The decision to grant consent to build a controversially located Erebus memorial in inner suburban Auckland without public debate has been labelled "terribly wrong" by local politicians and residents alike.
On Wednesday, an application by the Ministry of Culture and Heritage (MCH) to build a 95 sq m structure in Dove-Myer Robinson Park in Parnell was given Auckland Council resource consent by independent commissioner Ian Munro.
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The memorial, which has been in the works since late-2017, is entitled Te Paerangi Ataata - Sky Song, and incorporates a stainless steel walkway projecting outward to the horizon on a lawn overlooking Judges Bay.
Over the past year, there had been substantial opposition to the location and design of the memorial by various Parnell residents groups including the Save Robbies Park group, Parnell Heritage, and Parnell Community Committee.
The residents groups argue the Erebus memorial would be obtrusive to the heavily used public park, and there was no logical or symbolic link between the park and Erebus.
In a letter to Ministry for Culture and Heritage chief executive Bernadette Cavanagh, Parnell Heritage co-chairs Mary Barry and Julie Hill argued the large concrete structure should not be placed in an inner-city jewel "that is treasured as a precious green sanctuary amongst the pressures of urban living".
But despite the disappointment of Wednesday's decision to grant resource consent for the Dove-Myer Robinson Park memorial, it was actually independent commissioner Munro's decision on March 5 to not publically notify the consent decision that really irked opposing residents.
Save Robbies Park spokesperson, Jo Malcolm said the resource consent was "no surprise" because there was no opportunity for the public to debate and file their objections prior to commissioner Ian Munro making his decision.
"Our disappointment came a week ago when they decided not to publicly notify it. That was gutting. We're an Erebus family as well as a local community and the decision not to notify basically shut down any negotiation," Malcolm, whose father-in-law Alan Stokes was among the victims of the crash, said.
"Today's decision was not a surprise to us because if you can't have your say in public notification it's highly unlikely a resource consent will be declined if it's been put forward. So while disappointing today, obviously, not surprising.
"We believe very strongly that the Erebus families deserve a memorial but they have completely got this structure wrong.
"It's in the wrong place, it has absolutely no links to the park, and the Ministry's own experts and Boffa Miskell told them in August 2018 this was not the right site for the Erebus memorial."
Environmental planning firm Boffa Miskell were asked by the Ministry of Culture and Heritage to undertake a review of Dove Myer Robinson Park and measure its suitability for a National Erebus Memorial against similar criteria used to assess the site of the Christchurch Memorial.
Malcolm obtained the Boffa Miskell report from MCH via official information, and says the report is "very clear, Dove Myer Park is not a good choice as an Erebus Memorial site".
"Among other recommendations, the report states somewhere near the Airport, Manukau Harbour or a South facing site would be a much better fit," Malcolm says.
In response to the criticisms, MCH Erebus Memorial project lead Brodie Stubbs told the Herald the Boffa Miskell report was only "one of a number of pieces of work commissioned by the Ministry as inputs to its recommendation on the final site for the National Erebus Memorial".
"The Ministry noted, but did not necessarily agree with Boffa Miskell's assessment the site," Stubbs said.
"The Ministry itself has considerable expertise and experience in developing memorials of this kind. Another key input to the Ministry's recommendation was the results of a survey of Erebus Families.
"After considering all the relevant information, the Ministry reached the conclusion that Dove-Myer Robinson Park was the best site for the memorial."
Stubbs also said this was a conclusion shared with the Waitematā Local Board when the Ministry approached them to consider allowing the memorial to be built in Dove-Myer Robinson Park.
However, a week ago at news of the non-public notification of the Erebus memorial, Waitemata local board chair Richard Northey expressed the board's disappointment.
"Given the high level of interest in this project we had formally requested the community be given the opportunity to provide feedback by publicly notifying the application, so we are obviously disappointed by the commissioner's decision," Northey said.
However, the decision to uphold the resource consent decision still rests with the seven member Waitemata Local Board.
It is yet unclear, where the numbers lie in this vote, but board member Sarah Trotman indicated she believes there is board support to still oppose it.
Auckland Councillor for the Ōrākei Ward, which encompasses Parnell, Desley Simpson said she thought the non-notification decision was a breakdown in the council resource consent process.
"I think there is something terribly wrong with the Resource Management Act when a public installation of this magnitude can go through non-notified. That's my issue," Simpson said.
"This is hardly someone chopping a tree down next door, or building a new garage or whatever.
"This is a major public memorial which has a significant footprint in a significant public space. I am at a loss to see how the law allows a non-notification of resource consent."
In response to the criticism, MCH's Stubbs reiterated the independence of the resource consent commissioner, Ian Munro, in making the decision to non-notify and that it was "not the Ministry's decision".
"He [Munro] was satisfied that no one would be adversely affected by the proposal to build the National Erebus Memorial in Dove-Myer Robinson Park and there would be no more than a minor impact on the park itself," Stubbs said.
"We understand that a number of local Parnell residents have concerns about the proposed memorial, particularly around the risk of damage to heritage trees and the impact on views."
"These concerns, amongst others, have been thoroughly interrogated by the Independent Commissioner. We hope that this independent report will help allay those concerns for the community."
With resource consent now granted, there are two other approvals required before construction of the memorial can begin: an archaeological authority from Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga and landowner approval from Waitematā Local Board - potential at their next meeting in April.