Residents riled over beach walkway
When people's rights to beach access are interfered with emotions can run high.
A group of Snells Beach residents is looking at their options as a legal easement which afforded them private, uninterrupted access to the beach has been overridden by a resource consent granted to a developer for another subdivision by the former Rodney District Council.
The Governor Grey subdivision residents first realised their 6.2-metre wide beach access over neighbouring land had been altered when the footpath was ripped up.
The non-notified consent granted to Neil Group in February 2010 for its Kawau Waters development will see what was a fenced private walkway down the northern side of the old Salvation Army camp become an unfenced walkway with two roads, two double and two single driveways crossing it and ending in a public reserve.
Les Wade says Governor Grey residents have no complaint with the quality of the subdivision, in its third stage. But consent to alter the easement over the land, which is registered on each deed of title, was never asked for.
"People were able to send their kids down that walkway to the beach knowing they would be safe. We have complained to the council but been told there isn't a problem as we will still have access to the beach," says Mr Wade, a spokesman for the owners of the 87 affected properties.
Auckland Council resource consents manager Heather Harris says existing pedestrian rights to use this walkway are still in place and not taken away as part of the subdivision process.
In a letter to the residents, council northern resource consents and compliance team leader Erik Oosthuizen says the existing pedestrian accessway easement remains in place and will continue to stay. He says legal use of the walkway has not been jeopardised by granting the subdivision.
Mr Wade disagrees.
"How can they say it hasn't been jeopardised when kids will now have to cross two roads, dodge cars going in and out of properties and share it with everyone else?" he says. "It will be a public footpath."
In 2005, the council considered buying the land from the Salvation Army to turn it into a public walkway.
Peter Galliven, then property services officer to the former Rodney District Council, advised residents in a letter: "...as the owner of a property within this subdivision you have an easement registered on your certificate of title which provides you with legal access over this walkway. This is a private walkway which can legally only be used by the owners of the properties within the Governor Grey subdivision.
"It is widely known the general public regularly use this walkway but they have no formal right of access over it. In order to address this anomaly we are negotiating with the Salvation Army to acquire ownership of the walkway for the benefit of all Snells Beach residents.
"For council to acquire ownership we will require the owners of properties within the Governor Grey subdivision to surrender their easements over the walkway."
But the council never bought the easement land and the residents never surrendered their easements.
Even if the walkway stays "private", when the planned roads are vested in the council, they will become public roads.
Legal advice Mr Wade received suggests vesting won't be possible unless all 87 property owners give their consent.
The same applies to land for public reserves that includes some of the walkway close to the beach, which will also be vested in the council.
Mr Wade says the walkway was a factor in some buying into the subdivision and has a monetary value.
He asks who will pay for the loss of value to their properties, or any legal costs of removing the easement from their titles if the neighbouring subdivision continues in its current form.
Their only option is to go to court, he says. But they will have to pay for that themselves, including paying a valuer to put a value on the loss of private beach access.
Residents initially thought the council had "stuffed up" and overlooked the easement. But resource consent documents show one of the reasons for allowing consent was the right-of-way pedestrian easement would stay in place, even though limits on fencing heights within the easement is the only thing that seems to have been considered.