About 70 people with connections to Rangitoto Island's baches were in the High Court at Auckland yesterday morning to hear the opening salvos in the battle to occupy their historic holiday homes.
Their lawyer, Francis Cooke, QC, told Justice Rhys Harrison that the Minister of Conservation and the Director-General of Conservation had acted illegally.
Mr Cooke said that there was a long history of interaction between the Rangitoto Island Bach Community Association and the Department of Conservation but that matters came to a head when eviction notices were issued in August 2004 for baches where there was no lifetime lease.
The department proposes to preserve a representative sample of baches, the rest being either dismantled or allowed to decay.
Justice Harrison told the supporters of the bach owners that he was not sitting as an appellate judge to reconsider the decision of the department.
He said he was there to ensure that the legislation had been complied with and that the proper processes had been followed.
The judge raised a titter when he said he was not there to comment on the architectural merit of the baches.
There are 35 baches on the island, 10 of them occupied by holders of lifetime leases.
Mr Cooke said the lease-holders were elderly and their families wished to continue connections with the baches that stretched generations.
He told the judge that the respondents were in breach of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Act, which he said required the department to preserve the Rangitoto Island bach community.
"The applicants say that the respondents have failed to do so and that they have failed to implement, or even take into account, the requirements of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Act in the decisions that they have made, including the decision to evict them."
Mr Cooke said the respondents had made errors of law and misunderstood the maritime park legislation, as well as the Reservations Act and the Conservation Act.
"The Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Act requires the respondents to not only preserve the physical buildings that are the baches, but requires them to preserve and enhance the relationship the occupants have with those baches and to preserve the community as a whole.
"That is because the associations the families have with the baches, and the community as a whole, are part of the features of the settlement, which must be preserved or enhanced under the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Act," Mr Cooke told Justice Harrison.
The QC said the department's view that the Reserves Act prohibited the occupants being given any ability to occupy the baches was a misinterpretation of the legislation.
The association is seeking an order quashing the eviction notices , as well as a number of other orders.