K3 LEGAL WINS CASE TO PROTECT COASTAL LANDSCAPES
"The latest decision from the Court of Appeal helps safeguard the country’s natural beauty, particularly in coastal areas. It has also potentially saved central and local government, taxpayers and ratepayers a huge sum of money,” says K3 Legal’s John Burns, who has been involved in the case since it began about eight years ago.
“Under the Resource Management Act there is a method of assessing what constitutes an “Outstanding Natural Landscape” which is used by government and every regional and district council in the country. This was the first time it had been challenged in the senior courts, so having the validity of that method confirmed by the Court of Appeal is hugely significant. If it had gone the other way, every council and the Government would potentially have had to review their assessments at enormous cost.”
At the centre of the case is 1,925 hectares of Man O’ War Station at the eastern end of Waiheke Island, which was classified as an “Outstanding Natural Landscape” by the former Auckland Regional Council around 2010, under a comprehensive review of Auckland’s landscapes.
Man O’ War Station Ltd, which is owned by the Spencer family, appealed the classification in the Environment Court, which largely upheld the council’s decision. That decision was then appealed in the High Court, with Man O’ War arguing that the bar should be set higher for classification of outstanding natural landscapes. This was rejected by the High Court.
Man O’ War Station Ltd subsequently took that decision to the Court of Appeal where, for the third time, it lost and was ordered to pay Auckland Council costs. In its recently-released decision, the Court of Appeal ruled the Outstanding Landscape Classification was justified.
K3 Legal’s Brent OʼCallahan, who has also been working on the case for a number of years, agrees the decision has national significance.
“It confirms the importance of protecting New Zealand’s natural beauty, especially coastal landscapes. On behalf of Auckland Council (which took over the old Auckland Regional Council when the Supercity was formed), we argued that the Environment Court had correctly developed the methodology for applying this protection over 20 years and that ultimately the Outstanding Natural Landscapes designation would protect more than 80 percent of the 2,364 hectare Man O’ War property from inappropriate development. This was a judgement that the council was entitled to make. Three different courts have now agreed with that position.”
The Environmental Defence Society also gave its support to Auckland Council, as did the Waiheke Local Board.
Situated at the relatively undeveloped end of Waiheke, Man O’ War Station stretches from Cactus Bay around the coast to Man O’ War Bay and is used for wine and olive growing and other rural purposes.
In its decision, the Court of Appeal referred to the Environment Court ruling which said the property “offered a mosaic of landscape features including the bush clad eastern slopes of the Puke range, an interspersed network of bush gullies, pastureland, vineyards, and geological features, flanked by a series of coastal headlands, escarpments and ridges leading out to the waters of the Hauraki Gulf.
“These features interact in a manner that, viewed from either land or sea, makes it difficult to identify separate landscapes for assessment of significance… We do not find it appropriate to separate the coastal and inland landscape.”