Craggy Range ... Te Mata track.
Polarising to many, inflammatory to some, a race issue to a vocal few.

Ironically, as an unusually wet Hawke's Bay spring and abundant grass growth softens the offending "zig-zag" portion of the track into relative obscurity, Hastings District Council's "emergency" works apply a stark brown highlighter pen to the top 500m section of the track.

Likewise, after a relatively quiet period devoid of much in the way of public comment, recent weeks have seen a flurry of announcements and activity which may be just a foretaste of the action to come in 2019.

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Things kicked off publicly again on November with HDC's remediation decision on the top section of the track.

Whilst the Te Mata Peak Peoples' Track Society compiled good evidential grounds and strong legal opinion on the illegality of HDC's move, the society decided not to injunct council's action.

This was a difficult decision for a society formed for the principal purpose of advocating on behalf of the more than 24,000 petitioning supporters of the track but it was the right one.

We recognised that the remediation would orphan the middle zig-zag portion of the track and so effectively spell the end of the entire track.

But we concluded that to injunct the council would have been highly divisive, put additional costs on ratepayers and undermine the efforts under way by a number of landowners and benefactors to come up with alternative, comprehensive public access to both sides of the Peak and possible creation of a new regional park.

Then last week came the announcement that HDC had agreed to meet the full costs of remediating the entire track, taking their (ie ratepayers') costs in all this sorry mess to over $650K, not to mention the $500K spent by Craggy Range in constructing the Track and defending themselves.

As with council's earlier decision on remediation, the decision was the right one in the context of the undertaking between Craggy Range and iwi over track remediation, although not necessarily for the right reasons.

An independent review of council's handling of Craggy Range's resource consent application for the track unsurprisingly concluded that it was council that was at fault in not requiring a public notification process.


Craggy Range is just as much a victim of this stuff-up as those in the community who have objected to the track. Whilst council has finally done the right thing by picking up the tab to fix the problem, it still hasn't publicly apologised, either to the people or to Craggy Range.

Both deserve to get one. RMA processes and the need for transparency demand that council's remediation of the track follows a public notification process, set down for early 2019.

Most recently, Craggy Range and Ngati Kahungunu have publicly reconfirmed the intention to purchase more land on the eastern side of the peak for an alternative track.

Concurrently, a council spokesperson revealed details of a Cultural Report compiled as part of the Reference Group process, which identifies an extensive set of tangata whenua interests and their desire to convey "legal person" status on the Peak.

The Peak story for 2019 is likely to be one of further and potentially rising contention.

Some will object to the plans being developed for alternative access to the peak and to join up and provide public access to a range of paths that already exist on private land.

Others will object to iwi demands for legal person status for the peak and a much greater say in how the community engages with our landmarks.

Iwi will rightly continue to advance their peoples' cause and push the boundaries of current dated laws to modernise the Treaty Partnership.

The issue will no doubt be informed by yet more consultancy reports, newspaper column inches, the occasional public protest and an often not-so-well-informed social media.

But the real challenge and solution lies with our community leaders, to broker a deal which acknowledges iwi aspirations whilst respecting the rights and interests of the community in allowing quality public access to open spaces, so that divisiveness is avoided and community wellbeing is enhanced for all.

Specifically I am calling on Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst, Hawke's Bay Regional Council chairman Rex Graham and Ngati Kahungunu chairman Ngahiwi Tomoana to lead this dialogue.

Mayor Hazlehurst owes us all an apology.

Accountability is something we believe will be judged in the triennial local body elections coming our way later in 2019.

Beyond pushing for a public apology, the society sees its role in 2019 being one of continuing to advocate for enhanced, respectful public access to Te Mata Peak, as council seems incapable of assuming this role on behalf of the community.

It would be a travesty if the $1 million and counting spent by council and Craggy Range on the track to date went completely to waste.

■ Xan Harding is chairman of the of the Te Mata Peak Peoples' Track Society