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PC's Opinion: Killing The Beachfront Barbie

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PC's Opinion
12 April, 2002
Killing the Beachfront Barbie
By Peter Cresswell

As part of a nationwide project for the Discovery Channel, Helen Clark is travelling the country with the Channel's cameramen to "show 120 million viewers what this country has to offer." This week, the Hauraki Herald boasted a front-page photograph of Helen Clark at Waihi Beach with her parents, enjoying a family barbecue at "the beachfront home of family friends." My first thought on seeing them surrounded by cameramen was: Why were the Clarks all wrapped up in their thermals?! One sight of the family's thermals will surely do more then anything else to destroy Waihi's sun-drenched reputation with the Channel's 120 million viewers?

Why, I wondered, did Ms Clark not adopt the 'Baywatch' policy when filming in such obviously arctic circumstances - bravely donning her swimming cossie, gritting her teeth, and showing a brave face to the international audience? Or did the Discovery Channel's director perhaps fear for the adverse effect of a cossie-clad Clark on his viewers?

In any case, viewers curious about "what this country has to offer" should certainly be made aware that enjoyment of such beachfront property is now increasingly difficult under the loathsome Resource Management Act (RMA), an act that the Labour Party wrote, and that all parliamentary parties support - and one that Jeanette Fitzsimons' Environment Committee promises to make even more onerous, should she be returned after the election!

Under the RMA, beachfront property owners at Waihi Beach and around the country face savage planning restrictions on what they are allowed to build on their beachfront property. To the obvious glee of council planners, the District Plans they write under the RMA mean that many beachfront properties are essentially being nationalised in order to create beachfront reserves!

Owners of beachfront property at Waihi Beach and at Papamoa have taken their respective councils to the Environment Court at great expense to challenge these Plans, but the results have not - unfortunately - been very pretty. It seems that council planners have a free hand to carry on with their abuse of property rights with the applause of the courts and of parliament.

The argument goes that the "intrinsic value" of the environment is what the RMA is supposed to protect, and therefore planners are simply protecting the 'intrinsic value' of such coastal environmental processes as erosion, "dune accretion," and "flooding during a storm." Property owners seeking to avoid, remedy or mitigate the effects of these so-called 'intrinsic values' on their properties are, as you would expect, stopped from doing so by the planners' rules. Building a new beachfront home under these rules is increasingly difficult, and if flooding or erosion threatens existing homes then owners are prohibited from doing anything to stop this natural process; instead, as happened in Gisborne some years ago, they are expected to watch their homes fall into the sea - only to then be prosecuted for despoiling the seashore!

The planners' rules make it enormously difficult, and enormously expensive, to build anything humanly desirable on a beachfront section. For example, property owners may only propose building on their section as far back from the sea as their site will allow. Before being granted consent to build, they must demonstrate to the planners how they will relocate their new house to a new site if a sand dune comes within 8m - including showing planners that they possess another (empty) site to which they can relocate their (now used) house! If they seek to protect themselves from any threatening dune movement, they will of course find that there are rules preventing them from stopping the 'intrinsic value' of such movement. Further, in some areas they are required by law to monitor "the toe of the foredune"; the Western Bay of Plenty District Plan, for example, requires that this toe "be accurately measured every two years by the landowner or their agent with the results reported to Council."

Other rules prevent them doing very much to existing houses. Excavation is 'limited' in these 'Coastal Protection Areas' to 'minor activities' - often interpreted by planners to prohibit any excavation for any new building at all, and usually interpreted to prohibit anybody building seaward-facing decks, such as the one Ms Clark and her family were filmed enjoying for the Discovery Channel!

It seems that if politicians and planners have their way, the days of enjoying a beachfront barbie on a beachfront deck may soon be over.

Unless, perhaps, you are a family friend of the Prime Minister.

© 2001

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