Heritage New Zealand reveals legal costs for case against Marlborough landowners

The hinterlands of the Wairau Bar, one of the earliest sites of occupation in New Zealand.

The hinterlands of the Wairau Bar, one of the earliest sites of occupation in New Zealand.

The government agency charged with protecting the country's heritage spent twice as much on legal fees as the contribution paid by the Marlborough landowners it tried to prosecute.

Heritage New Zealand (HNZ) said in response to questions filed under the Official Information Act it spent $32,165.75 bringing a case against Phillip and Haysley MacDonald.

The agency brought charges against the MacDonalds in late 2015, alleging the work they carried out on their property earlier that year risked displacing archaeological material.

The charges, brought under the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act, were formally withdrawn last month after the MacDonalds met the terms of settlement.

* Heritage New Zealand charges dropped against Marlborough landowners Haysley and Phillip MacDonald
* Heritage NZ withdraws charges against Marlborough landowners over heritage dispute
* Marlborough iwi Rangitane O Wairau 'outraged' by settlement with Heritage New Zealand

This included commissioning an archaeological survey of their property, completed in December, and paying a contribution of $15,000 to HNZ, which was received on January 31.

It was not known how much the MacDonalds spent on the survey, and Haysley MacDonald declined to comment on Thursday. 

However, HNZ provided a breakdown of its expenses; $31,015.96 in legal fees and $1,149.79 in disbursements.

A HNZ spokesman said incurring legal fees was a necessary part of its role as the regulatory body charged with protecting the archeological heritage of New Zealand.

"On this occasion the agreement reached ensures the ongoing protection of archaeological sites in a sensitive and important area," he said.

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"The heritage of the Wairau Bar area is of interest to all New Zealanders, particularly Rangitane who have a Mana Whenua relationship with the area.

"Heritage New Zealand is pleased with the outcome of this settlement and looks forward to continuing its constructive working relationship with Phillip MacDonald and Haysley MacDonald in the future."

Haysley and Phillip MacDonald, both members of iwi Rangitane o Wairau, always denied wrongdoing in the case, which centred on work they carried out on their property near the Wairau Bar.

HNZ alleged they risked damaging archaeological material and sites without a permit by using a tractor to mark a furrow for a new fenceline, and using machinery to clear scrub in the area.

The archaeological survey commissioned by the MacDonalds confirmed there was some evidence of past Maori occupation on the land, consistent with the rest of the Wairau Bar hinterlands.

Commentary around the case also centred on the proximity of the property to Kowhai Pa, the site of a historical massacre carried out by Ngati Toa chief Te Rauparaha against Rangitane o Wairau.

Tarina MacDonald, Te Runanga a Rangitane o Wairau Trust chairwoman while the case was before the courts, said the decision to withdraw the charges was a slap in the face.

For HNZ to spend about $32,000 bringing a prosecution against the MacDonalds in return for a settlement of $15,000 and an archaeological survey made no sense, she said.

"Heritage dropped the ball in terms of their responsibility as a Crown entity, our settlement binds the Crown to work alongside us, and their role is to protect our cultural assets."

Tarina MacDonald said HNZ approached the trust last year about the $15,000 contribution, saying Rangitane o Wairau would be able to direct how the money was spent in the region.

This was some compensation, however she felt by dropping the charges HNZ had failed to set an example to other landowners, which could lead to the desecration of waahi tapu sites.

 - The Marlborough Express

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