Special landscapes - the NZILA calls for an inclusive approach

The stoush over Te Mata Peak walking track has highlighted the need for councils to take an inclusive approach when considering the public interest in our special landscapes, says the New Zealand Institute of Landscape Architects president, Brad Coombs.

“The situation that has unfolded with the walking track consenting review illustrates the deeply held views that a range of special interest groups and the general public have in the highly valued landscapes of Aotearoa,” Coombs told Landscape Architecture Aotearoa.

His comments come as the Environmental Defence Society (EDS) announces it’s headed to the High Court to challenge Hastings District Council’s decision making process, which allowed Craggy Range winery to build a zig zagging path across the peak face. Craggy Range is named as the second defendant in the action.

 The walking track carved into Te Mata Peak. 

The walking track carved into Te Mata Peak. 

Coombs says identified outstanding natural landscapes like Te Mata Peak require the highest level of protection as a matter of national importance under the Resource Management Act. Where landscape values are widely recognised, such as the scenic and cultural associations with Te Mata Peak, the territorial authority and the public have a strong interest in the management of those values, he says.

EDS will argue that the decision to approve the track was unlawful, and will ask for an order for its removal.

“We are filing these proceedings because it has become clear that we can no longer rely on the earlier assurances of Craggy Range Vineyards that it would remove the track,” said EDS CEO Gary Taylor.

“The assurances that were given late last year consisted of an unequivocal promise that we believe can no longer be relied on. The company now appears to be wriggling out of the public commitments it made and the track is still there. The company is not replying to our requests for a clear explanation of its current intentions.”

Craggy Range promised last December to remove the track, restore the land and return it to its previous owner. But then in May it backtracked, saying removing it wasn’t as easy as first thought and could leave the land in a worse state.

 Craggy Range says removing the track would not be easy.

Craggy Range says removing the track would not be easy.

Last month local iwi Ngati Kahungunu - who had previously been highly critical of Craggy Range - announced it and the winery were now working together on developing the land. They’d joined to buy 28 hectares of the peak, including the existing track which they planned to close, and would build a new one that would protect areas of cultural significance.

But that move further outraged representatives of Waimarama Marae, who blasted Ngati Kahungunu for signing off the deal without consulting them first. Waimarama Marae is supporting the EDS legal action.

Gary Taylor says “Te Mata is an outstanding natural landscape and feature and has profound cultural values that the council either undervalued or overlooked. We contend, with support of the Marae, that because of those values the resource consent application should have been publicly notified and that the decision to grant approval was wrong in law.

“We acknowledge that council has since set up a steering group to consider the future planning and use of Te Mata. That is a good step forward which we support.

“But first the Craggy Range track must be removed and it is clear that we need court action to ensure that happens,” Mr Taylor concluded.