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Sacred Grove ‘in heartbreaking state’

Flagstaff Team

Grove boardwalk to go but other issues unresolved

The southern section of Te Uru Tapu Sacred Grove above Takapuna Beach will remain closed to the public and the boardwalk through it removed, under decisions made by the Devonport-Takapuna Local Board last month.
Public access to the lookout under the stand of large pōhutukawa trees will continue.
The decisions – opposed by board member George Wood – follow years of contentious and inconclusive debate about the official way forward for the grove.
And questions remain about safety, tree management and when the area will be cleared of invasive weeds and rubbish and other work will begin.
The grove’s condition was “heartbreaking”, said board chair Toni van Tonder, expressing one of the few points of agreement among local residents, mana whenua, environmentalists and elected representatives.
“Can we not just get in there to clean up the litter?” she asked Auckland Council staff at the June meeting.
Staff said dead wood would first have to be removed to make the area safe to work in, though even the scheduling of that task is unclear. Arborist Steve Skajal said staff wanted first to consult with mana whenua.
Wood, who asked that his dissenting view on the grove decisions be recorded, said he could not see how spending money on removing the boardwalk and its piles could be justified.
He also questioned the board’s requests for council staff to investigate extending the so-called “stairs to nowhere” down from the lookout to connect to the beach below and to extend the seawall to better protect the roots of two trees from coastal erosion. “The public will go spare if there’s a promontory [on the beach] there, he told the meeting.
Lack of funds meant it was also “pie in the sky” to investigate a high-tide passage at the base of the seawall, Wood said.
Deputy chair Terence Harpur said while he was upset at how long matters had taken, it was now time to look forward and to protect and celebrate the significant site.
The board had been between a rock and a hard place over the boardwalk, Harpur said. “If we keep the boardwalk open someone could die.”
Extensive tree pruning to make walkers safe would fail to gain resource consent, staff had advised.
Allan Morris, a representative of residents living in apartments overlooking the grove, told the Observer after the meeting they were “very disappointed” with the outcome. It ignored the wishes of locals to see the boardwalk reopened to allow controlled pedestrian access. This would guarantee high-tide access along the beach and was the wish expressed in a public petition, signed by 2500 people three years ago.

“Until someone gets killed we won’t have any proactive action.”

He questioned the logic of safety risk being used to justify removing the boardwalk, when nothing was being done to protect and manage the trees overhanging the beach.
“Until someone gets killed we won’t have any proactive action.”
The meeting had also provided no definitive answer on building the needed seawall.
Morris said residents’ only options now were to await the opportunity to have a further say if future work involved consultation, or to see if a different board might take a different stance. “They swear an oath to represent the local community.”
At a community forum held before the board’s deliberation, Morris spoke on behalf of Mon Desir residents. Tascha Rosan spoke for those from The Sands, which has had a fallen pōhutukawa from the grove on its lawn for two years, while they seek a council resource consent to remove it.
Both said the views of residents needed to be heard alongside those of mana whenua, as both groups wanted the area respected. Since a 2007 tree report was done, seven trees had failed, Rosan noted.
The closed-off area was now in a sad state, used by people who had damaged partitions to gain access, she said.
“The boardwalk enabled everyone to enjoy the area while protecting the ground below.” she said.
Morris and Rosan’s views were applauded by most of around 20 members of the public in attendance.
A Pupuke Birdsong Project representative, Maisie Ramsay, urged protection of the grove’s eco-system, which she said was the only accessible remnant of its type on the Shore. The group had volunteers keen to help care for the reserve, she said. In support of keeping the boardwalk closed, Ramsay noted an arborist believed the pruning needed to make the area safe for walkers would likely kill trees in five to 10 years.
Wood asked Ramsay what supported previous claims the trees were 300 to 400 years old. She understood this was from an ecologist’s report.
“I don’t think that’s right,” said Wood, citing a University of Auckland report on one fallen tree that put it at 170 to 200 years old.
The site and trees on it were used historically for funerary rites, say mana whenua.
Margaret Field, a former Takapuna Community Board chair, said an 1860 newspaper report had described them as “24 splendid pōhutukawa trees”.
Under the board’s decision, educational elements will be installed at the northern end of the site. Improvements to a stormwater outlet to the beach at the south of the site will be investigated and under-storey natives planted. Mana whenua representatives will be further consulted on design and community stakeholders on ecological restoration. The continued use of tree props and bracing will be further discussed.

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