The Environment Court has ruled that Andy Lowe’s Hill Country Corp must pay the full costs — some $300,000 — incurred by the Hastings Council in reviewing his proposed private plan change to build 1,000 housing units at Ocean Beach.
This is a terrific victory most notably for the 12,000 people who signed the Friends of Ocean Beach “Just Say No” petition and for the 200 submitters who opposed the plan change … but also for all Hastings ratepayers who otherwise would have had to foot the bill.
Chris Ryan and I, as leaders of the petition drive, prepared a submission to the Environment Court, which Chris was allowed to present despite the opposition of Hill Country’s lawyers.
Here’s what we said to the Court:
“As leaders of the public campaign against the Hill Country private plan change, we undertook significant efforts to mobilize opposition to the proposal, gathering over 12,000 petitions and stimulating nearly 200 formal submissions. Others on our team had secured legal counsel and expert witnesses and were preparing for what we expected would be an extended hearings process, followed by an appeal to this Court.
We believe that it is important for the Court to realize the breadth and depth of this opposition to the Hill Country proposal, but not because we wish to re-litigate the matter, as Hill Country counsel has suggested, because there’s no need to … we’ve already won that battle.
Rather, we believe the scope of the opposition should be of material interest to this Court and this proceeding for two reasons.
First, the public opposition had significant bearing – we would submit — on the diligence with which the Hastings District Council applied itself to the matter. The Hastings Council could have done nothing less than subject the proposal to the most rigorous and most comprehensive review.
Secondly, as an experienced developer seeking to advance a proposition of huge scope – 1000 homes on an undeveloped beach – Hill Country was fully aware of the scale of the infrastructure, cultural and environmental issues involved; the substantiality of the case they would need to make and defend for the initiative; the depth of Council review that would be commensurate with the scope of the proposal; the costs such a deliberative process would inevitably involve; and, importantly, the risks associated with advancing the proposition.
If Hill Country could possibly have been initially blind to the depth of opposition to its plan, surely the collecting of over 12,000 signatures in approximately six weeks would have awakened it. Yet they persisted.
And as a result, a huge amount of time, money and energy was spent by many citizens, as well as Council staff, dealing with the Ocean Beach affair. We think that it is only fair that Hill Country pay their accounts in full, which even then will only partly compensate the Council and these many people for their personal contribution into protecting this wonderful local asset.
Hill Country chose to spend its money on this project; the rest of us had no choice but to respond.
For ratepayers to be required, through our Hastings Council, to pay any part of the cost for this private developer’s folly, will be regarded by our community as a travesty.”
Delivered, I might add, with great passion — and a nice bit of rhetorical flourish — by Chris.
With the Court decision, no further appeals are available to Hill Country. The $300,000 must be paid. And this chapter in the Ocean Beach saga is closed.
All in all, an inspiring demonstration of what an aroused citizenry can accomplish on behalf of the environment here in Hawke’s Bay … and a powerful message to those who do yet comprehend the depth and persistence of environmental concern in our community.