A controversial project to build a boat ramp and reclaim an area of Kerikeri Inlet for trailer parking has been approved for fast-tracked consenting.
The Far North District Council plans to build a double-width boat ramp, replace a broken jetty, and reclaim about 6400sq m of seabed off Rangitane Loop Rd for a parking area with space for 12 cars and 16 boat trailers.
The project was last year granted $2.4 million from the Government's Covid Recovery Fund — including $384,000 to renew the jetty — with the council contributing another $1.2m.
Under the Covid-19 Recovery (Fast-track Consenting) Act 2020, projects that meet certain criteria are allowed to bypass the usual council-run Resource Management Act process.
Instead, the decision whether the Rangitane Maritime Development can go ahead will be made by a government-appointed expert panel.
Under the fast-tracking legislation a decision must be made within 45 working days — or 70 if an extension is granted — of the application being lodged with the Environmental Protection Authority.
By comparison, the usual publicly notified consent process averages more than 200 working days and can stretch into years, especially if the outcome is appealed to the Environment Court.
The decision to allow fast-tracked consenting for the project was announced on September 3.
The boat ramp and reclamation plan has sharply divided the Rangitane community.
It is supported by the Rangitane Recreation Association, set up in 2019 as a breakaway from the Rangitane Residents' Association.
Secretary Jackie Hatch said the group was delighted by the news.
''Now we're waiting with bated breath for the outcome ... It will provide a safe entry point to the sea and will be a great asset for the whole community.''
Hatch said the existing boat ramp was unsafe, as was the use of roadsides for parking given the lack of footpaths in the area.
The project would include a footpath as well as a boardwalk to nearby Rangitane Reserve where the council planned to build public toilets, another long-standing issue in the seaside suburb.
The project is also supported by hapū Ngāti Rēhia, which says more boat ramps are needed because the coastal property boom has deprived many Bay of Islands residents of access to the water.
However, the plan is strongly opposed by Rangitane Residents' Association, which holds the consent for renewal of the existing jetty.
The group did not want to comment for this article, but has previously raised concerns about limited parking, the project's cost and the likely increase in traffic — in particular large vehicles towing boat trailers — on a narrow residential road.
Members also worry that more traffic could lead to more kiwi being run over.
The group has previously said it agrees another boat ramp is needed in the Bay of Islands, but believes the council needs to find a ''future-proofed'' location not in a residential area.
They do want the council to go ahead with fixing the jetty.
However, Far North Holdings, the council-owned company managing the project, maintains the Government won't hand over the money for the jetty as long as that consent is held by a private organisation.
The fast-tracked consent process limits the parties that can have a say.
In this case, apart from the Ministers of Conservation and Regional Economic Development, they are Ngā Hapū o Takutai Moana, 14 local marae, Rangitane Recreation Association and Rangitane Residents' Association.
There is no requirement for notification of consent applications, and hearings are at the panel's discretion. The Fast-tracking Act also limits the right to appeal consent decisions.
However, the panel must decline a consent if it is inconsistent with the Treaty of Waitangi, which is not a requirement of the standard RMA process.
It's not the first boat ramp controversy in Kerikeri in recent times.
Plans to build an access road and parking at an existing ramp off Inlet Rd, on the opposite of the inlet, were delayed by Te Uri Taniwha objections and Environment Court action.
The new boat-launching facility at Rangitoto/Windsor Landing was completed in May with support from Ngāti Rēhia.