27 Sep 2022

Nelson City Council approves rezoning for Kākā Valley housing development

9:18 pm on 27 September 2022
A large housing development is planned near the start of the tree-lined Maitai Valley.

The housing development is planned for near the start of the tree-lined Maitai Valley. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

Nelson City Council has approved a plan change to allow the rural Kākā Valley to be subdivided for housing.

Councillors voted 10-3 majority in favour of rezoning 287 hectares of the Maitai Valley, after a week-long hearing before a panel of independent commissioners in July.

The housing development was first proposed for the rural valley near central Nelson two years ago, and Save the Maitai have since campaigned to protect and preserve the valley's rural character.

Nelson City Council heard legal advice on the plan change in a public excluded part of Tuesday's meeting before proceeding to vote on the matter.

Environmental planning manager Maxine Day said the plan change included a number of zone changes, including a residential area above Atawhai and a higher density area in the Maitai Valley along with a network of open space and recreational zones.

Following the hearing, a number of changes had been made to the plan, including the removal of all high density small holding zones, a 26 percent reduction in the residential zone, and a consequential increase in the rural zones.

High density zones had a minimum lot size of 300 square metres, with a mix of zoning provisions that would include 400, 800 and 1500 sqm sections.

The two commercial zones had also been consolidated into one, adjacent to the central recreation reserve.

Day said more comprehensive and stringent flooding, earthworks, sediment control and stormwater provisions had been made, a number of which were setting higher standards than what was currently in the Nelson Resource Management Plan.

The applicants will still need to go through the resource consent process to develop the land.

Councillor Brian McGurk voted in support of the plan change and said it would be a breach of natural justice not to accept the recommendations from the independent commissioners.

"There is a process here, a rule of law to follow, and if we don't follow that I know our reputation will suffer, a loss of trust and confidence as well as exposing our council to significant legal risk through a judicial review.

Deputy mayor Judene Edgar echoed that sentiment and said council could vote to accept or reject the recommendations, and there had been "no identified good reason" to reject it.

Councillor Rohan O'Neill-Stevens said while his concerns about the risks of greenfield expansion had not been alleviated, the ability to reject the recommendations under the Resource Management Act (RMA) legislation was limited.

"We handed consideration over to the independent commissioners to hear submissions and evidence and have returned their recommendations that this plan change is approved."

Councillors Matt Lawrey, Pete Rainey and Rachel Sanson voted against the plan change.

Lawrey said he did not believe the plan change was in the best interest of Nelsonians.

"The permanent change to the character of the Maitai/Mahitahi Valley that this urbanisation will bring in the long term comes at a heavy cost, not only to the natural environment but to the people of Nelson/Whakatū's future social, economic and cultural wellbeing," he said.

"I accept that the commissioners have fulfilled the roles given to them under the law, but I also believe at times, the law is an ass and I believe this is one of those times which is why I am voting against the recommendation."

Mayor Rachel Reese said in their decision making, elected members were in a quasi-judicial role and had to apply the principals of natural justice and uphold the law, which included the RMA.

"It is inconceivable to me that any elected member who is fulfilling - faithfully and impartially - the duty that they have signed up to, could reject this plan change.

"To do so is to put yourself above the law, now my view is that is the ultimate act of arrogance when you have been given the most privileged role to sit at this table ... to substitute yourself as a decision maker on the outcomes of a Resource Management Act decision."

If any elected member felt they needed to be part of the decision making process on the plan change then they should have stepped aside from their role and made a submission to the independent commission as a member of the community, Reese said.

"To override the expert debate, to decide to reach a different conclusion on one narrow aspect of the matters that were under consideration, fails so dismally to understand the principles of sustainable management and the laws we must apply."

Reese acknowledged the work of those who made submissions and raised concerns on the proposed plan change.

"That is the way to be heard if you want to change the outcome and influence the decision of the commissioners."

Save the Maitai spokesperson Aaron Stallard said it was disappointing that urban sprawl into the valley had been given a green light by the council, which would urbanise a rural recreation area against the community's wishes.

"The proposed subdivision will have many negative impacts, including many thousands of vehicle trips per day, noise and air pollution, increased flood risk in downstream areas, permanent loss of natural landscape and amenity values, discharge of stormwater into the popular swimming spot at Dennes Hole, loss of tranquil rural character, intrusion into wildlife habitats within the Nelson-Hira biodiversity corridor, and high greenhouse gas emissions."

The RMA process was "fundamentally unjust, as it pitted the community against the deep pockets of private developers and their army of consultants", Stallard said.

The Kākā Valley site and the Maitai Valley Road were affected by slips and flooding last month. Stallard said that had been ignored, despite the Insurance Council of New Zealand and Local Government New Zealand calling for an end to building on flood plains.

The group would be studying the commissioner's report carefully with the aim of appealing the decision in the Environment Court, and was seeking a financial backer to cover the $300,000 needed to fund the appeal, he said.

Appeals can be lodged within 30 working days of the plan change being approved.

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