Dispute over access to Delaware Bay ends up before Environment Court

9:42 pm on 9 October 2023
Boat launching ramps at in Delaware Bay, North Nelson.

Boat launching ramps at Delaware Bay, North Nelson. Photo: RNZ / Samantha Gee

A long-running dispute between iwi and recreational boaties over access to Delaware Bay, at the top of the South Island, is now before the Environment Court.

Nelson City Council has sought a declaration from the court that vehicle access to the Wakapuaka estuary is not permitted, under the Nelson Resource Management Plan.

The estuary has been used as a launching site by the fishing and boating community for decades, due to its safety and proximity to fishing grounds.

But local iwi, particularly Ngāti Tama, oppose vehicle access as the area is of cultural significance and includes a number of wāhi tapu and urupā.

An Environment Court hearing before Judge Prudence Steven, began on Monday in Nelson.

It was adjourned until next month, to allow for more information to be sought from Nelson City Council on the inclusion and exclusion of launching ramps in several different versions of the council's planning maps.

Judge Steven said she wanted clarification in order to understand the full picture before making a decision.

"I don't like any stones unturned ... it may well shed light that supports the council's approach, but at this stage, I'm just unsure."

Nelson City Council's lawyer Kerry Anderson said it was the council's view that driving vehicles on the estuary to launch and retrieve boats was not a permitted activity and required resource consent.

Enforcement efforts over the years by the council had been met with opposition and Anderson said a number of options had been considered, including seeking resource consent for use of the area, building a wooden ramp across the estuary, improving the nearby Cable Bay launching ramps, and identifying Delaware as an official launching ramp.

None of those options were considered acceptable to all parties.

"We've ended up in this position where there have been continued complaints and confusion over time about the use of this area and really council is here today to seek clarity on the correct way to interpret the rules."

Boat launching ramps at in Delaware Bay, North Nelson.

Boat launching ramps at Delaware Bay, North Nelson. Photo: RNZ / Samantha Gee

Representing Ngāti Tama ki te Waipounamu Trust, Wakapuaka 1B Incorporation and Te Huria Matenga Wakapuaka Trust counsel Jamie Ferguson said the Wakapuaka area was of longstanding importance to iwi, with the estuary and surrounding land of great historical and cultural significance.

"The lands at Wakapuaka, including the estuary, were specifically reserved from the New Zealand Company and Crown purchases in the mid-19th century and it was only after the grant of European title over the Wakapuaka block by the Native Land Court in 1883 that Ngāti Tama's interest in Wakapuaka began to be undermined."

Ferguson said regional planning maps identified various archaeological sites at Wakapuaka and that the driving of vehicles across the estuary was "a long-standing issue of concern" for the whānau of Ngāti Tama who had sought to protect its health and wellbeing.

On behalf of the Delaware Bay Access Group, lawyer Nigel McFadden said it was clear the access at Delaware Bay was considered a launching ramp as it had been in use since at least 1842, and the council had provided no evidence to the contrary.

"It seems to me that when the plan was developed the council would have identified where the long-established launching ramps were and included them in the plan, which it appears that they did ... but then they removed them."

The hearing will resume in November.