Dune Madness:

Bureaucrats run amok in Papamoa                                                


by Jonathan Livingston Seagull


November, 1998


The Bay of Plenty - the name speaks for itself.


It has the best New  Zealand can offer: a coastline of several hundreds of miles for dune lovers to hug and to love; to crawl over; to  ferret out blades of national-identity defying blades of exotic grass. You might think that dune lovers would find plenty to enjoy within these several hundred miles of enchanted coastline, that everyone could co-exist peacefully.


But no. Bureaucratic attention is concentrated instead on one of the choicest little strips of real estate in the country at Papamoa East - 120 houses perched siren-like atop a white sand surf Beach. Nothing like it anywhere else in Australasia – live on the beach and run your long-line right out from the deck! Eat your hearts out you green-eyed, envy-ridden beachcombers


Except… The weight of opprobrium has now come down on these pleasure seeking tall poppies like the tsunami that has never arrived. Author Bruce Yandle (in a book called Common Sense and Common Law for the Environment) identifies an unholy alliance between what he calls “the bootleggers and the Baptists”, between those who peddle illicit pleasures and wish the price of such pleasures to remain high, and the wowsers who wish to ban pleasure altogether – in the environmental context this alliance is formed between existing property owners and environmentalists, the former wanting to raise their own property values by exclusionary practices restricting further development, and the latter just wanting to restrict development. Providing fulel to this fire are the twin nonsenses of sea level rising due to global warming (it isn’t, and we’re not) and a bogus erosion scenario on the beachfront (sand accretion rather than erosion appears to be the problem.)


The property owning ‘bootleggers’ and the environmental ‘Baptists’ have a range of weapons in their armoury, not least the Building Act 1991, and our old friend the Resource Management Act 1993. The Tauranga District Council itself, the TDC, in thrall to these combined pressures, has employed diverse measures to discourage would-be builders:


·        It has indemnified itself, under Section 36 of the Building Act, against any claims should buildings be subsequently affected by erosion. To do so it has demanded up-front $1000 from would-be builders;

·        In the name of “sustainable management” of the sand dunes it has protected the ‘intrinsic value’ of the erosion it claims to be occurring along the coast, and has prohibited actions protecting against such erosion;

·        It has determined that intended buildings be removable should sand dunes venture near them, and it has listed the consultants that may be hired to provide proof of expensively provided relocatability;

·        It has required that new building owners retain empty land in order to relocate said buildings;

·        It has rejected reasonable removal contingency plans such as removing buildings off the beach by barge, instead inviting frivolity.such as atomisation of  the joint in the tradition of Ernest Rutherford; importing a guru from India to levitate it off; turn the world upside down and shake the bloody thing off.

·        It has instituted so-called hazard zones


But this was becoming serious. Every conceivable obstacle was being thrown in the way of property owners seeking a building permit, and TDC's policy was 90% red herring. Septic tanks, for example, had to be replaced by expensive dissolvable models, in anticipation of a rise in the sea level sometime next century, yet Council’s sewerage lines were only a couple of years away (and have since arrived).


One retired gentleman trucked his old bach from his property in order to build his dream retirement home, property in which he had invested his life savings - TDC made every effort to stop him from building. He lost hope. He applied for permission to reinstate his bach. Declined. He asked TDC would he still be required to pay rates as he was not permitted to build on his property. He was forced to continue, and to spend several thousands of dollars more just to find out if he was permitted to build on his own land! In desperation, and faced with the spectre of defeat, the distraught man threatened litigation and hired a ‘consultant’, which of course is what is now required by the legislation – several thousand dollars of your own money to a parasite to find out what you’re not entitled to do on your own property!


His building permit was granted and his house was built, but with severe restrictions.


TDC has driven many others to despair also. And yet a property owner's desire to do what he likes with his property is still a force to be reckoned

with, especially when the reward is to live atop the silvery strands of Papamoa Beach. There is no shortage of buyers for these houses.

