A 120-year-old pōhutukawa tree was chopped down in Grafton last night - only hours after Auckland mayor Phil Goff unveiled a climate tax to plant mature native trees in urban parts of the city.
The prominent tree outside St David's Church on Khyber Pass was felled at about 11pm by the Ted Manson Foundation, during which a handful of protesters were removed from the site by police.
In June this year, the property investor and philanthropist Ted Manson bought the historic city church as a memorial to World War I soldiers and two adjoining sites.
At the time, Manson said he worked with Friends of St David's Trust over three years to save the church in perpetuity and achieve a category A heritage listing. It will be restored as a centre for music.
Sam McCloy- McKenzie, chief executive of the Ted Manson Foundation, said to fund the purchase and preservation of the church, the development potential of the two remaining sites needed to be maximised.
This required removal of the pōhutukawa tree, which was not protected and could be removed as a permitted activity under the Auckland Unitary Plan, she said.
McCloy-McKenzie said upon settlement an arborist arranged to remove dangerous branches protruding beyond the property boundary.
Work started last night and it was decided the whole tree should be removed at the same time, she said.
McCloy-McKenzie did not say what the plans are for the two sites.
A man who videoed the tree being felled last night, Zane Wedding, said it was another loss of an ancient pōhutukawa to Tāmaki Makaurau.
Councillor Chris Fletcher said she was utterly devastated at the loss of the tree, saying months ago she requested the council protect it and had received an assurance by Goff and officers it was in hand.
She said she followed it up as recently as last week and nothing happened because "the tree popped down at 11 o'clock last night".
"There is blood on everyone's hands on this because we knew about it in advance and I'm really ashamed at the council for failing to act.
"Most people know that tree and as they drive up Khyber Pass and they will remember where that tree was," Fletcher said.
Goff yesterday announced a Climate Action Targeted Rate as part of his latest budget, that, among other things, will provide 14,800 mature native trees over 10 years in areas with few urban trees, mostly in South Auckland.
Fletcher said it did seem "ironic and a bit hollow" the policy came out on the same day the pōhutukawa tree was chopped down.
Goff said he had given Fletcher no assurance about steps being taken to protect the pōhutukawa tree in Khyber Pass.
"It is really sad to see a beautiful, mature pōhutukawa tree cut down, especially when it was about to bloom.
"We have been advocating strongly to the Government to reverse the decision made by the previous government in 2013 that removed council's general tree protection powers," Goff said.
Tree Council board member and landscape architect Mark Lockhart said Auckland Council was doing "less than nothing" to protect trees and called Goff's climate tax "ridiculous" and "nonsensical".
"We might as well try and keep the trees that we have. To replace a mature tree, especially the size of some of the trees being removed, takes years.
"You just can't compensate for the loss of a large tree and the role it plays in the environment," Lockhart said.
The loss of the Khyber Pass pōhutukawa follows the case of the council
earlier this year after a human error left it off its protected tree schedule.
The Tree Council is also pursuing the scheduling of the 587 other notable trees currently with no legal protection.
Last month, the council launched an investigation into the poisoning of four mature rimu and tōtara trees at Hinemoa Reserve in Birkenhead - the third attack on trees in the harbourside suburb in the past year.
The chairman of Friends of St David's Trust, Paul Baragwanath, said he was unaware of the plan to fell the tree and had no other comment.