The removal of powerlines and the addition of a bridge are the first tests of the legislation that gives the Whanganui River legal personhood, Ngā Tāngata Tiaki o Whanganui Trust chairman Gerrard Albert says.

Both the removal of powerlines that span the river from the Hatrick's Wharf Substation and a variation to the Upokongaro Cycle Bridge resource consent have needed the attention of Te Pou Tupua - the human face and voice of Te Awa Tupua. The pou function is currently carried by Dame Tariana Turia and Turama Hawira.

The Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Act passed in 2017. It recognises Te Awa Tupua as an indivisible and living whole comprising the Whanganui River from the mountains to the sea, with all its tributaries, physical and metaphysical elements.

Setting the pou in place means we now have a local rather than an absent Crown face to ensure the public good of that entity, Albert said.


Te Pou Tupua is now the effective landowner of the navigable parts of the riverbed. The previous owner was the Crown, but now ownership is with the river itself.

Navigation by the public and existing river structures in or above the bed of the river don't need Te Pou Tupua involvement - but any new structure or activity, such as removing powerlines, does. Albert urges people to check with the trust if they want to know more about how the law works.

As effective landowner, Te Pou Tupua had to be made aware of Powerco's measures for public safety as it removed the powerlines, Albert said.

Te Pou Tupua is also required to work with any relevant local hapū. This has happened, Albert said, and Powerco has been great to deal with.

The lines removal, twice put off, can now proceed.

"It took a little longer than expected, but the end result was positive."

Te Pou Tupua and hapū are also providing oversight for a resource consent variation for the Upokongaro Cycle Bridge.

The height of its Papaiti abutment has been increased by 800mm, and Whanganui District Council property general manager Leighton Toy said that needs a variation to the project's resource consent.


While some have told the Chronicle the height of the Waimarie funnel hadn't been properly taken into account, Toy said the increased height of the bridge is "to reduce risks to the structure from climate change effects".

The work with Te Pou Tupua and hapū is progressing well.

"All parties involved in the consultation want to ensure we establish a really good, agreed process under this relatively new legislation," Toy said.

He gave no clue about the other thing everyone wants to know - which is when the bridge will be put in place.

That will depend on granting the resource consent as well as other factors, including weather, he said.

He promised at least two weeks' notice before the event.