A decision by developers to withdraw subdivision plans next to a world-renowned Coromandel beach - described by TV star Phil Keoghan today as "absolutely iconic" - has been met with relief by a group fighting to preserve it.
Thames-Coromandel District Council officers were late yesterday told that an application for the four-lot subdivision bordering New Chum Beach had been pulled, a month after hearings on the plan were suspended because of a last-minute disagreement between the co-owners of the site over access arrangements to the beach.
Reachable only by walking across a headland from nearby Whangapoua, the beach has been ranked among the most beautiful on the planet.
Mr Keoghan, who has joined previous efforts to preserve the beach, today said New Chum was an "absolutely iconic piece of New Zealand and one of the jewels of the Coromandel".
The application by Ross and Deidre Mear covered a total area of 60ha and included a 15m-wide esplanade strip, allowing for public access along the beach.
Each of the four 15ha lots that had been proposed would have allowed for four house sites up to 236sq m each with garages, and five accessory buildings up to 100sq m.
The applicants also included in their plans a fifth 1.2ha "conservation lot" to be managed by a proposed charitable trust
The Mears, who had previously said the subdivision would not be visible from the beach, own a 50 per cent share in the property with another separate family trust owning the other half.
In a letter to the council, the applicants' lawyer Ian Cowper said the applicants were "obliged to withdraw the application" and apologised for the inconvenience caused to the council, along with the commissioners who were to hear the case and the 187 people who lodged submissions.
This latest application was for the exact same piece of land on which a previous application was lodged in January last year by Coastal Land Trust Holdings, a separate entity.
That application, involving Te Pungapunga Station and including more farmland, was on hold as more information was being sought from the applicant.
When development was first proposed at the beach five years ago, the plans met a fierce backlash from thousands of beachgoers, among them TV host Phil Keoghan, rugby star Richard Kahui and actress Robyn Malcolm.
Coromandel-based Green MP Catherine Delahunty hailed the decision as "a victory for our natural environment".
John Drummond, of Preserve New Chum, said it was "great news" - but he expected his group's efforts weren't over.
"One of the things we'd be asking for is district and regional councils, along with the Government, to step in at this point and buy that land to preserve it forever," he said.
"Now that this is out of the way for the moment, I think it's a really good opportunity for people to get something done."
Mr Keoghan said: "We want the rest of the world to visit New Zealand and to appreciate iconic relatively unspoiled areas like New Chum.
"We believe we have a great opportunity with the preservation of New Chum to entice overseas visitors with the 'real New Zealand', a country that still has relatively untouched beaches.
"New Chum represents how we would like the rest of the world to see New Zealand, an island nation at the bottom of the world relatively unspoiled with a population and a government who care deeply about the natural beauty of their country."
But Coromandel MP Scott Simpson, who has been part of many discussions around the issue, said preserving the beach required a willing seller and buyer - "and I'm not aware that's even remotely the case".
"For there to be a long-term preservation outcome at New Chum, I believe there needs to be a transfer of ownership and for that to occur, the current owners would need to sell to somebody," he said.
"Now we are are a long way from even considering that, because I'm not aware of anyone that has any money to put on the table, unless there are some private purchasers who may want to consider it."
A Thames-Coromandel District Council spokesperson said the council acknowledged the beach was a "prestigious spot and we recognise the high public interest in this area".
"However, from a council perspective, we haven't got the resource to purchase the land outright."