crime.

George Bernard Shaw pleaded guilty in the Auckland District Court to a charge of destroying the 100-year-old protected tree.

The pohutukawa, in Mt Smart Rd, Royal Oak, was attacked in January when two men were seen leaping from a car and hacking the limbs from the tree about 10.30am.

It will soon be assessed by an arborist and may yet die.

The charge is punishable by a fine of up to $200,000 or two years in prison, but Judge Fred McElrea deferred sentencing until February 13 for restorative justice.

That process is likely to include a meeting at the Maungakiekie Community Board with those directly affected by the cutting down of the tree.

The pohutukawa was famed for its size and beauty, reaching 11 metres in height, limbs more than two metres in girth and a canopy spread of more than 20 metres.

The tree was scheduled in the council's District Plan, preventing works within its dripline and all but very minor hand pruning.

The chainsaw attack, on January 24, came after the council had put on hold an application to demolish buildings on the site because of concerns the work would be required within the dripline of the tree.

Demolition went ahead regardless and the site was cleared except for the tree.

Friday's court hearing came after Shaw, who owns the Mt Smart Rd section, had appeared before an Auckland City Council committee and apologised for the attack.

He said he "foolishly succumbed to heavy financial stress" and would turn the clock back if he could. However, the council's submissions to the court said there were several aggravating features to the crime.

Shaw had a commercial motivation, previous convictions for tree removal and had at first denied the attack.

"In particular, Auckland City noted that Mr Shaw's guilty plea was a reversal of his earlier attitude, which was one of complete disregard for the damage that he had caused," said a council spokesman.

"Mr Shaw publicly denied any involvement and statements to this effect were published in media reports. He maintained this position until relatively recently, when Auckland City disclosed the extent of its evidence against him."

The submissions also acknowledged that Shaw had made efforts to demonstrate remorse through a voluntary payment of $50,000 towards Auckland City's costs and a public apology made to the planning and regulatory committee on December 8.

He has now also agreed in principle to plant a mature pohutukawa in a central position on the site.

An order from the Environment Court will protect the tree.

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