Country rage for city folk in Waikato

TOO NOISY: Amanda Smith was looking for answers last week after green tea exporter Zealong called in helicopters at 4am to prevent  frost damage.
TOO NOISY: Amanda Smith was looking for answers last week after green tea exporter Zealong called in helicopters at 4am to prevent frost damage.

Move over road rage - Waikato has country rage.

Complaints from residents of Hamilton urban sprawl and lifestyle-blockers about the noise and smells of rural economic activities are drawing calls for more tolerance and a fair go for farmers and growers.

Waikato pig farmers, fruit growers spraying and combating frost with helicopters and turbo fans, dairy farmers using motorbikes before dawn to bring cows in for milking and contractors cutting maize at night, have long been on the receiving end of complaints from townies who move into the country for "peace and quiet".

But complaints last week from north Rototuna and Gordonton residents when green tea exporter Zealong called in helicopters at 4am to prevent a rogue frost wiping out its imminent harvest have again highlighted the march of Hamilton's subdivision development north into productive farmland.

It was the first time in eight years growing oolong tea at Borman Rd that Zealong has used helicopters. Three years ago the company lost an entire harvest to a late frost.

Senior Hamilton city councillor Maria Westphal, a member of the growth strategy committee Future Proof charged with managing Hamilton and Waikato and Waipa districts growth for the next 60 years, said the current district plan has given the region "badly planned subdivisions".

"The new (draft) district plan is hopefully going to create a more sustainable future for our city. There have been no brakes on the northern development."

Subdivisions have boomed because Hamilton has not had a "rural" zoning. Farmland around the city has been classed as "future urban".

Future Proof estimates nearly half a million people will be living in Hamilton and surrounding Waikato and Waipa by 2061, meaning the population will almost double in the next 50 years.

Farming in the Future Proof region directly contributes nearly 14 per cent of regional gross domestic product, and contributes significantly to employment, directly and indirectly. Future Proof data shows in the 10 years to 2011, 3200 hectares of farmland was developed for housing. "If this trend continues it will have a significant long-term impact on the economic base of the region," the strategy says.

Landcare Research says at least 10 per cent of the country's high class productive land is now occupied by lifestyle blocks and 29 per cent of the 25,000 ha of new urban areas developed between 1990 and 2008 were on top class productive land.

Hamilton City Council's Rototuna Structure Plan covered 1200 ha, with Variation 12 rezoning a further 490ha, to the north of existing development. The Future Proof strategy calls for "dispersed ad hoc development" to be discouraged with tighter controls on rural housing development.

"Definite boundaries" between urban and rural areas will be created using green space.

In general, residential development will be focused on existing housing areas.

Housing density will be intensified, with residential areas becoming compact and new development will be located in defined and designated areas.

Meanwhile, housing will continue to spill out of the city. To the south, the Peacocke growth cell is 740ha and Rotokauri 965ha. The other major potential growth area is Ruakura, involving about 800ha mostly owned by Tainui Group Holdings and Chedworth Properties and earmarked for an inland port and manufacturing hub and new subdivision.

Bob Evans, professor of environmental planning at Waikato University said the outward sprawl of New Zealand cities is problem, but particularly in Hamilton.

As a result Hamilton's population density is "very, very low" at 2200 people per square kilometre, while larger cities are 5000-6000. Hong Kong is 36,000. Prime producing agricultural land is being swallowed up and as fuel prices rise, people in areas like Rototuna would be less able to get where they need to go like to schools and hospitals, he said.


Rototuna resident Amanda Smith has one of the most picturesque outlooks in Hamilton, but having the Zealong green tea farm as a neighbour is proving no picnic, she says.

Smith, formerly of Zimbabwe, bought her house in Barrington Drive last year.

Literally over her back fence are 4 hectares of Zealong camellia shrubs. The plantation off Borman Rd is the Taiwanese company's original export tea farm. It's been there eight years.

Smith approached the Waikato Timessaying she was among those who complained last week when Zealong brought in a helicopter at 4am to stop a late frost damaging an imminent harvest. The chopper operated for 3.5 hours, according to Zealong.

Smith said the helicopter hovered so close to her bedroom window she could see the pilot.

She also complained of flies and insects from the farm.

"In summer we stay inside. We paid a lot of money for this house, we paid $500,000."

Zealong is an organic operation. It does not use sprays for insects.

Smith also complained about water overflow from Zealong.

Zealong spokesman Jeff Howell said the water issues were caused by the subdivision in which the Smiths live.

Zealong owner Vincent Chen had tried to buy the land to be a buffer between Rototuna and the Borman Rd plantation, but was outbid by the developer who had since gone out of business. Chen had asked the city council for help with the resulting water problem but still had a paddock that too wet for growing tea.

Smith said Zealong should have notified neighbours the chopper could be called in. She had had no apology. She said she was "very happy they want to preserve the plantation, but if they had communicated . . . they knew the night before."

Zealong staff apologised last week for the lack of advance warning. It was the first time it had used a helicopter.

Deputy Hamilton mayor Gordon Chesterman and Waikato Federated Farmers president James Houghton called for more understanding and tolerance of rural activities, the country's economic backbone.

Chesterman said residents who complained to Zealong were "very unreasonable".

"People living near rural concerns have made a choice to build or live there. They remind me of the miserable people who live on the river and complain about the noise from rowers."

* Comments on this story are now closed

Waikato Times