When is a hill not a hill?

In a case which has left a group of Mt Roskill residents frustrated, developers working on a subdivision neighbouring their homes have removed a small hill beside their driveway.

The residents have been left scratching their heads - both by the developers' unconsented removal actions and a response from Auckland Council that the matter was a civil matter and they should consider legal action.

Developers say they took the action due to safety concerns at the Roskill Way site once working on the project.

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Margaret Laughland, Tom and Beverly Cherrington and Audrey Greer beside the new development. Photo/Jason Oxenham
Margaret Laughland, Tom and Beverly Cherrington and Audrey Greer beside the new development. Photo/Jason Oxenham

But those responses have the residents fuming.

"We've had someone come onto our property and demolish the hill yet the council does nothing," Audrey Greer said.

Greer - whose frustration is shared by neighbours Margaret Laughland and Tom and Beverly Cherrington - claims her townhouse property has now been made dangerous because a high ledge created by the developer's actions.

She said she was told by a council official that the hill's removal was "a civil matter" between the residents and the developer.

The hill - which vanished in January - was about 10m long by 5m high. It had formed a solid boundary wall on one side of the driveway. It was covered in vegetation and rocks and sprayed with a concrete-style plaster coating, giving it a solid appearance and creating a tall visual barrier between their driveway and the new three-home development.

"We have been left with a ledge that a child can easily step onto, walk along and fall off the end to a 2m drop," Greer said. "So we'd be liable for that."

The group is further angered by the construction of a new concrete block wall, built nearly 1m inside their boundary.

Greer complained direct to Auckland Mayor Phil Goff over the developer's actions.

The complaint was referred onto Penny Pirrit - the council's regulatory services director - who confirmed to Greer that the development consent did not cover earthworks off the consented residential site.

In a written response to Greer, Pirrit added: "Where damage is caused to a neighbouring property or where work is unlawfully undertaken over a property boundary, then remediation of that damage is generally considered a civil matter and needs to be resolved between the affected owner and the offender."

Council documents showed April Guo's business JGUO Developments got council consent to build three-level dwellings at 8 Roskill Way.

Guo confirmed to Greer in a text message around the time of the demolition of the hill that it had to go as excavations would "create this unstable rock wall between your and my land."

The hill demolition was being done due to a "safety concern" and Guo offered to "build a fence later".

Then in July, Guo's lawyer Michael Lloyd wrote to Greer's lawyer Colin Lucas, indicating the hill's demolition was a positive.

"Visually the area has been improved and there has been no other adverse impact on your client's property as a consequence of removing the material," Lloyd wrote.

As for the new wall 0.8m inside the boundary of 6 Roskill Way, Lloyd said that was a further benefit: "JDL [short for JGUO Developments Ltd which owns 8 Roskill Way] did construct a concrete block retaining wall that does cross .8m perpendicularly into your clients' property.

"It did this for two reasons: firstly because it looks much neater and tidier than the bare earth and rock fact that was there and secondly it helps retain that area of earth and decreases the chances of any sort of collapse of material onto your client's driveway. In short it was put there at JDL's expense but for your clients' benefit."

He also reiterated his client's view that the hill had to be removed for safety reasons.

Guo said that she had tried her best to explain why the hill need to be removed.

"We explained in detail and offered the remedy," she said. "We got no response from neighbour. I also emailed the neighbour regarding the fence and received no reply."

A council spokeswoman said that while the developer had partially demolished the rock wall between the existing homes and the development, there was little it could do.

"Resource consents do not allow a developer to demolish their neighbour's property however, at the same time, they also don't prohibit it. As such, because the removal of the rock wall does not constitute a breach of the RMA, there are limited enforcement actions the council can take," she said.

"The council understands that the residents of 6 Roskill Way came to an agreement with the developer to rectify the damage that was done, however it does not appear this agreement has been honoured.

"While our enforcement powers are limited, we have requested the developer have the works remedied and assessed by an appropriate engineer, and we are awaiting a response."

Greer said the residents were not yet in a position to confirm if they would take legal action.