90 Mile Beach action with BBC's Top Gear sparks apology

By Mike Dinsdale

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Giving permission to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) to film a car speeding up to 150km/h on Ninety Mile Beach for TV show Top Gear has forced an apology from the Far North District Council to some Maori for lack of consultation.

Top Gear producers will next week film the speeding car for an episode of the programme that will screen around the world. The FNDC, which granted special permission for the filming, has apologised to some iwi for not talking to them about it.

An FNDC spokesman said the council gave the BBC special permission for the beach - also known as Te Oneroa-a-Tohe - to be closed for short periods between March 11 to 17 to film the high-speed drive and other items for future episodes. The beach is classed as a public road, with a 100km/h speed limit. The filming would be of a car doing up to 150km/h and a "chase car" shooting the action. It's not known which, if any, of the Top Gear stars - James May, Jeremy Clarkson or Richard Hammond - would be driving the vehicle or what type of car it would be.

The FNDC had to grant permission for the closure without going through its normal process - advertising and two weeks for submissions - as the request came in 14 days before the days wanted.

It said the exposure for the Far North would be huge.

Five Far North iwi - Te Rarawa, Te Aupouri, Ngai Takoto, Ngati Kuri, and Ngati Kahu - have custodianship of the beach, but the council approached only Ngati Kuri for permission to grant the road closure outside the normal process.

Under a pending Far North Treaty of Waitangi settlement, the beach will be governed by a board comprising Crown, iwi, conservation and council representatives charged with protecting and improving conservation values while retaining public access and recreation. It will be chaired initially by Te Rarawa leader Haami Piripi.

Mr Piripi was outraged he first read of the closure in a public notice in the Northland Age newspaper. The notice said the beach closure would be from 12pm to 5pm on March 11 to March 17, with all access points to the beach closed from West Coast Rd, Ahipara, to Te Paki Stream - a distance of about 50km. Mr Piripi said that would seriously affect iwi members who used the beach for food gathering, recreation and spiritual purposes. He chided the FNDC for not consulting all iwi responsible.

But the council spokesman said the beach would be closed only in short stretches for no longer than five minutes at a time during filming of the high-speed action, which would likely be done on the first day, weather permitting. Short stretches of the beach would be closed for up to 45 minutes at a time on the second and final day of filming. The notice for seven days closure was in case filming was cancelled because of the weather.

"The council has apologised (to the other iwi) that we didn't take the consultation far enough and we will be taking steps to ensure appropriate consultation is done in the future," the spokesman said.

- Northern Advocate

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