A decision to allow a "Zorro sign"-shaped walking track to be carved into the face of Te Mata Peak in Havelock North will be looked at again as questions mount over how it was allowed to happen.
Although the track designer says the landscape will return to a more natural look within months, rising concern from residents and councillors has led to Hastings Mayor Sandra Hazelhurst revealing that the council is looking at a way of re-considering how it balances "reasonable" private land use with the way its protects the natural landscape.
"Te Mata Peak is without doubt our most treasured natural landscape in our region.
"While Hastings District Council's District Plan provides some protection for this landscape, it does not prohibit any work or changes occurring on the slopes and ridge. The plan does however, have controls intended to minimise the impact of any changes on the environment.
"We need to understand the balance between protecting the landscape, which is important to us as a community, while providing for public access and enjoyment of those landscapes and allowing landowners reasonable use of their land.
"Our council has listened to the community who have expressed their concerns. We were unaware of the application for consent for this track.
"We have asked staff to bring back a report which will allow councillors to consider whether the balance in the current District Plan between landowner's ability to use their land and the protection of Te Mata's Park's outstanding natural landscape is in the best interests of our wider community."
Mana whenua member, Waimarama resident and councillor Bayden Barber said he wanted to know how the track could have been done without anyone being told.
"My issue with it is that it's an outstanding natural landscape - very important, not only for Maori but for the whole Hawke's Bay community. If you are going to cut a track up the face of it, it should be with cultural appreciation of the landscape, the importance of Te Mata Peak to Maori and there should have been consultation."
Barber said although he was aware the track was on private land and there was no requirement under the Resource Management Act for the owners to consult affected parties it should have been done out of a sense of community interest, along with iwi and hapu.
"A meeting should have be held letting people know what might happen because that place is very visible. Tracks have been cut up Te Mata Peak before but they have never been on that visible cliff face.
"You come around the corner and it looks like someone has cut a big Zorro sign on that face, all the way up that hill. To cut up a tupuna maunga like Te Mata without consultation and without any appreciation of those values is not the right thing."
The steepness of the face also did not lend itself naturally to a walking track. He pointed out that nothing much grew on that side of the peak so it would be "hard to hide".
The $300,000 walking track was funded by Craggy Range Winery and would open to the public from early next year.
Craggy Range chief executive Michael Wilding said Craggy Range shared the same vision as the Hawke's Bay Regional Council and Te Mata Park Trust.
"The walking trail is something that we have wanted to do for some time. We have been inspired by the work of the regional council and the Te Mata Park Trust to create a broad network of paths and tracks.
"Craggy Range is thrilled to be able to provide a track for the community that connects the eastern and western sides of Te Mata Peak. It is a privilege to be able to complete a project like this, in such an amazing landscape.
"We've pulled together an outstanding team to make sure the track is world class and to minimise the impact on the environment. We hope that locals and visitors alike will enjoy exploring the trail all the way to the ridge. We look forward to seeing it in use.
Track designer Jeff Carter, of Southstar Tracks, said the environment would return to its natural state over the coming months.
"While the track looks a little obvious at this stage in the construction process, we expect the environment to return back to its natural-looking state within the coming months. If you look at the Lowe trail 1km up the road on the same eastern face it looked the same during construction and is now no longer noticeable."
The Hastings District Council approved resource consent for the track in October, pointing out that the track would not include any cuts with overall vertical extent more than 1m, and adding that all cuts would be battered back and regrassed.
The council also pointed out that no trees or significant vegetation would be removed, and there were no known archaeological sites. Nor did the area of work contain a District Plan-mapped waahi tapu site.
However, Councillor Henare Ngaere O'Keefe was another to question why there had been no consultation with iwi.
"I think it looks terrible - it's ugly. It's not a good look that's for sure. We're talking about Rongokako, a landmark of significant cultural importance. Where was the input from iwi?"
Councillor Simon Nixon echoed those feelings.
"My concern is councillors did not become aware of this until after it happened. Whilst it may be a permitted activity in the District Plan it was clearly always going to be contentious and somehow the decision seems to lack awareness of the probable consequences."
Councillor Rod Heaps also expressed "serious concerns" regarding the assessment of the consent application.
Te Mata Park Trust chairman Mike Devonshire pointed out the trust had not been involved with, or informed of, the walking track prior to its construction.
"The track, and the land that it is located on, is owned by Craggy Range. The track is not located on Te Mata Park Trust land, and the trust has not been involved in the conception or development of it.
"We have only received one communication, from a member of the public, about the new walking track. We asked them to direct their comments to Craggy Range."