BayBuzz

Menu

Controversy Renews at Ocean Beach

Keith Newman31 May 2016

BB29

Will Ocean Beach become a leading-edge, ecotourism destination or succumb to over-development? Its future hangs in the balance as developers prepare to challenge Hastings District Council (HDC), Maori concerns and conservationists over zoning limitations at the Environment Court later this year.

Developer and landowner Andy Lowe claims the rules around the Nature Preservation Zone (NPZ) – a concept he persuaded HDC to embrace in its new District Plan – are so prescriptive an ecotourism business he envisions may not be viable. Critics reckon his appeal is simply a cover for intense development.

Lowe isn’t happy with a few camouflaged huts hidden in the dunes; he wants to create something that will put Ocean Beach on the ecological – and ecotourism – map.

He imagines a fully-fledged operation attracting bird watchers, school visits, day-trippers and overnighters wanting to live and learn among nature and be part of the restoration process.

The area under contention covers several thousand hectares from the Ocean Beach Surf Club and carpark owned by HDC to the Clifton side of Cape Kidnappers, taking in the private property of Julian Robertson, Lowe, and the Hansen family.

Last year’s Hastings District Plan change praised the impressive record of landowner investment in enhancing biodiversity, conceded ecotourism should be profitable enough for reinvestment in conservation, but placed clear limits on development.

Lowe’s plans, as yet vague, appear to include a large visitor centre; accommodation – possibly chalets, lodges and motel style units; and commercial outlets including a café and maybe a restaurant.

Future Ocean Beach Trust (FOB) and the Waimarama Marae Committee (WMC), who are lobbying to limit Lowe’s leeway in the NPZ, fear any slackening of the rules will contradict the proposed environmental benefits.

Popular destination

The nine-kilometre-long stretch of Ocean Beach is a popular destination for tourists and day trippers picnicking, walking, swimming, fishing, snorkelling and surfing. While the main road is currently being widened, ultimate access is still through a narrow, steep and winding metal road across Maori land.

There is not yet an official camping ground, although freedom campers often take advantage of a paddock adjoining the surf club, and their use of the club’s water and facilities often causes tension.

The flat area behind the sand dunes and hilly beach frontage, known as Haupouri Flats, is farmland intersected by a river running from Cape Kidnappers to the beach, which at times pools into a lagoon. It is currently toxic with a high fecal coli rating.

Andy Lowe

Andy Lowe

Developer and landowner Andy Lowe claims the rules around the Nature Preservation Zone (NPZ) … are so prescriptive an ecotourism business he envisions may not be viable. Critics reckon his appeal is simply a cover for intense development.

There are 32 small baches at the southern end of Ocean Beach on Maori land owned by Pukepuke-Tangiora estate, while the bulk of the farm and beach front titles extending northward are owned by six registered landowners under several company names, with intertwining directors and shareholdings.

Andrew Lowe, Ocean Beach Land Holdings, Tennyson OB Ltd (Lowe-controlled companies) and Ocean Beach Wilderness Property Ltd (OBWP, a contentious Hansen-Lowe partnership) all filed identical submissions to the plan change, complaining the provisions, rules and standards imposed undermined the purpose of creating the zone.

They want an expanded building zone, increased building limits and ‘floor print’, slackened thresholds on commercial and residential activity, and more temporary ‘events’ (only six a year are permitted) to help support “conservation, tourism, educational, recreational, research, food production and cultural benefits”.

When the NPZ was finally signed off in September 2015, HDC approved four Ocean Beach ‘development zones’ – the camping ground, a node around the woolshed area, those at Cape Kidnappers, and an area in the hills and dunes to the north of the main nodes.

The Council plan included very specific rules for structures “appropriate” for the different landscapes and ecological characteristics. When the majority of their requests were dismissed by HDC, Lowe and co appealed to the Environment Court.

“We are still in partnership but it’s not a friendly partnership. Andy tries to push his weight around.”

WARWICK HANSEN

Warwick Hansen

Warwick Hansen

Raising the stakes

In 2001 US billionaire Julian Robertson acquired Sommerlee Station, now the internationally acclaimed Cape Kidnappers Golf Course and The Farm luxury accommodation, for around f $20 million.

Entrepreneur and developer Andy Lowe entered the picture during a difficult period when Warwick and Juliet Hansen (nee Gordon), whose family have owned land at Ocean Beach since 1860, needed funds to buy out two brother’s in-law.

In 2006, Lowe was sold a shareholding in 600 hectares of wilderness and farmland and a small plot of land around the woolshed on the flatlands.

Lowe and his investment company Hill Country Corporation began seeking a private plan change to develop the Ocean Beach village, cynically branded ‘Loweville’ by opponents.

