Snells Beach residents have parked their vehicles under a tree to try to save what is believed to be one of New Zealand's seven oldest Norfolk pines.
Housing developer Vavasour Investments sent contractors to cut down the 40-metre-high tree at the north end of the beachfront yesterday, but backed off when they were met by protesters.
Police were called after local resident Duncan Morison said he was brushed across the stomach by a chainsaw. Police Senior Sergeant Scott Cunningham said a complaint was made and police were making further inquiries.
"The tree remains on the land and the matter is a civil dispute which should be resolved between the parties concerned," he said.
One of the protest group, photographer Michele MacKenzie, said residents had parked their vehicles under the tree to try to stop any further attempt to chop it down.
"We have cars and trucks all parked on the lawn so they can't actually fell it without dropping it on the beach, so they'd need a special consent application to drop it on the beach," she said.
She has asked Auckland Council to review an unnotified resource consent which it granted on July 25 to remove the tree, arguing that the consent report incorrectly stated that the tree was only 25 metres high and claimed it had "no known special heritage value".
"It is our submission that either or both of these points may have resulted in the council viewing the application to fell the tree as being publicly notifiable, and that this is likely to have resulted in the historical and cultural value of the tree coming to light," she told the council.
NZ Tree Register manager Brad Cadwallader said the tree's 6.8-metre girth was comparable with another Norfolk pine planted in 1870 at nearby Scandrett Regional Park (7.24 metres) and one planted in 1836 at the Waitangi Treaty grounds (7.53 metres).
"The size of the tree is consistent with other trees of known age in NZ of approximately 150-plus years," he said.
"With a girth of 680cm it currently ranks in the top seven of [Norfolk pines] listed in the NZ Tree Register."
The council resource consent report said the tree's removal was added after the original application for consent to build 33 homes in the block behind the tree.
It said the developer wanted to remove the tree because of "the propensity of large mature Norfolk pine trees to drop substantial litter including branches, and the public safety of this tree in the long term relative to the public reserve and close residential dwellings".
The developer planned to replace the tree with "a large semi-mature transplanted pohutukawa" that would "reinforce the indigenous habitat qualities of the coastal environment".
However Cadwallader said the risk of falling branches could be managed by trimming any branches that appeared to be dying.
"There is a greater risk of coastal erosion and inundation of this new development than there is from this tree," he said.
But Auckland Council's northern region consents manager Ian Dobson said the consent did not contain "inaccuracies that were material to the decision".
"The perceived historical significance of the tree is also not relevant to the assessment of the proposal," he said.
"The tree does not have any special protection due to individual historical significance and consent was required to remove the tree due to its proximity to a water course, not because of any individual feature of the tree.
"It is also important to note that the tree is not scheduled under the Auckland Unitary Plan (operative in part), nor was it scheduled under the previous Rodney District Plan.
"The decision to remove the tree and the timing of any removal rests with the applicant. They are required to give council 10 days' notice prior to any vegetation clearance, and we have reminded them of this obligation."