The Hastings District Council was first to present its case to the Environment Court on the first day of hearings yesterday into the Maungaharuru-Tangitu Trust's appeal regarding the council's decisions related to protecting sites of significance in Hawke's Bay.

The hearing almost didn't begin at the Hastings District Court after the trust asked for an adjournment because one of their key witnesses had been involved in an accident and was unable to attend.

Trust counsel David Allen said the rangatira who was set to speak had intended to set out the trust's whakapapa "as this is fundamental for the understanding of the court and all other parties".

After deliberation, however, Judges Craig Thompson and Caren Fox and environment commissioner Russell Howie rejected the request.


Judge Thompson said that while they understood the emotional wish to have a kaumatua present to lead proceedings, what he had intended to say had already been published and was before the court.

"Everybody knows what he intends to say and that can be put to other witnesses, and we can reconvene later when he is well enough to give evidence."

The courtroom was barely able to house the number of people who turned up to observe on the first day, including hapu members and landowners who would also be affected by the proceedings.

At issue was the council's designation of eight sites as wahi taonga in the proposed district plan, on Maungaharuru, across the takiwa and coastal pa sites.

Initially the trust had identified 128 sites as significant, which through further mediation and discussion had been whittled down to eight that remained subject to appeal.

Council lawyer Asher Davidson said three of the sites were coastal, amounting to 44ha, one was a historic pa site near a river covering 105ha of private land and the other four were in the Maungarahu ranges, covering 1000ha.

Ms Davidson said at issue for the council was balancing recognition of the cultural significance of the sites, without being overly restrictive on the activities landowners could carry out - such as earthworks, weed and pest control, planting and fencing.

The hearings were at this point set down to continue for the rest of the week.