One of the closest of all to the dunes recently sold for $880,000, and  you must conclude that the owners are not scared by the TDC's doomsday forecasts.


 RMA and Sand Dunes


Section 106 hints at potential liability in the case of a subdivision.But neatly taking care of the rest is Section 31,which charges territorial authorities with the function of "controlling the actual or potential effects of the use...of land, including the implementation of rules for the avoidance or mitigation of natural hazards.." It doesn't take an expensive consultant to figure that this law could easily be used to prevent any building anywhere. Houses line highways, mere inches away from speeding Mack Truckers. On the slopes of Mt Ruapehu.  According to conventional vulcanological wisdom, Taupo is due for another Big One sometime in the next few hundred years. You would think that 120 houses at Papamoa would be the least of anyone's worries. 


More strangely still, neither Sections 30 or 106 makes any mention of superseding Section 36 of the Building Act. Yet a Section 36 title amendment, at considerable further cost to the landowner, is still required by the TDC, presenting an interesting contradiction. Why should further indemnification be necessary if the Council has already discharged its obligations under the RMA?


The TDC's policy of deterrent  is based on the opinion of one coastal geomorphologist, Dr Jeremy Gibbs.  Until recently, an "independent" report from Dr Jeremy Gibbs was a TDC requirement of any prospective builder in the "coastal hazard region". These reports, at around $4000 a pop, were not guaranteed to be favourable to his client.


"You may not like my report," he told one prospective beachfront builder, "but there is no turning back the clock".


It was a well kept secret that there were other scientists readily available with the same qualifications as Dr Gibbs, some of whom laugh at his work. This is hardly surprising, as his TDC brief is believed to have been to be conservative. But scientists are not supposed to operate according to political briefs. In contradiction of  the very position he developed for the TDC at the ratepayers' expense, Dr Gibbs is also on record as having said that he considers the Papamoa beach to be in a state of equilibrium.


The TDC's new coastal hazards policy, based on Dr Gibbs' hazard zones, is poised to become law. An elaborate set of guidelines drawn up by a consultant coastal engineering specialist continue in the TDC's fine tradition of deterrent. They outline zone by zone whether or not something can be built, what can be built when it is permitted, how it can be built and what consultancy input must be paid for in order for it to be built. No surprises to find the leading consultant on the TDC's list of four to be the one that wrote the guidelines.


The consultants are all from Auckland or Wellington. Imagine the disincentive to pay a consultant $100 or more an hour to drive  from and back to Auckland, on top of his actual report fees of several thousand dollars more, only to end up with a possibly unfavourable report which would negate your application. 


Before the decision is made whether or not the applicant can merely proceed, the TDC will also require achitect's plans, proving relocatability, and survey plans in the case of prospective subdivision. Proof will be required that all rainwater coming off the roof of the proposed building can be channelled in a landward direction so that it does not drain, as it had previously, towards the dunes.


The vagueness of RMA Section 31 imparts discretionary powers to local body authorities in deciding when a Resource Consent is necessary. On the face of it, the scattershot approach used so far by the TDC might merely mean saving the occasional applicant the $500 fee.


But there is the darker side. For "imposed and enforced as a condition of a Resource Consent for any building in "All Coastal Hazard Areas", there is a requirement that the structure be relocated "away from hazard areas when they are no longer sustainable in their current location".


In the event that the crest of the dunes approaches within a "trigger distance" of 8 metres of any part of the building, "relocation of the building be undertaken". At his own expense the owner must relocate his building, remove every vestige of occupation and reinstate the dunes to original condition (on his own land).


Imagine your neighbours, who built or renovated before or with a waiver of the Resource Consent requirement, swilling beer and cheering you on from their deck as you systematically demolish your own home.


The Resource Consent will only be granted for the period before which time it is predicted by the TDC's technical advisers that the sea level will encroach. Upon expiry of the Resource Consent, an application must be made for renewal. Anyone for deja vu?


