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Source: Auckland Council

The offender found guilty of breaching Auckland Council’s Public Safety and Nuisance Bylaw by entering closed tracks in the Waitākere Ranges Regional Park in 2019 was today convicted of three offences and fined a total of $5700 and ordered to pay court costs of $130 by Judge Tremewan of the Waitākere District Court.

Robert Armitstead pleaded guilty to one charge but argued Auckland Council acted beyond its remit on two further charges, a defence Judge Tremewan ultimately rejected, following a two-day trial.

Mayor Phil Goff welcomed the outcome of the case in which charges were first laid in November 2019.

“For the council, this was a serious and deliberate breach of the bylaw; the offending occurred not once but three times. In prosecuting this case, we were looking to the Court to send a strong message that flouting rules in place to stop the spread of kauri dieback presents unacceptable risks to the survival of kauri and has consequences.

“Kauri is an iconic native species that can live for thousands of years. It only takes one selfish or reckless act of ignoring the closure of the area to cause significant and potentially irreversible damage.

“The vast majority of Aucklanders support and abide by action to protect our natural taonga. Non-compliance reduced by 33 per cent across the ranges last year, so I want to acknowledge that people are heeding the call to stay off closed tracks.”

Local iwi, Te Kawerau a Maki, delivered their victim impact statement to the court in which Te Kawerau a Maki Tiaki Trust Director Robin Taua-Gordon said the “calling down” of the rāhui was not taken lightly, that it was not some quaint cultural activity without consequence but a means to heal and make safe.

“Rāhui is one of the strongest forms of environmental management used by tangata whenua, and is only applied in serious situations, such as death, risk of loss of food species, or threats to habitat.”

She went onto say, “Te Kawerau a Maki people hold the forest with respect: it is not a playground, you do not enter at night, and you take only what you need and nothing more. Most importantly, you seek permission to enter and to gather resources.”

“When people enter a tapu space for selfish intent and without regard to the tapu and to the wellbeing of the forest, they may not know it, but they are harming the wellbeing of the forest.

“They may not understand or respect our customs, but the consequences are very real for us. It is sad that some members of the public have such little respect for our environment, our people, and indeed future generations that they would repeatedly breach the rāhui. We only hope that some deep lessons are leant from this unfortunate episode.”

In sentencing Judge Lisa Tremewan said, “There is an important and legitimate need to warn off others who might seek to enter the prohibited areas of the park that there will be a significant rather than trifling consequence if found breaching the bylaw.”

When referring to his actions Judge Tremewan went onto say, “Mr Armitstead well knew that there had been significant changes bought in and why. Whether he agreed with those changes is also irrelevant. Mr Armitstead by his action defied the prohibition.”

Chair of the Environment and Climate Change Committee, Councillor Richard Hills says, “Today’s sentencing sends a strong message that Auckland Council will not tolerate breaches of this nature, we would prefer not to take this action, but we need to do all we can to protect our kauri forests.

“This prosecution should be a deterrent to others to think carefully before deciding to deliberately head into a well signed closed track!”

This is the first prosecution related to the protection of kauri taken by the Council under the Public Safety and Nuisance Bylaw. Another case is still before the courts awaiting sentencing.