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Okura decision released

Okura decision released

The Environment Court's ruling on planning controls for Okura released this week largely support local councils' plans for this coastal environment and provide landowners with a clearer picture of how the area's rural character must be protected.

In a joint statement, the North Shore City Council and Auckland Regional Council say they are pleased that the Court has endorsed the councils' proposed provisions which retain lower, rural-scale densities.

The Okura 'catchment' affected by the Court's ruling covers a total area of 2611 ha, 472 ha or 18 per cent of which is located in North Shore City. The bulk of the land is within neighbouring Rodney District which, while having different planning provisions applying, supported North Shore City's proposals.

The Court supported North Shore City's proposal that a subdivided lot in the western part of the Okura area be two hectares on average and no smaller than 5000 sq m. It did, however, rule that properties on the more visually sensitive eastern landscape could not be subdivided to a size smaller than four hectares - twice the limit proposed by the North Shore City Council.

North Shore City's strategy and finance committee chairperson, Tony Holman, welcomes the ruling and says it will provide landowners and local authorities with the certainty that has been lacking since the 1996 Environment Court decision on the northern metropolitan urban limit.

He says the vision of a "crimson walkway", so-called because of the rich red flowers of New Zealand's Christmas tree, the Pohutukawa, is a worthy goal.

"The Court's latest decision basically upholds our proposed provisions, although it reduces the development potential in the eastern part of Okura. As there will not be any further subdivision in the eastern area, we may need to acquire land for an esplanade reserve - the 'crimson walkway'. We will work with landowners to ensure stream valleys will be replanted to reduce the effect any buildings may have on the area," Councillor Holman says.

Landowners can apply for resource consent to build a house within existing subdivided lots - but the rules are far stricter if the proposed building goes near the estuary. In these cases, limited discretionary resource consent will be required and visual and ecological factors will be scrutinised.

Similar strict planning controls apply across the board from limitations on earthworks and impervious surfaces to the protection of archaeological sites. Some types of development are banned completely. Cluster housing is banned in the eastern area and limited in the west, while minor residential units are ruled out as the Court felt the potential adverse cumulative effect over time would erode the area's rural character.

Ian Bradley, who chairs Auckland Regional Council's strategic policy committee, says the Court's decision is a great result for the environment.

"Okura is right next to our most popular regional park, Long Bay, and the ARC is delighted that the Court has upheld our councils' vision for the area," says Councillor Bradley, a long-time North Shore City resident.

"We're pleased to work alongside North Shore City Council on this issue and achieve clarity and certainty for everyone who cares about this wonderful part of the Auckland region."

The Court's decision is interim and leave is reserved to the North Shore City Council, as respondent, to apply within 10 working days should anything require further direction or ruling to resolve outstanding issues.

Tony Holman says his council will not challenge the ruling and North Shore City will submit the amended provisions to the Court early next month. He also expressed appreciation of the support of the Auckland Regional and Rodney District Councils in the matter.

"Other parties will have the opportunity to respond to these provisions and a final determination and accompanying order will then be issued by the Court, specifying the relevant provisions in its finally endorsed format," he says.

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