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Protecting the south coast; residents challenge approval for 13 new houses

houghton bay CU [1]

by Coral Hyam
The Friends of Houghton Valley are fundraising to pay for a judicial review of the Wellington City Council’s decision to grant a non-notified resource consent for a development of thirteen houses at 215 Houghton Bay Road, on the boundary of the Te Raekaihau Park Reserve.

The subdivision plans show that this site (5182 square metres) could be used by 69 people in double storied, three and four bedroom houses. From the beginning, there was much public interest in this proposal. However, disappointingly, the City Council chose to ignore the community’s preference for public notification.

There is no other area in Houghton Valley, or on the South Coast, where this kind of intensive housing has been built. Wellington’s South Coast and its natural character is acknowledged in Wellington’s Regional Policy statement as having an effect on the wider character of the region. We believe that the density of the proposed housing on this site will permanently change the environment and character of the South Coast. Currently the built environment below the scenic reserve recedes into the distance. This proposal will intensify the existing housing pattern by more than three hundred percent.

While we accept that the applicant’s land is zoned as residential and will be developed to some extent, we believe that two to four houses would respect this area adjoining Te Raekaihau Park Reserve and be contextual.

Within the rules of the District Plan, this subdivision is not a permitted or controlled activity as it creates more than five lots. The proposed earthworks do not comply with the permitted activity conditions, which is why the subdivision into thirteen lots required a resource consent.

On April 9, the council announced 13 special housing areas [2] as part of its housing accord. These sites focused on existing growth areas. Houghton Bay is not one of these areas.

The original resource consent application was submitted on 7th November 2013. The council examined the application and three weeks later on 28th November, it was put ‘on hold’ while further information was requested from the applicant. The decision to grant the consent without public notification was granted a year later, on 25 November 2014.

The “on hold” position, maintained right up till the consent decision was announced, sustained the expectation that the council might still notify the application. Both the substantive consent decision and the decision not to notify the application were communicated to the community at the same time.

More than one expert has looked at relevant parts of the District Plan and pointed out that, as well as significant issues, there were enough affected parties to warrant notification of this consent application. This page [3] shows the fees schedule for resource consents. Public notification would have added $16K to the application fees. By choosing not to notify this application, the council has to now use many more thousands of ratepayers’ dollars to defend the decision, while the community has to find the money to hold them to account for their decision through a judicial review.

The many conditions attached to the consent show that the application was incomplete at the time of approval. For example, although there is obvious seepage on the site in wet weather, the important detail of a final geotechnical report has not been provided.

With regard to storm-water impacts and effects on existing public infrastructure, the consent acknowledges that the hydraulic effects of the proposed development on leachate contaminated flow during rainfall events have not been assessed and would require detailed hydraulic analysis/pipe hydraulic modelling. This has not been done. This aspect of the consent approval rests on the suggestion that there ‘could be’ an alternative option. We claim that this response is not conclusive.

houghton bay 2 [4]

This site’s character is integral to Wellington’s South Coast and the adjacent Reserve. Natural features such as the hillsides and escarpment faces are seen and enjoyed from the coastal road when travelling from the west. Right now there are two viewing platforms on the site where 2 out of 13 houses will be built. In the photos these platforms have been partly marked with red to show that this subdivision will definitely be seen from the coast road. There will be two more houses alongside and to the north of these two, and a further nine up the hill to the boundary of the scenic reserve above them. To the north of this site there are four houses on a similar size area of land.

The South Coast is widely recognised as an amenity landscape and a jewel in Wellington’s crown . . . Wellington’s “other face, an accessible wild exposed coastline contrasting with the sheltered harbour, and a point of arrival and departure for shipping and planes.” – (Environment Court Decision-Final-STP20-9-2007 Para.73)

We are seeking to overturn the council’s decision to not notify this RCA. A judicial review will be heard in the High Court at 10.00am on 21st October.

Coral Hyam is chair of the Friends of Houghton Bay.