By ANNE BESTON
The country's biggest conservation group has sold land with ancient pohutukawa that an elderly benefactor wanted protected after her death.
Forest and Bird has pocketed $670,000 from the sale of a 1000sq m block of the 3500sq m Piha section bequeathed by Ella Hilford.
While the organisation gave 2400sq m to the Auckland Regional Council for a park, it expanded the boundary of the sold lot from 800sq m before putting it on the market.
Piha resident Sandra Coney, a member of Forest and Bird's Waitakere branch, said locals were unhappy and did not believe it was what Mrs Hilford intended.
"Possibly the national office of Forest and Bird were seduced by the big dollars Piha properties are getting," she said. "This may discourage other people from giving land, if they don't feel they can trust Forest and Bird to honour the gift."
The new owner would probably build a "trophy house" at the front of the section on North Piha Rd, blocking the view of the massive trees, as former Auckland mayor Les Mills had done next door.
"He has built a two-storey house right across the entire road frontage, obscuring the pohutukawa, and the odds are anyone buying this property will do the same," Ms Coney said.
But Wellington-based Forest and Bird conservation manager Kevin Hackwell said a run-down bach on the land would have cost money to demolish or maintain.
"The land that was worth preserving has been preserved and we think we have done the right thing. The money will go to conservation."
Ms Coney, who said she was speaking as a Piha resident, not as an ARC councillor, said Mrs Hilford had worried about the fate of the giant pohutukawa. "It's hard to think her intention was that they would sell it."
Mrs Hilford died in 1998. She and her husband, Wilfred, had no children.
Herald Feature: Conservation and Environment
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By ANNE BESTON