070921SPLMANGONUI, Mr Palmer in one of the cow paddocks on his Rangitoto Peninsula property, which the FNDC wants to include as part of a new Heritage precinct. Photo / Supplied.
080921MANGONUI1, Yvonne and Danny Simms at home overlooking Mill Bay, Mangonui. Photo / Myjanne Jensen
A group of Mangonui residents are furious about an alleged lack of transparency regarding a Far North District Council heritage precinct proposal.
FNDC announced earlier this year that it was proposing changes to all heritage precincts within the district - with the exception of Kohukohu - following a review of the planning zones by independent heritage firm Plan Heritage Ltd.
'Heritage', as defined under the Resource Management Act 1991, includes those natural and physical resources that contribute to an understanding and appreciation of New Zealand's history and cultures.
This can cover historic sites, structures, places and areas, archaeological sites and sites of significance to Māori, including wāhi tapu.
According to the FNDC, a Draft District ePlan for public feedback was released in March, which included suggested changes to heritage protections at Kerikeri, Kohukohu, Mangōnui and Rangitoto Peninsula, Paihia, Pouērua, Rangihoua, Rāwene, Russell and Te Waimate.
For Mangōnui, the council was assessing the possible expansion of the heritage precinct to recognise the historical township, early Māori archaeology and early settler sites. This would be called the Mangōnui and Rangitoto Peninsula Historic Heritage Area (MRPHHA).
Danny Simms and Ian Palmer both reside within the proposed MRPHHA, which includes Mangōnui, Rangikapiti and the Rangitoto Peninsula.
Simms, who has lived in Mill Bay (Mangonui) for more than 20 years, said he and others were unaware of the proposed changes until two days before feedback was due to the council.
He said he requested the council provide a public meeting for further consultation back in April, but was declined.
Simms proceeded to take matters into his own hands, and together with Te Hiku Community Board member Sheryl Bainbridge held a meeting to update locals.
According to Simms, not one of the 200 people who packed the Mangonui Community Hall had heard of the proposed changes.
"I'm very concerned that the council is imposing heritage restrictions on more than 200 ordinary homes of widely varying styles and ages, with only very few heritage buildings," Simms said.
"The people I represent are the little people, many retired and on fixed incomes and who do not have the resources to fight the council."
Under the Resource Management Act legislation, once a heritage matter is encompassed in a plan it takes immediate legal effect.
Simms said council planning staff had advised that submissions could be made after notification, but Simms felt after that time the playing field would be tipped steeply against residents.
"That's because the council will not be submitting to a draft - which by definition is open for input and modification - but to a plan which has obtained full binding legal effect," he said.
In a statement on Monday
from FNDC Strategic Planning and Policy general manager Darren Edwards, a District Plan must protect historic heritage from inappropriate development.
Edwards said if a property was located within a heritage area, it was likely that the owner would require a resource consent for development.
"The purpose is not to stop development but to make sure it is done in a way that protects existing heritage values," he said.
"Property owners won't need consent to create a garden or do maintenance on their house, including repainting, however resource consent may be required to undertake earthworks or to build a new house or extension.
"This is to avoid or minimise damage to known archaeological sites, destruction of unknown sites and to protect any heritage building or cultural values on a property or area.
"These will be judged on a case-by-case basis."
Ian Palmer is another resident set to be affected by the proposed changes and is particularly worried about his property at Rangitoto peninsula.
The retiree said apart from two pā sites (Rangitoto and Butler Point), the registered archaeological sites on the peninsula were of the more 'common' type (i.e evidence of kumara pits), which were ubiquitous around the region.
He said he was extremely frustrated by the council's lack of transparency regarding the heritage precinct report, which he felt residents needed to see in order to provide appropriate feedback.
"The council has gone way beyond assessing options, it has fully defined an extensive MRPHHA with detailed planning rules as laid out in its published Draft District Plan," Palmer said.
"All this before consulting affected property owners and other stakeholders, let alone seeking their input.
"Prior to proposing new far-reaching policy and associated District Plan rules, councils are required by section 32 of the Resource Management Act to go through a process whereby the 'problem' is defined (with evidence).
"Alternate solutions are to be defined and evaluated - including the economic impacts thereof - after having sought input from potentially affected parties, including property owners, tangata whenua and, in this case, Heritage New Zealand.
"In this case, the FNDC has defined its proposed 'solution' without ever having defined the 'problem' (with evidence) and without consulting those it acknowledges are the parties that should be consulted."
Palmer said he had officially requested a copy of the report but FNDC had declined, based on it including 'deliberative material'.
As a result, Palmer has filed a complaint with the Ombudsman and is currently awaiting a response.
Te Hiku community board member Sheryl Bainbridge said she got involved in the matter as she too believed adequate consultation had not been properly sought.
"We all recognise the importance of our Māori and early European history but what is the advice from the heritage expert based on?" she said.
"Despite requests from the community, Te Hiku Community Board and individual affected parties, the council has made no effort to provide the report.
"Archaeological sites, in particular Rangitoto and Rangikapiti Pā, are already protected by legislation including the Reserves Act, the Heritage Act, the Conservation Act and the Northland Conservation Strategy. They do not need another level of bureaucracy.
"The community asks that, in the meantime, the proposed designation is removed from the DDP in the same way as the SNA area was removed, before it goes through the costly formal legal process.
"That is the bottom line _ and that is still what the community wants."
Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga confirmed it had not yet been consulted regarding the proposed Mangōnui and Rangitoto Peninsula Historic Heritage Area.
HNZPT Northland Manager Bill Edwards said while he had seen a map of the proposal, he wasn't able to adequately comment until more information was available.
"All heritage areas are important and we treat them equally," he said.
"Heritage is essentially about people and their association with places and their ancestors who have associations within that community, not just buildings.
"We haven't viewed the documents yet, but I think thematically I'm in support of it because it goes much wider than just built heritage.
"It includes pā sites, it's about protecting waterways and there is important information and stories inside those pā about our tūpuna that we need to preserve.
"The devil is in the detail, of course, and I can't really comment fully until I've seen the report.
"I do think, however, that if the council is using public money to commission reports that have large effects on a population, it's important that those reports should be viewed by the people."
FNDC provided an additional statement on Tuesday afternoon
ensuring affected residents would be consulted shortly, albeit virtually.
Mayor John Carter said FNDC recognised that changes to heritage precincts were of high public interest.
"We have listened to the feedback and are committed to engaging with those affected," he said.
"With Northland returning to Level 2 on Wednesday
, plans to deliver a letter and brochure detailing suggested changes to heritage precincts can now go ahead.
"These will be sent to affected tangata whenua partners and property owners next week.
"Our District Plan Team will host an online information session and offer opportunities for digital one-on-one sessions with affected people to discuss how suggested changes may impact their properties."
Mayor Carter said session dates and times would be provided as soon as all details were confirmed and would likely be held at the end of September.
The statement went on to say new heritage rules would improve consistency across the district and would include renaming precincts as 'heritage areas' to be consistent with the new National Planning Standards.
Mayor Carter said the feedback period would run for four weeks after letters were received and all feedback on the Draft District Plan would be considered before the council notified its Proposed District Plan.
The process would also include formal public hearings ahead of any decision being made and submitters had the option to appeal decisions to the Environment Court.
For more information, email: email@example.com or call 0800 920 029 and ask for the District Plan Team.