An Auckland couple have taken the Tūpuna Maunga Authority (TMA) to the High Court over its plans to topple hundreds of exotic trees atop a city maunga.
Auckland residents Averil Rosemary Norman and Warwick Bruce Norman alleged the TMA's decision was made without proper planning or consultation, during a judicial review in the High Court at Auckland this week.
But the TMA, which is behind the plans to remove 345 non-native trees at Ōwairaka/Mt Albert as part of a native restoration programme, says that criticism is unfounded and ignores principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.
The TMA, which co-governs the city's 14 tūpuna maunga (ancestral mountains), last October unveiled the long-term project which involves removing the exotic trees and planting 13,000 natives, along with restoring cultural values.
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In their submission, the Normans stated they opposed logging of the trees all at once, and said there was no consultation with the public on the decision, and no documents even recording the decision to clear the trees from the maunga.
They also disputed the reasoning for the resource consent to be granted on a non-notified basis.
The Normans made clear in their submission they were there "simply as Aucklanders", and did not speak for nor were members of any of the groups who have protested the 'plan, including the "Honour the Maunga" group.
They also did not oppose the overall restoration plan, nor the underlying Treaty of Waitangi settlement.
Rather, they questioned whether the decisions made to chop down the trees were legal.
They submitted Ōwairaka/Mt Albert was a recreation reserve governed by the Reserves Act 1977, which meant the TMA must manage it for purposes included in the Act.
There was no management plan in place for the reserve, as required by the Act, and the felling of the trees placed the TMA in breach of the Act, as it did not have a" minimal impact", and therefore required public consultation.
In its submission, the TMA said the decision needed to viewed in the Treaty settlement context.
The purpose of the Tāmaki Collective Redress Act confirmed the tūpuna maunga were "treasured sources of mana to the iwi and hapū", it said.
The Act also includes to provide "mechanisms by which the iwi and hapū may exercise mana whenua and kaitiakitanga over the maunga and motu", vesting 14 tūpuna maunga back in Ngā Mana Whenua, with new and unique co-governance and management arrangements.
The submission referred to Section 4 of the Conservation Act 1987, which requires the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi to be "given effect to'" when exercising functions under the Reserves Act, as confirmed in a recent Supreme Court case brought by Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki Tribal Trust against the Department of Conservation.
"The Tūpuna Maunga Authority and related arrangements are contemporary expressions of the Treaty principles of partnership, redress and active protection," the submission said.
The TMA was a "key mechanism" through which Ngā Mana Whenua could exercise mana whenua and kaitiakitanga over Ōwairaka.
TMA chair Paul Majurey said the ecological restoration process was a "key element in Ngā Mana Whenua being able to reconnect with the tūpuna maunga".
"All of our histories, all of our matauranga [knowledge] and all of our connections with the spiritual and temporal worlds of the tūpuna maunga revolve around native flora and fauna.
"They are imprinted on the very names of the maunga - Maungawhau and Maungakiekie [in reference to the native whau tree and kiekie plant] and Matukutūruru (in reference to the native owl) are a few examples.
"Returning the tūpuna maunga to a state of indigenous vegetation reflects the Māori worldview that the vegetation that originally cloaked these significant maunga should be restored. That is fundamental to our identity."
The TMA asserted along with being legal, there were also "sound reasons" to remove the 345 trees all at once.
The trees were assessed as "inappropriate" exotics, which reflected the cultural worldview, the pest status of some trees, health and safety concerns, archaeological values, cultural landscape and viewshafts, and ecology.
Removing them all at once would cause "minimal disturbance to the maunga".
There was also no obligation under the Act to consult with the public when carrying out the operational plan, the TMA said.
High Court judge Cheryl Gwyn said her decision would be reserved.
Separately, since October, protesters have been occupying Ōwairaka to halt the removal of the trees.
The maunga has been the scene of some ugly incidents, including the protest camp being set alight, and anti-Semitic slurs targeting TMA chair Paul Majurey, who himself is not Jewish.