An independent review has criticised the Hastings District Council's processes to approve a resource consent to build the zigzag track on the eastern face of Te Mata Peak.
The council commissioned the external legal review following public outcry over it allowing the resource consent application by Craggy Range to build the track to be non-notified.
The review, conducted by Matthew Casey, QC, found some aspects of the council's non-notification decision could have been more fully assessed, particularly in relation to the cultural values of the area, identified as an outstanding natural landscape in the council's district plan.
The subdivision and land use consent was lodged by Craggy Range on August 31, and included the required assessment of environmental effects prepared by Craggy Range's own planning consultant, Development Nous, which found they would be less than minor, report said.
The council then did its own assessment and the processing officer asked for more information about the landscape and visual amenity effects.
Craggy Range responded with an updated landscape assessment by Hudson Associates, which again assessed the effects as less than minor.
From this it was recommended that the application not be notified and the consents granted. These decisions were made on October 16, and Mr Casey found these actions could have stood up to a legal challenge.
He said, however, there were a number of areas where the decision-making by the council which led to the conclusion the track would only have minor effects could have been more thorough.
A significant potential issue was the lack of information about effects on cultural values associated with Te Mata Peak, he said.
"The potential for cultural effects ought to have been expressly considered, particularly given the flagging in the district plan of the peak's importance to Ngati Kahungunu."
He noted that the lack of information about this could be a cause for concern if a court were to review the decision.
The argument that there were already similar tracks on other parts of Te Mata Peak, also warranted more careful consideration, Mr Casey said.
He concluded that the decision could potentially be open to challenge by judicial review, in regards to the process followed, but not the outcome, but he suggested such court action would be unlikely to succeed.
The council's group manager planning and regulatory services John O'Shaughnessy said the findings of the report clearly identified that the council did not fully consider the cultural values of this landscape, which led to the non-notification process for this consent.
"We fully accept the findings of this report," he said.
"The findings from this review will be fully embraced by future consenting processes for similar landscapes and we have already begun scoping possible changes to the district plan to ensure cultural values are appropriately reflected in the outstanding landscape features such as Te Mata Peak."
Hastings mayor Sandra Hazlehurst said she accepted the council should have better recognised the significance of Te Mata Peak, in terms of its cultural significance and as an outstanding natural landscape.
"Next week council will consider options to strengthen the district plan to better recognise the status of Te Mata Peak to our community."
Hawke's Bay Today was unable to contact both Craggy Range Winery chief executive Michael Wilding and Ngati Kahungunu Iwi chief executive Ngahiwi Tomoana.