Okura fight is not over
Pete Townend, a relentless campaigner against intensive development on the northern edge of Auckland's urban/rural boundary, threw a party this week when the Environment Court ruled against the Todd Properties development at Okura. He'll probably throw another tonight. But his battle for the health of the estuary is never ending.
"We're very, very happy - it's been a couple of years pretty full time work for a number of us and it's really nice to have a win," he said. Townend describes it as a "win for the country, really", hoping that the decision places coastlines everywhere in higher regard when they come up against development plans.
However he's not resting now. As chairman of Keep Okura Green (which was not one of the environmental groups taking part in court action) he is still out at all hours taking sediment samples from the estuary in the hope of rolling back other developments he says are contaminating the marine reserve. "Nobody's taking their foot off the pedal - this was just one battle. There are a number of things going on."
Largely shouldering that work is the Long Bay Okura Great Park Society. Convenor Pat Baskett says they are "indescribably euphoric" about the Environment Court decision, calling it enlightened and one that looks to the future. But she, too, says there is much work to be done yet.
Baskett says the Environment Court has recognised that bio-diversity is under stress from development. There are only six marine reserves in the Auckland area and Okura is the closest to the city. The society has documented evidence of murky water downstream from building work but the developer concerned says he's sticking to rules laid down by the council - and the council says its consents are adequate.
Certainly the council's planning processes have just been vindicated by the Environment Court's decision.
The council's Unitary Plan says the Long Bay Okura Marine Reserve is a significant ecological area and deserves to be protected. That's one of the reasons it drew its Rural Urban Boundary line at the northern end of Long Bay, south of Okura.
Todd Properties owns a considerable amount of land just on the other side, and took a punt that it could move the line and build a thousand homes there. It had the backing of planners who saw a chance to urbanise the area for much-needed housing, but they were overruled by politicians, who had in turn been swayed by the arguments of locals and environmentalists.
Todd said in a statement it would be reviewing the Court’s decision, but for now it can only use the land for lifestyle blocks. It has permission for a gated subdivision of 30 properties with a private road running through the middle. The 12 waterfront sections have riparian rights, which would lock out the public. Ironically the more intensified plan would have opened up the cliff front, with Todd promising to develop it as a continuation of the Long Bay/Okura walkway.
The council's planning committee chair, Chris Darby, says the Environment Court decision is a massive win for the council and the Unitary Plan. He said the decision was "further evidence that Auckland Council will strongly defend the Rural Urban Boundary and a second, notable win for the city, protecting the ‘green lungs’ of Auckland and ensuring that we retain breathing space beyond the city limits for people and nature”.
A second win because at the end of April the Environment Court upheld Auckland's southern boundary, with its decision on Crater Hill.
Darby says the introduction of the Unitary Plan, which defines the boundaries, occurred after years of careful and robust consideration. "Our economic and housing needs were prioritised alongside those of our environmental and cultural landscape. This ensured that Auckland was ready to embrace growth while retaining its unique and valuable landscape."
He says these two recent decisions to uphold the Rural Urban Boundary are testament to the careful planning and public engagement processes that were followed, and the forethought that was put into the Unitary Plan.