50 countryside living lots proposed just over metropolitan urban limit
“This journey started about six years agoâ€¦ It’s been a tortuous, obstructive process, I may say. It’s been a very expensive process. It’s been a process that’s forced many compromises to get what we have.”
Chris Verissimo didn’t mince his words, didn’t get dressed up to address the commissioners, and left the hearing of his company’s application to subdivide 101ha over the hill from East Tamaki shortly after it began, in the full expectation that he’ll have to continue the application in the Environment Court.
The hearing, set down for possibly four days but over in less than one, was held jointly by Manukau City Council and the Auckland Regional Council, with regional councillor Les Paterson as chairman, ARC deputy chairman Maureen Brooker with him, Mrs Dorothy Cooper and Logan Carr as independent commissioners for the city council.
The commissioners reserved their decisions, deliberated briefly and will release their rulings within three weeks. From the nature of the hearing, I expect they will decline all consent applications, but may comment favourably on a new application being lodged once catchment study reports have been produced at the end of the year.
That scientific and catchment plan process has been hastened by Mr Verissimo’s decision to proceed with this application, initially for a concept subdivision approval and associated earthworks.
Mr Verissimo and Camperdown Holdings Ltd were opposed by a selection of conservationists and locals, and the regional council.
The company needs land use consent from the regional council to carry out earthworks in a watercourse and for sediment control, both of which the ARC officers recommended be declined. From the city council it needs land use consent for concept subdivision into lots ranging from 5800mÂ² to 30ha, again with a recommendation that it be declined.
Property has strategic significance
The occasion might have been a straightforward, traditional argument between developer and preservationist forces, but there’s more to it than that.
Mr Verissimo’s property has a strategic significance. It runs down to the Whitford end of Ormiston Rd where it joins Sandstone Rd, where it would have an entry from Caldwell’s Rd, which turns eventually into a paper road running through to Point View Drive.
Point View Drive is the border between undeveloped country outside the metropolitan urban limits and the rapidly filling swathe of houses of East Tamaki and Botany Downs between the Manukau City Centre and Howick, where 60,000 people are expected to live in a few short years.
Residents of Point View Drive can look down on the masses in their new homes on a myriad of small sections. Immediately below is Dannemora country.
ARC fighting to keep urban limit intact
The regional council has pushed, through the regional growth forum, to set a hard line at the metropolitan urban limits keeping urban growth from pushing over the hills, although the area through to Beachlands and the estuary of the Maungamaungaroa Creek are marked for countryside living. (The creek and catchment are also referred to as Mangemangeroa and Mangamangaroa).
Mr Verissimo wants to create 50 rural residential lots on his property, zoned rural 4 under Manukau’s proposed district plan, which allows an average of one residential lot to 2ha and a minimum size of 1ha.
The ARC appealed to the Environment Court in 1995 against the introduction of the rural 4 zone, and the appeal is still to be heard. The regional council said the city council needed to demonstrate the Camperdown area could be developed in the manner proposed by the new zoning.
Meanwhile, the site is zoned rural 1, which provides very limited subdivision opportunity.
ARC continues to stretch definition of its powers
The ARC opposition to the proposal stretched the definition of the council’s powers in a way which is consistent with similar stretching at other hearings I’ve attended recently.
It seems to be an attempt to make controls more rigid than the rulebook writers (including Mr Paterson) have allowed, effectively to deny any opportunity for non-complying schemes. At the Camperdown hearing, none of the commissioners picked up on this issue through questions, though they may cover the point in their deliberations.
One of the key differences between developers and regional planners concerns time. Planners’ submissions show a desire for more complete planning before a development is carried out. The ARC says in some cases it may not remain opposed to a project, but wants catchment or wider scientific assessment conducted first.
The slow speed at which changes are made to district plans, with further ramifications from regional plans and growth forum strategies, makes the process more expensive and more time-consuming.