This plan was dropped in 2008 after a prolonged wrangle with HDC, conservationists and Waimarama Maori, including an 8,000 signature petition campaign led by BayBuzz publisher Tom Belford, environmentalist Chris Ryan and FOB.

Concurrently Lowe entered into a partnership with Roberston paving the way for the acclaimed Cape Sanctuary and leading on to proposals for the NPZ and the Cape to City biodiversity project.

In the NPZ process Robertson gained concessions for 13 development nodes; potentially 43 residences among the pines trees on 2,000 hectares of his Cape Kidnappers land, tithing future property owners in perpetuity for financial support to Cape Sanctuary. He’s not involved in the Environment Court appeal.

Rural zone overridden

All the Hansens ever wanted was to continue farming and breeding and raising some of the best horses in the world. They objected strongly to Lowe’s failure to consult them on the activities of their joint venture company and the inclusion of their farmland in the NPZ.

Separate to Lowe’s partnership in OBWP, Warwick and Juliet Hansen and their two daughters own the 890 hectare Haupouri Trust land, 260 hectares of which is in the NPZ. The Hansens run 1,400 cattle, 10,000 sheep and operate the biggest sport horse breeding operation in Australasia.

Their legal team headed by environmental lawyer Matt Lawson will ask the Environment Court to return all their land to rural zoning.

While HDC insists the new zone won’t impact their farming practices, Warwick Hansen says any future council might have a different view. “They could easily prevent us from harvesting pine trees or strip grazing cattle or say how other things should be done.”

“New Zealand lacks opportunities for the higher paying ‘syrah’ or ‘chardonnay’ style nature lovers. Staying overnight among nocturnal animals such as tuatara and calling petrels is a life-changing experience not available anywhere yet.”

JOHN CRAIG

Hastings mayor Lawrence Yule says the zone covers 3,026 hectares and Hansen owns 343.6 hectares of that. The law, he says, means all decisions of this type are contestable “as is happening in this case”.

Lowe sees his Ocean Beach developments as integral to the $6 million, five-year, Cape to City ecological restoration project in conjunction with HBRC, DoC, Cape Sanctuary, Landcorp Research, iwi, hapu and landowners, and wonders why HDC is trying to put the bureaucratic brakes on.

He claims HDC has been too heavy-handed with rules limiting the size, height, number and location of buildings to support the ecotourism business. “We are not confident the council conditions, in its decision on the zone, would enable the landowners to sustain the preserve for future generations.”

Strangely silent in the fray is the Regional Council. Councillor Tom Belford notes that HBRC was a major voice in challenging Lowe’s more extensive plans eight years ago, but has said nothing to date about the NPZ. “Our Regional Council is heavily invested, philosophically, reputation-wise, and financially with Andy in Cape Sanctuary. I’m not surprised that the powers-that-be would not want to rock the boat.”

John Craig

John Craig

Biggest eco-preserve

Environmental lawyer Martin Williams, on behalf of Lowe and co, says “the landscape and ecological resource values” of the Ocean Beach zone, the “largest eco-preserve within private land on mainland coastal New Zealand”, were severely depleted until the landowners made a multimillion dollar investment.

He says they went well beyond what most rural landowners are required to do and claims the council has failed to provide the promised framework to enable reasonable economic return, including definitions which exclude overnight accommodation.

Hansen, despite having two directors and a 49% shareholding in OBWP, is stunned that Lowe won’t discuss his plans and is using the 51% leverage to pursue his own agenda. “I brought in a professional director, former All Black captain David Kirk, to try and sort this out and he’s tearing his hair out.”

Does Hansen feel ripped off? “Absolutely…Andy goes to council with his preservation zone and Cape to City and they think that’s great but they don’t talk with the other property owners who have to deal with it all.”

He says HDC seems blind to the implications. “This is the first time an NPZ has been placed on private land and one of the owners is opposed to it.”

The fall out between Hansen and Lowe dates back to the decade-old Ocean Beach village proposal. Hansen would have been happy with 100-200 homes, while he says Lowe insisted on 1,000 buildings.

After a good start to their joint venture arrangement with Julian Robertson in establishing the Cape Sanctuary predator-proof fence, which ran through his productive farm land, Hansen says “Andy just took control”. Failure to consult over the new zoning and ecotourism business was the final straw.

“We are still in partnership but it’s not a friendly partnership. Andy tries to push his weight around.” Hansen wants to “split the land” and is trying, so far without success, to dissolve the partnership.

While some might view Lowe’s overall plan to preserve and protect the land and attract eco-tourists as something good for Hawke’s Bay, Hansen worries about how his partner operates. “If it was most other people I might view it quite positively.”

