Emotions ran high and tempers flared as hot debate arose at a residents versus developers meeting on March 2.
A 200 strong crowd gathered in Tomarata Hall to seek answers and express their anger, confusion and grief regarding the Te Arai South Joint Venture between John Darby Partners and Ngati Manuhiri Settlement Trust, in regards to the ongoing development of Mangawhai South Forest now known as Te Arai South.
Auckland Council Director of Regional Parks, Mace Ward, was a no-show at the meeting, leaving Darby spokesman Jim Castiglione to face a barrage of questions alone.
Residents concerns included ecological harm, infrastructure, cultural heritage, relocation of the car park, public access to the beach and process of consultation.
Suspicions the land will be reserved exclusively for the wealthy were also expressed.
Castiglione began by stating: “The Te Arai Point was part of a vision from 15 years ago to connect the wildlife refuge… with what was to be a reserve protected for all the community.”
The land in question stretches from Pakiri beach through the Mangawhai Forest and is the second site Darby Partners has developed along the coastline. The first development was the controversial Te Arai North project, which included an opulent golf course.
Although the license for the Mangawhai forest is held by John Darby Partners, the land was purchased by Ngati Manuhiri from council in 2012.
However, members of local iwi in particular voiced their anger about their land being sold without their consent, stating they were left out of the decision-making process.
CEO of the Ngati Manuhiri Settlement Trust, Mook Hohneck, insisted the Trust had informed and received consent from a large percentage of registered tribe members to proceed with the development.
“We are looking to invest wisely and long-term to benefit our tribe and the community,” Hohneck says.
A composed Castiglione attempted to appease community fears that the coastline will be accessible only to a ‘gated exclusive community’, was ‘confident that council will maintain public access’ and was adamant that Te Arai South is ‘recreationally focused’ with no intentions for shops or restaurants or ‘apartments on the beach.’
He agreed that the coastline should be protected.
“There are three key features,” he says. “Sand mining based on existing permits… up to 60 house sites… zoned rural and a recreation area which is something we all have to work through with the community and council.”
“I can’t put words into council’s mouth since they are not here but there is an opportunity to make what the community wishes,” Castiglione says. “It is not a done deal. It is subject to mediation among the involved parties.”
Te Arai Beach Preservation Society made a submission to council and organised the public meeting after learning the extent of the proposed development outlined in the Auckland unitary plan.
Member Marie Alpe says: “It was worrying that so few people knew about the new proposition… we have to thank Jim and Mook for coming along and fronting up.”
Auckland Mayoral candidate, John Palino attended the gathering and while he admitted Jim Castiglione ‘did a good job of giving out information’, he understood people’s frustration about what they believed to be a lack of communication and the ability to be involved.
“Communication is really important… people become angry at what they don’t know,” he says.
Castiglione says he would like the process to be transparent and admitted he also was surprised the council did not have a representative at the meeting. He pledged a commitment to return and ‘front up again with council to answer further questions.’
“We expected an open, honest and robust discussion,” he says. “This is not the end of the conversation, it is just the beginning.”
FRONTING UP: Darby Partners spokesman Jim Castiglione faces a barrage of questions from a heated crowd.