environment

The fence the billionaire built

An exclusive golf course has fenced off over two hectares of public conservation land. Farah Hancock reports on what the locals and the Department of Conservation say about the fence.

When it’s finished, the new house of US billionaire and Tara Iti Golf Course owner Ric Kayne’s will have spectacular views over the dunes of Mangawhai.

Those views won’t be built out. Just 12m from his pool and 25m from his future house is the Mangawhai Wildlife Reserve.

Go for a stroll in the reserve and it’s unlikely you’ll realise you could get within eyeballing distance of a bathing billionaire. A sturdy, eight-string fence built by Tara Iti Holdings, extends - in places - up to 90m into the public reserve.

In total, 2.62 hectares of public land lies within the fence. Confusion over what is and isn’t public land has resulted in members of the media and public being told they were trespassing on at least two separate occasions.

The fence was built with the approval of the Department of Conservation. The understanding is it protects the native planting work done by the golf club and weed control within the fence would be done by Tara Iti Holdings.

An Official Information response from DOC reads: “This commitment by Tara Iti Holdings will free up Department of Conservation resources to concentrate our weed control efforts within the remainder of the Refuge Reserve.”

Based on OIA responses, DOC was unaware a house would eventually be built on the boundary.

“If it was just a little bit of a wave here and there, sure. You would obviously put a fence in the best position but it’s quite a long way inside the wildlife refuge.”

Some locals aren’t happy with public land being fenced in return for weeding - and wonder in such a remote spot, who exactly the plantings are being protected from.

They also think weeding efforts could have been better.

There’s acknowledgment of some good work which has been done by the developers in other areas of private land, such as the restoration of a wetland, but the fence remains a sticking point.

Fairy Tern Charitable Trust convenor Heather Rogan finds the placement of the fence a mystery.

“I’m not quite sure who or what the fence protects the plantings from. I can’t see that’s an issue. It’s not a part of the wildlife refuge where there are heaps of people. There are people more likely to be coming from the golf course side, I would have thought.”

Te Arai North’s spokesperson, public relations practitioner David Lewis said he’s perplexed why people would be interested in a four-year old fence.

"To protect that native planting from users of the Wildlife Refuge, including those employing motorised vehicles, a standard rural post and batten fence was installed. This was agreed with and supported by DOC. That standard farm fence sits within the edge of the planting and is now largely hidden within it."

View of the house being built taken from the legal boundary. Photo: Farah Hancock

How the fence got there

Among the many resource consents the developers applied for was for the earthworks and water required to turn a sandy pine forest into a grassed golf course.

Environment Court Judge Jeff Smith noted in his ruling several resource consent applications had been made:

"The piecemeal approach of the applicant seems to be designed to avoid making an application which requires notification, and therefore the prospect of the entire consent being subject to scrutiny."

Among the conditions in the decision was requirement, subject to agreement with DOC, for a fence to be placed on the northern boundary of the property and for a 60-metre-wide strip of planting to be a corridor between a wetland and the beach.

The ruling said the planting could take place on either side of the boundary.

Initially the discussion between Tara Iti Holdings and a community liaison group discussed whether a fence could be used to control predators, said Rogan. As a representative of the Fairy Tern Charitable Trust, she was keen the endangered fairy tern in the reserve would get as much protection as possible.

“The plan we jointly agreed with the developers was for an ordinary fence, but the lower parts of it would have a kind of a mesh that would corral predators to certain places where you put traps and would stop them getting to the wildlife refuge.”

According to Rogan and others at the meeting there was talk about the placement of the fence, and the possibility of the fence deviating from the actual boundary line due to topography.

Its final placement came as a shock.

“If it was just a little bit of a wave here and there, sure. You would obviously put a fence in the best position but it’s quite a long way inside the wildlife refuge.”

Rogan is also disappointed at the lack of the predator mesh on the bottom half of the fence.

Emails between DOC staff and Tara Iti Holding’s former spokesperson Jim Castiglione released as part of an OIA request show DOC wasn’t initially aware of the legal requirement for the fence.

One email from Castiglione to DOC includes a map with a plan for the proposed plan for the fence. A reply from DOC senior ranger Nigel Miller comes almost a month later.

It says because of concerns raised by the Fairy Tern Charitable Trust “and consequently my Manager” the fence placement would need to be revisited.

