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Hui to be held at Ōwairaka / Mt Albert

Paul Majurey, Chair of the Tūpuna Maunga Authority, confirms that attempts to agree arrangements for a meeting with the protest group blocking access to Ōwairaka / Mt Albert have met with resistance to date.

“For ten days, a protest group has unlawfully occupied Ōwairaka / Mt Albert, blocking the road and main entrance to the Maunga that has prevented open access and intimidated some of the public from going to the Maunga,” says Majurey.

“To uphold the mana of the Maunga, the Authority and Mana Whenua will be holding a whakawatea followed by a powhiri and hui at Ōwairaka / Mt Albert this coming Thursday, 28 November 2019. A time will be announced closer to the day. This will be a peaceful assembly and after the powhiri there will be opportunity for people to speak.”

The occupation has made national headlines, so it is helpful to understand what is really going on.

Public Hui

Early in their occupation of Ōwairaka, the protest group invited the Tūpuna Maunga Authority to an urgent hui to discuss the protest. The Authority agreed to meet and proposed a date of Friday, 15 November 2019, however, that was refused by the protest group. The Authority then offered to meet on Wednesday, 20 November but that date was also refused.

In the last few days, there have been attempts by Auckland Council representatives to broker a resolution. The proposal mooted was for the Tūpuna Authority to attend a public meeting, the protest group to cease the blockade which would restore public access to the Maunga,
the Authority’s contractors to undertake preparatory work but not removing any exotic trees and then the meeting to follow. The protest group also refused this proposal.

Honouring the Tūpuna Maunga

What we have heard from ecologists and other experts in the field of landscape regeneration is that long term benefits of ecological restoration at Ōwairaka with the replacement of 345 exotic trees with 13,000 natives, far outweighs the short-term impact.

“The Tūpuna Maunga Authority holds a long-term world view that these taonga are restored and are enhanced as wāhi tapu and as native wildlife habitats for generations to come. This, along with the Authority’s support for public access on the Maunga, is how Ōwairaka is truly honoured,” says Majurey.

“The Authority appreciates the wide-spread support it is receiving from Aucklanders and around the country. One of the messages sums it up this way”:

I am writing as one Mount Albert resident to thank you for the work and plans of the Tupuna Maunga Authority on Ōwairaka / Mount Albert and to express disappointment at the actions of some others claiming to speak for residents in our neighbourhood. They do not speak for me and, I know, many other pakeha residents. It was heartening to hear the recent Radio New Zealand “The Detail” programme give space to the calm and rational voices of Sean Freeman of the Tree Council and you about the real nature and vision of the plans as a means to both honour treaty settlements and hold true to ecological principles that will maintain the maunga as a treasure for us all in future generations. Best wishes for the work of the Authority on Ōwairaka / Mount Albert.

On claims of a tree massacre and ecological disaster

The protest group’s messaging started as one of support for the Tūpuna Maunga Authority’s restoration programme but raised a concern with the timing stages of the tree removals. A facebook page was created which led to a flow of misinformation. The story then changed to one of being concerned for birds and lizards which later escalated to total opposition for the Authority’s restoration programme. This was accompanied by melodramatic claims of a ‘tree massacre’, ‘ecological disaster’ and “madness”, together with an assertion of no consultation.

There are currently about 850 trees (natives and exotics) on Ōwairaka. In addition, nearly 3,000 native trees and shrubs were planted by the Tūpuna Maunga Authority earlier this year, and another 10,000 natives will be planted over the next year, totalling 13,000 new plantings.

Extensive planning went into developing the restoration programme and this included ecological assessments from independent experts, which also addressed the timing and staging of the tree removals.

It was on this basis that Auckland Council granted a resource consent for the removal of 345 exotic trees on Ōwairaka, 183 of which are pest species (as classified by Auckland Council) including tree privet, monkey apple and banksia. The balance of the exotic trees to be removed are mainly Eucalyptus - a number of which pose significant health and safety risks due to their size and location. Below is a photo of a massive gum tree that fell across the road on Ōwairaka last year which is popular for public walking – thankfully not harming anyone.

As for birdlife, the resource consent prohibits the removal of any exotic tree that contains nesting native birds and the Authority’s contractors will work in full compliance with the consent. All of the native trees on Ōwairaka will remain, and assessments by the independent ecologist experts confirm that these provide good canopy cover and habitat for birdlife on the Maunga.

The Authority has also undertaken and supported significant pest animal control at Ōwairaka to contribute to the long-term goal of native wildlife habitat.

“Clearly, no tree massacre or ecological disaster here. And, that’s not just the Authority’s view - both the Tree Council and Forest and Bird have publicly stated their 100% support for the Authority’s restoration programme at Ōwairaka / Mt Albert,” says Majurey.

On consultation

The protest group claims the public were never consulted about Tūpuna Maunga Authority’s plans to restore the Maunga.

The Tūpuna Maunga Integrated Management Plan and Strategies, which are publicly available for anyone to read online, clearly signalled the proactive management of exotic species, replanting and restoring indigenous flora and fauna and biodiversity of the Maunga, and reconnecting ecological networks within and between the Maunga and the wider landscape.

The Tūpuna Maunga Integrated Management Plan underwent three rounds of public consultation in 2016 with in-person hearings, and the Tūpuna Maunga Authority Integrated Management Plan Strategies underwent public consultation earlier this year.

The Tūpuna Maunga Authority also received multiple tree related public presentations at its monthly hui over the last 12 months.

Further, the Authority delivered advance public communications which included a maildrop to Mt Albert residents and project signage at the Ōwairaka / Mt Albert entrance, prior to the proposed 11 November start date.

“Clearly, no ambush here. Again, that’s not just the Authority’s view – both the Tree Council and Forest and Bird have publicly acknowledged the public processes and they should know, they participated by making a number of submissions,” says Majurey.

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