The trial of a Queenstown rich-lister charged with felling 110 native trees on a council reserve near Kaiteriteri had an unexpected start when his aborist pleaded guilty.
Michael John Davies, an Arrowtown resident whose family is worth $90 million, faces two charges under the Reserves Act and the Resource Management Act for employing an arborist to cut down trees on a reserve on Anarewa Pt, part of the Stephens Bay headland managed by Tasman District Council.
Davies owns a large house adjacent to the reserve, and the prosecution alleges that in February last year he employed arborists to cut down 110 native trees on the reserve without permission.
The trees cut down were of varying sizes and ages and include native and indigenous species, including rare mistletoe, black beech and whitey-wood.
They had been located to the north and the south of Davies' property, leaving clear views out to the sea.
The trial began in the Environment Court at Nelson yesterday morning with arborist Simon Carney, of Tasman Tree Care, employed by Davies to complete landscaping work on his property, pleading guilty through his lawyer to one charge of breaching the Resource Management Act by cutting down trees. He had been expected to defend the charges.
A similar charge under the Reserves Act was then withdrawn by the prosecution, and Judge Brian Dwyer remanded the case until Friday.
Opening his case against Davies, prosecutor Julian Ironside said Davies was liable for the actions of contractors carrying out work on his behalf.
Mr Ironside said Davies had built a house in 2010 on property he bought from equestrian Mark Todd.
He later expanded that property by adding a swimming pool.
Last February he began landscaping work on the property, and on February 27 and 28 Carney cut down trees at the reserve.
On February 28 a council horticultural officer gave permission to trim the branches of a beech tree in the reserve.
The following day Anarewa Cres resident Paul Gray noticed trees had been felled on the reserve.
He spoke on the site with landscaper Christopher Donald, of Great Southern Landscapes, who said permission for the tree-felling had been given by Tasman District Council.
Mr Donald has also been charged with cutting down trees under the Reserves Act, with his case remanded until Friday.
He has not entered a plea.
Mr Gray met fellow resident Sally Ogilvie, who called the TDC and council reserve officer Stephen Richards investigated.
Mr Richards determined that about 80 trees had been felled, and that there was no resource consent for the work. He told Mr Donald to stop his work.
Mr Ironside said he expected the defence to argue either that Davies did not know any offending had taken place, or that the offending was outside of Davies' control.
Court proceedings only lasted half a day yesterday, with Mr Ironside calling four witnesses, including the two Anarewa Cr residents who discovered the tree-felling.
Judge Dwyer then used the afternoon to conduct a site visit.
The trial was to continue this morning, with landscaper Lynley Bird and several council officers expected to be called by the prosecution as witnesses.
The Davies family own Trojan Holdings, which has expanded its interests from transport into tourism and property.
John Davies, Davies' father, is a former mayor of Queenstown. He bought trucking company Northern Southland Transport in the 1960s. Trojan Holdings is the major shareholder in nzski.com which owns three ski areas: Mt Hutt, Coronet Peak and The Remarkables.
The company has a 40 per cent stake in NZ Bungy.
It is the owner of AJ Hackett Bungy Operations.
It also owns Tourism Milford, which owns the Hermitage Hotel at Aoraki-Mt Cook and the Milford Track Guided Walk. The Routeburn Guided Walks and Davies Rentals are part of the portfolio.
Trojan Holdings is also involved in commercial and residential property development.
It is behind a Walnut Gr subdivision at Lake Hayes.
On the subdivision's website, Davies says historic walnuts at the site will be protected by restrictive covenants.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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