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Briscoes’ boss taken to court

Briscoe Group boss Rod Duke is facing a High Court challenge later this month over the helicopter pad he is building on an inner-city Auckland beach.

The self-made retailer, worth $750 million according to this year’s NBR Rich List, is converting an old boat shed on Sentinel Beach below one of his Herne Bay properties into a Thunderbirds-style helipad. The design includes a fold-back roof which reveals a concrete landing pad built on posts above the beach.  

Among other uses, it is believed Duke will use the helipad to get himself and friends to out-of-town golf courses more quickly.

But a harbour protest group has teamed up with Herne Bay locals to take Auckland Council and the developer to court, asking for a judicial review of the resource consent for the project. They say the consent should have been publicly notified, and wasn’t.

Andy Coleman, head of marine protection group Kawau Island Action, which is spearheading the legal action, says all building work on the boat shed should stop while consenting issues are resolved.

“We are asking for the consents to be declared illegal and the matter to be referred back to the council. We believe it’s a flagrant breach of the regulations.”

The case is set to be heard on Oct. 18-19. Auckland Council did not comment before this story went to press.

Don Mathieson, co-chair of the Herne Bay Residents Association, which is supporting the judicial review action, says the council only took into consideration the impact on neighbouring properties when they issued the consent. They didn’t think about the impact on people using the beach.

This is despite the helipad being on the beach and the blades potentially being right above people lying on the sand.

“They didn’t take into account users of the beach. It’s as if users don’t exist. They felt the only people affected were the immediate house owners.”

Mathieson says Duke himself owns adjacent sections, which he alleges would have made getting consent from the neighbours easier.

The Briscoes multi-millionaire golf enthusiast has Auckland Council consent for three helicopter flights a week, which means three landings and three take-offs. He didn’t return BusinessDesk’s calls, but is understood to be appealing that consent, arguing for six flights a week. Another helipad, which is on private land above the same beach, has the right to six flights.

Mathieson argues having a helicopter landing on the narrow footprint of the former boat shed is unacceptably dangerous for people on the beach below.

“Under Civil Aviation Authority rules the takeoff/landing area has to be the width of the helicopter [including the blades] and it’s not that wide. There’s a big overhanging part where the public could be standing.

“If the thing tipped over, it’s going to end up on the beach. Say there’s a gust of wind at a crucial time, the blades would clip the roof [of the former boatshed building] and the helicopter would tip onto the beach.”

Mathieson says he has been in touch with the Civil Aviation Authority and has been told that Duke has not yet applied for any necessary permissions to use the helipad.

Meanwhile Andy Coleman says Rod Duke’s legal team has over the past few months tried to shut the case down by questioning his right to take the case, demanding thousands of dollars of security for costs, and applying to get the case thrown out before the hearing.

He says he’s got nothing against Duke or Briscoes, but it is unacceptable to put a helipad on a public beach.

“We are fighting this because our objective is to stop unwarranted development around the foreshore.”

Australian-born Rod Duke began his retail career at 16 working in an Adelaide shoe shop. He was sent to New Zealand in 1988 by Briscoes’ then owners, to try to turn the loss-making chain around.

A few months later he bought the business.

Duke now owns 78 percent of Briscoes, which in turn owns almost 20 percent of outdoor retailer Kathmandu. NBR reports Duke’s $750 million net worth includes $50 million of residential and commercial property.

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