The sight of a pile of tree limbs chopped to improve sea views has angered users of a popular coastal walkway in one of east Auckland's premium streets.
"A lot of people are sick to the guts about what is happening," said Alison Dyson, who lives near the scene of the clearing work on a subdivision overlooking Mellons Bay, Howick.
"Four or five trees have been felled on the coast side in a heritage coastal zone. The size of the stumps is jaw-dropping."
The regular user of the Marine Parade walkway said the work on the site, valued at more than $1.15 million, showed a big issue with confusion over the Government's removal of general protection on private urban land from New Year's Day.
"Many trees in Auckland are at risk of being taken down willy-nilly because there is an opportunity for people to misinterpret the law or to work for their own interests."
Ms Dyson said a pohutukawa, a Norfolk pine and a magnolia tree had been removed and other trees trimmed back. None of the trees should have been removed as of right without council consent.
The property had two pohutukawa, a Norfolk pine and a group of native trees included in the 1800 trees across Auckland which last month were given temporary protection by the Environment Court.
Auckland Council's tree consents team confirmed yesterday the work at Marine Parade was "under urgent investigation."
Ms Dyson said many Howick residents had put in an enormous effort to have trees guarded five years ago when planning consent was sought for the carve up of the last coastal farm in urban Auckland for housing.
A council consents spokeswoman said that since the law change on January 1, the council had 600 calls about tree chopping in central Auckland, 219 in the south, 60 in the west and 64 in the north.
Ten cases of non-compliance with continuing protection rules were being investigated - one in central Auckland, three in the west, two in the north and four in south Auckland.
The council aims to process the district plan changes to extend protection to all notable trees by July or August.
Felling or damaging a protected tree may result in a prosecution and fine.
The owner of the site, Kevin Farmer, said a pohutukawa had fallen down. "There is nothing removed that is protected. It's all kosher."
He said the vacant site still had a huge Norfolk pine, two pohutukawa and two rimu trees that were protected under the district plan change proposal.
Howick Local Board chairman Michael Williams said the loss of the trees was "sad and significant" considering only 70 trees were in the district plan's schedule of notable trees for protection. "I'm worried about some of the others and that we may not have adequately identified all the trees that should have protection."
The Marine Parade trees were put forward for the Manukau plan schedule because of their "visual appeal" by consulting arborist Treesafe.
Tree Council field officer Hueline Massey said confusion around the changed rules did not surprise the Tree Council.
"We felt sorry for Auckland Council trying to get ... their ['Check before you chop'] message out."
Mrs Massey said she was disappointed by a Herald report saying that arborists felt the law change and council action had complicated rather than simplified what removal was allowed.
"It is an arborist's duty to interpret the bylaws of the council within which they work."