Waitara's pohutukawa protest fight

Waitara locals help to wrap the trees with yarn-bombing donations sent from the successful Auckland group Save the ...
Andy Jackson

Waitara locals help to wrap the trees with yarn-bombing donations sent from the successful Auckland group Save the Western Springs Pohutukawas.

Protest banners and bunting strung from riverside pohutukawa trees in Waitara, north of New Plymouth, this week have been ripped down by the Taranaki Regional Council.

Two bags of protest signs and knitted patchwork used in a successful pohutukawa protest in Auckland were sent to Waitara tree lovers last week in a show of solidarity.

On Monday a group of Waitara protesters got together and decorated the 23 ill-fated trees with the protest regalia but by Tuesday afternoon the TRC - which plans to remove the 23 trees as part of a $3 million flood protection project - had taken everything down.

Waitara protester Margo Zeier said when she asked a TRC worker where everything was she was told it had been taken down as it was rubbish.

"I pointed out that they were gifted to us from the Auckland group and we wanted them returned."

Zeier said she asked a second time for their return and pointed out the fact the decorations were part of an official protest.

"He replied that they are not my trees and that I could request all I like but it wasn't going to happen," she said.

"I actually think these trees belong to the people of Waitara."

Zeier and the group had hoped a bit of the Auckland magic would rub off and see the TRC change its mind on the removal plan.

They had also planned to pass the banners and bunting on to another campaign, she said.

TRC director operations  Stephen Hall said the council removed some material attached to pohutukawa trees within the work area on the land administered by the council. 

"The council was in part responding to complaints from within Waitara about personal offence caused by elements of the material. The council also notes the level of abuse directed at the TRC and its staff on social media," Hall said.

Hall said the TRC was aware some people wanted to retain the trees, however flood protection was a serious matter and a bigger view needed to be taken.

"The council is also aware of strong support from within the community for increasing Waitara's flood protection," he said.

Hall said only 23 trees were being removed and 107 pohutukawa along 725 metres of riverbank would remain.

"We're only removing those necessary to give Waitara the level of flood protection the council is legally required to provide."

Hall said good progress had been made on the three-year, $3 million, project.

The raising of stopbanks at several points along both sides of the river was completed, or nearing completion, and a floodwall had been constructed alongside the Anzco meat plant, he said.

Stage two of the upgrade was now underway and the removal of the trees formed part of that.

However, Hall said he could not provide a timeframe for the removal of the trees because of factors outside of its control such as weather and the relocation of infrastructure.

 - Taranaki Daily News

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