Beachfront preservationists fear extinction of the endangered fairy tern after residential development at Te Arai, 110km north of Auckland, got the go-ahead yesterday.
A statement from development opponents the Te Arai Beach Preservation Society said members were "shocked but not surprised" at the decision from independent hearing commissioners to allow Te Arai Coastal Lands Trust - which includes John Darby's Darby and Partners - to develop 46 luxury houses on the beach site between Pakiri and Mangawhai.
The society cited an ecological expert's evidence of a high risk any land use change could contribute to the extinction of fairy tern or lower the chances of the species expanding its breeding range along the Te Arai coast.
But commissioners chaired by Leigh McGregor said in a 46-page decision that it was reasonable to assume the 46 houses would not be occupied all the time or even at the same time and public access to the sand dunes would be restricted to five defined points.
The land is at the most northern point of the Auckland Council's jurisdiction boundary and abuts the Mangawhai Wildlife Reserve.
"Fairy terns are critically endangered," the commissioners' decision said, citing nesting at only four North Island sites, one of which is the Mangawhai Wildlife Refuge, 100m north of the development site. New Zealand Dotterels were another focus of the hearing.
"The local fairy tern population is eight to 10 breeding pairs and the total world population is around 30 to 40 birds.
"The New Zealand dotterel is more numerous with around 2200 individuals here," the decision said.
The Te Arai area is home to a number of threatened or endangered flora and fauna species but a shorebird management plan had been prepared with sign-off from the Department of Conservation, the Environmental Defence Society and the Royal Forest and Bird Society.
Evidence was presented of how human intervention helped manage pests such as rabbits, cats, rats, mustelids, possums an hedgehogs.
The fairy tern's survival was dependent on human intervention and without that, the species would become extinct in the short term, the decision said.
The development is on Maori land and Te Uri o Hau Settlement Trust chairman Rawson Wright said approval was hugely significant for the hapu, after years of opposition to any development.
Te Uri o Hau bought the 616ha Mangawhai North Forest in 2002 as part of the commercial redress package for Treaty settlement. Part of the overall development is an offer to gift 172ha of the forest to Auckland Council.