Riparian planting on a popular Pāpāmoa waterway has been halted until next year - or maybe forever - after complaints from residents who want the grass restored.
But an iwi leader says complaining residents should stop being "sooks" and another says the planting is for everyone's benefit.
The Tauranga City Council has been working on a plan to landscape Te Ara o Wairākei, a series of stormwater catchment ponds that run nearly the length of Pāpāmoa flanked by paths, since 2016.
The $5.77 million first stage of planting along the margins and surrounds of 10km of waterway is nearly done, but the council halted partially complete work in the Palm Beach West area last year after residents kicked up a stink.
Palm Beach resident spokesman Grant Pegler took their case to the council again last Tuesday.
"I have got hundreds of people who are quite hostile against this," he told the meeting.
He criticised the lack of consultation with residents, cast doubt on the benefits of planting and said Palm Beach - with its larger pools and big, grassed reserve areas - needed a different treatment to the rest of the waterway.
He said residents wanted planting removed and grass reinstated to the water's edge, as it was before.
"We don't want any change to this beautiful park."
Steve Morris, a ward councillor for Pāpāmoa, said the landscaping had been good for the suburb overall, but failed residents by imposing a "one size fits all" solution on the 500m section between Palm Beach Boulevard and Santa Monica Dr.
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Although the council had done consultation, he said, it was clear "something's gone wrong" when large numbers of residents were saying they were not consulted. The issues were aggravated by poor maintenance of the planting, he said.
In the meeting, council staff admitted to some flaws in community engagement efforts.
They also blamed maintenance issues, resulting in numerous dead plants, on a subcontractor which had been replaced after a series of failures.
Drainage services team leader Wally Potts said the whole community was "let down by the performance of that contractor".
He defended the council's early consultation, describing a variety of ways people were invited to have a say.
After the plan was signed off, however, a year was spent propagating the plants, Potts said.
"The mistake on our part was that we did not continue the engagement process in that year," Potts said.
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When planting started, some people were "taken by surprise" having not appreciated the scale of the work, he said.
Potts said the wetland-style planting on water margins would reduce the "whole-of-life maintenance cost" for the man-made ponds, helping to suppress weeds, prevent erosion, stabilise banks and improve water quality.
Council staff said planting was required in the resource consent, and while small changes were allowed, anything else would trigger a variation process that could cost an estimated $250,000.
A council majority voted to consult with the community and tangata whenua about "reinstating and enhancing" the Palm Beach West section of the stream, as well as to develop a plan for planting that would meet both community expectations and comply with the resource consent.
The results were expected to come back to the council by mid-2021. In the meantime, council staff could do no planting in the area.
Pegler told the Bay of Plenty Times after the meeting that he did not believe residents would accept a compromise on planting - they just wanted the grass back.
Whatever the solution, it should be led by the community, not the council or people who did not live there.
The council consulted with Ngā Pōtiki, Ngāi Te Rangi and Waitaha in the development of the landscaping plan.
Ngā Pōtiki chairman Colin Reeder declined to comment on the council decision but said the hapū fully supported the indigenous riparian planting.
He said the Wairākei Stream once flowed along the path now taken by the man-made stormwater ponds - a modified remnant of the original coastal wetlands that he said existed even when the area was farmed, before being developed for housing.
"We view the Te Ara ō Wairākei project as an opportunity to preserve and enhance what is left of the natural environment along this significantly important green corridor, and maintain its mana, not just for Ngā Pōtiki people and native wildlife, but for all residents of Pāpāmoa and the wider Tauranga community to enjoy."
Reeder said the benefits of riparian planting along the waterways was backed by consulting ecologists.
Plants had been chosen to provide habitat for fish and eels, keep the public and pets away from unsafe water, stabilise banks and to stop grass clippings from entering the water and contributing to algal blooms like the one seen this year, he said.
"The planting will improve water quality and biodiversity, and that is something everyone will benefit from."
Ngāi Te Rangi chief executive Paora Stanley said the iwi was comfortable with the "democratic and fulsome" consultation process the council carried out.
He said, in his opinion, it was undemocratic for a "handful" of complainers to be trying to undo or go outside that process.
He understood residents felt a connection to the area, but said Māori did too. "Ours goes back to 1750."
In his view, residents should "stop being a sook."
Waitaha was also approached for comment.