20 Apr 2015

Alarm at High Court reserve ruling

5:48 am on 20 April 2015

Bay of Islands people are appealing to the Conservation Minister not to give an Opua boatyard more rights over a coastal reserve.

Walls Bay Reserve

People working on a boat that’s up on the slip on the Walls Bay esplanade reserve. Photo: Supplied / Maiki Marks

The High Court has found that the minister has discretion under the Reserves Act to grant boatyard owner Doug Schmuck easements over the Walls Bay Reserve.

Mr Schmuck already has resource consents allowing him to wash down and work on boats on the slipway that runs across the esplanade reserve.

However he is asking the minister to grant formal easements over the reserve in line with his resource consents, a move that would potentially enhance the value of his business.

Coastal conservation groups and the Department of Conservation believed the RMA consents were trumped by the Reserves Act, which does not allow commercial activities on a reserve.

But Mr Schmuck challenged that assumption in the High Court last month and won.

Justice Heath found the Reserves Act does give the minister power to grant the kind of easements Mr Schmuck is seeking.

'Far-reaching consquences'

Opua Coastal Protection Society chair Henry Nissen said the decision was alarming, with far-reaching consequences for reserves around the country.

He said until now the only easements allowed over reserves had been for the public good, not private gain.

Mr Nissen said they were granted for essential infrastructure like drains and power lines - not to license a commercial enterprise benefiting one person.

The coastal protection group did not object to the slipway itself, he said, but giving it official sanction as a workplace would set a dangerous precedent. The reserve was an integral part of the Opua coastal walkway, and allowing a business to expand onto it, through easements on a title, was unacceptable.

Land donation lost

The Schmuck saga has caused a Bay of Islands philanthropist to change his mind about donating land to the Far North council for public use.

John Williams has already given two blocks of valuable seafront land at Paihia to the council for a scenic reserve: the Elizabeth Lucy Williams Park, in memory of his mother.

He was about to sign over a further section, worth $1.2 million, and had a rough agreement drawn up with the council.

However, he said he had decided not to go ahead, because he no longer trusted it would be protected as public reserve in perpetuity.

Mr Williams said he lost faith in the council and mayor John Carter last year, when the council used powers delegated to it by the Conservation Minister to endorse Mr Schmuck's commercial activities on the Walls Bay reserve.

Mr Williams, who is in his 80's, said he would instead sell his land with its motel unit, and give the proceeds to his favourite charity, Child Cancer.

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