4 Mar 2020

Appeal looms against Buller council decision over historic West Coast baches

4:34 pm on 4 March 2020

The owner of one of 26 historic West Coast baches is considering legal action against a decision that removes owners' rights to rent them.

Punakaiki on the West Coast.

Punakaiki on the West Coast. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

The Buller District Council recently updated a policy for the buildings which sit on unformed legal road - or public land - throughout the district.

The renewed policy allowed the buildings to stay under a new 25-year land lease term, but a long-term campaigner for their survival was furious.

Ross MacRae, who has owned one of these homes for decades, said the updated policy was "pure legal fiction", which he planned to appeal.

He said the baches had a long history on the Coast, including one that was built in the 1930s, but their legal status and actual use and origins were as dwellings.

"These were house sites that people could build on for a minimal, peppercorn rental."

MacRae said the latest process to update the policy, which attracted more than 70 submissions to the public process and subsequent hearing, was one in a long line he has been fighting since 1978. At that time, there was a "real attack" on the baches by the former Department of Lands and Survey, he said.

"It claimed the baches had no right to be there whatsoever, and they tried to get them all demolished. Back then, there were about 100 of them."

Many had since been pulled down and people had walked away, MacRae said.

Other groups had since picked up the baton in further attempts to have the privately owned baches removed from the land they sat on, which was publicly owned, he said.

"They've stepped in and said, 'they're squatters on public land, they're illegal - get them out'."

West Coast, South Island.

West Coast, South Island. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

MacRae described the buildings as traditional icons that were doing no harm. Many were used as homes, while others were used as long-term rentals, and holiday rentals.

"They're occupying waste land, and people love them. They want to rent them, and stay in them," MacRae said.

The new policy replaced a former one, which required removal of the buildings within one month of the expiry of the current licences, in September this year.

The council said the new policy and licence document provided for a maximum 25-year term, with a fixed expiry date of the 1 September 2045.

MacRae said the decision was neither a great surprise nor a great gift. He did not feel anything had been gained.

"What's been lost is the question - various rights have been lost and they're fairly fundamental, basic rights such as rights to privacy.

"How would one feel having a lease where suddenly they're told anyone can walk around in your yard, sit on your deck or peer through your windows."

Other conditions in the new policy included that the licence cannot be assigned to another party, that public access along legal road not be restricted, and that the buildings are not to be used for undertaking commercial activities.

MacRae said the bach owners also wanted a longer term of lease, but the main objection was around the final point - meaning they could no longer be rented.

"That's the thing making people jump up and down - this sudden desire to prohibit holiday rentals in baches, which is something that's happened from day one."

Buller District Council chief executive Sharon Mason said new rules governing the baches was made after a robust, public process.

She said there were a number of avenues open to people unhappy with a council decision, including seeking a judicial review.