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Spotlight on new council chambers

Spotlight on new council chambers
The new council chamber, Hine Paaka, held its first open-door meeting last week as a test run for the first formal council meeting on Wednesday. PHOTO JONATHAN LEASK/LDR

It’ll be lights, camera, action as the first full council meeting of the year unveils the new council chamber, Hine Paaka, to the public.

The first Ashburton District Council meeting since the shift into Te Whare Whakatere is open to the public and will have live-streaming resume tomorrow.

Council’s democracy and engagement group manager Toni Durham said the new chamber features five-cameras to improve the live-streaming of meetings and show better views of who is speaking.

“We intend to livestream and have all technology working for the first meeting on Wednesday but also encourage the public to come and attend in person if they can,” Durham said.

Having the council chamber located in the heart of Te Whare Whakatere will make it more accessible to the public, being directly off the library, Te Kete Tuhinga, Durham said.

“We are delighted to have already noticed children and families taking an interest in peeking through the windows from Te Kete Tuhinga into Hine Paaka.”

The chamber is accessible on level one, off the spiral staircase in the library, up the performance space stairs, the elevator, or up the main stairs off the front entrance and past the wall of former mayors.

“The new chamber is in the same place the chamber once was in the old county building that previously stood on the site.”

The chamber had a test run of its audio and visual capabilities last week in a long-term plan workshop, to be ready to live-stream the council meeting at 1pm.

The agenda includes considering whether to approve connecting the Fairton water supply to the Ashburton water supply, approving a road name, and discussion of the financial variance report.

The chamber has been named Hine Paaka after the ancient mātai tree that stood watch over the district for hundreds of years near Alford Forest.

The chamber looks out onto the Southern Alps with a viewing deck located in the centre of the metal A-shaped shroud that will adorn the front of the building - once it is reinstated.

“A large pillar that stands from the ground floor, through the chamber, seen just behind the mayor’s chair, on the first floor and into the second floor represents the tree trunk of Hine Paaka.

“Ngāi Tahu master carver Fayne Robinson provided the Māori narrative including carved designs on the ceiling of the chamber to represent the tree leaves of the ancient matai tree.

“The design on the Axminster wool carpet was chosen to represent the branches of Hine Paaka.”

A cultural narrative continues throughout Te Whare Whakatere, with the mesh shroud “designed to partly mimic the grain silos and dairy tanks that dot the district and is a nod to our farming backbone”.

“A lot of thought and time had been taken over the whole building to include aspects that were important to our district,” Durham said.

Hine Paaka history

LEFT: An historic photograph of the majestic Hine Paaka when it was still standing(Supplied Ashburton Museum) and RIGHT: The memorial wall on Scenic Route 72.

Hine Paaka was an ancient mātai (beech) tree that once stood at Alford Forest.

It was a significant landmark to Maori travelling through the district as it could be seen from a great distance away and was named after the wife of Ngāi Tahu chief, Maru, who lived in the late 1600s.

The importance of the tree was also acknowledged by early European settlers in the region, and it was given the name ‘Singletree’.

A living giant in 1890, it was a skeleton of its former self by 1930 before it blew over in a storm in 1945.

It was estimated to be anything between 300 and 1000 years old.

A commemorative plaque and a small piece of the tree are embedded in a memorial wall and a new mātai tree nearby on State Highway 72 now marks the spot it once stood.

By Jonathan Leask