By SCOTT KARA

Hundreds of Howick residents are opposed to a marae becoming a permanent part of a local garden.

Owairoa Marae is the name given to a whare (house) in the Emilia Maude Nixon Garden of Memories in Uxbridge Rd.

The whare, which contains carvings blessed by Princess Te Puea, is well established in bush at the back of the garden.

An agreement between the Manukau City Council and local iwi Ngai Tai outlined what the marae was to be used for.

But 340 people presented submissions to the council on the subject during a review of the garden's draft management plan.

Most were against further development of the marae in the garden, and many objected to the word "marae" appearing in the management plan.

At a hearings committee meeting yesterday, a number of residents voiced their opposition to the marae.

Many said a marae was not in keeping with Miss Nixon's vision for the garden.

The argument dates back to mid-1997, when attempts by the Howick Community Board to remove the word "marae" from Owairoa Marae sparked a Race Relations Office investigation.

Local resident Peter O'Connor, who carried out the investigation, prompted people to walk out of the meeting with his support for the marae.

He said: "At the end of the day you don't want Maori or Maori things - not even a single Maori word is allowed in Howick."

Mr O'Connor said he would have no hesitation in taking the issue back to the Race Relations Office to retain the marae.

Malcolm Smith, who also supported the marae, said Miss Nixon had set up part of her garden in honour of Tainui and especially the sub-tribe Ngai Tai.

"She had a passion for history, particularly the Tainui and Ngai Tai people.

"Through her garden, she wished to share that knowledge as widely as possible."

Resident Robert Steward said: "We shouldn't have a marae in our garden. It's not for one specific group."

Mr Steward wanted the area to be for everyone, and believed that if the marae was written into the plan, public access would be limited.

But the council and supporters of the marae say public access has not been stopped or hindered because of the whare's presence in the garden.