It has taken six years, several jail stints, an acid attack, a fist fight, $100,000 in parking fines, many verbal arguments and thousands of comments on social media, but it appears Lewis Stanton has now ended his long-standing protest in Nelson’s CBD.
On Saturday afternoon, Stanton, who also goes by the name Hone Ma Heke, left the footpath on Trafalgar St that he has occupied since 2015 after reaching an “amicable agreement” with Nelson City Council.
Shortly after, Stanton’s former camping site was filled with planter boxes, which were hoisted into place by council contractors.
The move came on the eve of the implementation of the Nelson City Council’s City Amenity Bylaw, which has make sleeping in the CBD a breach of the bylaw.
The bylaw was introduced as a way to remove Stanton from the city centre.
On Monday last week, the council’s acting CEO David Hammond sought a meeting with Stanton and his representatives to avoid a confrontation when the bylaw come into effect on Monday morning.
Those discussions were described as “very positive” by both camps.
Stanton’s lawyer Steven Zindel says talks were much more relaxed than previous encounters.
“People were willing to look forward not back.”
He says Stanton is living at accommodation provided by the council and while discussions have been positive there is no agreement just yet.
“We’re still at a draft stage, I don’t want to jinx the thing by trying to sign people up to a deal straight away,” says Zindel.
Nelson mayor Rachel Reese says her council has always been willing to work with Stanton and she’s happy to finally find some common ground. She wouldn’t say where Stanton was.
“I respect his right to privacy but we’ve been quite clear as part of our bylaws that we want to make sure people have the care and support they need.”
Zindel says Stanton’s horse Barney, which was confiscated in 2015 by the SPCA, hasn’t been returned nor has any money been offered from the council.
He says Stanton would like Barney back, but the horse is understood to be owned by elsewhere.
“The opportunities to reunite Barney and Lewis are fairly limited,” says Reese. “But we can ask the question for him.”
On Sunday morning Nelson App spoke with several passersby about what they thought of Stanton leaving.
One woman said: “It’s a sad day for Nelson, I had no problem with him, the city has got to take care of their citizens.”
A local man said it should have been done sooner. “I think it’s disappointing that it’s taken this long to resolve the issue, this is a simple solution that could have been done two years ago or more.”
While another woman said: “It looks a lot better. It didn’t bother me, he didn’t bother me, but this is much better.”
Zindel says one of the things that bothered him about the whole situation was the “hateful, personal attacks” towards Stanton on social media.
“This thing has revealed a Trump-ish dark side of Nelson. A lot of people who have no real stake in it took it upon themselves to write hateful personal attacks against Hone. I thought our community was better than that.”