Phil Taylor is a Weekend Herald and New Zealand Herald senior staff writer.

Rich lister's land in protected-tree row

Forest and Bird want the owner and contractors to reinstate the forest.
Trees felled to make way for a large home extension on Clifton Rd properties owned by Britomart developer Peter Cooper. Photo / Phil Taylor
Trees felled to make way for a large home extension on Clifton Rd properties owned by Britomart developer Peter Cooper. Photo / Phil Taylor

A strip of coastal pohutukawa forest has been "devastated" along a Takapuna beach clifftop, on and adjacent to land belonging to a Rich List developer.

Trees felled to make way for a large home extension on Clifton Rd properties owned by Britomart developer Peter Cooper include a mature pohutukawa tree on a public reserve.

Auckland Council confirmed to the Weekend Herald that two of the removals at the southern end of the beach occurred without consent.

Resource consents compliance manager Stefan Naude said one pohutukawa was removed from an esplanade reserve and "a stump with one small leafy branch" was removed from an area protected because it is a "Significant Ecological Area".

Mr Naude confirmed the council was also continuing to investigate a complaint "regarding unauthorised works to vegetation" within an area classified as a Significant Ecological Area (SEA) on three adjoining Clifton Rd properties.

The clifftop south of Takapuna beach was once largely covered in mature pohutukawa. Forest and Bird said it had been "devastated ... presumably to improve ocean views".

"Auckland Council documents show that the removal of the trees happened over several years, with the most recent removals occurring in March this year," Nick Beveridge, manager for the Auckland and Northland regions said.

Mature native trees had long been protected in Auckland, with special attention paid to coastal pohutukawa forest.

"Illegal destruction of native habitat on private land is a major problem in New Zealand," he said.

Britomart developer Peter Cooper. Photo / Natalie Slade
Britomart developer Peter Cooper. Photo / Natalie Slade

Property records list Peter Cooper and his wife as owners. Mr Cooper's company, Cooper and Company, developed the Britomart precinct.

He splits his time between New Zealand and the US. His company has offices in Texas and California and he has a home in Newport Beach.

Mr Cooper has a personal fortune of $740 million, according to the NBR 2015 Rich List estimate. Besides Britomart, notable developments include The Landing, providing luxury accommodation in the Bay of Islands, and Southlake Town Square - a shopping district 10 times the size of St Lukes - in the United States.

The Weekend Herald asked Mr Cooper through a spokeswoman for comment but had not received a reply by deadline last night.

Auckland Council would not comment about possible enforcement action before it completed its investigation.

"The site manager and contractors responsible for the works have been fully co-operative with the council and are obtaining, at their expense, arborocultural and ecological reports for council approval, with a view to having appropriate remedial work undertaken in the area," Mr Beveridge said.

"Any decision on possible enforcement action would be taken once the ecological reports are received and extent of any remedial work is known."

Illegal destruction of native habitat on private land is a major problem in New Zealand.
Nick Beveridge, Forest and Bird

Forest and Bird is demanding that the landowner and tree contractors be made to reinstate the forest by planting the largest trees possible and be penalised appropriately for their actions.

"This situation illustrates the much bigger environmental issue which often goes unseen because it's happening inside property boundaries," Mr Beveridge said. "Many native wildlife and plants species are now completely lost from whole landscapes such as Takapuna, which is why there are rules for what you can and can't do on your property."

"We need our regional councils to monitor consented activities, and take a strong stance when the law is broken. Otherwise, one day soon we'll find our urban wildlife has been entirely whittled away by short term, private interests."

A weatherboard house appears to be being readied for removal from one of three adjoining properties on Clifton Rd and construction is under way to the large two-storey extension which, according to documents lodged with the council, was proposed to include a dining room, bathroom, bar, lounge, outdoor living area, bedroom, en suite and study.

The proposal document said the extension had been carefully designed to retain existing vegetation located centrally on the site including two mature pohutukawa trees, though the roots and branches of these two trees may be trimmed.

- NZ Herald

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