A property developer who ordered the destruction of a protected pohutukawa tree has narrowly avoided going to jail.

George Bernard Shaw was yesterday handed an $80,000 fine in Auckland District Court for what Judge Fred McElrea described as "offending carried out by stealth for purely financial motives".

He was told that as a previous offender, he was lucky to escape jail.

However, Shaw has already faced an extended period of public humiliation for his crime.

It began with a verbal apology to the Auckland City Council's planning and regulatory committee late last year, which was angrily rejected by chairwoman Glenda Fryer.

Shaw then paid $50,000 towards the cost of a council investigation into his actions, which revealed he hired contractors in January last year to hack the 100-year-old pohutukawa on his section at Mt Smart Rd, Royal Oak - something he initially denied.

Next it was off to the Maungakiekie Community Board, where he agreed to publish an apology in a council newsletter and to submit to a restorative justice process.

At a meeting in January, Shaw admitted his actions were "dumb and stupid" in front of about 60 outraged neighbours and environmental advocates who called him "greedy" and "malevolent". He was told what the tree meant to people living nearby.

At a second meeting, with nationwide media coverage of his case, Shaw agreed to pay for a mature replacement pohutukawa tree, abide by legal orders preventing any building by him or future owners of the Royal Oak section to within 14m of the dripline of the new tree, pay $20,000 towards a Maungakiekie Community Board planting programme in Onehunga and participate in community planting days in what Judge McElrea termed a "poacher turned gamekeeper" approach.

If Shaw failed to pay the $20,000 and help plant trees, his company would be fined $25,000, the judge ruled.

Shaw's lawyer, Paul Wicks, told the court his client, whose company has assets of $7.3 million, had given up property development after a "sustained trial by media".

All up, Shaw's actions have cost him $130,000, with another $20,000 for the new tree and its upkeep for five years.

Council costs totalled $107,000.

Judge McElrea told Shaw he was lucky to escape a prison sentence after convictions for similar offences going back to 1987. In 1993, Shaw admitted destroying protected trees on a property in Epsom.

The 11m-high Royal Oak pohutukawa attacked with chainsaws on Shaw's orders last year was strictly protected under the district plan but has not survived.

At the restorative justice meeting, it was decided that the remains of the felled tree would "be available for community preservation".