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Boardwalk beneath pohutukawa under threat in $880,000 plan for Takapuna waterfront’s Sacred Grove

Flagstaff Team

Plains laid… The Sacred Grove at the northern end of Takapuna Beach, with the lookout at right

The boardwalk through pohutukawa trees at the northern end of Takapuna Beach may be removed, and the walking path permanently closed.

The path through the area known as the Sacred Grove/Te Uru Tapu could not be safely reopened unless trees were sacrificed, Auckland Council officials told Devonport-Takapuna Local Board members in a briefing at a recent workshop.

The boardwalk was closed for maintenance in June 2018.

Officials cited public safety and cultural reasons for the two options they offered:

To close the whole area to public access; or to close the boardwalk but retain access to the wooden lookout via a path from The Promenade, starting opposite Takapuna Beach Cafe.

This did not go down well with member Aidan Bennett, who said he wanted a compromise position found. The area had been well used by locals, especially at high tide. “A lot of weight is being given to iwi and the trees and not a lot of weight to the community,” he said.

Tree health was cited as a major reason for the officials’ recommendations. A number of the large old pohutukawa overhanging the boardwalk were reported to be in an unsafe condition for people to walk under.

To rectify this, removal or extensive prun- ing would be required, which some of the trees might not survive.

The boardwalk remains fenced off, maintenance having been put on hold while the wider issues were investigated.

A vote on what action to take is expected at the board meeting next week. “There’s a lot to chew over,” said chair Ruth Jackson.

The grove’s history as a site of significance to Maori was factored into the officials’ recommendations.

To mana whenua the trees were said to be a living link to their ancestors, used to hang the deceased for natural decay, prior to the burial of their bones, likely by Lake Pupuke.

The senior project manager for the council’s Community Facilities division, Kaitlyn White, acknowledged the area was valued by local residents, for easy access off the beach at high tide and for walking and resting.

A lot of people wanted it kept open, she said, especially near neighbours from the apartment buildings behind the grove.

The officials came in for extended quizzing, with one noting “clearly there’s not an appetite around the table for closing the boardwalk”.

Member Jan O’Connor said maintenance of the boardwalk had been inadequate over the years. She asked if removing dead wood from some of the grove’s 20-odd trees would reduce the safety risk.

“With the boardwalk there we are inviting an audience into the trees… so it would be very hard to manage,” said the council’s senior urban forest specialist, Steve Kerebs. For “zero risk to the public” around six trees would require removal if the boardwalk was to be reopened, he said.

Safety first… The plan of one of the options for the Sacred Grove, including removal of the existing board­ walk. While the path from The Promenade to the lookout would stay, the link boardwalk here would go

A number also required propping up, and some would have to be wired to keep them stable.

Some were not in a healthy state. At least one tree appeared to have been poisoned some years ago, along with several others on private land having been heavily pruned, with crowns partially removed.

Tree removals would not need to take place if the boardwalk structure was removed, Kerebs said, but taking out dangerous branches overhanging public areas would still be required.

It was proposed to properly fence off the southern end of the boardwalk to deter people congregating on it. After-hours drinking was mentioned as a risk.

While Bennett said he understood the importance of the trees and the views of iwi, he noted that public consultation came after two options had already been chosen by officials.

“I don’t think at the start of the process the community was consulted. It’s an urban area, we should be able to get a compromise,” he said.

The officials did not agree that the com- munity had not had a say.

Kerebs also said the area was classified for conservation, not as a recreational reserve.

White said residents at the Rocks, Mon Desir and Sands apartments had been consulted, along with mana whenua. An online submissions process and a drop-in session at Takapuna Library was also held in 2019, drawing 328 submissions, with 43 per cent in favour of total closing and 23 per cent opting for the second option, retaining the lookout.

Since then a refined design concept, Option 1B, had been arrived at, allowing for beach access easements to remain for apartment property holders at either end of the area under discussion, said White.

A resource consent was unlikely to be granted to allow the rebuilding of the boardwalk, given the situation with the trees, she advised. Heritage New Zealand would also likely oppose this.

Mana whenua wished to see the boardwalk stay closed, but did not object to the lookout remaining open, she said

Member Trish Deans asked about Sacred Grove’s status as wahi tapu and was told by White this was a matter for both Heritage New Zealand and iwi. The site was recognised as pre-European.

Member Toni van Tonder said, “Some people are going to feel really sore about what’s on the table.”

But it was important to do right by the trees, she said. Cultural aspects could be noted with interpretation panels and pou agreed in consultation with relevant iwi, she suggested.

She was told about seven iwi were involved.

“Would we get some agreement to get the right narrative?” van Tonder queried She also asked if the budget would allow for those “cultural props”. It would, officials said.

O’Connor said she would like to see a different option from officials, to allow for a restructuring of the boardwalk.

Jackson wanted a fuller breakdown of how a $880,000 renewals budget – likely to be well over $1 million if separate seawall repairs were factored in – would split between the boardwalk, trees, lookout and other aspects the project required.

Enough work had already been done by officials, said Local Board area manager Eric Perry.

A budget for the site work had been carried forward for three years now and a “kick the can” option put this money at risk of being lost.

“The board needs to be put in position to give a formal direction via way of a resolution,” Perry said.

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