A Far North iwi feels betrayed over what it says were assurances a culturally significant site at Ahipara would be fully protected as a public reserve.
Members of Te Rarawa have been angered since a centuries-old pōhutukawa was partly chopped down on Wharo Way, off Foreshore Rd, last week.
The tree was the only remaining feature of a historic site which included a marae believed to have been destroyed by a tsunami in 1910.
Te Rarawa chairman Haami Piripi said the original plan to subdivide the land more than 15 years ago sparked protests and a lengthy occupation.
That dispute was resolved when it was agreed to set part of the subdivision aside as a public reserve, protecting the historic area from development.
Piripi said his understanding at the time was that the area closest to Foreshore Rd would be made a public reserve, and that it would include the tree.
Discovering that the reserve only protected a section at 3 Wharo Way surprised many locals when the pōhutukawa furore broke out last week.
Piripi said he hoped the incident would shed light on what he called ''a betrayal''.
''We thought the whole front part was going to be a reserve, to protect the cultural and historic associations of the land, including the tree — yet the tree is not even on the reserve,'' he said.
''It seems to me that someone has squeezed another section on to the front. What happened to the initial reserve we agreed on? I'm hoping this will shine a spotlight on what happened and I don't think it's going to be pretty.''
Land Information NZ records show both sections, 1 and 3 Wharo Way, were created in 2008. The front property, measuring 789sq m, was bought by Kaitaia GP Cecil Williams.
The neighbouring section at 3 Wharo Way, which is 650sq m, was vested in the council as a public reserve.
The council's district services general manager, Dean Myburgh, said staff were investigating the background of Wharo Way and establishing what protection, if any, was in place for the pōhutukawa at number 1.
The original resource consent for the development was granted by a joint hearings committee in July 2003. The pōhutukawa was not specifically protected by that consent.
Myburgh said council research showed there were subsequent discussions about protecting the pōhutukawa but that did not happen.
However, a historic pā site at 3 Wharo Way was protected by an Environment Court decision in 2005 making it a local purpose (historic) reserve.
Myburgh said individual trees could be protected by being included on a Schedule of Notable Trees. The pōhutukawa at 1 Wharo Way was not listed on the current schedule.
The Ahipara Takiwa Management Plan, which was created by Ahipara hapū and three marae with input from the council, did identify it as a "landmark pōhutukawa tree".
''Unfortunately, the management plan does not provide the tree with legal protections that the council can enforce. Council staff will continue to look at how trees identified in similar management plans might be included on the Schedule of Notable Trees to become part of the next District Plan. That is due to be proposed early next year,'' he said.
Meanwhile, Williams has put his property on the market and suggested the iwi or Government buy it and make it a reserve.
Piripi said in cultural terms the section would be a worthwhile acquisition but the iwi had to prioritise its spending.
''If it's a choice between buying a section and looking after whānau, it's not a hard decision.''
Piripi said there was culpability on the part of the developer and the council, which approved the subdivision plan.
''That should translate into support for acquisition of the land,'' he said.
Piripi was also disappointed the council had ''ignored'' the Ahipara Takiwa Management Plan by not informing the landowner that iwi regarded it as a significant landmark when he enquired about its status.
''Over generations we have generously given land for the public good, for hospitals, roads and facilities, and we expect at least a modicum of respect in return when it comes to caring for the things that are important to us.''
Piripi said he felt sorry for Williams, whose private property right was not what he thought he had bought in 2008. It was a case of buyer beware, he said.
The land was gifted to the Catholic church last century by the Reid sisters, who had no descendants. It was then sold to a developer more than 15 years ago, Piripi said.