'They've destroyed 150 years of our heritage'

After standing for 150 years, a huge pohutukawa tree proved no match for a chainsaw, a digger and the will of a church.

The great tree's demise has outraged locals in Taita, Lower Hutt.

"I am absolutely disgusted, I hope they rot in hell," Maisie Gadsby, 83, said yesterday.

"I wish I could go down there and punch them in the nose."

The tree stood on the site of the old Taita Hotel on High St until this week.

The site's owners, the Hosanna World Outreach Centre, said it had to go to make way for drainage for an eight-metre-high auditorium.

But Mrs Gadsby said the auditorium would look like a gang headquarters.

Workers started chopping down the tree on Tuesday.

Yesterday a small group of despondent locals watched as a chainsaw-wielding man and a digger attacked the tree's stump.

The pohutukawa resisted until the end, refusing to budge as it was hammered by the digger.

"It's putting up a fight," said Topham Gadsby, 91, who remembered playing in it as a boy.

Residents held a candlelight vigil, started a Facebook page, Save The Pohutukawa Tree, and presented a 900-signature petition to Hutt City Council in their efforts to save the tree.

Resident Liz McIntosh was emotional at the loss. "They've destroyed 150 years of our heritage."

A Hutt City Council resource consent committee gave permission for the church project two years ago. The tree was not protected under the district plan.

But the committee said the tree was "iconic" and "encouraged" the church to move it if possible.

Councillor Angus Finlayson said the church should have looked harder for a way to preserve the tree.

"Now the tree's gone and all that history's gone with it." The tree's removal did not reflect well on the church, he said.

"There was a core that did not care about it."

Hosanna World Outreach Centre senior pastor Mark Lau-Young did not return calls yesterday. He has previously said the church had never promised to save the tree, only that it would try.

Most councils have a register of trees, identified as having heritage value, listed for protection in their district plans.

Trees protected under district plans cannot be removed or damaged without obtaining a resource consent. Trees can be nominated for protection by landowners or by the public.

The Dominion Post