Chardonnay ecotourism

Environmental consultant Prof John Craig of Green Inc, an expert witness for Lowe in his efforts to loosen up the zoning rules, explains the Ocean Beach operation is intended to be a cut above the rest with multiple forms of paid involvement and overnight stays.

“New Zealand lacks opportunities for the higher paying ‘syrah’ or ‘chardonnay’ style nature lovers. Staying overnight among nocturnal animals such as tuatara and calling petrels is a life-changing experience not available anywhere yet.”

NaturePreservationZone-web

Craig, an award-winning conservationist and retired professor of environmental management at Auckland University, says old fashioned camping just won’t cut it and is in fact high risk because of the difficulty inspecting for rodents and pests.

“Cabins and motel style accommodation offer the greatest and safest opportunities for living among nature.”

He points to Zealandia in Wellington with its three-story high buildings, Penguin Place in Otago with hides for bird viewing on the beach, and Miranda Shorebird Centre with large shore buildings for bird photographers.

Failing to offer viewing areas at Ocean Beach deprives photographers and visitors from opportunities to view the New Zealand dotterel or the rare shore plover, encouraging them to wander over the sand hills and cause damage.

Craig questions HDC’s double standard, supporting farmers’ ability to remove sections of scrub in the rural zone while limiting nature-enhancing activities.

Devil in the details

While commending council for leading the way in the transforming of Ocean Beach into “a nationally important biodiversity hotspot” he says its policies and rule structures mean it can never equal or improve on “lesser ventures” around the country.

Craig says the size of the proposed visitor centre, aviaries, accommodation and other ecotourism opportunities, and requiring development to be kept away from trees and screened from the beach and road, are too limiting.

While the need to involve people and yield income is recognised in the NPZ, it is “unnecessarily constrained under the proposed rule framework”.

Hansen remains sceptical, believing Lowe’s scheme, including two 1,000 sqm viewing platforms, is “without a doubt to develop and do what he likes in the area around the woolshed which he owns” and to ensure that Hansen land in the zone “is not allowed buildings or development”.

FOB trustee Paddy Maloney, already concerned at the flexibility for developers to apply for non-notified changes beyond those already agreed to, believes Lowe’s substantial building plans and ambition for “excess development” compromise the objectives of environmental enhancement.

Maloney worries about the vagueness of Lowe’s plans. He continues to propose a series of buildings “all along the beach area with no details given on where, how high and how many square metres they’ll take up”. With no plans submitted and no room for dealing with the “actuals…the devil is in the detail”.

He says FOB compromised in many areas. “We wanted a six metre height limit on buildings in the development zone, but council agreed on 10 metres there and eight metres in the Hills zone. Waimarama Maori were much more in opposition than we were, they didn’t want anything on the campground.”

He’s troubled that landowners also want the Outstanding Natural Feature and Landscape (ONFL) classification removed and are seeking ‘permitted activity’ status.

If deriving “maximum financial flow” is the model Lowe is pursuing, then “that’s what he’ll do and within 20 years the place will be full …We contest that,” says Maloney. “We need to protect the open character so we don’t have ribbon development; that would change the whole environment and that’s why the council kept it small.”

Mayor Yule says if the appeal against HDC is successful the developer will be able to construct a larger footprint of buildings for the purposes outlined within the existing development nodes, but there will still be a “maximum cumulative gross floor area…so it is not open-ended”.

Maori cautious

During the three-year submission and hearing process, concerns were raised about protecting archaeological sites relating to early Maori settlement, damaging the remnants of a former whaling station, risk to fragile dunes, ancient flora and fauna, regenerating kanuka and manuka bushland and the coastland itself.

In its case to keep Ocean Beach pristine and underdeveloped, if not undeveloped, FOB submitted “expert opinion” suggesting pa sites, middens, pits, terraces, historical sites and artefacts had the potential to “gain international significance”.

Rather than modifying the provisions as requested by the landowners, it says the zoning should revert to ‘rural’, something over a dozen other submitters, including the Hansens, agreed with.

Paddy Maloney

Paddy Maloney

The Waimarama Marae Committee (WMC), kaitiaki (caretakers) of the coastal and inland area at Waipuka (Ocean Beach) remain concerned about damage to waahi tapu (places of spiritual and cultural significance including urupa or burial grounds) and historical sites, particularly in the sand dunes and around the proposed camping ground.

Lowe and co are challenging the mapping of archaeological sites claiming there are “clear errors”.

“We need to protect the open character so we don’t have ribbon development; that would change the whole environment and that’s why the council kept it small.”

PADDY MALONEY

The WMC also worried about development creep and at the hearings sought an updated cultural impact assessment from that completed in 2007. “We told Andy’s lawyers we’re not anti-development just ensuring our waahi tapu and sacred sites weren’t desecrated,” says chairman Bayden Barber.

