Auckland Council is letting a developer build an 18-hole links-style golf course before settling a stoush over a 46-lot subdivision proposed for Te Arai Beach, south of Mangawhai.
The consent for earthworks over 100ha to form the greens has upset residents and environmental groups who say they werenot consulted, despite the planned course being next to the Mangawhai Wildlife Reserve.
The landowner is removing pine trees from the site, which is in a commercial forest that runs along 5.3km of white sandy beach.
Te Arai Coastal Lands Trust said yesterday a course had always been one of the permitted activities in the forest.
"It's always been under consideration so no one should be surprised by the earthworks consent," said spokesman David Lewis.
"But no final decision has been made on use of the land for a golf course."
He said the subdivision application, which calls for a change to the Rodney District Plan, was "on hold" so the company could talk to some opponents.
The plan change bid is to create 44 rural-residential lots of one to two hectares and two larger balance lots.
As a sweetener, the developer will give the council 172ha for a coastal and wetland reserve north of its Te Arai Pt park.
A total of 2255 submissions were made on it - 1671 of them against.
Te Arai Beach Preservation Society spokeswoman Chris Wild said a non-notified consent was a shock because of the high public interest in use of land next to to the nesting grounds of the critically endangered New Zealand fairy tern.
The battle against housing at the unspoiled beach would continue.
"Five of the holes encroach into the plan's 'outstanding natural area' section of the coast," she said.
"The birds are about to start breeding - from August for the NZ dotterels, from October for the fairy terns - and no work is allowed closer than 500m from the nests."
The earthworks cover 1 per cent of the total site, and were classed as a restricted discretionary activity.
This meant the council could consider only a limited range of matters when deciding to grant consent, said northern consenting and compliance manager Julie Bevan.
It was concluded that adverse effects on the environment were less than minor, which meant the application fell into the non-notified category.
Court cases had shown that public interest did not comprise special circumstances for it to be notified.
Chris Wild said from her home 2km from the site that locals would demand a say about the developer's application for resource consent to use bore water for irrigation of the course.
The council said it had not decided whether the application would be notified.