Tents, protest signs and road cones are the only things that are left on Parliament's lawns after police officers moved protesters away from the area yesterday. 

Parliament grounds remain closed and a strong police presence is still in the area but officers have reassured the public that they are free to move about the surrounding streets.

In a statement, police said the area was generally quiet with a small number of protesters located near the site and a removal process for concrete bollards that had blocked some streets would begin tomorrow. 

For four weeks, anti-mandate protesters have taken over Parliament's lawns - setting up an illegal tent city and parking cars on surrounding streets as well as Victoria University of Wellington's Pipitea campus and a nearby cathedral.

To avoid chaos and abuse, Wellingtonians worked from home and teenagers who went to nearby schools were learning online as principals made the decision to close. One student previously told Re: how she was yelled at for wearing her mask. 

Fire near the playground on Parliament grounds on Wednesday. Photo: 1News

Fires, bricks and injuries

But tensions came to a head on Wednesday as police began a pre-planned operation to restore access in and around Parliament. 

About 50 vehicles were moved by forklifts and tow-trucks and some protesters voluntarily left. 

However, some stayed within the perimeter and yesterday afternoon, two fires broke out - one near the playground on Parliament and another near the Cenotaph. 

Protesters were hit with pepper spray and others could be seen digging up paving bricks from the path outside Parliament, and throwing them at police. 

By Wednesday evening, 89 protesters had been arrested. Police officers and protesters both needed medical treatment for injuries. 

There have been reports that protesters who have stayed, have been near the Wellington Railway Station.

Yesterday, the station was later closed and train services were stopped due to the protest activity. 

A protester getting treated with milk after being pepper sprayed. Photo: 1News

Cleaning up

In a statement from Wellington City Council, staff and contractors are standing by and ready to return to the area. 

"Work will be needed to remove rubbish and items left by occupiers, deep-clean street furniture and infrastructure, and to check and repair city assets in the area including roads, signs, lights and wastewater pipes," the statement said. 

"Initial work with mana whenua and central government is also under way to consider the restoration of the mana and mauri of the area, with details of the process to be announced in the coming days." 

Tents have been left behind at Parliament grounds on Thursday morning. Photo: 1News

The area around Parliament is currently considered a police work site and will be handed back to Wellington City Council once their operation to clear the area is complete, the statement said. 

Wellington City Council staff will inspect the area, checking the road and footpaths, lights, road signs and other infrastructure. Public art and sculptures will also be assessed for damage by a specialist team, the statement said.  

Wellington Water inspectors will check and repair any damage to public water and wastewater infrastructure. 

"Given the presence at the occupation of people known to have Covid, making sure all services are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected is a top priority. 

"Rubbish and items left by occupiers will be processed and disposed of appropriately." 

Wellingtonians asked to leave the initial cleaning of Parliament grounds to the professionals

Locals had also planned to help restore the area and an initiative called The Big Clean-Up has been set up.  

The council's chief executive, Barbara McKerrow, said it was aware of – and heartened by – public support for a community working bee-style clean-up. 

“But given the significant health and safety issues – and the recent presence of people with Covid – we’re asking Wellingtonians to please stay away in the first instance and leave the initial clean-up to our professional cleaners who are trained in such operations.” 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says 'we are in a hard moment in time'

Speaking on Thursday afternoon, Ardern thanked emergency services. 

Addressing Wellingtonians, Ardern said: "I am sorry for what you have had to endure, but I thank you for your resilience. I hope your sense of safety and confidence has been restored."

"He mihi ana, nā mana whenua, Taranaki Whānui. You have had to endure the trampling of your mana and we will work with you to see that restored."

Ardern said she watched the first day the protest arrived at Parliament. 

"There was an immediate focus on occupying the space. The rhetoric that came from the speakers they installed swung between benign to sometimes threatening.

"Many media who walked the grounds were either abused or in some cases chased away. It was a form of protest I did not recognise. And I found it hard to reconcile it with the reality of what all New Zealanders had faced in this pandemic, and yet quietly got on with it."

Ardern said "we are in a very hard moment in time".

"Where we are in the pandemic right now feels hard because it is. But things will change. Our people are coming home. Soon, tourists will return. Vaccine passes, mandates, restrictions – they will all change.

"There is reason to feel hopeful.

"But for now, the smell of smoke has faded. The playground will be restored. And the people, our people, will return to their place." 

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