Heritage NZ withdraws charges against Marlborough landowners over heritage dispute

The Wairau Bar and hinterland in Marlborough, an area once occupied by Maori.

The Wairau Bar and hinterland in Marlborough, an area once occupied by Maori.

Charges against two Marlborough landowners have been formally withdrawn more than a year after they were accused of disturbing material near the site of a historical massacre.

Heritage New Zealand charged Phillip and Haysley MacDonald in late 2015 after alleging they had carried out work on their land near the Wairau Bar without an archaeological permit.

The MacDonalds were accused of constructing a fenceline and clearing scrub without permission on a site close to a historical settlement, Kowhai Pa, between July and September in 2015.

Charges against Haysley MacDonald, pictured, and his father Phillip MacDonald have been dropped.

Charges against Haysley MacDonald, pictured, and his father Phillip MacDonald have been dropped.

The pa belonged to Marlborough iwi Rangitane o Wairau - which both MacDonalds are members of - and was the site of a historical massacre in the 1820s when Ngati Toa raided the area.

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Archaeological report on pa site completed

Haysley MacDonald, the owner of wine company Te Pa Wines and a sitting member of the Rangitane o Wairau trust, has always denied the charges, along with his father, Phillip MacDonald.

In July, they agreed with Heritage New Zealand on conditions for the charges being withdrawn, which included conducting an archaeological survey of the site and a contribution of $15,000.

The survey was supposed to be finished in October, but because the archaeologist was ill, it was eventually handed to Heritage New Zealand in December.

A joint statement from Heritage New Zealand and the MacDonalds said the charges, laid under the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act, had been formally withdrawn.

The statement said the archaeological survey showed there was evidence of past Maori occupation of the land - the Wairau Bar was one of the earliest sites of Maori settlement in New Zealand.

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"This has shown some evidence of past Maori occupation as is typical of the coastal margin in Marlborough," the statement read.

"Agreement has been reached between Heritage New Zealand and Phillip and Haysley as to the way forward in the areas where evidence of archaeological material has been found."

Heritage New Zealand lawyer Geraldine Baumann, who handled the case, said it was not appropriate for her to comment. Haysley MacDonald also declined to comment.

The case had proved controversial among Rangitane o Wairau, with some iwi members slamming Heritage New Zealand over their decision not to proceed with the prosecution.

However, interim chairwoman Wendy Hynes said she was pleased kotahitanga, working together, had been chosen over litigation, adding it was beneficial for everyone with a stake in the Wairau Bar.

"We are pleased to see an outcome that is based on a respect for the land, its historical significance and working together with the ongoing research, preservation and protection of the Wairau Bar," she said.

Rangitane o Wairau staff members were told not to speak about the case. 

"This is a sensitive matter and it is important that the view of the board is expressed accurately. It is therefore entirely appropriate and business as usual that official commentary is made by the board chair."

Dr Jeremy Habberfield-Short, the archaeologist who conducted the survey, was not able to elaborate on the report, saying he was bound by confidentiality to Heritage New Zealand and Haysley MacDonald.

"The archaeological site survey will be considered by Phillip and Haysley before any further expansion, planting or other work is undertaken on land in the area," the statement said.

Peter Radich, who represented the MacDonalds, said they had made a contribution to Heritage New Zealand, but would not confirm if it was the full $15,000.

"I'm not at liberty to say anything more than what's in the statement. I can confirm it has been made but that's all I can disclose," he said.

The statement said the contribution would allow further archaeological work to take place in the area surrounding the site.

It went on to say that Heritage New Zealand and the MacDonalds had formed a constructive working relationship for the future.

"In these circumstances the prosecution matters between Heritage New Zealand and Phillip and Haysley are at an end and they look forward to working together," it read.

*An Official Information Act request has been lodged with Heritage New Zealand to provide details about their investigation into the allegations.

 - The Marlborough Express


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