The group protesting plans to remove hundreds of exotic trees from an Auckland maunga have welcomed intervention by Ngāti Whātua.
The Tūpuna Maunga Authority, which co-governs the city's 14 tūpuna maunga (ancestral mountains), plans to remove 345 exotic trees from Ōwairaka/Mt Albert and plant 13,000 natives as part of a long-term restoration project.
But the group of protesters have occupied the maunga since November 11, preventing contractors from starting what was meant to be a month-long job.
This morning Ngāti Whātua Orakei deputy chairman Ngarimu Blair told the Herald it was time for the dispute - which has seen protesters block access to Ōwairaka, and which has led to repellent graffiti on buildings on the maunga - to come to an end.
"The way forward is, in the same ways as we all have done in recent weeks, compromise," he said.
"Compromise to find a solution that benefits us all.
"We have sent a letter to the chair of the Tūpuna Maunga Authority, Paul Majurey, to Mayor Phil Goff and to the head of the protest group on Ōwairaka, Anna Radford, seeking compromise so that we can progress the essential mahi of replanting on Ōwairaka."
Radford, who heads Honour the Maunga, said she welcomed the move.
She said the group, like Ngāti Whātua, was deeply concerned about the "increasingly divisive and destructive turn" the tree impasse had taken.
"Our mission has always been a simple one: to support native regeneration by saving the exotic trees so they can protect the maunga, its wildlife and the young native plantings as they grow to maturity," she said.
"Doing so would respect the environment and all peoples' cultural, spiritual and historical ties with the maunga."
Radford said the TMA had subjected Honour the Maunga to an "escalating barrage of completely baseless accusations".
"Distressing though that has been on a personal level, even more upsetting was the undermining of the Collective Redress Act's intention for a positive, constructive and sustainable Treaty partnership between Ngā Mana Whenua and the other people of Auckland," she said.
"Ngāti Whātua's intervention has hopefully put that process back on track."
Radford said she was disappointed in the "lack of leadership" shown by the mayor on the matter.
"Auckland Council representatives comprise half of the authority's members and they have at every stage been hostile and obstructive towards local communities over the tree felling issue.
"Although the authority can to a large extent instruct the council, it is entirely within the mayor's power to actively encourage its council members regarding their duty to represent the interests of those who elected them into office in the first place.
"We look forward to the mayor showing stronger leadership on this matter in future."
Blair said in his piece in the Herald today that for the past 20 years, Ngāti Whātua had worked "tirelessly" to re-populate Takaparawhau with close to one million native and fruit trees, which have slowed erosion, improved soil structure, provided habitat for native birds and insects, and created jobs with mana all while cleaning our air.
"We propose that Takaparawhau holds the solution to this deadlock," he said.
"As ahi kā, and those who live in Tāmaki, Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei are faced daily with the hurt and loss of this impasse, and it is time for this to end and calm wise heads to guide us forward.
"The maunga authority has not acted decisively and as a result the chance to bring all in the community along with its solution has been lost."
Radford said Honour the Maunga had responded to Ngāti Whātua Orākei, saying it agreed with its suggestion about the way forward "in principle" and would appreciate the opportunity to engage further on the matter.
"Winter is coming and, with it, the planting season," Radford said.
"It is our sincere hope that a solution will be found that sees Honour the Maunga and local communities being actively involved in a regeneration programme that is a cause for unity and celebration."
TMA chair Paul Majurey said he organisation had not publicly commented on the tree removal to date as the matter was before the High Court.
"Authority representatives met with protest group representatives in January this year to ascertain if there was any common ground but nothing came of it," he said today.
"It is understood that similar efforts by the Mayor were also unsuccessful.
"The protest group say they will oppose the removal of any exotic trees, including the many pest species, until all the new native plantings mature in 20 or 30 years.
"We are happy to sit with them again if the protest group were to drop the judicial review action. But, with that case shortly to be heard, it makes sense to await that outcome."
The Mayor weighed in this afternoon.
"I have communicated to both parties that a process of engagement and a readiness to compromise is necessary to resolve the dispute over tree removals on Aucklands' maunga," he said.
"However, with the legal action taken by the protest group, discussions have been put on hold.
"The chair of the Tūpuna Maunga Authority has indicated a readiness to consider some compromise and I would urge the protest group, as I did in my correspondence to them several months ago, to enter into a direct discussion with the TMA and iwi owners in good faith to find a way through the current impasse.
"I strongly condemn the racism and vandalism, reflected by the graffiti on Ōwairaka, that we have seen lately. This shows what can happen in the absence of a calm and measured search for a constructive outcome."
Goff said that ownership of the maunga was vested in local iwi by the then Government in 2014 which gives the owners the right to take action within the law to restore the maunga to showcase their historical importance and the natural environment.
"I do understand the desire of the protest group to preserve some of the exotic trees," he said.