Tensions are running high in an idyllic Northland bay in a feud involving a millionaire Auckland evangelist, local hapu, the council and allegations of a breached resource consent and ignored stopwork orders.
The dispute centres around a Rawhiti Rd property on a narrow piece of land between Hauai Bay and Oke Bay, a picture-postcard beach in the eastern Bay of Islands. The property has a two-storey villa owned by Auckland real estate agent and evangelist Julian Batchelor.
Barfoot and Thompson's website says he has a multimillion-dollar property portfolio. He is also a former principal and has a degree in theology.
Mr Batchelor declined to comment when contacted by the Northern Advocate on Friday.
Tensions between Mr Batchelor and local residents are not new but have come to a head over a large retaining wall built on the Rawhiti Rd property.
The wall, about 3m high, replaced a more modest retaining wall set back further from the road. Part of the original wall collapsed last year.
He originally had resource consent to replace the wall but a group called Te Komiti o te Kaitiaki o Opourua has been urging the Far North District Council to act over what it claims are bylaw breaches, work done without consent, and serious adverse effects on the environment and wahi tapu.
Council staff inspected the site in December and found the work far exceeded what was allowed in the consent, in particular the amount of fill used.
Council emails, obtained under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act, show staff also had concerns about the addition of an unconsented balcony and excavation of a bank behind the villa.
Mr Batchelor was ordered to stop work on December 9 and given until December 23 to provide the council with further information. The information was not received by the required date and the resource consent was suspended.
The council received complaints that work continued during the Christmas break.
Dean Myburgh, the council's district services manager, said work had now stopped at the site. The council was investigating previous work and whether all of it had been consented. The council would decide what action, if any, to take once the investigation was complete and the findings had been considered.
Council staff were also working with iwi and aimed to reach a solution satisfactory to all parties, Dr Myburgh said.
Komiti spokeswoman Katherine Raue said hapu concerns included the construction of a large wall on what appeared to be unstable land, the removal of native trees, pollution caused by unconsented earthworks during the New Year storm, and the effects on a nearby cemetery.
Ms Raue said Mr Batchelor was planning a large commercial development cashing in on Ngati Kuta's land and taonga.
In correspondence with the council, Mr Batchelor said the lodge was being restored by volunteers for Christian purposes. A website directing enquiries to Mr Batchelor promotes the villa as accommodation for visitors walking the Cape Brett track, which starts next to the property.
The retaining wall saga has cranked up tensions in Rawhiti. Mr Batchelor installed a CCTV camera after the wall was sprayed with slogans. Graffiti has also been painted on the road outside the villa.
Heritage NZ Northland manager Bill Edwards said the Rawhiti Rd property contained a number of archaeological sites associated with living platforms.
Mr Batchelor had been asked to carry out an archaeological assessment to see if any damage had been done, and whether any further development plans would affect the sites.