Two families have been accused of blocking a hapu from developing its coastal Northland property but those families say they are out to protect the environment and threatened shorebirds.
Mike Holm and Vicki Morrison-Shaw, lawyers acting for Te Arai Coastal Lands which wants to develop part of a 616ha site, said the local Wild and Whale families dominated opposition and had unrealistic expectations about the land.
But Christine Wild raised issues about threats to wildlife and Lyn and Reg Whale said there were no benefits to wildlife, the community or Auckland in allowing a proposed development to go ahead.
Independent planning commissioners this month finished hearing a controversial application to build 46 luxury houses at Te Arai, formerly known as the Mangawhai North Forest, south of Whangarei.
A decision is expected in the next few weeks.
The lawyers said the two families had "successfully blocked and delayed the hapu from taking environmentally responsible, carefully master-planned steps to secure an economic future for the hapu for existing and future generations".
Former Department of Conservation employee Christine Wild and her two family members had dominated membership of the Te Arai Beach Preservation Society and she was a committee member of the Fairy Tern Trust, the lawyers said.
Christine Wild said in her evidence she had worked for DoC for 10 years, had her own Mangawhai consultancy business WildNorth, and had researched scientific information on the New Zealand fairy tern habitat use. She called for an alternative to the housing development, said the area had regional and national significance, and spoke of threats to the fairy tern and other birds.
Lyn and Reg Whale expressed fears about sand movement and erosion, the future of a stream, the fairy tern, and wandering or stray dogs becoming a threat with more human habitation.
"One dog in the daytime, one cat at night time can devastate the whole nesting area. Is it even worth the risk?" the Whales asked.
"We agree with council ecologists' report and conclusions that any development here [residential or parkland] will potentially disturb or destroy the bird habitat and possibly even contribute to the extinction of the fairy tern," they said.
"Permanent residents are more likely to wander further afield than day-trippers, especially early evening when the shorebirds have settled down after their day of disturbance," the Whales said.
Plans for a housing development at Te Arai beach, north of Auckland:
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Developer John Darby said Darby Partners was approached by Te Uri o Hau to create a special environmentally conscious and sustainable development.
The land had been acquired by the hapu as part of its Treaty settlement. Darby said this was a special place but that leaving it in forestry was uneconomic.
His past projects include some of New Zealand's biggest luxury sporting venues and housing resorts: Millbrook Resort, The Hills golf course and Jacks Point near Queenstown, Christchurch's Clearwater Resort and Omaha South north of Auckland.
Darby said the beach would remain largely inaccessible and not developing the houses could mean the landscape would be degraded by forestry and any sensitive flora or fauna may become "degraded and threatened by pests".
The conservation-based plan would mean exotic pines would be replaced with native vegetation and a walking trail and equestrian areas were planned.
Holm and Morrison-Shaw told the commissioners this month how the Department of Conservation, Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society and Environmental Defence Society - "typically rigorous defenders of the environment" - all withdrew before the hearing began following extensive consultation with Te Arai Coastal Lands Trust and a number of amendments to the proposals to meet their concerns.
Last decade, Darby had planned a much larger scheme of a golf course, lodge, spa, shops and 1400 houses, later reduced to 850 lots or sections, then 180 lots. A golf course is being developed separately by United States financier Ric Kayne and his wife Suzanne.
Holm and Morrison-Shaw said development of the land for the housing estate could help save wildlife.
"If it is even possible to save the fairy tern, it will be through concentrated positive, planned and co-ordinated human action, including a combination of dedicated local community members [such as Mr Whale], Te Uri o Hau, new residents [with binding obligations to assist, covenanted on their land titles] and the new golf course owner [Mr Kayne] who has already made substantial financial commitments to assist."
Te Arai beach
*Housing development proposed.
*No buildings will be visible from the beach.
*Beach between Pakiri and Mangawhai.
*110km north of Auckland.
*Commissioners' decision awaited.