Auckland developer Augustine Lau imprisoned for damaging native trees

Mr Lau is also in court over his property at 676 Mt Albert Road.

Auckland property developer Augustine Lau has been sentenced to two-and-a-half months’ prison for damaging seven protected native trees in 2014 after receiving multiple warnings from the local council.

Lau, who pleaded guilty to one charge of using land in contravention of regional and district rules under the Resource Management Act, was sentenced at the Auckland District Court earlier this week.

In June 2014, a contractor broke the trunks of three of the pohutukawa trees and one totara tree, and broke a number of large branches off three further pohutukawa trees, on Lau's instructions. The trees were protected by the operative Auckland Council District Plan: Rodney Section, and five were also protected by the proposed Auckland Unitary Plan.

"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," said Steve Pearce, Auckland Council’s manager of regulatory compliance, in a statement. "We visited the site a number of times to inspect the works being managed by Mr Lau. However, he persisted and, as a result, we issued an abatement notice requiring him to stop these works in October 2013."

"It is relatively uncommon for us to end up in the court, and even rarer for us to seek a sentence of imprisonment; however the deliberateness of his offending and the significance of the effects left us with no option."

Four of the trees were seriously damaged, to the point of dying as a result of the damage, while the other three trees were also heavily damaged. Some of the trees were found to be more than 100 years old.

(BusinessDesk)


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Pohutukawa trees are a dime a dozen around Auckland. Ridiculous that you can't do what you like with trees on your own property!

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We had a large one on our property, the previous owners went to a lot of trouble to remove the old house so they would've damaged the tree, but in the end it had to be removed because the roots damaged the water main up the driveway . When I cut it out the tree all the neighborhood came over and saw what I was doing and rang the council complaining.

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The trees were protected. The reason they are protected is to try and protect our natural and urban environment as a whole from self-interested and narrow minded people like you and Mr Lau. You know that pesky "society" thing that so many people on this website just can't seem to comprehend, even though they are theoretically part of it?

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You tree huggers $&@" me off. How about you come round and clean-out my gutters, that constantly fill-up with pine needles, and when you've finished that, you can sweep up the never-ending leaves that constantly fall off other peoples trees onto my driveway. Go and love your stupid overgrown, fall over in storms, nothing but problems trees, elsewhere.

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Go and live in a apartment if you don't want to do those chores. Did you not check the tree's out when you rented/purchased your house?
I hate the council and their rules at the best of times and I aint no tree hugger but in any city trees have to be valued or we would have a really barrens landscape

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Yeah the odd trees ok,. A few ks up the road from me there's a forest of the bloody things. Big ones to. I'm not joking. The first time I taken up there (Rimutaka forest) I couldn't believe what I was looking at. Some of those trees must be 6 foot plus wide. They're great in a forest, but in every backyard, I don't think so.

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Abatement in October 2013 and judgement was only issued this week. What took this so long?

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That’s extremely zippy - Eleven years to get a court mandated rating sale on someone who refuses to pay rates.

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What the hey! He owns the property!! [edited]

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Mr Lau was also responsible for some reprehensible illegal property development, including discharging of sewerage into a creek. He’s deserved his jail time.

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He deserves a year or two.

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There appears to be some sympathy from commenters who seem to think that Mr Lau is merely some unfortunate person who didn’t understand the tree rules as it applied to his property.

In fact Mr Lau has been involved in a number of property developments that have broken major planning rules and even committed abuses such as allowing properties to directly discharge toilet flushing to an urban creek, and in another instance, dumping hazardous fill near waterways.

I think it’s quite fair that Mr Lau’s previous record in planning and environmental matters has been taken into account in his sentencing.

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A lot of past finance company bosses were involved in property development as well. Didn't see many of them going to prison. Most just got Home detention, to be spent in multi-million dollar homes. That's the Kiwi justice system for you.

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Not every illegal tree chopper goes to jail either. Pretty much most of them get fined. But someone who has committed as many environmental abuses as Lau has done does deserve jail.

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I wonder if his name was, lets say Mr Smith, and not Mr Lau... would he have still been sent to jail??

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Probably, if Mr Smith had been responsible for a number of previous appearances in court for environmental abuses like dumping hazardous material near a waterway, or pumping raw sewage into an urban creek.

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Or in short, something that Kiwis are doing on a daily basis to save on outrageously high tip charges.

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It would appear Mr Lau took the " She'll be right" attitude a touch too far.

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Yeah, there seems to be a bit of uninformed commentary on here. Lau appears to have been given jail because of deliberate and prolonged flouting of the rules for profit.

Without the law having teeth, deliberate breaking of the law is a great business model. Buy up properties where native trees reduce the value, cut them down, pay the fine then pocket the increase in property value. The "Whoopsie Business Model".

At a certain point the justice system has to recognise deliberate and prolonged abuse and act on it. This is not Lau's first rodeo, as others have pointed out here.

If people's rule of thumb is "it's his property, he should be allowed to do whatever he wants" then surely I should be able to put up a six-storey apartment block in the middle of my leafy, central suburb.

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