“Our concern is that words like ‘preservation zone’ and ‘ecotourism’ are just instruments to meet his development plans of a decade ago under a different skin. We don’t want that scale of development.”

He knows it’s going to be an expensive exercise defending their cultural interests. “We don’t have a lot of lawyers but we might be able to pull some resources.”

Specifics at stake

For now HDC has limited the campground to two hectares, kept the entire Ocean Beach/Haupouri development node to 10 hectares; a quarter of what the developers sought, and moved it further north of the surf club.

Buildings have to be screened from view of the beach and road with a proposed 15 metre building height reduced to 10 metres and a footprint of 5,000m2, half that asked for, although that could still be changed at council’s discretion.

Under the HDC Plan, Lowe and co have consents for 1,200m2 structures at the campground, but sought 2,000m2, potentially allowing 40 chalets of 50m2
each, 20 buildings at 100m2, or some combination thereof (or larger buildings with council approval).

Subject to cultural, archaeological and visual impact reports and resolving water and sewage issues, this could still be a permitted activity.

In their appeal Lowe and co want the Ocean Beach/Haupouri node expanded up the valley to the existing sub-division, then further north from the woolshed area.

Maloney is horrified at the potential for a series of larger buildings along the Haupouri Flats area (the proposed camping ground) linking with the expanded Ocean Beach/Haupouri node. “The overall full length would in due course be a fully ‘developed zone’.”

The landowners also want the definition of conservation enhancement and management activity to include accommodation, ecotourism and eco-education activities as permitted activities.

Fresh thinking needed

Lowe’s environment consultant Prof Craig claims separating people, human activity and development from the environment discourages private investment in conservation and fails to change behaviour in support of biodiversity.

He says it encourages a perception that natural heritage is associated with zoos, offshore islands and small tourism oriented destinations. “Until restoring native biodiversity becomes a viable land use and until people can be seen as part of nature, New Zealand’s biodiversity will continue its decline.”

Craig says the ability to earn an appropriate income from biodiversity is the key to long-term sustainability, for example paying for costly pest control and habitat management.

He claims the concept of landowners recreating habitat and enhancing native biodiversity is poorly addressed in current policies nationwide and by relaxing the conditions for the NPZ, Hastings could lead the way.

For the time being there’s an awkward stalemate between ‘think big’ entrepreneurial enthusiasm touting user-pays environmental sustainability, old school hands-off environmentalism and entrenched bureaucracy. In the brittle buffer zone are broken relationships that need attention.

Hansen and Waimarama Maori both feel disrespected in their dealings with Lowe, believing much angst and misunderstanding might have been avoided if they’d got around the table much earlier.

“We told Andy’s lawyers we’re not anti-development just ensuring our waahi tapu and sacred sites weren’t desecrated.”

BAYDEN BARBER

Bayden Barber

Bayden Barber

Table talk way overdue

Waimarama Maori are indignant they weren’t consulted on the Cape Sanctuary or the NPZ, but remain graciously open to the possibility.

Bayden Barber says it’s common knowledge that when discussing land occupied for centuries by Maori, you sit around the table “and have that kanohi ki te kanohi korero (face to face conversation)”.

After that, the developer puts their plans to councils and others and “there’s a better chance of things moving forward” rather than talking to lawyers and ending up in court.

While sites of significance are non-negotiable, “pretty much everything else we can work around”, says Barber.

Asked whether the strict rules and call for part of the land to revert to rural zoning mean the NPZ was a waste of time, Mayor Yule says “the preservation of special areas, in this case of environmental and cultural importance, is never a waste of time.” He remains hopeful the mediation phase with “an attempt to align positions” will negate the need for a full Environment Court hearing.

Andy Lowe says he’s looking forward to exploring possible common ground on adjusting the conditions, but “it would be inappropriate” to respond to further questions from BayBuzz ahead of the mediation, expected to occur in July with Lowe’s personal participation. He has told others that he no longer had any interest in doing any sort of development at Ocean Beach and that “all he wanted was for the whole beach to be covenanted into a wilderness reserve”.

A leading-edge ecotourism development may yet evolve at Ocean Beach, provided the Hansens can farm unhindered, Maori interests are respected and even honoured in a new kind of partnership, and the risk of any Loweville II is definitively curtailed.

Meanwhile, unless there’s further serious compromise, Lowe and co vs HDC supported by FOB Trust, the Waimarama Marae Committee, Heritage NZ and their respective experts, will be heading to the Environment Court.

Keith Newman31 May 2016

BB29

One response to “Controversy Renews at Ocean Beach”

  1. Excellent article Keith. :)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Stay the course at HBRC

12 September 2019

As signs around the community indicate, I am standing again for the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, seeking to represent Hastings,…