Should the application be declined, or not be made, the owner must relocate his building. Should he not do so, the TDC says it would send in its bulldozers.Putting aside the extreme insult that this would represent to a freehold property owner and his family, why would the TDC preferentially bulldoze a building before it fell onto the beach rather than after?


The TDC flipflops from talk of liability to bulldozers to social responsibility and "prevention of a legacy of collapsed houses on beaches".


It hints at the cost of removal of these collapsed houses, and the psychologically damaging effects this wreckage could have on the psyche of our grandchildren, which are no more likely to trigger a nationwide financial or psychological crisis than are the car wrecks we drive past everyday, and which are removed at nominal expense. Perhaps the TDC should ban cars while it is at it.


Greg Jenks is more convincing than the TDC in his concern over the possibility of wreckage on the dunes.   


Greg is an aestheticist who has landed himself a pretty nice job. Actually he's a pretty nice bloke too. "I'm not a bureaucrat", he told me. And no, he's probably not. Rather, he's a professional beachcomber, who runs an Environment Bay of Plenty (EBOP) operation called Dunewatch.


Greg set up a very nice display in Bayfair, the Mt Maunganui shopping centre. Photos of idyllic beach scenes juxtaposed against "Ground Zero" shots of houses falling onto beaches.


" Would you prefer this... or that?" went the caption. It would  have convinced virtually anyone except a beachfront property owner, yet cutting through the emotion there was nothing in Greg's photos that a half-decent working bee couldn't take care of in a long weekend.


Besides, interfere as it may with the notion of a perfect beach,  the land the house has fallen onto still belongs to the owner of the house. Land title is defined by its surveyed boundaries, not its lithology. Either Greg has overlooked this, or he's keeping quiet. One wonders how much attention Greg would pay to a house should it fall into a swamp in Te Puke..


"What about planting trees on the dunes?", someone asked. Greg almost exploded with enthusiasm. He waxed lyrical about the stabilising effect on the dune system.


“Then why not houses?". Greg freaked. But Greg, houses are built out of trees. Are we merely arguing about round logs versus square ones? About aesthetics, not erosion? If the TDC claims that buildings can exacerbate erosion, so too could trees.   


The Forest and Bird people care too. But unlike Greg the dunewatcher, who simply loves dunes, the Forest and Bird people simply love forests and birds. They are blind to the possible benefits of global warming with all its attendant sub-tropical faunal and floral arrivees, wrecked houses on the foreshore gratefully inh abited by flocks of hitherto homeless flamingoes.


Instead where they used to spy on sparrow colonies, they see indolent sunbathers sprawled on the deck of their new million dollar beachhouse.


Fear not, birdwatchers, decks will be taken care of along with fences, both forbidden in many areas under the new rules.


Some samples of rules from a bureaucratic grab-bag:


  • Indicative Coastal Hazard Area


  • Coastal Hazard Area


  • Coastal Hazard Zone


  • Coastal Hazard Erosion Policy Areas


  • Coastal Protection Area


  • Hazard Line


  • Extreme Risk Zone


  • High Risk Erosion Zone


  • Medium Risk Erosion Zone


  • Safety Buffer Zone


  • Coastal Hazard Area Building Guidelines


  • Coastal Hazard Provisions of the Proposed Tauranga District Plan


  • Objectives and Policies for Hazard Management - Coastal Hazards


  • Natural Hazard Policy Area


  • Areas Sensitive to Coastal Hazards


  • Coastal Hazard Risk Assessment Programme


  • Flood Hazard Policy Area


  • Papamoa Coast Care


  • Coastal Care


  • Dunecare


  • Project Dunewatch


  • Coastal Hazard Erosion Policy


  • Coastal Hazard Erosion Policy Areas


  • New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement


  • Coastal Reserves Management Plan


  • Regional Coastal Environment Plan


  • Regional Coast Care Coordinator


  • Coastal Hazard Area - Building Guidelines


  • Regional Coastal Environment Plan


  • Dunewatch


Get the picture, ratepayer? Note that both property rights and Te Puke Swamp Watch is conspicuous by its absence.


