Whanganui River Road earthworks suspended following protest over consultation

Work has been suspended clearing a portion of a cliff face at the Pūnakewhitu/Gentle Annie lookout on the Whanganui River Road.

About 120 gathered to protest at the site on Thursday morning arguing there was little consultation with local hapū.

The earthworks, which involve clearing a portion of the cliff face directly next to the lookout picnic tables is being undertaken to widen the access road to a private property.

According to protest organiser Ken Mair, the earthworks at the site began on Wednesday, to the surprise of local hapū.

“You can see my marae from right here, and I didn’t know anything about it,” he said.

Landowner John Oskam told Chronicle he believed there had been enough consultation.

“I’m surprised it has been claimed there has not [been consultation], we went through that process, and it was a lengthy process,” he said.

“I’m distressed that other people are distressed, don’t get me wrong. To that end, I was happy to go out and talk to the protesters. I’m quite happy to front up.”

Mair said he wanted a meeting with Horizons Regional Council to attempt to find out why, from his perspective, local hapū weren’t consulted.

“We’ll meet with the council, but more importantly we’ll meet with hapū and get a clear direction in regard to where they want to take this. That’s what is most important,” he said.

Chairman of Ngā Tāngata Tiaki o Whanganui, the trust administering the Whanganui River Treaty settlement, Gerrard Albert, was at the protest on Thursday and in a statement said there was no consultation with local iwi that he was aware of.

“Our understanding is that Horizons has issued resource consent for a tree harvesting plan for the area, but at this stage, our investigations have not revealed any such plan for the earthworks that have caused distress to the hapū in the area,” Albert said.

“The core issue is the continual lack of consultation with hapū over these matters, something that we, Ngā Tāngata Tiaki, continuously encourage resource consent applicants to do.”

Also at the protest was Māori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, who told the Chronicle that there was a strong feeling of sadness that local Māori appeared to have not been considered before the works began.

“I’m sad to hear that in 2021, tangata whenua have to push to be considered. You can just feel the sadness,” Ngarewa-Packer said.

“There is deep sadness for our how tupuna have been affected, but there is also strong unity to find a resolution.”

Oskam said he was made aware of the protest on Wednesday night.

“I did contact the organiser and said it’s probably wise if I was there and I made myself available,” he said.

“I was asked not to be there while they had their kōrero and that they’d get back to me later. I’m still waiting to hear back from them.

“If the buck stops with me, I think I deserve through natural justice to have a right of reply.”

Oskam said the offer to engage with hapū was still on the table.

“We would not have got consent… you just cannot get consent through Horizons without consultation with iwi.”

In a statement, Horizons Regional Council strategy and regulatory group manager Dr Nic Peet said Horizons administered forestry works resource consents under the national environmental standards for plantation forestry.

“The forestry company supplied a plan that identified numerous sites of significance, which followed its engagement with local people,” the statement said.

“Horizons acts in good faith with all of these parties and we endeavour to ensure views and knowledge of iwi and hapū are part of the consent process. We understand that work has been suspended and that the landowner, forest company and hapū are in discussions. We would like to give these parties time for these discussions and not hinder their process.”

A Horizons spokesperson confirmed it granted a resource consent for the earthworks at the site.

The Chronicle has requested a copy of the consent.

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