25 November, 2021
Board could be powerless in walkway stoush
The future of Sacred Grove / Te Uru Tapu remains uncertain after a meeting which brought fresh perspectives to what should happen to the ancient pohutukawa grove above Takapuna Beach
Resource-consent hurdles threaten the Devonport-Takapuna Local Board’s desire to reopen public access to Te Uru Tapu pohutukawa grove at the northern end of Takapuna Beach.
The board voted at its November meeting last week to restore the elevated walkway through a site considered both culturally important and environmentally fragile – overriding the advice of Auckland Council staff and the wishes of mana whenua.
Member Toni van Tonder was the sole dissenting voice on the board, saying: “This should never have been built in my view.”
Board chair Ruth Jackson admitted an early reopening was unlikely, given trees in the grove needed pruning and propping by arborists to ensure public safety.
But the path to any reopening looks much more complicated than that, with the board having been advised by council officers more than once that an application for resource consents to fix the boardwalk and manage the trees is unlikely to succeed, due to the state of the trees and the wahi tapu nature of the site.
A deputation of iwi representatives added weight to this message at the meeting which was held remotely. Two speakers suggested the matter of wahi tapu on a reserve elevated the issue beyond the board’s preserve into being a Treaty of Waitangi issue.
“So I’m not sure why it was even tabled at board level,” Te Kawerau a Maki representative Edward Ashby said. The Takapuna resident said if the health and tapu of the trees were compromised “we will be looking at this”.
Staff told the Observer this week that they were now working though the board’s resolutions before deciding the project’s next steps. They will meet with mana whenua to gain an understanding of how they want to be involved.
Several other submitters at the meeting asked board members what sort of legacy they wished to leave both environmentally and in terms of partnership.
“Are you going to say you paved paradise and put up a boardwalk?” asked Tabitha Becroft, environmental coordinator for the Pupuke Birdsong Project. The area was being degraded just by having the boardwalk there and trimming the trees would make it worse, she said.
To board questions, council arborist Steve Crebs said the area should be closed “in perpetuity”. Too many trees (8 of 19) were a safety risk needing intervention if a boardwalk was restored, he said.
Member Aidan Bennett said the community had made clear it wanted access, while also wanting the trees treated in a sensitive manner. This could be achieved, he maintained, and supplemented with education and signage done in conjunction with iwi.
“It’s a very special walk, the trees are special and it’s cool in the summer,” Bennett said. He challenged several speakers over the need for the board to deliver what people wanted.
Gabriel Kirkwood, of Ngai Tai Ki Tamaki, replied: “I implore the board to find other opportunities to have the public engage with the trees than walking through them.”
Bennett said he worried that closing the area and removing the boardwalk structure, as officers had recommended, could cause more damage, with people breaching fences and trampling through the undergrowth rather than being channelled above it.
Jackson said issues with drinking and drug-taking had been noted in the area both before the boardwalk was built around 20 years ago and since it was temporarily fenced off in 2018 for maintenance which had not been done. A homeless person had been hanging clothes from trees there recently, she said.
“These things are not appropriate.”
Jan O’Connor wanted to know why it was okay with mana whenua to have boardwalks in the Waitakeres, but not at Sacred Grove. Ashby said the situations and locations were different. “In most contexts you can work through a compromise,” he said. But this situation did not recognise the mauri and tapu.
Member Trish Deans asked about those different circumstances and was told: “Here it is connected directly to our atua and tipuna.” A degree of reverence and separation was needed, Ashby said. It was also degrading that people ate among the trees.
The meeting was the first time the board has heard direct from mana whenua. It has requested meetings, with staff saying Covid had got in the way.
Residents from the apartments above the grove have made several previous submissions. They repeated their requests for better tree maintenance and a boardwalk reopening (see page 10).
A petition circulated among beach users gained more than 2500 signatures this year. Communications around it have been criticised for implying mana whenua support, which Ashby roundly denied his iwi had offered.
Jackson said the board “seeks to find a solution which balances differing views and needs”. It wasn’t a case of mana whenua versus the community, she said, but of acknowledging both. The board had wanted korero for some time and welcomed the opportunity.
The board’s recommendations – framed by Jackson before speakers presented – would limit access to the grove to the board-walk and block off disused entrances, while retaining a southern path to the beach at the edge of the site from The Sands apartments. The stone lookout would remain accessible from the Promenade and from steps above.
George Wood said the board would have to push against delays.
An “in principal” budget allocation of $1,051,126 towards the Takapuna Beach Development Plan includes $881,000 for work on Te Uru Tapu. Jackson wants a revised budget to take in changes, including the board’s wish to abandon staff plans to dismantle the boardwalk’s sub-structure. The board also wants a say on any plans for cameras or lighting in the grove.
Van Tonder said she felt the wider community did not have the same understanding yet of the issues that had been brought to the board’s attention.
“We know better now and still we are not doing the right things.”
She asked Ashby if mana whenua would be willing to help with signage and pou. He said discussions about “long-standing mana-enhancing elements” had already taken place with council officials. As to retaining access to the lookout, he said he did not speak for all mana whenua groups, but: “I understand at a compromise level there’s some support for that.
“Everyone values this area, it just depends what lens you’re coming from – everyone agrees we can do better.”
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