An important factor to bear in mind in all of this is that in most cases the planners and scientists wouldn’t have checks and detailed plans to make if developers didn’t come up with projects in the first place. The planners might argue that if one developer’s dream is destroyed, more will leap up to take his place, so the planning will still be required for a better environment.
Structure plans are gradually being put in place throughout the region, but where that hasn’t yet happened and a major development is proposed, friction over the issue of time is bound to occur.
Verissimo fires shots on financial responsibility and achieving conservation aims
Mr Verissimo went beyond the immediate argument of his subdivision when he addressed the commissioners, although he fired some shots which, despite the blackmail nature of them, are probably worth giving attention to because they raise issues of financial responsibility and sensible measures for achieving conservation aims.
First, he said his company would upgrade the public road into the site, but would withdraw its offer if consent was not given at this stage but came through later court action. All very well, but he mightn’t get buyers without a road.
Secondly, if it looked like another 3-5 years before the subdivision became possible, “we will have to think about what we can do. One is to rip up everything we’ve done, bring cattle up from another one of our properties down south and graze it. We have 100ha in onions next door â€” we may decide to crop the whole block. The crux of the matter is, what we will do here [as a subdivision] will do less damage than its current state [as a grazed farm].
“If we break it open, will that bring more sediment than putting a road in and more house sites?”
$800,000 of Niwa studies, and more to come
Mr Verissimo said a study by Niwa (the National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research) of a much larger area had cost $800,000, and Camperdown had spent $400,000 on scientific studies of its own land, including peer reviews “to the point where it’s been reported to death.”
More studies are to come: The regional and city councils have engaged Niwa to undertake the comprehensive Whitford modelling study, to address “risk to the ecology of the Maungemaungeroa, Turanga and Waikopua estuaries and the wider coastal embayment from sediment runoff from the surrounding catchment during the earthworks phase of potential rural development scenarios.”
The three-year study is scheduled to finish at the end of next year, with an interim report due out by November 2001 to help the city council resolve appeals over rural 4 zoning.
Locals â€” and probably the commissioners â€” would like to see the Camperdown project deferred until the Niwa study is finished â€” and the court process that is likely to follow the commissioners’ rulings may well mean the Niwa study is finished first.
Outcome won’t be quick, says Camperdown’s planner
But David MacPherson, Camperdown’s planner at the hearing, said Manukau staff who thought they’d had a definitive position on rural 4 zoning by the end of this year were being overly optimistic.
He said the 2001 results of the Whitford study would be interim. “Secondly, in my experience many studies with a planning focus end up calling for further work to be done, and I think this is likely to be the case here.”
The brief for this Niwa study “further advises that the output of the study â€˜will provide relevant agencies and the community with a scientific basis for discussion and decisionmaking.’
“In other words the findings will be an input into the planning process only. It will not in itself provide a framework of planning provisions to direct growth in the catchment.
“In my opinion it will take several years after the Niwa findings are completed before results of this study are fed into the planning process and there is an effective and settled zoning in place.
“As a consequence our client, Camperdown, has made the decision to pursue this proposal rather than await an uncertain future. In doing so the approach has been to address all the environmental issues that arise and to work within the rural 4 zoning framework as far as possible.
“In some instances greater effects would result by following the zoning rules and in this case we have departed from them.”
Mr MacPherson addressed an issue that is entering planning debate at the fringes of the Auckland region â€” cluster housing, which has also been included in a new Rodney zone for Okura â€” and discussed the subjectivity of views on that and on countryside living.
He said the city council planning consultant’s report expressed concern that seven lots were “an intensive cluster of houses,” with the suggestion they were inappropriate in their setting, due at least in part to lot sizes being less than the 1ha minimum.
Mr MacPherson said lot sizes could be enlarged at the expense of the balance lot, but geotechnical constraints meant building platforms were closer together. The closest would be 16m apart, others at least 20m.
