When I first came to live in New Zealand in 2006, in Torbay on Auckland’s North Shore, our family realised we had chosen a very special place to live. The reason for our feeling of wellbeing was mainly due to our proximity to Long Bay Regional Park and Okura.
We took the children for long walks along Long Bay’s hills to the Okura Estuary, marvelling at the views of over the Hauraki Gulf and peaceful ambience on the path down to the river at Okura. Of course, like a million-plus other people who use Long Bay each year, we swam in the marine reserve and picnicked against the backdrop of green hills. I had to pinch myself that we lived within the city limits, 20 minutes from the CBD. The city and its urban sprawl seemed an ocean away when we were enjoying Long Bay Okura.
From our rental house at the time we looked over Long Bay’s hills, watching the way the sun played upon the folds of the fields, which were sometimes dotted with cows; at the sun setting behind two pines that stood on the brow of the hill, or the way morning mist would slowly burn off to reveal the idyllic rural outlook.
Well, that rural view has disappeared forever, replaced by intensive urban development courtesy of the Todd Property Group, who bought the land. Their plans for development, against protracted local opposition led by the Long Bay Okura Great Park Society, were eventually resolved in an battle at the Environment Court.
Todd was allowed to build the housing development at a reduced density, and in a position set back from the edge of the Regional Park to ensure the Park’s visual protection – though presently you can see houses being constructed on the ridge above the park. In addition, a significant area was protected from development due to its outstanding heritage values.
The northern border of the Todd development currently stops at Vaughans Road in Okura. It used to be one of our favourite places. This quiet road runs along a ridge line towards the sea affording tremendous views on each side. To the north, rolling fields studded with cattle and horses sweep down to the Okura estuary and forest of the Okura Bush Scenic Reserve. Across the water you can see Stillwater and the Whangaparoa Peninsula.
To the south the views were also once fantastic, open countryside to the houses on Torbay’s cliffs, the Gulf and Rangitoto – but those views have now vanished beneath a swathe of dirt and deep scouring of the land; intensive earthworks, roads and housing have utterly transformed this rural idyll into something perfectly horrible.
To stand on Vaughans Road today is a deeply depressing and upsetting experience. Not just because the stark contrast of northern rural beauty and southern devastation is so great, but because the Todd Property Group have made it clear they are going to do Okura’s southern flanks what they are now doing to Long Bay’s northern slopes.
In the Auckland Council’s unitary plan decision in August, Todd’s ambition to build 750-1,000 houses on Okura’s southern hills, land which they own, was rejected by the Council. You could have heard the collective sigh of relief at news of this reprieve.
But our optimism was short-lived. The Todd Property Group, in a move which is a slap in the face for the entire community and all of those who have fought so long and so hard to preserve this unique and precious area, has decided to appeal against the Council’s decision.
And this is where we come to the crux of the matter: greed. At what stage should a developer be called to account for taking such a relentlessly avaricious approach in the face of local opposition and environmental concerns? For pursuing profit above all other considerations?
Todd’s development is already causing harmful effects on the Long Bay-Okura Marine Reserve. Video footage and photographs show that sediment is pouring off Todd’s earthworks into the marine reserve. A report by Hamilton-based Hills Laboratories found that samples from streams which feed into the marine reserve, taken in June, showed excessive levels of suspended solids. Last weekend I photographed excessive sediment discharge, the material washed out along Vaughans Stream, which runs through the earthworks area (pictured below), to the sea at Long Bay beach. The sea was shrouded in a muddy mantle stretching hundreds of metres into the gulf, while brown foam covered the sand, left behind as the tide went out.
A marine biologist told me: “sediment loads are, and will, undoubtedly have an impact, especially if significant terrigenous clay gets into the local ecosystem.”
But Todd’s property manager is reported as saying that sedimentation has “no discernible impact on the marine reserve”. As a journalist who has reported extensively on the effects of sediment discharge from developments in the Caribbean, I can say that this is patently untrue, and displays an attitude and arrogance I thought I had left behind 10 years ago.
Todd Property Group’s Managing Director, Evan Davies, is quoted as saying his company is: “committed to and confident it can undertake the development of Okura without impacting on the Long Bay-Okura Marine Reserve”.
Quite evidently, they cannot.
The Department of Conservation lists the Long Bay-Okura Marine Reserve as being home to many reef fish, and large snapper, while pods of orca and dolphins are seen a few times year. Seals have been photographed; oystercatchers, and black-fronted terns are often seen at Long Bay; the area is a summer breeding ground for the godwit, while the endangered NZ dotterel nests on sand spits near the Okura Walkway. The forest on that walkway – used by over 70,000 visitors a year – has 500-year old kauri and puriri trees.
To build an intensive 1,000 house development at Okura – with all the transport and environmental pressures this inevitably brings – on top of this ecologically fragile and stunning natural area is irresponsible, selfish and unnecessary.
The Long Bay-Okura Great Park Society agree: “the development will irrevocably destroy the quiet natural beauty of the Estuary and turn the area into another intensive Long Bay housing area”, they say. They have launched an appeal to raise funds to fight Todd in the Environment Court.
While the Todd Property Group counts its profits at Long Bay – the Todd family are up one at No.3 on the 2016 New Zealand Rich List – it argues that its actions are alleviating Auckland’s housing crisis. This is a falsehood. Their housing on offer is unaffordable for ordinary Kiwis, the average house being well over the $1 million mark.
What the Todd Property Group should do is count its blessings, rather than its money, and accept that their appeal is a step too far and withdraw it. Otherwise we shall all be left with the inescapable conclusion that the Todd Property Group will only be satisfied when their owner sits at No.1 on the Rich List, and to hell with the environment and everybody else.