Northland Regional Council, Far North District Council, the Department of Conservation and the Historic Places Trust have begun investigations into the activities of a developer who has cleared land at Opete Creek on the Purerua Peninsula near Kerikeri.
The developer, Trevor Love of Mount Industrial Joint Venture Trust, appears to have carried out major earth works in the Queen's Chain bordering his 5-hectare block and on the fringes of the Opete River. He may also have destroyed an archaeological site.
Far North District Council spokesman, Rick McCall, says the authorities together with local iwi made a couple of visits to the site in April when it was found that work had been carried out in the Queen's Chain which is administered by DOC.
Programme Manager Biodiversity Assets in the Bay of Islands area office, Adrian Walker, adds:
“The Department is investigating alleged unauthorized earthworks on an area of public land which is a Marginal Strip administered by DOC. Investigations are continuing and a decision on what action may be taken will be forthcoming.”
During the site visits it was also discovered that development had been carried out too near to the Opete River. Matt Kearney of Northland Regional Council says Mr Love has accepted responsibility for the works and the regional council is now deciding if there are sufficient grounds for a prosecution.
“We believe he has breached rules regarding earthworks within the riparian management zone,” Mr Kearney says. “It would have been preferable to see a buffer strip between the earthworks and any waterways and for the developer to be aware of sediment run-off.”
The Opete Creek land forms part of the tribal territory of Ngati Torehina and spokesman Hugh Rihari claims Mr Love has failed to acquire resource consent for the development. He adds that the earthworks have damaged archaeological sites.
“The blatant destruction of the archaeological site on the fringes of the Opete River and damage to part of an ancient par site is of great concern to us. And these sites were not unknown.”
The Historic Places Trust is investigating whether an offence has been committed under the Historic Places Act.
Greg Blunden of the New Zealand Kiwi Foundation says Mr Love's land is adjacent to a wetland, which is kiwi and waterfowl habitat.
“We can't afford to lose land like this and he is, we believe, simply breaking the law. It also seems he has disregarded land ownership, it just happens to be public land and an important habitat for birds.”
Trevor Love denies the accusations, insisting he has carried out only minor work in the Queen's Chain and all he is trying to do on the land is to grass it and create an all-weather driveway to the house site:
“Basically we bought the block and dropped the pine trees. We then smoothed over the pot holes and stumps. We had a big fire, for which we got a permit, and then cleared the site with a scoop.
“We are proud of everything we do. We are very aware of the environment and our developments are of outstanding quality.”
According to Mr Blunden too many developers believe they can clear and re-contour the land, thinking this is the winning formula for selling it on at the highest price.
“But palms and manicured gardens are not what the Far North is about,” he says. “Obviously development has to happen and it is to be welcomed that our district is growing and attracting new people. But development must not occur that will destroy the values that we have in the Far North.
“We have a fantastic environment, a temperate climate and indigenous biodiversity values which are the envy of the rest of New Zealand. Foremost among these values are kiwi.
“But it is my view that we are close to ruining the Far North because we are removing the values that attract visitors and inhabitants alike.”
The Kiwi Foundation believes there is not enough protection for kiwi in the District Plan as it stands and says that the Foundation, other community groups and DOC can identify “Kiwi Zones” in order to protect broader habitat.
The District Plan helps only to protect kiwi in “indigenous” native bush. Yet the majority of kiwi in Far North District live in other habitat - pine forest, rank pasture, scrub or areas covered in weeds such as gorse, tobacco and pampas.