Wāhi tapu on proposed golf course in Ōhau protected by consent decision

Xero co-founder Hamish Edwards wants to turn this Ōhau land, the site of wāhi tapu Tirotrio Whetū, into an 18-hole golf course.

DAVID UNWIN / Stuff

Xero co-founder Hamish Edwards wants to turn this Ōhau land, the site of wāhi tapu Tirotrio Whetū, into an 18-hole golf course.

A Xero co-founder’s plans to build a golf course on wāhi tapu have been pushed back, with the commissioners saying even a “light touch” could have disastrous consequences for the relationship between iwi and whenua.

The ruling doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the course proposal, but it would require a significant overhaul or additional legal action.

Xero co-founder and avid golfer Hamish Edwards wants to turn a large block of land on the north bank of the Ōhau River into an 18-hole golf course.

The proposed course, dubbed Douglas Links, would cost $50 million to develop and would potentially be one of the top 100 courses in the world.

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While Edwards’ company Grenadier Ltd has required permissions from Horowhenua District Council, further permissions are required from Horizons Regional Council to build near the coast and use and discharge water .

But arguably one of the most important consents – permission to carry out earthworks, vegetation clearing and land disturbance in at-risk habitats and the coastal foredune – was refused.

Consent was needed to build on sites near the Ōhau River, which would have made up some of the most scenic parts of the proposed route.

Plans of the Douglas Links golf course in Ōhau.

Horizons Regional Council

Plans of the Douglas Links golf course in Ōhau.

The request for consent was strongly opposed by Ngāti Tukorehe as the proposed course would be built on Tirotiro Whetū​, a wāhi tapu and a known site of occupation by tangata whenua.

Representatives of Ngāti Tukorehe said at a consent hearing in May that Tirotiro Whetū included land along the coast and the river.

Iwi representatives voiced their fears that Tirotiro Whetū would be erased, saying they had a responsibility as kaitiaki to protect people from breaking the tapu.

They were not against the golf course, but wanted Grenadier’s proposal reduced to nine holes to ensure that Tirotiro Whetū was not disturbed.

In their decision released on Monday, commissioners Christine Foster, Fleur Maseyk and Reg Proffitt said they did not accept the course wiping out former pā or kāinga areas.

The site had already been significantly modified from the days when Tirotiro Whetū was occupied by agriculture and forestry.

The Ōhau River, which empties into the Tasman Sea at lower right, flows near the wāhi tapu of Tirotiro Whetū and the land proposed to become the Douglas Links Golf Course.

Supplied/Lawrie Cairns

The Ōhau River, which empties into the Tasman Sea in the lower right, flows near the wāhi tapu of Tirotiro Whetū and the land proposed to become the Douglas Links Golf Course.

But even a “light” approach to earthworks would have a potentially significant impact on the relationship between Ngāti Tukorehe and the whenua, the commissioners said.

Oral and written evidence, including records from the Māori Land Court, showed that the iwi had a deep relationship with the area.

“A concession for consent [for earthworks, land disturbance and vegetation clearance] would not recognize or provide for Ngāti Tukorehe’s relationship to the ancestral land and wāhi tapu values ​​within the site,” the commissioners said.

Monday’s decision did not change the District Council’s consents, which allow inland development, or the fact that further development could take place without consent.

The commissioners said they were unable to order Grenadier to convert the proposal into a restoration plan for Tirotiro Whetū, but believed that many parts of the company’s proposal, including significant planting and restoration work on sand dunes would have a net environmental benefit.

They were also unable to address the concerns about stray golf balls on the environment as this was not a direct effect of the permissions they were considering and the district council had already granted authorizations authorizing golf.

The commissioners had no problem with applications for the use of groundwater and the discharge of treated water, granting authorizations for these activities.

Ngāti Tukorehe’s Lindsay Poutama​​ said he and iwi members were meeting on Tuesday to discuss the decision and next steps.

Edwards was out of the country on Tuesday but Grenadiers general manager Tim Wilton said they were considering their options.

“We are disappointed with the panel’s decision, having received strong community and corporate support, but not surprised.”

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