2 Mar 2022

The locals versus the helipads of the rich and famous

From The Detail, 5:00 am on 2 March 2022
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Medlands Beach on Aotea / Great Barrier Island is a popular spot for visitors wanting to swim, surf and sunbathe. Photo: RNZ / Sharon Brettkelly

The crescent-shaped, white-sandy bay of Medlands Beach is the crown jewel of remote Aotea / Great Barrier Island. 

It’s a small settlement with a mix of baches and permanent homes, an old church and a brewery - a real slice of paradise. 

But what was once a hidden gem is developing fast. A beachfront section here could set you back more than $1 million. 

And the remote beauty that’s drawing more and more visitors to Medlands Beach could soon be disturbed by the buzz of helicopters. 

There have been four applications for helipads from property owners at Medlands Beach in just a few months, to the shock of locals, including mana whenua. 

The local board knew of the applications, but others on the island were not consulted, says RNZ's Phil Pennington. He points out that Medlands is just four kilometres from the airport at Claris. 

Aotea / Great Barrier locals fear their isolated way of life could go the way of Waiheke Island, which has nearly 50 helipads - with warnings that could more than double in five years. 

Under current rules, helipad applications require neighbours’ consent, but don’t need to be publicly notified.

Newsroom’s business editor Nikki Mandow says you can’t have a rooster in your backyard in Auckland, but if you live on the coast, you can have a helipad. 

And once you’ve got it, you’ve got it forever.  

Residents opposed to helipads have raised safety and environmental concerns. Some local boards, including the one on Aotea / Great Barrier, are calling for a moratorium on all helipad applications. If they can't get a ban, they want applications to be publicly notified, so locals can have their say. 

“At the moment it’s totally mad that the helipads are approved without notifying the project. A town planner goes, ‘yup, that sounds fine’, ticks it and that’s it,” says Mandow. 

“You have to get your neighbours to sign off [when you apply for a helipad and flights], but there’s a feeling that sometimes there are deals done with neighbours. You can go, ‘hey, you can use my helicopter from time to time’, and neighbours give permission. 

“Of course it's forever so once you've got a helipad on your land, the permit doesn't expire.” 

At Sentinel Road Beach in the inner-city suburb of Herne Bay, Mandow points to a large boat shed that Briscoes Group founder and owner Rod Duke wanted to turn into a Thurderbirds-style helipad. He got initial approval, but lost it after a long court battle with a residents’ group. 

At the other end of the beach on a promontory is another helipad, where commercial choppers land to pick up and drop off the owner of the property. Mandow says there are at least three more applications for helipads in the area. 

Property owners apply under the Resource Management Act, which takes into account things such as noise or inconvenience to neighbours. However, there are no specific rules about helipads and helicopters, says Mandow. 

Pennington says Waiheke Island residents tired of hearing choppers overhead, and worried about the risk and environmental impact, are trying every possible avenue to get more control over the number and direction of the flights. 

Some spoke at a recent parliamentary select committee hearing on the proposed Civil Aviation Bill.  

“They want to see Civil Aviation Authority get involved, get active and regulate.  

“But getting that included as part of this bill is really a sideshow to where they are pinning their hopes, which is with the council.” 

Pennington says Auckland Council’s planners have resisted making changes to the rules until the 2026 Unitary Plan review, but he believes the flurry of applications on Aotea / Great Barrier could change that. 

“In December they were pushing back, but now they've got a report coming from council planning officers at the end of March.” 

That will be key not only for Aotea / Great Barrier, but for the rest of Auckland too.


PIJF Photo: .