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Sculpture park will also lead to restoration of waterway

Weekly column by Kāpiti mayor K Gurunathan.

Before the Christmas break I received a gift of a book and a lovely card from well known and dedicated local conservationists, Drs Viola and Phil Palmer.

I'm saddened that Phil passed away last week. The book is by part-time resident of the Kāpiti Coast, Dr Catherine Knight. The environmental historian and author is a policy and communications consultant.

Her recent book, Nature and Wellbeing in Aotearoa New Zealand: Exploring the connection, is a ground-breaking book that looks at the increasing scientific links being uncovered between our physical and mental wellbeing and our natural environment. She also relates these findings with actual examples of people stories. People active in environmental restoration and environment-related education projects. Medical practitioners, the Palmers, are also featured in this book.

I quote from the card the Palmers sent me: "We love the open spaces, forests and beaches of the Kāpiti Coast. They are a big part of the reason why people choose to live here. We urge KCDC to continue planning more green spaces as the population of the area grows."

The Palmers are not alone. Over the last two decades, every time we have consulted on the Long Term Plan, there has been very strong public support for the preservation and enhancement of our natural environment. This is not a surprise given our quintessential branding as a separate and unique administrative district is defined by Kāpiti Island, one of the country's top nature and marine reserves. This is the heart of who we are.

That brings me to the focus of this first column of 2021. Tomorrow a model of a life-sized whale's heart will be displayed in Coastlands to draw attention to the Whale Song project. The project envisions a family pod of seven full-sized bronze sculptures ranging from 8 metres to 24 metres. The whale connection is a Kāpiti story. This includes the pre European history recounted by international whale expert Ramari Stewart where the mating songs of sperm whales gathering around the waters of Kāpiti Island used to reverberate off the mainland hills. Then came the bloody whaling industry that decimated their numbers. Today, the returning whales to our waters are eco-ambassadors. The Whale Song project is both a link to our history and a didactic lesson to restore our waters and its biodiversity.

The project is part of a bigger picture. It's the restoration of the waterway, the Wharemauku Stream which runs from the hills above the Kaitawa Reserve, through the reserve, past residential properties and through Coastlands and on to Raumati Beach. It not only goes through Coastlands but also through the private properties of two other commercial landowners, St Helliers and the new airport landowners. These three landowners are the heavyweights in the Paraparaumu CBD. The fourth is council as landowner and particularly as the planning and regulatory authority.

The Wharemauku Stream has been a victim of an older development culture that has treated the waterway as a drain to dump their stormwater. The waterway and associated wetlands, once a source of food for local iwi, has become reduced to a drain and polluted. In recent years, local iwi have started pressuring council to clean up the stream. Ngahina Trust who are partners in Coastlands are fully in support of the Whale Song project and the move to create a wharenui/cultural centre. The whare will recognise the Puketapu Hapu. It will be a community learning centre associated with the restoration of the waterway from the hills to the sea.

Already the Friends of Kaitawa Reserve are keen to support the vision. For more than 25 years the Friends had restored that section of the Wharemauku and have been using their success as open classrooms to educate local schoolchildren. The key to developing an outstanding Paraparaumu Town Centre depends on how it integrates into this green vision. This reflects the cutting edge urban planning that's leading cities around the world. This is the new thinking that environmental planning consultants like Catherine Knight are advocating. The key landowners in the CBD area bordering the Wharemauku Stream are in competition for commercial advantage. Managing the stormwater hydraulics along the Wharemauku Stream is the first stage of a practical test of the ability of all the parties to work out a win/win. It's also the first stage of ensuring the winner is also the Wharemauku Stream through its restoration and biodiversity of its waters.

For positive community wellbeing the management of stormwater for commercial development and the restoration of the stream cannot be separated.


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