“ … there is a question around the reasoning behind the fence being up to 90 metres inside the Reserve and the visual impacts from the Reserve side. There is also a need to formalise any fence line via an agreement of some sorts if it is not essentially on the boundary …”

Four days later and after a site visit, DOC seemed happy with the over two hectares of reserve being fenced. Tara Iti Holdings agrees by email they would weed inside the fence.

Reg Whale with his conservation dog Ken by a boundary marker showing the legal boundary of the reserve. Photo: Farah Hancock

Local trapper and member of the Te Arai Beach Preservation Society Reg Whale said he was told the fence had to be placed where it is because of the terrain.

He’s not convinced: “When you see it, it’s all bullshit.”

There are some hill areas on the legal boundary which may have been difficult to fence, however, there are also large flat areas where fencing on the legal boundary could have been easy.

He’s also not convinced people were posing a problem to the area.

“You would be lucky if you get two or three, or even one person a week. They claim it’s to keep people off, but that’s a smokescreen.”

Around 10 months after the fence was built a change to resource consent conditions was applied for to shift the location of Rick Kayne’s house next to the legal boundary where it’s currently under construction.

The fence built to stop people walking over planted and weeded areas. There are no signs of on the fence indicating it's not a boundary, or suggesting people don't walk in the area. Photo: Farah Hancock

Almost four years on, there's no official agreement about the fence or the land within it to ensure the weeding is done, according to DOC’s Miller.

“There is no formal agreement in place but the need for one to cover the weed control and plant maintenance work has been identified – basically a Community Agreement.”

Miller points out a small area of the golf club's land is outside the fence:

"It transpires that Tara Iti fenced out 0.25ha of THEIR land to achieve a sensible fence line while we allowed 2.62 ha of PCL to be protected by the fence along our southern boundary."

Miller said personally he would be open to signage on the fence advising it’s not the legal boundary “so long as it also clearly stated that people should not enter the area due to sensitive dune vegetation”.

"People should not be walking, riding or driving around in vegetated areas on dunes even if they are legally entitled to do so. The fence simply discourages people from going in there."

Trespassing on public land

When US President Barack Obama played golf at the course on a visit last year, Whale showed news media a good spot to get footage. It was within the fence, but still on public land. He was accosted by police and told to move behind the fence.

“It wasn’t till I took one of them up and said there’s the boundary peg. He went, ‘Oh, we were told the fence was the boundary’. He rang his superiors but then said ‘No, they’ve been told the fence is the boundary’.”

Concern over this incident was shared in the Fairy Tern Charitable Trust’s newsletter:

“It has long been a concern that because the developers of the Tara Iti golf course were allowed to put what was supposed to be a boundary fence, some considerable distance inside the Refuge, that fence would in time be regarded as the boundary, effectively allowing some two hectares of public land to be taken over by a private overseas developer. The Obama incident serves to show that there is a very real danger of this happening”

In another incident a local walking on the reserve was confronted by a contractor and told to leave because it was private land. The local was well aware of the legal boundary, which is marked by low boundary pegs and claimed they were in the public reserve.

“That is the worry. If it’s left there, it just becomes private property. It would be public property that has just disappeared.”

Te Arai’s spokesperson David Lewis said he was not aware what police were told during Obama’s visit. On the contractor telling a member of the public to leave the area he responded:

“The northern part of the site is held in a private title so if people are inadvertently encroaching on that private land from the reserve, it is perfectly understandable if they are politely informed of that.”

What locals want

Sometimes locals question whether the fence is a big deal. There’s a gate in it and they know where the markers are if they want to go into the area to monitor the weeding work.

For Whale it’s simple. There’s no good reason for the placement of the fence, which gives a visual impression the land belongs to the golf course.

“It’s just wrong. If I tried it, I would be shot down very quick.”

Rogan worries over time people will forget the fenced area is public land.

“That is the worry. If it’s left there, it just becomes private property. It would be public property that has just disappeared.”

When asked what the best solution would be, Rogan replies: “Just put the fence on the boundary.”

“We thought what the developers initially agreed to, to put the fence on the boundary and make the lower half a predator fence would be great.”

* Since publishing DOC have responded saying a formal agreement over the maintainance is due in June and to date monitoring has been done informally, approximately twice a year.

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Exclusive golf club's ironic bogey

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