Despite 370 submissions being made in opposition to subdivision of the Hammerhead at Gulf Harbour, less than 30 people turned up on day one of the hearing.
The applicant, Council CCO Panuku Development Auckland, opened the hearing via its lawyer, Bill Loutit, who focused on the key issue of ongoing public access to the Hammerhead land at the tip of Gulf Harbour marina.
Gulf Harbour marina was reclaimed from Hobbs Bay. Under the Gulf Harbour Vesting and Empowering Act, ownership was vested in the former Rodney District Council.
The land is currently used as a hub for the ferry service, for recreational use and parking. Large numbers of boaties use the boat ramp, where there are often queues as boats are launched or retrieved at weekends and public holidays.
Many submitters claim that the only way to ensure long term, free, public access is by establishing an esplanade reserve (Queen’s Chain) around the land that is to be subdivided at the tip of Gulf Harbour marina by Gulf Harbour Investments Ltd (GHIL). The applicant is seeking that the esplanade reserve requirement be waived – a position supported by Auckland Council.
Mr Loutit said that the applicant believes that the Gulf Harbour Vesting and Empowering Act is at least as strong as an esplanade reserve in terms of ensuring public access and that it is preferable.
Chair of the hearing panel, Leigh McGregor, who stressed at the outset the panel’s complete independence from Auckland Council, pointed out to Mr Loutit that the word ‘free’ was not mentioned in relation to public access in the applicant’s submission.
It’s a point that Cr Wayne Walker, who made a submission against the waiver of the esplanade reserve, thinks is key.
“It’s clear to me that GHIL wants to make it as difficult as possible for the public to access the Hammerhead without having some charge,” Cr Walker says. “They will be charged for the lease and will want to get as much back in the way of value as they can – potentially that includes charging for ferry users to park.”
During the applicant’s submissions, there was frequent reference to “giving comfort” to residents about future access. However, what many submitters appear to be seeking is not so much “comfort”, but a solid guarantee.
The first submitter to be heard, Robert Allsop-Smith, stressed that only an esplanade reserve would guarantee free public access.
Speaking on behalf of the Gulf Harbour Berth Holders Association and himself, Mr Allsop-Smith asked why Council spent so much money creating a walk and cycleway around Westhaven Marina, while giving the same opportunity at the Hammerhead away – a comment met by applause from the public.
The hearing was originally set down for four days, but new material brought in by GHIL caused an adjournment so that material can be circulated and commented on by other submitters.
That adjournment is expected to be over this week and the hearing will then be formally closed once the commissioners are satisfied they have all the information they need.
After closure of the hearing, the commissioners have 15 working days to make a decision.