He said some council officers had suggested the proposal would be improved by deliberate clustering, illustrating “the subjective nature of opinions on amenity issues in the countryside.”
MacPherson says allow non-compliance, ARC planner talks of all-encompassing directives
On the issue of non-complying activities not being required to comply with the rules of the district plan, Mr MacPherson contended that, “rather than alter the proposal so it complies with rules in the plan, it is preferable to come up with a proposal that works in terms of the natural features and constraints of the site.”
Compare that, and the words of the regional policy statement itself, with the rigid and entirely inflexible view as espoused by the ARC’s counsel on this occasion, Catherine Clarke, a senior environmental planner at Boffa Miskell.
In one instance she said the policies in the regional policy statement “impose a clear requirement on councils in the region, that prior to establishing â€˜significant new areas’ for countryside living purposes, a structure planning process or similar catchment based approach shall be initiated in the area.’ ”
Growth forum has site marked for countryside living
The regional growth forum has clearly marked this neighbourhood for countryside living, in line with the proposed Manukau district plan. What the regional policy statement does say about land use intensification is that “the need to prepare a catchment management plan or structure plan will be determined by consultation and agreement between the ARC, relevant territorial authority and persons initiating the proposal.”
There are criteria for assessing the proposal, but bullying wasn’t included among them in the copy Ms Clarke handed out at the hearing.
If that sounds like over-reaction to the submission, it isn’t. Ms Clarke said the ARC called for Camperdown’s application to “be declined until such time as work has been undertaken which provides the necessary information to assess the cumulative effects of land use intensification (such as that proposed in this application by Camperdown) throughout the whole Mangemangeroa catchment and which would ensure that the existing values of the Mangemangeroa catchment and the adjoining estuary system are sustainably managed.”
Questionable Arrigato citing
Ms Clarke cited the Arrigato and Dye decisions of Justice Chambers in the High Court last September to cement the ARC case, saying the judge “provided some important legal directives in terms of considering the issues of â€˜precedent’ and â€˜potential cumulative effects’ which are of direct relevance to this application by Camperdown.”
Justice Chambers was discussing the concept of restorative subdivision as it was promoted in the Arrigato and Dye subdivisions at Pakiri and Kumeu, where a positive gain in native forest planting was put forward in support of subdivision. At Camperdown, although planting has been done, it’s not a primary subdivision justification.
Ms Clarke tried to make the word “restorative” inconsequential to fit a picture of precedence concerning all and any subdivision, whereas Justice Chambers was focused on this one potential cause for land use change.
Policy statement isn’t so black-and-white
The regional policy statement says countryside living “may be provided for” where it takes into account and makes provision for, among other things, “the avoidance of significant adverse effects (including cumulative adverse effects” on, again among other things, environmental values protected by metropolitan and outer settlement limits.
The policy statement also mentions that the processes of selecting places for urban growth and management of growth should be integrated.
The Clarke interpretation extended these points in this way: “The regional policy statement directs that provision be made for countryside living in the region in a co-ordinated and integrated manner, with a full assessment being undertaken of all the potential significant adverse effects, including the cumulative adverse effects of allowing any countryside living proposalâ€¦”
Co-ordination and directive have replaced consultation, and the words full, all and any have been introduced, exaggerating the statutory requirements.
I have criticised the ARC approach in several recent stories â€” Universal’s application for a 294-lot subdivision at Silverdale, where the ARC has appealed because the commissioners rejected its insistence on a catchment plan; and most recently on the Kelly Park equestrian centre at Wainui, a short distance into the hills from Silverdale, on Auckland’s northern fringe, where the ARC’s rejection of the concept of non-compliance was spirited, and its strong suggestion that the developer should show she had a viable operation before the issuing of consent was a novel approach to the resource management era.
Pakiri: Anti-urban creepists versus novel development approach
Universal at Silverdale: ARC fails in bid to thwart development
Rodney consent activity February (ARC appeals)
Wainui equestrian park: ARC versus an equestrian park