The Papamoa beachfront property owners have been finally galvanised into action by the draconian absudities inherent in the TDC's new policies. A group has formed and is backing an appeal against the TDC's coastal hazard policy by local real estate agent Wayne Skinner.


Some owners who have already built their dream home have been jolted out of their complacency by the realisation that should their house burn down rebuilding options will be severely limiting, in some cases restricted to less than the back half of their sections.


If an old house has been renovated under a Resource Consent, must one remove only the new bits when the crest of the dune reaches the "trigger distance"? 


All owners will be powerless to shore up their own section against any such erosion, because "No activity, including earthworks, shall reduce the buffering ability or alter the natural dune landform". So while reducing the buffering ability is prohibited, so too is increasing it.


Others are told they may be able to build several buildings on one site then subdivide,  but that they may not subdivide then build the same houses.  They ask what liability the TDC could face from a deck in front of their house, or a fence on their boundary, banned by a council busily working on a contingency plan to run a massive concrete stormwater drain right through the same dunes.


Greg Jenks of Dunewatch hadn't known about this plan. When he was told about it, he was furious, and said he would lie in front of the bulldozer.


They object to their loss of property rights, and the effect on property values. Compensation has not been discussed. But no one likes to pay rates on a piece of land they cannot use "in the interests of the community". They are confused whether the potential cost to the community would be monetary, in the event that collapsed houses must be moved off the dunes, or aesthetic in that the houses must be looked at prior to removal, or both.


They object to the ''no cantilevering' rule. Apparently someone got the jump on the planners and cantilevered out over the "Extreme Risk Zone", and it "got up the planners' noses". They responded with a carte blanche ban on cantilevering, ruling out the most obvious solution to being able to build on ones land without putting the foundations at unnecessary risk or compromising the natural landform. 


The challenge to the TDC's Proposed Plan will be made on the grounds that the TDC's technical policy is at the very least too conservative, refutable by other technical advice and at odds with its own. 


From the District Plan.


"Coastal Hazards are a particular concern in the District. A large proportion of the Bay of Plenty coast foredune is under stress as a result of human activity although studies have shown that historically there has been a trend of duneland advance with confined areas of minor long-term retreat.  Climate change and a predicted increase in the frequency and magnitude of severe on-shore wave storms and an acceleration in sea-level rise is likely to reverse this trend." 


Skinner has masses of facts and figures which all point to the same historical trend of long-term advance,  supported by the fact that the area forms a "cuspate bulge" lying as it does in the shadow of Motiti Island.


The TDC is factoring against this trend a projected rise in sea level, any evidence of which it  has yet to produce. To the contrary, high water mark has in every single recorded case subsequently moved seaward of the 1994 figures which the TDC uses for its purposes.


Skinner's graphs show the rate of accretion slowing around the time the Port of Tauranga began dredging sand from the harbour entrance in the 1960's. Some of this sand has been sold, the rest dumped  in 18 - 22 metres of  water beyond (as a cheaper alternative) the active beach system which involves the migration of sand up and down the beach.


Skinner argues that possibly this rate of accretion could possibly be sped up again by more judicious dumping of sand by the Port of Tauranga, and has exposed rifts in scientific opinion over such basics as what depths comprise the outer limits of the active system.


Rather than take the soft conservative option and penalise individual property owners, Skinner wants the TDC to review the Port of Tauranga's sand selling and dumping strategy.


The TDC claims that the 3 million cubic metres of sand that has been dredged to date is minimal compared with the total in the system. But using its own buffering requirement of 140 cubic metres of sand per metre of beachfront (thereby establishing the position on each individual property of the "Extreme Risk Zone") 3,000,000 cubic metres represents buffering for 1071 properties of an average e width of 20 metres. (3,000,000/140*20=1071).


