Auckland Council’s proposal to build a seawall on the northern part of Orewa Beach has failed to obtain resource consent.
It is the second time this has happened – the former Rodney District Council’s option for the same stretch of beach was declined consent in 2010.
In a decision released last week, independent commissioners Greg Hill, Mark Farnsworth and Dr Lee Beattie say that building a wall is at odds with the objectives of statutory provisions (including in the Auckland Unitary Plan) that aim to preserve the natural character of the coastal environment.
The plan for the section of beach between Kohu Street and Marine View combined a 600m-long grouted rock seawall with a section of engineered loose rocks and a small area of restored dunes. It included a 2m-wide walk and cycleway on top, along with access ramps and stairs at intervals. The wall was expected to cost around $6m as well as $50,000 annually to maintain.
After storms in 2013 severely damaged this part of the beach, threatening the reserve and existing walkway, Council investigated the options and considered a seawall was needed. Lengthy consultation with the community took place and Council lodged its resource consent application a year ago.
Council’s coastal management services team manager, Paul Klinac, said at the time that if nothing was done, that section of reserve would be lost and the public would not be able to walk along that part of the beach at high tide.
Objections from the community were principally about the loss of dry sand beach due to the bulk of the wall, its visual dominance and that other alternatives were not adequately explored.
In their decision, commissioners say that most submitters opposed to the plan did not want a significant built form on the beach, or a more formal pattern of development (including lighting), preferring the current, more casual beach environment.
“It appears to us that … Council’s premise is that a walkway/cycleway is necessary, and to protect that ‘investment’ the seawall is required to provide long term protection to it and the esplanade reserve,” the decision says.
Commissioners agreed with the coastal experts who demonstrated that there is no urgent need for a seawall and went further, saying that a wall should be “a last resort”.
“We find … that the proposal is inconsistent with the relevant objectives and policies of the statutory planning provisions. This includes the clear policy directions of preserving the natural character of the coastal environment; seeking where practical to rehabilitate and restore that character; and that intervention by hard protection structures is a ‘last resort’ given the risks associated with interference in coastal processes and the potential damage that can occur.”
The decision concludes that although the proposal has some merit in terms of improved recreational opportunities and, for some people, improved access, it would generate adverse effects on coastal processes, public access, natural character, landscape and visual and amenity values.
Council’s head of project delivery, community facilities, John Schermbrucker, says that the Hibiscus and Bays Local Board and council staff are reviewing the decision before further options are considered.
Local board chair Julia Parfitt describes the decision as “extremely disappointing” and says board members will be briefed on it this week.
She says the local board made the project a priority because “doing nothing was not an option”. “I don’t believe that the community wanted to leave it to a full coastal retreat,” she says. “The clear view expressed to us was ‘get on with something’.”
The local board has applied for funding for coastal erosion protection along the whole of Orewa Beach. “This decision relates only to one part of the beach, so it shouldn’t have an impact on proposed work elsewhere,” Mrs Parfitt says.
Council has until January 16 to lodge an appeal.