Auckland Council’s hearings committee has an unusually difficult consent appeal to consider on Tuesday, the application for a rural hamlet 3km down the coast from Beachlands, the Pine Harbour marina & Formosa golfcourse in the east of the region.
Difficult, because the hearing panel that declined the application in October actually liked the concept, but said it didn’t fit the planning rules.
As is customary, the council committee will consider the position the council should take on the appeal in the confidential section of its agenda.
The development application for Ahuareka Village, at 650-680 Whitford-Maraetai Rd, Whitford, was made by Ahuareka Trustee (No 2) Ltd (Rob Bassett & Brett Russell). The proposal was for a 160-lot village of 186 household units & apartments, a country pub with 10 guest rooms, a 300m² community building, 2 retail lots & 3 commercial service or office lots to be built in a cluster occupying about 5% of what is a 92.8ha cattle farm. The farm would be transformed, with public walkways created, forest regenerated and waterways upgraded.
The hearing ran for 2 days in August and was closed on 7 October, with the decision issued on 29 October. The commissioners were Rebecca Macky (chair), David Hill, Mark Farnsworth & Stephen Udy.
One essential question at the hearing was whether it should be considered as rural or urban in a rural setting. And if it’s urban-rural, how does that fit into the rules of development?
During the hearing, council planning consultant Peter Reaburn, a director of Cato Bolam Ltd, suggested a better course than the resource consent application might be for the proposal to go through a private plan change.
The commissioners raised that prospect again in their conclusion to decline the application for land use consent for concept subdivision plan approval, which would be followed by staged subdivision consents. The commissioners decided this failed to promote the sustainable management framework required by the Whitford rural zone.
Manukau City Council created the rural zone’s rules through plan change 8, notified in 2005, made partly operative in 2010 and fully operative in 2012. The plan change area was divided into 3 zones based on landscape type & the ability for the landscape to visually accommodate development. Each zone had a maximum carrying capacity and the plan change also introduced 4 policy overlays – road corridor, scenic amenity, catchment management & coastal – that would further constrain development density.
Ms Macky wrote in the hearing panel’s decision that the plan change, which became chapter 12A of the new Auckland Council’s district plan, had been carried forward into the notified proposed unitary plan virtually unchanged: “While decisions on submissions on that plan are not due for release until 2016, the objectives & policies have legal effect (albeit with little weight). Furthermore, the fact that public policy regarding this zone/precinct has undergone minimal shift is a relevant matter about which we must take note, as it increases the weight to be given to those provisions.
“While the applicant suggested that the provisions are redundant in the current Auckland growth context, we do not agree. Over the past 10 years the provisions have actually been extensively reviewed, and sealed by the court as recently as 2012. We cannot so lightly set those provisions aside for a non-complying activity of the scale proposed.”
In the panel’s 29 October decision on the Ahuareka proposal, Ms Macky said: “The actual & potential effects on the environment of allowing the activity are minor or less than minor, and the applicant has proposed relevant & effective conditions of consent. In most respects, the proposal will have better environmental outcomes than a complying subdivision.”
However, when it came to assessing the development against the zone requirements, she said: “In respect of the zone, we accept that the application satisfies many of the plan’s objectives & policies when those are read in a site-specific manner but, while the application may have clear merit on a number of attributes, not all the enhancement mitigation required by the policy structure is offered. Nor was any alternative to that mitigation suggested.
“To consent to this application would be to undermine the bonus enhancement policy settled through the Environment Court and would likely result in a precedent effect for later applications also to provide for development without the enhancement planting. We conclude that the proposal is not consistent with a sustainable management framework required by the Whitford rural zone.”
Ms Macky went into some detail about what the plan change was intended to achieve, the carrying capacity, and what that capacity meant for Ahuareka: “As plan change 8 emerged in Its final form, subzones A & C were combined, totalling 2777ha; subzone B remained the same at 957ha; the capacity cap increased to 925; and the subdivided lot:parent lot ratio for the new combined Whitford rural A altered from the plan change 8 range of 1:4-1:6ha (between A & C) to 1:3.5ha (with B remaining constant throughout at 1:5ha).
“The total area of the Whitford rural zone also seems to have remained constant throughout, with Whitford B retaining a land area ratio relative to the remainder of the zone of approximately 1:3.
“If the lot sizes across the whole Whitford rural zone as currently limited are averaged, 3734ha subdivided by 925 = 4.04ha. In other words, for every countryside living lot created, the plan expects there will be in the order of 4ha of unbuilt-on land – whether that is native bush, riparian margin, pastoral farm, planted or replanted vegetation.
“That means that with the 186 lots proposed, minus the 18 lots permitted ‘as of right’ under the 1:5ha rule for the (approximately) 92ha property, 168 lots of compensatory ‘undeveloped’ land is required.
“At its average, this represents 168 x 4ha = 672ha, which is both the average across the zone and also in terms of the bonus lot requirement. Even with the crediting of the 32ha of protected remnant forest & new planting and 41.4ha of open rural landscape that is proposed, a shortfall of about 600ha enhancement potential in the Whitford rural zone remains.
“If approved, the development would leave a shortfall expectation of 3734/600ha = 16% that cannot be recovered underneath the cap. This is even more significant under the Whitford B subzone, representing 957/600ha = 63%.
“The question in front of us is: Does this matter and, if so, can it be cured?”
The panel’s answer was that, in its submitted form, the application couldn’t be cured.
12 February 2014: Vote split on Beachlands rural village direct referral
18 September 2005: Regional policy decision could stop Whitford development plans
9 July 2005: Manukau notifies Whitford rural catchment
Attribution: Plan change, hearing decision.