Controversy over a national Erebus memorial timed for the 40th anniversary of the air disaster is hotting up with a petition launched against its placement in a Parnell park along with claims it will endanger what is thought to be Auckland's oldest pohutukawa tree.
About 80 people attended the Auckland Council's drop-in session at Dove-Myer Robinson Park, also known as the Parnell Rose Gardens, overlooking Judges Bay, on Saturday and submissions via the council's website or by email are open until October 8.
The drop-in session was hastily arranged after a handful of locals complained about consultation at last month's meeting of the Waitemata Local Board, the body responsible for giving landowner consent.
Two Parnell residents who spoke at the meeting, Jo Malcolm and Anne Coney, have started a petition, Save the Dove Myer-Robinson Lawn, which yesterday afternoon had 270 signatures.
Malcolm's father-in-law, Alan Stokes, was among 257 on board when sightseeing flight TE901 crashed into Mt Erebus in Antarctica. There were no survivors.
Independent local board member Rob Thomas, told the Herald that the plans used at Saturday public consultation were significantly different to those put forward for resource consent last week.
The public saw plans showing excavations skirting the drip line of the pohutukawa whereas "the new design by the [Ministry of Culture and Heritage] now shows plans to excavate into the roots of the pohutukawa tree, cut into the canopy and create concrete foundations that will prevent the roots from further developing".
Thomas said he understood consent is being sought to excavate a total distance of 2.5 metres under the tree canopy whereas information given to the public and board was that it would be between 10cms and 30cms.
The plans shown to the public also did not show lighting, internal and external spotlights and what Thomas described as "a large beaming light" to go underneath the structure.
"I understand it is now version eight. It shows the design has not been finalised [and] yet they are rushing to get the approval through. It's a rush job."
Thomas said the Local Board, the Auckland Council and the public had been misled.
The memorial project is being overseen by the ministry which last November selected Dove-Myer Robinson Park as its preferred site from a shortlist of five put forward by the Auckland Council.
In the same month, the Waitemata Local Board, as landowner, gave approval in principle for the memorial which is to go on a grassed area in the northwest corner of the park.
Final consent was to be considered when final details of the design were finalised.
The ministry's Erebus Memorial Project lead, Brodie Stubbs, confirmed that an earlier set of plans were used at the community consultation but said changes were "minor refinements ... a normal part of the architectural design process" and did not impact on its scale or location.
Stubbs said the memorial poses no risk to the pohutukawa tree.
"The memorial wall extends 1metre into the dripline of the tree. The wall footings in this area have been expressly designed so they will not impact on the roots of the tree and will not impede future growth."
Last month, at its final meeting before local body elections, the board moved to consider under urgency giving final landowner approval.
However, that was deferred to allow "targeted consultation" following concerns raised at the meeting by members of the public about consultation, design and the impact on the pohutukawa tree.
The board voted 6-1 in favour of a final decision about consent to be made by the board's chairperson and deputy, both City Vision, before the end of their term on October 20.
Thomas moved to defer a decision until after the election but did not get a seconder.
The national memorial is supported by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Auckland Mayor Phil Goff and a ceremony is planned to mark the beginning of construction on November 28, exactly 40 years after the crash.
Katherine Carter, whose father, Captain Jim Collins, was the senior pilot on the flight, was one of two Erebus family representatives on the design selection panel. She has said that what struck her most about the chosen design was "the idea of the sky and the journey into the sky".
She said it was a lovely idea that reflected a sense of adventure.
Elsbeth Hardie and Hugh Morrison are local residents who told the Herald they support the memorial and location.
Hardie said the site was well away from the most popular picnicking spots in the park.
"It is understandable that not everyone will agree, it's a very subjective issue and it is very distressing that after everything the families and friends of the victims have already been through that they are now arguing about the memorial."
Morrison said the memorial would be "a wonderful addition to that place … a beautiful commemorative place of reflection for all New Zealanders".
The winning design, Te Paerangi Ataata; Sky Song, is by Studio Pacific Architecture in collaboration with artists Jason O'Hara and Warren Maxwell.
The ministry said the design reflected the enormity of the Erebus tragedy without losing the adventurous spirit of the crew and passengers. Its stainless steel and concrete details evoke the stark beauty of the Antarctic environs.
What happens next
The Auckland Council is taking public submissions until October 8.
Waitemata Local Board chairwoman Pippa Coom and deputy Shale Chambers will then make an executive decision by October 20 to grant landowner consent, grant consent with conditions or deny consent.