An environmental advocacy group is considering taking legal action over the "appalling" walking track carved into the face of Te Mata Peak in Havelock North.
Criticism has dogged the new $300,000 track, funded and developed by nearby winery Craggy Range on land they own. It was said the landscape would return to a more natural look within months.
However in light of rising public concern the Environmental Defence Society (EDS) has urged the winery to reconsider the development, and threatened legal action over what it says was an "unlawful" consent decision from the Hastings District Council.
EDS is a not-for-profit environmental organisation comprised of resource management professionals committed to improving environmental outcomes.
Chief executive Gary Taylor said they considered the consent process was "sloppy", and the decision made in October without any public notification was unlawful.
"Why it's unlawful is because Te Mata Peak is an iconic feature in the district and in the region, it's supposed to be protected by section 6B of the [Resource Management Act 1991], and by the district plan provisions."
This states that in achieving the purpose of the RMA, all those exercising functions and powers under it in relation to managing the use, development, and protection of natural and physical resources, shall recognise and provide for "the protection of outstanding natural features and landscapes from inappropriate subdivision, use, and development".
The land's private ownership was outweighed by high public interest, and important cultural significance for local iwi, Mr Taylor said.
There has been outcry the track application was not publicly notified, including for Ngati Kahungunu Iwi for whom Te Mata Peak, or Te Mata o Rongokako, has ancestral, historical and future importance.
Taylor said he suspected Craggy Range were not aware of the RMA provisions at the time of the application, but following "considerable public concern", it would be straightforward for them to put things right by reinstating the site.
"There's an immediate remedy available for the landowner, and I would urge Craggy Range, who makes some very good wine, to think about their brand and do they want to be associated with this kind of scandal.
"If they did [reconsider] then we don't have to worry about considering legal proceedings and getting the thing tied up in court action."
Taylor said the initial decision could be overturned by way of judicial review proceedings in the High Court. This would mean the substantive consent would then be cancelled. The society had been considering whether to take the track case on.
Yesterday Craggy Range chief executive Michael Wilding said the EDS would be better directing concerns to the district council, "who were responsible for approving our consent application".
Council Planning and Regulatory Group Manager John O'Shaughnessy said the council disagreed with the opinion expressed by the environmental group.
"Council is confident that the proper process has been followed, that in doing so it has applied the law correctly, and that the issue of the resource consent for the track was the correct outcome of that process," he said.
The track had been built by the landowner in accordance with, and relying on, the resource consent.
"In these circumstances there are legal options that people can pursue if they wish to challenge the Council's decision, but unless such action is taken the landowner is entitled to rely on the resource consent it sought and obtained."
The council have said the decision to allow the track would be revisited, with the council looking at a way of re-considering how it balances "reasonable" private land use with the way its protects the natural landscape.
Its district plan provides some protection for the landscape, and had controls to minimised the impact of any changes, but did not prohibit any work or changes occurring on the slopes and ridge.