Our year of hell: First-home buyers locked in noise battle over KiwiRail depot next door
A young couple who bought their first home a year ago have been locked in a battle ever since, over a constant racket coming from a KiwiRail depot over the back fence.
Matthew Robinson and Beba McLean thought they had found their dream house in Paekakariki, north of Wellington, and checked before they bought that the KiwiRail land at the back was a residential site, not an industrial one.
But within only a few days of moving in last February, the sounds of clanging metal started about 10pm and continued well into the next morning. During the day, trucks come and go, and the noise continues.
The couple say they have endured a year from hell, and other neighbours said the noise from the depot in Tilley Rd was "a shocker".
Vern Lancaster, who has lived in the street for 10 years, said the noise had grown much worse over the past several months: "They were doing it at nights all the time ... banging, clashing, welding, compressors going all night."
Neighbouring property owner Tim Nolan said the depot had become "so busy" in the last year and a half.
"You just got to look at the thing and see that's a commercial operation. It's just ridiculous."
Robinson and McLean complained to Kapiti Coast District Council, and eventually the night work stopped.
But the procession of traffic and work continued during the daytime, while she was trying to nurse son Teo, McLean said.
"It was incredibly noisy and also a massive invasion of privacy. I would be breastfeeding Teo and I'd have to shut the curtains because ... there were groups of work people standing, working on vehicles."
At times they have had black smoke rolling over their property, and vehicle noise vibrating the floor of the house.
Before they bought the house, they confirmed the neighbouring property was zoned residential. They were told a shed on it was used only for storage.
"Our frustration is they're clearly in breach of the District Plan," McLean said. "They're saying one thing and doing another, and there doesn't seem to be any enforcement."
After they complained to the council, they were encouraged to "try to work through mitigation" with KiwiRail, and the company built a higher fence along the boundary.
But the couple remain disappointed with what they say has been a lack of council action.
KiwiRail confirmed the site was residential-zoned, and said it was working with the council "to ensure that the Paekakariki depot remains compliant with the rules attributed to a residential-zoned property".
It said it had used the site as a depot since the 1980s, and it had been rail land since the 1920s.
The depot had one permanent staff member and was used as a storage facility. "Trucks enter and exit through a designated zone and unload or reload building materials as required. It is rare that any other type of work would take place on the site, as there are no amenities in the workshop."
It also confirmed it had sought to change the designation of the land, which would allow "rail related activities". However, that would not change the nature of the work at the depot, it said.
Council rules about residential zones do not necessarily exclude all non-residential uses, though regulatory services group manager Kevin Currie said the rules included controls on "lighting, noise, parking and storage".
A council check on "light spill" found the depot compliant with the rules, and staff could not verify breaches of noise standards, he said.
The council was still in touch with KiwiRail and contractor Fulton Hogan, "seeking information on their management of heavy vehicle parking and the material being stored at the site".
"We have been taking the approach of seeking voluntary compliance by KiwiRail and Fulton Hogan in advance of taking any formal enforcement action. We did, however, write to them in November 2016, reminding them of their obligations under the District Plan."
Enforcement options open to the council included anything from issuing infringement notices, abatement notices and enforcement orders to prosecution.
Kapiti Coast Mayor K Gurunathan said a "please explain" letter had been sent this week to KiwiRail about truck parking and the amount of outside storage on the yard. Whatever KiwiRail did on the land would have to meet residential conditions.