Conservation group speaks up for protecting bird habitat
A conservation group says it's an "outrage" a coastal residential subdivision has been given the go ahead without public notification.
The Auckland Council granted Ayrlies Parklands Ltd consent to subdivide around 150 acres on Whitford's Clifton Road peninsula.
The subdivision is owned by the McConnell family. Now in her late 80s, Beverley McConnell is a renown horticulturist who spent 50 years transforming adjacent farmland into a sprawling garden and wetlands.
In 2013, The Wall Street Journal ranked her garden as one of the finest in the world.
The new development will see the land split into 13 countryside living sections.
Four sections will share a driveway with a Department of Conservation site, while the 45-acre wetlands and 50-acre gardens will remain.
Forest and Bird regional manager for Auckland, Nick Beveridge, says it's an "outrage" the council has downplayed the importance of the area as a nesting and roosting site for endangered birds and allowed the subdivision to go ahead without public notification.
"No public notification means no public consultation," he says.
"This is a very important area for godwits and red knots, who visit in their thousands in the summer months. It's also a nesting site for threatened northern New Zealand dotterel and variable oystercatchers.
"Time and again we're seeing the laws that have been put in place to protect nature being flouted by Auckland Council in favour of development. Council is killing our natural treasures one consent at a time.
"Even council's own ecologist pointed to there being significant adverse ecological effects on the wetlands and areas adjacent to the subdivision," Beveridge says.
In an initial report, a senior council ecologist wrote 'the current overall level of adverse ecological effects is unable to be supported in my professional opinion'.
Two parts of the subdivision are recognised as significant ecological marine areas. The coastal area is also scheduled as a significant natural heritage area.
'Long-term continued disturbance of birds which would normally use the Ayrlies salt marsh areas may result in the home range of these birds being reduced or see them move from the salt marsh area into the margins,' the reports says.
It also says covenants banning cats and dogs should apply to the sites closest to the shore.
But a latter memo says a move by the council to change the area from an on-leash to prohibited area for dogs was already under way.
'However, the [Franklin] local board has not made any decision on this matter.'
The report says DoC confirmed the area has important sites for many nationally threatened birds.
DoC was one of 12 affected adjacent property owners to give written approval for the subdivision.
Its acting Auckland mainland operations manager, Helen Rowlands, says the subdivision will enable the trust behind the development to "continue its conservation work in the area".
"Ayrlies Gardens and Wetlands Trust has planted more than 15,000 native plants to create a wetland habitat for NZ dabchick, grey teal, NZ scaup and other native wetland birds."
Rowlands says a ban on cat ownership for sections closest to the shoreline will add to protection already provided to birds.
Approval was not obtained from people at 14 other affected properties. One of them is Nadine Clarke, who has lived in Potts Road for 25 years.
Forest and Bird member Clarke says she and many others kept asking the council whether or not the subdivision would be notified and the reply was always "oh, we haven't made a decision".
Simultaneous news that it wasn't going to be notified, and that consent had been granted, came via a community group email.
"I felt really disappointed," she says.
Clarke says both the council and DoC have "failed the people of New Zealand" - the council by not taking into consideration the "enormous impact their decision will have on this fragile environment", and DoC, due to its lack of stewardship.
"Once this area is compromised it will not be able to return to even its existing fragile state."