An Auckland developer who damaged native protected trees to optimise the view from his property has been sentenced to two and a half months in prison.
Augustine Lau damaged six pōhutukawa and one totara at a Waiwera property despite multiple warnings from Auckland Council to stop.
Lau pleaded guilty to one charge of using land in contravention of regional and district rules under the Resource Management Act.
As a result of Lau's actions, four of the affected trees were seriously damaged with only the base of the trunk remaining, and it was determined that all four would die as a result of the unlawful work.
The other three trees also suffered serious damage. The trees were all large, mature specimens, some of which were found to be more than 100 years old.
Judge Kellar commented that the damage to the trees was "brutal" and the consequences for four of the trees were "terminal".
Steve Pearce, Auckland Council's regulatory compliance manager, said that the sentencing sends a strong message that this kind of damage to the environment is not acceptable, and disregard for the rules won't be tolerated.
"Auckland Council staff did everything they could to make Mr Lau aware of his responsibilities, including that he needed to stop with his plans of felling the native trees at the site. We visited the site a number of times to inspect the works being managed by Mr Lau. However, he persisted," Mr Pearce said.
"In June 2014, on Mr Lau's instructions, a contractor broke the trunks of three of the pōhutukawa trees and one totara tree, and broke a number of large branches off three further pōhutukawa trees. All of the trees were protected by the operative Auckland Council District Plan: Rodney Section, and five were also protected by the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan.
A member of the public complained about what Lau was doing, so council officers visited to investigate.
"They [the officers] found Mr Lau supervising the contractor in an attempt to knock down one of the pōhutukawa trees that branches had been broken from. The contractor was told to stop with the work immediately," Pearce said.
"Mr Lau said the trees were being felled because they had been damaged by a recent storm and were unsafe. However, we observed that the storm damage to the trees was confined to some small limbs and did not present any immediate risk to people or property."
Councillor Linda Cooper, Chair of the council's Regulatory Committee, said that while people are free to decide what they do with trees on private property that aren't protected, when the trees are on the protected list the rules need to be followed.
"We support people's rights to develop their properties, but this cannot be at the expense of the environment or by blatantly ignoring the rules," Councillor Cooper said.