When I look out any window on the north side of my home, I see the Tukituki River flowing down, swinging to the left, then curving back to the right and disappearing around Horseshoe Bend. Rising up in the background is Te Mata Peak. And there’s not a single building in sight.
A landscape and undisturbed view like that is a key reason why one buys rural property in Hawke’s Bay. It’s why my family did. But that rural character could soon change.
Because Andy Coltart is at it again. He wants to build more luxury homes (and fishing “huts”) on the banks of the Tukituki. On a Wildlife Refuge. On Horseshoe Bend.
Just exercising his property rights, as he sees it. (Actually, it’s not his property … we’ll come back to that.)
Now, Andy has done some fine projects. Some argue, for example, that with his green lodges farther downstream on the banks of the Tuki, Andy has turned a sow’s ear into a silk purse (granted, others would still prefer no buildings there). And locals enjoy the Black Barn winery, restaurant, market, cellar bands and amphitheatre, created with biz partner Kim Thorp.
But with his proposed subdivision on Horseshoe Bend, Andy’s got it backwards … he and a new partner are proposing to turn a silk purse into a sow’s ear.
About four kilometers from the Red Bridge (the one you use to cross the Tukituki to get to the beaches), out along the river, Andy wants to build three luxury homes, two “fishing lodges,” and assorted out-buildings on the land that comprises Horseshoe Bend. All of this would join an existing homestead.
Since the property at issue is some twenty-five hectares, Andy tells me that essentially he could do all of this subdividing under current district plan rules … it would just take longer. In rural areas, a property cannot be subdivided unless, after subdivision, twenty hectares remain in one title. And such subdividing of one’s property can only occur once each three years. But in the era of leveraging other people’s capital, those existing rules don’t let him develop, build and profit quick enough.
Further, although the property is surrounded by land zoned “rural,” this particular property is un-zoned, making most of the proposed activities associated with development, such as earthworks, non-complying in any event.
Hence Andy’s request to Hastings Council for a consent for a non-complying subdivision.
How do I know about this development that directly affects my property? By accident.
You see, the Hastings Council staff has given only “limited notification” of this proposal. And they gave such notification only to persons Andy Coltart indicated were “affected persons.” That did not include me or the owners of two adjacent properties to mine who face the same prospect of an impaired landscape.
Apparently no one cared to look upstream — our line of sight — from Andy’s proposed barn, fishing lodges, etc. Says a Council report discussing possible effects of the subdivision on rural amenity and character: “In assessing these effects I have relied on the landscape and visual impact assessment submitted with the application.”
So, I found out only because I happen to know Bruno Chambers, the neighbor most directly affected by the proposed subdivision, given that his property, in the family for 150 years, is the most substantial one bordering Andy’s parcel, directly across the river. Bruno, who opposes the subdivision, informed me. Not Andy. Not the Council staff.
The Council staff did no due diligence to determine whether there might be other affected persons. When I began to ask questions, I was effectively told … too late, the limited notification has already been decided and given … take us to the High Court if you wish.
So, two issues here.
First, at a time when the Hastings Councillors are signaling their intent to protect rural land, amenity and character (e.g., brand new Plan Change 38 re coastal development, proposed Plan Change 49 re rural zoning, to say nothing of the entire Heretaunga Plains Urban Development Strategy), Andy’s subdivision contravenes that objective.
Second, HDC staff, myopically, has given only “limited notification” of the proposed subdivision. Only the immediate neighbors of the property have been given the opportunity to applaud or contest the proposal.
Why does this proposal deserve broader public involvement? Because it flies in the face of the very public good the Council claims it is committed to advancing under the plan changes and strategy development noted above. And because a development on the banks of the Tuki raises wastewater issues and adds to the water take from an already over-allocated river. These are issues we all have a stake in, not only Andy’s next door neighbors.
The elected Council is setting policies to curb development in rural zones. And it has sound, well-considered reasons for doing so. But meanwhile, the Council staff effectively greenlights this proposal … subjecting it to no robust public scrutiny.
And to serve what public purpose or good?
This is purely a commercial venture. Andy’s partner, Garth Paterson, is a successful Kiwi businessman who lives and works in Australia and, according to Andy, will use one of the planned residences maybe six weeks a year. Paterson bought the property outright, presumably to enjoy for himself … fair enough. But he then was approached by Andy with a subdivision plan … ka-ching.
At the moment, Paterson is hiding behind Coltart, refusing to front up to primary neighbor Chambers to discuss the situation. That’s classy.
If a development like this one on the banks of the Tukutuki can proceed, what development cannot?! Who or what are rural amenity protection rules supposed to be for, after all? And how does the broader public defend its interests?
Andy was kind enough to show me around the property and describe his plans. Given that he is a seasoned developer with premium tastes, he can make his vision seem quite reasonable … just accelerating what could be done over time anyway.
But the case he will need to make is that there is some substantial public good which justifies giving him – and the invisible Garth Paterson – an exception to the rule, even while they compromise the rights of others.
Even if they can make that case, more fundamental questions remain. Why do it in the first place? Why subdivide on the banks of the Tukituki? When is enough, enough? And …
Why can’t these questions be addressed under wider public scrutiny?