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Ministers refuse to move on surfing break threat

Officials tell Transport Minister Phil Twyford they’re justified in using emergency quake powers to get fast-tracked consents for a carpark and path that might threaten a nationally significant surfing break. Surfing interests say they’re wrong and the threat extends to democracy itself. David Williams reports.

Government ministers are reluctant to wade into a debate about the potential destruction of one of New Zealand’s best surfing breaks.

Emergency earthquake powers, bypassing the Resource Management Act (RMA), were used by the Transport Agency and KiwiRail to get consents for a new parking area and coast path at Mangamaunu, just north of Kaikōura. The plans, submitted by the North Canterbury Transport Infrastructure Recovery Alliance (NCTIR), include a new sloping rock revetment to protect the as-yet-unbuilt cycling and walking path.

Some experts believe the structure could cause problems for the renowned surfing break. That’s because storm surges and high spring tides will still interact with it, potentially accelerating erosion and causing erosion holes and rips in the break.

Transport Minister Phil Twyford tells Newsroom the special earthquake powers, which expired on April 1, expressly allowed for “restoration works to enhance the safety and improve the coastal route resilience”.

“The New Zealand Transport Agency has assured me the use of powers for the proposed works at Mangamaunu is consistent with these objectives.”

But Surfbreak Protection Society committee member Annie Bermingham maintains the emergency legislation has been misused, removing national safeguards and protections for the surfing break, and sidelining the community’s voice.

“In that the cycleway has nothing to do with the issues the emergency legislation was set up to address, it is unconscionable and devoid of ethical credibility, that this development – which in both theirs and our evidence, will adversely impact this surfbreak – has been pushed through.”

NCTIR’s desktop coastal assessment said occupation of the beach above the mean high water spring mark was “likely” to adversely affect the nationally significant surf break. The risk mitigation suggested was “reduce crest elevation and shared path width, locate as far landward as possible”. The Transport Agency’s earthquake recovery manager Tim Crow told Newsroom last month: “There is not anticipated to be any adverse effects on the surf break from this work.”

“If they were up for some real, authentic and thorough consultation they would have put this cycleway development through the correct process.” – Annie Bermingham

A meeting’s been called for next week, at which Government officials will discuss proposed designs with local groups, including the Surfbreak Protection Society and Kaikoura Board Riders Association. Other invitees include Te Rūnanga o Kaikōura and Mangamaunu Marae.

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage says her department will be represented at the meeting. “I will be in a better position to comment once that meeting has taken place.”

The Department of Conservation’s submission on the consents – a submission written in Sage’s name – said work should “avoid impacts on the nationally significant surfbreaks at Mangamaunu”. But according to the department, she might be powerless to stop it. DOC’s northern South Island operations director Roy Grose says under the emergency earthquake legislation, the Minister of Conservation “has no powers to intervene in the consent decisions”.

Surfbreak’s Bermingham says next week’s meeting is a condition of the consent issued by the Kaikōura District Council – which makes it “token consultation, at best”. “If they were up for some real, authentic and thorough consultation they would have put this cycleway development through the correct process, the RMA.”

The meeting, set down for two-and-a-half hours on May 10, will discuss the project’s design, location and footprint. Bermingham says it won’t consider overturning the consents.

Surfbreak Protection Society is calling on ministers to call in the consents, so they can be reconsidered and Mangamaunu protected. Bermingham: “Clearly this is not just about the destruction of the surfbreak and bay, it’s about an intentional loss of democracy and that should be of serious concern.”

Mangamaunu Reservation Land Trust chair/secretary Maraea Tanerau-King did not want to comment yesterday.

Fast-track process

Because emergency quake powers were used for the consents, Environment Canterbury and Kaikoura District Council couldn’t publicly notify the applications and had to grant them. The process allowed for written comments but not formal submissions.

The Transport Agency (NZTA) previously said the carpark and shared pedestrian and cycle path would address “serious safety concerns”, as many surfers park at a layby area and cross State Highway 1 and the railway line to get to the beach. Environment Canterbury ordered KiwiRail to undertake a baseline assessment of the Mangamaunu surf break, as a consent condition. A high-level assessment has also been required to ensure the detailed design of the cycle path and carpark and sea wall avoided adverse effects – “to the extent practicable”.

About 145,000 New Zealanders surf. According to a 2016 survey of surfers and stand-up paddleboarders, most of the country’s surfers live in the Auckland area and more than a third have surfed in Canterbury.

Surfing New Zealand chief executive Greg Townsend says it’s disheartening the process to build a carpark and path at Mangamaunu has happened without adequate consultation with the community.

“This development will potentially impact one of New Zealand’s top surfing breaks – a break that is protected under the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement, and which is used and enjoyed by thousands of surfers from New Zealand and overseas every year. The break survived the quake, now NZTA wants to use emergency legislation to fast-track the development without doing adequate research, seeking a full range of expert opinions and getting public feedback about modifying the environment in that way. It is clear that the activity should be put on hold and go through the Resource Management Act to avoid a potential disaster to a nationally and internationally significant surf break.”

Since Newsroom first reported the story, Mangamaunu’s plight, as an “endangered wave”, has come to the attention of the California-based Save the Waves Coalition. An online petition started by Surfbreak’s Michael Gunson now has more than 4500 signatures.

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