A month ago, we reported that four independent hearings commissioners had been appointed, and October dates set, for hearings on Hill Country’s proposed plan change to develop Ocean Beach.

We’re now informed that, at the request of Hill Country, the hearings have been pushed back to next March at the earliest. In addition, the consultants’ report which is prepared for Council on written submissions is not completed. Here’s the situation as explained by HDC’s Philip McKay, Team Leader Environmental Policy:

“A new date has not been set but it will not be before March 2009 due to commissioner unavailability. I am awaiting advice of the Chair of the commissioners as to how things will proceed from this point but it is possible that the date of 28th October may be retained for a ‘call over’ of participants in the hearing to advise how many witnesses if any, the various parties are proposing to call at the hearing. The consultants report will not be released any time soon. It is hoped that after the ‘call over’ a timetable can be established setting out when this would happen.”

A postponement of the hearings is the prerogative of the plan change requestor, Andy Lowe, and one can only speculate on his reasons.

One key development has been that Maori landowners pulled out of the proposed plan change at the 11th hour and in fact submitted against the proposal. The effect of this would be to require remaining partners in any development to agree how to spread the infrastructure costs amongst fewer players … and these costs have been variously estimated at $30-$60 million, not exactly petty cash. Plus, Andy Lowe and accomplices would have to figure out how to adjust their master plan, with land that would have supported about 200 potential lots now taken off the table.

Another consideration might be that if the Council’s consultants’ report raised substantial critical questions about the development, and was issued shortly before the hearing date, Hill Country would be hard-pressed to prepare its response before going into the hearings. And a further complication here is that Hill Country’s chief planner, David Hill, has left the project, requiring another planner to get up to speed quickly.

All this aside, maybe Andy just wants more time to build more of the “farm tracks” he has underway at Ocean Beach, as we reported here (with photos).

Or maybe he’s just buying time to wait for better interest rates and a recovery of the housing market. Beach lots aren’t selling like hotcakes these days in Hawke’s Bay. Or maybe he’s hoping that we opponents will lose interest and fade away. Not a chance of that happening. We’re ready and resourced.

In any event, road-building aside, while the additional months pass, we have more time to enjoy Ocean Beach as it is and make our preparations for the final defence.

Tom

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