Environmental watchdog fights back
Members of SAVE Te Arai (STA) have struck back at recent criticism regarding the community and environmental organisation’s stand on the controversial Tara Iti development.
“First, we want to state that STA is not anti-development,” STA Chairperson Aaron McConchie says. “But development doesn't necessarily equal progress. Te Arai is an area still zoned rural and has significant ancient and contemporary history.”
McConchie says STA disputes developer and associates claims that they have misled the public and in order to understand the current community-wide opposition and scepticism for some of Tara Iti developer’s actions, recent events need to be recorded.
For more than a decade various local community and environmental groups have been working to protect local fauna, flora, access rights and values from being adversely affected by the development of Te Arai North.
In 2014 an Environmental Court ruling called PC166 outlined what the development could and could not be, with an account of the numerous council and developers obligations to enable any development to go ahead. The ruling was agreed to by all parties.
Within PC166 a total of 46 house lots were allocated in the rural subdivision.
For the developers to be able to achieve this level of development, they were mandatorily required by the Environment Court to form the Shorebird Trust and
vest, not ‘give back’ like recently claimed, a minimum of 172 hectares of reserve land.
Much of the controversy has been in regards to the accessibility to the popular surf beach.
In PC166, the easement over Pacific Road was to be widened 'to an average width of at least 50 metres', agreed to by council and developers with an allowance for bicycles, pedestrians and equestrian.
On December 18, 2015 the reserve was vested and a 50.71m wide easement along the last kilometre of Pacific Road, was consolidated.
However, only five days later a resource consent was approved, reducing the last 200m of the easement to ‘a chokepoint’ of 20m and restricting access at the end of Pacific Road to pedestrian only, all without public notification.
When details of this consent process were discovered, SAVE Te Arai was formed and the community, once aware of the reduced level of access, voiced their anger and concerns.
The developers appeared ‘to do a U-turn’, proposing a new plan of retaining vehicle access to the existing carpark but reducing the width of the roadway from 6-8 metres to four, ‘basically a one lane system with passing bays’.
Another ruling in PC166 defining that no houses in the development were to be visible from the beach, has also been breached. Developer’s submitted plans show a number of homes will be noticeable along the coastline, a clear contradiction of the agreement and again without public notification.
“If a court rules in 2014 that no houses may be visible from the beach and all groups agree to this, then two-three years later the council and developers work behind closed doors to circumvent this ruling at their discretion without notifying the public, then how are we to believe that situations involving public access to the beach will not be contravened in the future?” McConchie says.
In February STA submitted a 6100 signed petition, requesting Auckland Council (AC) revoke all non-notified consents that affected public space and for future consents be subject to full notification.
However, STA say they received documents only in the last few weeks which disclose a proposal by developers for a bridge over Te Arai stream in the public reserve.
The proposed bridge is adjacent to the weir/dam that the developers fortified last year with large boulders, effectively increasing the height of the weir/dam and drastically narrowing the rivers’ width. As the work was done without consents, AC issued the developers with an abatement notice and subsequent fine.
However, a retrospective consent for the works has been being lodged by the developers, again without public notification.
Developers, Darby Partners Limited, states they 'tread lightly’ with their developments. But STA believe removing 58,000 cubic metres of sand from a public reserve with belly scrapers and bulldozers to use as fill on private land, is not treading lightly – significantly altering a stream, an important food source for the endangered NZ Fairy Tern, and applying for consent to build a large-scale manmade structure such as a bridge in a public reserve without a Reserve Management Plan (RMP) which requires public consultation and submissions, is not treading lightly.
SAVE Te Arai says the employment Tara Iti development brings to the area ‘is great’, likewise their contributions to community organisations. However they believe that it should not come at a cost to the community’s values and environment
“Te Arai, Mangawhai and Pakiri are beautiful, natural, primarily rural areas with aspects of life that have been long lost in more built up areas. It is clear that many
people feel the same way and are moving here to enjoy the lifestyle and strong sense of community,” McConchie says.
“We can’t leave positive progress up to chance, it must be community driven, through Kaipara District Council and to make sure that Auckland Council realise that their rural dusty corners are just as important as the tarmac encrusted urban sprawl.
“There is an opportunity for the community, environment and development to thrive but only if people and ecology are put well before greed and personal gain.”
The various groups who have spearheaded initiatives to protect and preserve the beautiful and unique Te Arai environment have devoted hours of time, effort and money to achieve this protection.
“We are all volunteers, we don’t own the land, we do not stand to gain anything either financially or in any other way. We wish only to be able to enjoy this unique coastline along with everyone else who wishes to go there,” McConchie says.
“If our position as 'watchdog' is what the community needs then that is what SAVE Te Arai will be.”
PROTECTION: Ongoing scrutiny aims to keep further developments transparent and the areas natural beauty unscathed.