The Gumdigger’s Track, a 3.2 kilometre walkway around Mangawhai’s inner estuary edge constructed with $200,000 of community-donated funds, has been shut by Kaipara District Council (KDC) despite in 2015 granting permission for its construction on publicly-owned Esplanade Reserve land.
The foreshore on which the track is constructed is now alleged to be owned by the developers of Mangawhai Central (MCL), who, along with KDC, has refused any access to the Mangawhai Recreational Charitable Trust (MRCT) for any maintenance or continued planting of the track.
The council has demanded that MRCT also obtain a “retrospective” Resource Consent for the track’s construction before access is granted for any activity including maintenance. The track was built from 2016 to 2018 with more than 50 community members donating their time and energy.
What is most annoying to the MRCT trustees is that the closure of the track last year was announced on Facebook by both KDC and MCL without any communication with the Trust.
MRCT trustee, Mark Rowbotham, says the Trust believes an arrangement has been made between KDC and MCL to move the current track further inland from its current location that is on average three metres from the estuary’s edge.
“We also believe that some sort of deal has been done between MCL and KDC to move the boundary of the Esplanade Reserve as part of MCL’s reserve contribution obligations.”
He points to December 15, 2015 KDC minutes when the track was approved, that stated the track would be constructed ‘on the council-owned esplanade reserve’.
The council minute empowering the Trust to construct the track states: “Council agrees to grant MRCT use of the Esplanade Reserve in order to develop this walkway and cycleway, subject to the Trust agreeing to be responsible for maintenance of the track. The project is considered significant to the Trust and individuals who are passionate about creating a
unique and attractive walkway and cycling track for the Mangawhai community.”
The KDC minute also noted that the track, proposed to be three kilometres in total, would be constructed on the council-owned esplanade reserve. The track would eventually link Molesworth Drive with Cove Road.
Now, the required retrospective Resource Consent would be prohibitively expensive as it demanded ecological and hydrological reports.
The Gumdigger’s Track access from Molesworth Drive, although on the council-owned esplanade reserve has been closed off.
“The Trust and the community completed hundreds of hours of restoration planting adjacent to the track that was being enjoyed by large numbers of the local community for walking and cycling. Now we can’t even get access to maintain those plantings. All our work will be for nothing if the track gets overgrown or, in the worst case, gets moved inland well back from the estuary,” said Mr Rowbotham.
The current trustees of MRCT are prominent Mangawhai philanthropist Colin Gallagher, Mark Rowbotham and Craig Jepson, who is chair of the Trust.
Several meetings have been requested by the Trust with KDC but the outcome of those have been inconclusive.
Mr Rowbotham says there is some evidence that the deal proposed between KDC and MCL would extend the Esplanade reserve from the current 20 metres from “high-water spring” by another 10 metres to a total of 30 metres and move the track further inland from its current average three-metre distance from the estuary edge.
He said both had mentioned a ‘buffer zone’ between the shoreline and the new Esplanade Reserve, but the Trust didn’t know what that meant for the Track, or even for the future use of that Esplanade reserve.
“What deal has been done and how does that affect the community?” asks Rowbotham.
“We say, and it was confirmed by council minutes in 2015, that the Track is a ‘water’s edge’ track where the community could walk or cycle and enjoy the Pohutukawa’s and the estuary environment,” said Mr Rowbotham.
“If the council wishes to negotiate a change of ownership and control of the Esplanade Reserve, then this process should be subject to full public consultation.”
In a statement on Facebook last year MCL said it had “inherited the track… that had been formed without the required consents and approval process to the landowner or KDC.”
“We have also been advised that the track is under review from an environmental standpoint… we understand the council has been in contact directly with the group responsible for the works to remedy the outstanding issues…” said the Facebook post from MCL.
Mr Rowbotham said when the track was constructed, it was with the approval of the previous owner of the land, Estuary Estates Limited. At the time KDC did not seek a Resource Consent from the trust for the track’s construction.
“The galling thing is that MCL would have known the track was in place when it purchased Mangawhai Central land, but chose not to communicate with the Trust,” he said.
The track was meant for walkers and cyclists to enjoy the estuary environment says the Mangawhai Recreational Charitable Trust.
All our work will be for nothing if the track gets overgrown or, in the worst case, gets moved inland well back from the estuary.
- Mark Rowbotham, MRCT