By now, everyone knows that Andy Lowe’s Hill Country has withdrawn its proposal to build 1000 homes at Ocean Beach. But while this is cause for celebration, vigilence is still required. For the question remains: What next?
There are two aspects to the answer, because both Hill Country and the Hastings Council have options to consider.
Taking Hill Country first. As a matter of right, Hill Country can proceed with an original plan to carve out 26 large sections — twenty hectares or more in size — and develop those … or at least the majority located south of the predator-proof fence. Given their size, these would be considered rural properties presumed to be self-sufficient in terms of water supply, wastewater disposal and so-forth. Hence little Council (and therefore public) involvement would occur.
Of course, Hill Country could always propose another private plan change less ambitious than the one just withdrawn, but it’s hard to imagine even them being that foolhardy. Neither the politics or the economics are remotely feasible. To say nothing of the fact that, already balking at paying $276,000 in fees owed Hastings Council, why would they trigger another round of expense?
Hill Country could also choose to embrace the Hasting Council’s original draft structure plan for Ocean Beach, adopted in May 2007 but placed in abeyance when Andy Lowe submitted his more ambitious proposal. That plan envisioned potentially 286 or so house lots. It eliminated the Haupouri Flats (the area behind the woolshed, which the Council proposed to purchase as a reserve) from development, and was predicated on a condition — never agreed to by landowners — that the area north of the woolshed would be protected by permanent covenants.
So that brings us to the Hastings Council, which will review its options in a “workshop” (i.e., public-excluded discussion) on the matter scheduled for November 25. Keep in mind that Mayor Yule has never retreated from his position that the kind of development envisioned in the draft structure plan is inevitable.
The Council (with six members newly elected since the structure plan was first adopted) could choose to dust off and advance or revise its draft plan; it could do nothing and leave any further initiative to Hill Country; or it could focus on a more permanent resolution of public road access to the beach and perhaps secure a reserve at Haupouri Flats.
Advancing the Council’s structure plan would ignite a political firestorm, with BayBuzz and Friends of Ocean Beach leading the charge against any such initiative. [See how you can help at end.]
The issues the Council would need to contend with include:
- The fact that Maori landowners withdrew their land from the Hill Country proposal, leaving in serious doubt whether they would have any interest in participating in a Council-led development scheme that would also involve substantial infrastructure costs the Maori owners would need to bear.
- The technical issues of water supply, sewerage and geotechnical instability of the hillsides — problemmatic issues now much more thoroughly exposed through the expert review of the overlapping Hill Country plan, probably contributing to Hill Country’s retreat … and still unaddressed.
- The archaeological, historical heritage and Cultural importance of the area, as noted by the NZ Archaeological Association and the Historic Places Trust … again, never addressed by Hill Country, but impossible for Council to ignore.
- And finally, the hard reality of the marketplace, which makes any large-scale coastal development financially unviable.
The Council will need to take all of these issues fully into account as it focuses on how to proceed. Does it want to spend even more ratepayer money on trying to promote large-scale development of Ocean Beach, or should it admit that even the scale of its original draft structure plan is inappropriate, economically moot, and unlikely to be achieved?
The only issue the Council needs to resolve is public access to the beach. Maori landowners have always provided this access without meaningful compensation, and say they will continue to do so, despite the fact that Council has spent years trying to buy the land against the wishes of the Maori community.
This free use of the road access should be rectified, with the Council offering a proper amount of compensation to the landowners on behalf of the public. HDC does not have to buy the land; it could simply lease the access on a long-term basis … probably a more constructive course to reimburse Maori landowners than pay Pakeha lawyers!
When Ocean Beach last came before the Council in February 2008, the public left no doubt as to where it stood on the matter … 12,000 signatures were filed supporting the Friends of Ocean Beach “Just Say NO!” petition. Here is how Chris Ryan, co-leader of that campaign, views the situation now:
“We are absolutely delighted that the plug has been pulled on this rapacious plan to desecrate Ocean Beach. Believing the Council has been “overwhelmed by pockets of vocal opposition” Hill Country’s Phil Hocquard shows scant regard for the process of democracy. We have a petition with nearly 12,000 signatures strongly opposed to the plan to build. Hardly an insignificant pocket!
We hope the Council has learnt a great deal from this affair … Thanks to the dedication and persistence of all of many people who worked to this end, I hope that future generations will continue to enjoy this wonderful space.
Many of us have wished for permanent preservation of this corner of Hawke’s Bay as a Regional or National Park, and this would give the developers a real chance to salvage some mana and credibility, respecting everybody’s wish for real sustainability.”
In other words, if the Hastings Council wishes to revive or promote large-scale development at Ocean Beach in any form, they can expect ferocious public opposition. Does the Council really want to go there?!
If you would like remind Councillors of your position on Ocean Beach, just visit the BayBuzz website here … you can use our message or modify it to suit yourself.
P.S. If Hill Country doesn’t pay its $276,000 bill to Council, who will? YOU, the ratepayer! Send Andy Lowe a “Citizen Invoice” right here.