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Lease decision needs time

GEORGE GARDNER
Last updated 05:00 19/12/2012
Waiheke Village Gardens

LITTLE OPPOSITION: Commissioner Gerry Rowan says the Waiheke Historic Village and Heritage Gardens are highly valued by the community. The society is one of three clubs waiting to hear about the future of its lease at Onetangi Sports Park, also known as Rangihoua Park.

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The fate of three club leases and a dedicated emergency helicopter landing pad at Onetangi Sports Park won't be decided before Christmas.

After two days of verbal public submissions and a four-hour site visit by the hearing panel there is still "a lot of sleuthing to be done" before a decision can be made.

Independent commissioner Gerry Rowan headed the panel of local board members Faye Storer, Jo Holmes, Jim Hannan and Don McKenzie last week.

They heard opposing views over the complex issue of whether new legal leases should be granted to three clubs and a licence to occupy be granted for an all-weather Westpac rescue helicopter pad at the park, also known as Rangihoua Park.

The affected clubs are the Waiheke Island Historical Society, the Waiheke Golf Club and the Waiheke Island Riding Club.

All three were granted leases by the former Auckland City Council but the leasing process was later deemed illegal under the Reserves Act because the leases had not been advertised, then approved by the minister of conservation.

Commissioner Rowan, who is an author of the Reserves Act, says the present Auckland Council and Waiheke Local Board should not be blamed for the situation - a situation they must now resolve.

The former Auckland City Council's Reserve Management Plan only reached a draft stage in 1995.

Now several submitters, including the riding club, members of Forest & Bird, and Waiheke Local Board member Paul Walden - who stepped down from the panel to make a verbal submission - are asking that a new Reserve Management Plan be put in place for the park before the leases and the areas they occupy are fixed.

A reserve management plan process would mean the present leases may remain temporarily in place but the clubs would not have security of tenure. Once the plan was finished the clubs' lease areas could change or be revoked. It would also mean the rescue helicopter trust's licence to occupy application would be delayed.

The Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust has spent six years looking for the perfect site for a helipad.

Chief executive Bob Parker says no other sites match the central, safe site identified at Rangihoua Park.

Waiheke Island patients account for a third of its emergency trips.

But the helicopter can't land in inclement weather and an all-weather pad at the Onetangi Sports Park, combined with a beacon on the hill and a windsock on the pavilion roof, will enable safe landing "in more marginal conditions".

Being granted a lease to occupy would mean that the helipad project could start straight away. The community has fundraised to pay for the pad and the trust will meet operating costs.

Waiheke Island Historical Society representative Anne Anderson says the historical village will have to consider closing down if its lease is not renewed.

"If it closes, the loss to the island would be incalculable."

She says volunteers have developed the site, established gardens, repainted cottages and installed the old telephone exchange from Great Barrier Island.

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The museum is home to six buildings containing hundreds of artefacts and thousands of records. Nearly 9000 people have visited it in the past six years.

Mr Rowan says there is a lot of support for the historical village and not a lot of opposition.

"The society's facility is valued by the community," he says.

Waiheke Golf Club representatives see waiting for a Reserve Management Plan as untenable for the club, which has consents from the former Auckland Regional and Auckland City councils to create an 18-hole golf course.

The 1995 Auckland City Council draft reserve management plan included provision for the 18-hole course after a public submissions process.

The last of the consents was granted in 2009 after consultation with neighbours and Ngati Paoa.

The club's members have contributed about $150,000 of the $516,000 spent to date "in good faith" on the project which can't go ahead until its lease is made legal.

The 18-hole project has sparked opposition from environmentalists concerned about earthworks affecting the nearby wetlands and from people who claim the former Waiheke County Council bought the land with the intention it be used by everyone for recreational use, not just the golf club.

They also claim the golf club had agreed the course would remain at nine holes.

Objectors also say the club and grounds should be open to the public but commissioner Rowan says the Reserves Act permits exclusive use to clubs, as long as they have an open membership.

The club can close for a maximum of 40 days a year for tournaments but public interest is protected by allowing public access.

"The public have a right to walk across it but must obviously be sensible about it."

He says more than 75 per cent of golf clubs in New Zealand are on reserve land.

"Most golf clubs have a 33-year lease with a further right of 33 years. I am surprised how short this one is."

Waiheke Golf Club has nearly 300 members and about 3500 green fee players each year.

There are also questions over where the bridle paths are in the park and opposing opinions over the safety of horses near golf courses.

Paul Walden believes the horse riders have "existing use rights".

"Both golf and riding are permitted activities in the park."

Former riding club president Claudia Lapp says the issue has arisen because the 1995 reserve management plan for the park was never completed.

Waiheke Island Riding Club president Sarah Henderson says her 30 club members just want to be able to ride around the perimeter of the golf club, not across the fairways.

She also says the club is open to looking at alternative premises in the park if it can be involved in the decision making.

Mr Rowan says there is "an awful lot of sleuthing to be done" before the panel can make an informed decision over the future of the park, the leases and the licence to occupy for an emergency services helipad.

"We have a long ‘to do' list in terms of information. We must start from an accurate information base."

"Issues are talked about, get extended in the telling and I'd like to think whatever the decision, it will be well informed and will be a very extensive written-up decision."

- Waiheke Marketplace

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