Halfway there

Birds will no longer have to average noise over three days

The Waiheke community can celebrate today, after the Planning, Environment and Parks Committee voted to stop averaging helicopter noise over three days and instead to average it over one day.

We’ve been advocating for council to apply this change (which was mandated by National Planning Standard 15, 2019) since last May, and they have finally agreed to do it. It will take about two weeks until it is in effect.

The approximate impact will be that it will be about twice as difficult to gain consent for a helipad, because the separation distance of the helipad from any neighbouring buildings will need to be about twice as far (or the number of flights will need to be reduced) to comply.

Some sites will no longer be able to gain consents. For others, the activity status will change, meaning more opportunity for the full range of adverse effects to be considered and for the application to be notified.

So tonight, Quiet Sky Waiheke are celebrating with a bottle of Obsidian’s ‘helicopter-free’ wine*.

But tomorrow, we will redouble our efforts, because this is only part of the way towards the improvements we need. It will still be too easy to gain consents and most consents that are granted will still not have to consider the impacts of their flightpaths on native birds.

Nearly all consents aim to minimise their noise impacts on their neighbours by flying straight out over the coast. Unfortunately, this is often to the detriment of the native birds which live there, which ought to be protected by the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement (2010).

Council’s planning team claimed in the meeting today that because it had considered the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Act (2000) when it wrote our district plan, it somehow didn’t have to give effect to the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement (2010)! This nonsensical excuse is now in the public domain (you can watch the video in the links below).

It’s rather like the Firearms Safety Authority failing to update their safety code and continuing to issue licences for semi-automatic assault rifles, because their procedures were written under the Arms Act 1983.

But of course they wouldn’t do that. In reality, after the Arms Amendment Act 2019, they updated their procedures and rules, to give effect to the new, and different, national law.

In just the same way, Auckland Council was obliged to update its procedures and rules (the district plan) to give effect to the new coastal policy statement, which was quite different to the marine park act. But it hasn’t done it, despite the RMA being very clear:

Section 55(2)(b&c):

A local authority must amend a document, if a national policy statement directs so that the objectives and policies specified in the document give effect to objectives and policies specified in the statement or if it is necessary to make the document consistent with any constraint or limit set out in the statement.

Section 55(2D):

In all cases, the local authority must make the amendments as soon as practicable.

Section 75(3)(b):

A district plan must give effect to any New Zealand coastal policy statement.

Today the planners and the councillors argued that they would like to undertake a plan change, but they can’t afford it, so unfortunately, the birds will have to wait for protection. Given that the committee’s decision was to wait for three years before starting the plan review, and given that the HGIDP took eight years from the start of the process until it was operative in part and the AUP took seven years from the start of work until it was operative in part, it will likely take at least ten years from now if we have to wait. The new plan development process isn’t going to be much quicker than the previous ones. A lot more helipads will be consented over those ten years.

But the law doesn’t allow council to decide not to undertake a plan change process on the basis of cost (only during the plan change process itself can it legitimately assess costs and benefits) and we now aim to force it to do what it should have done a long time ago (and should have done today). Thanks to a well-supported motion by Cr Lee, the issue will be back on the table at a future committee meeting and we hope that, one way or another, council accepts that it has to proceed with this.

It would only take up to two years to undertake a plan change specifically to change the helipad consenting rules.

The chair of the committee concluded that “this is one of those motions which will slightly please everyone and slightly annoy everyone at the same time. Especially our Local Boards and Quiet Sky Waiheke and others who wish that common sense would prevail and we could do this overnight because it does seem ridiculous, the situation we’re in…but that’s a start and you can clearly see that council is backing a change and moving forward and prioritising. So I’m sorry to the community and the wildlife that this isn’t fast or something that can be done. But I think that all ears and eyes and compliance are going to have to be hotter on this and we’ll make sure that it’s easier to complain”.

Further information and links to today’s Planning, Environment and Parks Committee meeting:

The agendas and appendices can be found here: https://infocouncil.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/. The minutes will appear in the same place in due course.

The meeting was recorded. Here is the video of Quiet Sky Waiheke, then the Herne Bay Residents Association, then Quiet Sky Waitematā, making presentations to the Planning, Environment and Parks Committee today: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b8XlHDlcAqI.

Here is the video of the Waiheke Local Board presenting to the Committee: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OvUHkm0awq4.

The compliance team presented to the committee too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a2m78flgNEo.

Here are some graphs from their report they didn’t include in their presentation to the Committee:

Finally, the planning team appeared and then the matter was debated, with the results described above: https://councillive.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/video/30032023-planning-environment-and-parks-committee-item-10.

* Other vineyards also produce ‘helicopter-free’ wine, such as Goldie Estate, Casita Miro and Te Motu. By ‘helicopter-free’ we mean they don’t have a helipad. If any other vineyards want to contact us and confirm they don’t have a helipad and won’t get one, we will purchase a bottle of their wine and drink it! We’ll also include their details in a future post.