Carter Holt Harvey has lost a bid to subdivide land it owns on Kina Peninsula, with future erosion caused by rising sea levels one of the reasons for the decision.
While the decision has been welcomed, anxiety still remains over what will happen to the land, which was previously a public reserve, and whether access will be retained.
In a written decision from the Environment Court released this week, Judge Brian Dwyer said it was "unarguable that erosion and inundation" would damage the proposed six sections in the subdivision well within the 100-year period which legislation required the court to consider.
Judge Dwyer's findings are in line with the Tasman District Council's 2011 decision to decline the original subdivision application. CHH appealed that ruling, and the appeal was heard in the Environment Court in Nelson last year.
The forestry company wanted to subdivide 3.04 hectares of the 10.7ha it owns at the western end of the peninsula into six sections. It planned to vest the remainder of the land with the council.
CHH reduced its planned subdivision from eight to six lots for the appeal.
Public access to the area, and the status of the land that CHH wanted to subdivide, have been controversial. The land previously functioned as a public reserve under an honoured covenant from Lewis Baigent since 1982.
Judge Dwyer said he was satisfied that damage to the proposed subdivision from rising sea levels would be significant.
He said there was "a high degree of predictability" that houses on the residential sections would need to be relocated due to damage and inundation from the sea.
The predicted loss of over half of each of the residential lots to the sea called into question the appropriateness of the subdivision, he said.
The court also found that the subdivision proposal did not have sufficient provision for legal and physical access to the proposed sections.
It said the rock wall accessing the subdivision needed to be upgraded and raised, and although CHH would met the substantive costs of that, the council would have to meet ongoing maintenance costs of the causeway.
"We assume that granting the various applications will assist CHH in advancing its economic well-being by enabling it to dispose of what must now be an ‘orphan' parcel of land."
Friends of Nelson Haven and Tasman Bay also appeared in the Environment Court, supporting the council.
Helen Campbell, who represented the organisation in court, welcomed the Environment Court's decision, saying it was "inevitable".
"In our view, the characteristics of this prominent 11ha of peninsula land need to be appropriately valued," Ms Campbell said.
"It is a site of known past Maori occupation. The margins and beaches are important for the feeding, breeding and roosting of ‘at risk' variable oystercatcher, banded rail and South Island pacific oystercatcher, visited by the wrybill and the white heron as well as the migratory bar-tailed godwit."
Ms Campbell said Kina Peninsula played an important role in the natural landscape of both Moutere Inlet and its surrounds, and the wider Tasman Bay.
Friends committee member Gillian Pollock said she did not see the decision as a win for the environment, as the land could now be sold to one buyer, who could build a house and do what they wanted with the land.
"The new owner can fence off the beach at high tide level, as has happened further down the beach, giving less access than the community has at present."
Tasman Area Community Association member Hamish Rush said he personally believed the court had made the right decision. However, the community was still left with the uncertainty about what would happen to the land, and would have to wait to see what CHH and owner Graeme Hart decided to do with it.
"It's a waiting game. All the cards are in CHH's hands."
The company would still want to get the maximum return on its investment, he said.
Mr Rush said a solution needed to be found that allowed CHH to exit and the community to retain some form of ownership. The community would go back to the drawing board to discuss its options.
Moutere-Waimea Ward councillor Brian Ensor said the land was highly valued, and he was sure there would be considerable anxiety about what would happen to it now.
Mr Ensor said the council would meet with CHH to see what it could do about the future of the domain. The community was keen to see whether public access to the land would continue.
Council principal resource consents adviser Jeremy Butler said the decision gave it guidance in dealing with low-lying exposed coastal subdivision applications, and meant it would take a cautionary approach.
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