Scrutiny over the $300,000 Craggy Range walking track has shifted from how it could have been created on the most visible side face of Te Mata Peak without public knowledge, to how much knowledge agencies involved really had about the track.
The 2.4km track was to open early this year. However, after public outcry the winery announced it would remove the track, and with other stakeholders, explore the possibility of an alternative track on the eastern face.
Questions initially mounted on how the track was approved, and constructed without iwi, or Hastings District councillors knowing, or public consultation.
However, Craggy Range chief executive Michael Wilding said they originally introduced the "idea" to the Hastings District Council, including a proposed map of the track, in June.
The council received the resource consent application on August 31, and in October it was approved "without councillor knowledge", the council have said.
Another month passed before the zig-zagging track was constructed on the most visible face of Te Mata Peak, and the uproar arose.
Although the council had knowledge about the track for up to five months before it was created, both the Te Mata Park Trust Board, and Hastings District councillors claim they did not realise this action was taking place.
This week Mr Wilding said it was "a bit disappointing to discover that some people misled the public over their knowledge of our plans, and somewhat disingenuous that they didn't step up to take accountability for what they knew".
The catchcry for many has been that they did not realise the track would be constructed, until it was.
This is despite the trust board - which includes two councillors - being briefed on Craggy Range's plans in September, a month after the resource consent application was received.
Hastings mayor Sandra Hazlehurst, whose organisation was first told about the idea for a track in June, and received official confirmation in August, says she did not know about the track.
She could not be contacted for comment. When asked about her knowledge of the track earlier this week she said: "I wasn't given any information about the track at all, and that was obviously something that was discussed by the Te Mata Park Trust and our council staff, but I certainly wasn't aware that the track was actually going to take place."
Councillors Malcolm Dixon and George Lyons are the two council-appointed representatives on the trust board. Mr Lyons - who was not in attendance at the September meeting - was briefed later.
Neither informed the mayor.
When Hawke's Bay Today revealed the trust had been briefed, Mr Dixon said the plans they received were "merely a sketch", with trust chairman Mike Devonshire echoing the trust were not aware of the route the track would take.
Mr Wilding said he had been surprised to hear councillors and Te Mata Park Board members believed they were only presented with a 'loose idea' in September. Not only was this meeting a month after their application was lodged, council had also been given a proposed map of the track.
The trust chairman said they had not been told by council staff the consent application had been received, leading them to believe it was still just a concept.
He said he did not believe the council had been trying to hide anything, but their expectation was they would have been notified about any application.
"We were unaware of a zone change for that face, we were naive and we should have been better organised but so should everyone else. Everyone dropped the ball on that."
On Thursday Mr Dixon maintained he had not known about this application, and could not recall being shown a map of the track.
He also had "no recollection" of when councillors were told.
"The only knowledge I had … was at the meeting we had in September ... when we were just told about the draft, so I had no idea until the work started that it was already granted."
As for Mr Lyons, he said all he knew was that the track was in the planning stages. He said he had not been surprised councillors weren't told about the track before it was constructed.
"We're not normally briefed on what happens on private land. It wasn't a council initiative."
With the finger appearing to point toward council staff, when asked why they had not told any councillors about the June or August briefings Hastings District Council acting CE John O'Shaughnessy defended the council process.
Council processes approximately 520 resource consents per year, which is undertaken separately from the "policy formation role" which councillors undertake in formulating their District Plan. Although resource consents sometimes went before the hearings committee, this was the exception.
"From an operational perspective, the normal practice is that council is not briefed about all consent applications received or meetings held with parties," he said.
This application was received 10 days before the Te Mata Park Trust Board were briefed about the "intention from Craggy Range to develop the track and some detail around this".
When asked why staff did not inform the trust this had been filed, Mr O'Shaughnessy said these staff were not part of the consent process and were unaware an actual application had been lodged.
Despite the district plan rules, an argument throughout the controversy has been the application should have been notified given the status of the peak.
When asked what community consultation Craggy Range had taken before track construction started, Mr Wilding said they had taken advice from the council.
"Council officials were really helpful throughout the process and provided us with the advice and guidance we needed. However, as I've said, there does appear to be a misalignment between the recently updated district plan and community sentiment, which put us in a very unfortunate position with mana whenua and other parties."
He said it was in everyone's best interests to focus on moving forward and exploring an alternative solution to deliver public walking access.
"Hopefully everyone sees we have acted with integrity and transparency, and our motives have always been honourable."
When the council were introduced to Craggy Range's plans in late June, former mayor Lawrence Yule was departing the council.
The now Tukituki MP said he had no knowledge of any plans for a track prior to leaving.
Commenting on the situation with an "outside and impartial view", he said he thought both the council, and Craggy Range had followed the right processes.
"I don't think anybody has done anything wrong here.
"I think they've done everything by the book as they're meant to have done," he said.