That covers the entire coastline from Mt Maunganui to Papamoa East. In other words, the Port of Tauranga has taken an amount of sand out of the active beach system that, had it remained, and were it evenly distributed along that coast, by the TDC's own calculations there would be no Extreme Risk Zone imposed on any of the Papamoa properties.


Skinner has been fighting EBOP and the TDC's coastal hazards policy for years, and seems to have amassed enough technical evidence to shoot them out of the water once and for all. His technical arguments are supported by various councillors, yet still his well-presented submission opposing the adoption of the TDC's conservative coastal hazards policy was rejected out of hand.


Little wonder. Consider the efficacy of "the citizens remedy" applied to these submissions made to EBOP on its proposed Regional Coastal Environment Plan by BOP Federated Farmers of NZ.  Proposed Federated Farmers:


EBOP ought to consult with landowners of properties located within the coastal marine area, before this plan is implemented, to ensure that their concerns are addressed.


Landowners, as the holders of private property rights, ought to be consulted as part of the site identification process.


They have an inherent interest in protecting land located within the coastal marine area, and may have a valuable input into the consultation process.


Staff recommendation: Reject


Group A (354 signatories)


Remove the areas sensitive to coastal hazards policy which has a detrimental impact on their hapu and iwis capacity to enjoy the

exclusive and undisturbed possession of all their taonga as guaranteed under the Treaty of Waitangi


Staff recommendation: Accept in part


Although it is an unfashionable pursuit, there is more than

enough to whet the appetite of a  conspiracy theorist.


Dunewatch claims to be "about the maintenance and protection of a long-term community resource"  Good old Dunewatchers just love dunes, they really do.


"But why do they only love the dunes outside my house", wailed one frustrated property owner. Mere metres up the beach, herds of Polled Angus cattle maraud unopposed across the dunes. Not a dune lover in sight for miles right on down to the Kaituna Cut. 


Not to be outdone, the Draft Coastal Reserves Management Plan trumpets through its Keeping the Character of our Coast pamphlet that it "looks at the whole sweep of open beaches stretching 17 km south-east from Mussel Rock to the end of the Papamoa East settlement. In some place, the complete dune system is within the coastal reserves, in others there are houses on the foredunes. The whole coast line, though, beach and dune, forms a single interrelated entity."   


And this from The Reserves and Facilities Department, in order to "preserve and enhance our sense of national identity":  


"We believe dune vegetation should consist of dune species indigenous to the coastal zone of the Tauranga Ecological

District, and exotic plants in most instances will be removed. Replanting will be with indigenous species,...."


For a while it seemed they were talking about dune stability. While the planners mostly talk of liability, TDC's District Plan seems to say more:


"Subdivison, use and development should not compromise the integrity of natural defences to coastal hazards, the natural

character of the coastal environment (particularly in areas where little development has occurred), the relationship of

Maori and their culture and traditions to the coast, or public access to the coast."


EBOP's Regional Coastal Environment Plan almost says it:


'Coastal hazards are not the only reason why buildings should be set back from the beach. It is common practice to retain

reserves or building 'set-backs' to provide for the natural character of the coastal environment, to facilitate public access

and recreation, and to protect areas of special significance to tangata whenua."


But TDC's District Plan Methods to deal with Coastal Hazards

wraps it up.


"Identify a Coastal Protection Area along the currently undeveloped coastline between Papamoa east and Kaituna river

mouth within which development will be limited to avoid hazards and preserve natural character, heritage, public access,

ecosystems and other significant values."


Other significant values. Like what? Envy? Wayne Skinner's appeal isn't given much chance of success by the TDC. "It all comes down to money", said one planner.


It is vaguely obnoxious the way the TDC seems to be drawing up battle lines as though ratepayers are its enemy, insinuating that it will simply outbid Skinner's bunch in the Environment Court using ratepayers'  money which it calls its own. Including money paid as rates on land whose use is forbidden by its owners. 


[Since the date of writing, the Skinner Appeal has been heard, and soundly rejected.]