THE broad smile on Mary Whitehouse's face says it all. Her group's five-year fight with the Manukau City Council and the Wairoa River Development Partnership over a canal complex in Clevedon is finally over.
Last week the Environment Court overturned a Manukau City Council district plan change that would have allowed the 267-home canal development on the Wairoa River to go ahead.
Supported by environmental commissioners Marlene Oliver and Kevin Prime, Judge Gordon Whiting turned down the plan change on four core issues: The effects of the development on Maori and on natural character, the coastal environment, landscape and amenity and two issues relating to the Auckland regional policy statement.
Ms Whitehouse is the spokeswoman for community action group Clevedon Cares which opposed the development because of its "overwhelming" impact on the village and its people.
It was the "wrong development in the wrong place", she says.
"We would have ended up with something bigger than Clevedon five minutes up the road."
She says the court had to decide if the canal development was rural or urban and then judge it against the Auckland regional policy statement.
That defines urban development as "development which is not of a rural nature".
Clevedon is a rural area and sits outside the metropolitan urban limits.
In its judgement the court says it found the argument put forward by the council and the canal partnership "that the proposal is neither inherently rural nor urban" difficult to accept in view of the fact that it would contain 270 residences, with a minimum lot size of 350 square metres.
"It seems to us that overall the proposal is not of a rural nature so the antithesis of the first sentence of the Auckland regional policy statement definition would apply."
Ms Whitehouse says the court made its decision late last year but a letter formally announcing it arrived in her letterbox just last Thursday.
"Right up until you get that judgement you have no idea," she says.
"I've driven past it [the development site] so many times and said it won't happen. But now I can actually say it's not going to happen."
Ms Whitehouse's involvement in the issue "snowballed" after she read a notice protesting about the development in a local shop window.
The owner of a cake company, Mrs Whitehouse was appointed group spokesperson because she had the "luxury of time".
"Although there were occasions where I'd sit in a hearing then rush home and bake a cake."
But more than 100 local families are members of Clevedon Cares and "so many people have put in time and effort", she says.
Individual donations and local concerts with Don McGlashan, the Seven Sisters and the Top Twins helped the group pay its legal fees.
The Wairoa Canal Development Partnership's plans for the river were revealed to the community back in 2005 when the company made a presentation to a Clevedon Community Board meeting.
Six months later the developers' proposed private plan change was adopted by the Manukau council and was publicly notified just before the Christmas holidays.
In 2007 the council granted the plan change despite opposition, leading several groups, including Clevedon Cares, the Auckland Regional Council and Ngai Tai Umupuia Te Waka Totara, to appeal the decision. The Environment Court hearing lasted 26 days and concluded two days before Christmas last year.
The council's environmental hearings committee will meet next Tuesday to decide whether it will appeal against the decision.
Committee chairwoman Anne Candy says proposals to change the district plan are always "difficult balancing acts".
"The hearings committee approved the Wairoa plan change because it believed the development offered a unique maritime housing choice and wouldn't be bad for the environment.
"In this case, after the Environment Court has heard the evidence, some of which was much fuller than the original evidence to the hearings committee, the 2007 plan change decision has been overturned.
"That reflects the community concern and gives clearer direction on what development may be appropriate in the Clevedon and Wairoa Valley area."
The developers could not be reached for comment before the Courier went to press.
- © Fairfax NZ News
Should we raise the retirement age?