The sight of felled phoenix palms alongside western Napier ring-road Prebensen Drive has shocked a group of visiting Korean businessmen.

Hawke's Bay Seafoods director Nino D'Esposito said his guests were "traumatised" when they saw the trees as they drove to lunch yesterday.

"It's disgusting, it's horrifying," said Mr D'Esposito, echoing the dismay of the visitors.

"It looked like a row of bodies beside the road. That's what they said."

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The dwarf-species trees were planted more than 20 years ago, when the Napier City Council opened Prebensen Drive to take pressure off Taradale Rd, and are being removed at the start of a $6 million four-laning project which council chief executive Wayne Jack says is "very important for the growth of the city".

Forecast to be completed by September, it would become an arterial route to Napier Port, said Mr Jack. "It will also assist in getting trucks off Marine Parade."

The trees had been offered to the public several months ago but the council says that, while there was some interest, the logistics of transplanting trees of such size meant there were "no takers".

Mr D'Esposito said "surely" the council could have planted the trees elsewhere, which also posed the question of why were they planted there when the road was eventually to be widened.

The council explained that the widening of Prebensen Drive was not in the plan at the time it was built, and only became a high priority when the Hawke's Bay Regional Traffic Study began in 2004.