Tensions escalate over Wellington’s Shelly Bay development

Source: 1News

Tensions have escalated over the controversial Shelly Bay development in Wellington, with protesters defying a council order to leave.

A road block set up by Mau Whenua on Wednesday afternoon.

It's also causing strain within the city council, as seven councillors, including the mayor, are challenging the chief executive's decision to close the occupied space on health and safety grounds.

The council has found asbestos in the buildings and soil on its plot of land, which makes up part of the development. It's offered an alternative spot to protestors.

The seven councillors have signed up to a proposal to reduce the restricted area. It's driven by Sean Rush who is concerned about people getting hurt.

But councillor Jill Day opposed the move. "I have never seen a council undermine an operational health and safety decision made by a chief executive," said Day.

And councillor Fleur Fitzsimons said she didn't like the precedent it set. "I think that councillors attempting to second guess the CEO on health and safety matters is dangerous and unwise," said Fitzsimons.

A leaked email shows Wellington City Council CEO Barbara McKerrow is standing by her call.

"The risk is that the message this Notice of Motion sends is that the council is comfortable for the protest to continue on this site, regardless of safety risks, or the behaviour of the occupiers, and disregarding the availability of an alternative site for peaceful protest," said McKerrow in the email to councillors.

She also said it was "inappropriate" of councillors to intervene in what is an "operational and evidence based decision”.

About 100 Mau Whenua protesters were standing their ground on Thursday at Shelly Bay, ignoring Wednesday's 6pm deadline from the council to leave.

Mau Whenua protesters have been camped at Shelly Bay for a year. They refused to be interviewed on Thursday, but their key complaint is they believe the land was sold by their iwi, Taranaki Whānui, without their mandate.

The protesters blocked off the main road through Shelly Bay and turned away residents trying to get through. When 1News tried to interview the people being turned away, Mau Whenua said that wasn't allowed.

A $500 million housing development is planned for Shelly Bay. The project, by the Wellington Company, has resource consent and has passed legal challenges.

The iwi trust, Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust, is frustrated by the protest action.

"While we respect the right to protest, many of the trespassers are not uri and don't whakapapa to our tribe," said PNBST chief executive Lee Hunter.

But both sides are willing to korero as the Shelly Bay saga continues.

Wellington Mayor Andy Foster was not available for an interview. In a statement he said "it is a very difficult situation and we are working through to resolve it”.