A slice of island paradise first closed off by a multi-millionaire during a long-running stoush - and then by officials because of safety concerns - looks set to be fully opened up to the public.

The Department of Conservation has publically notified a company's intent to allow guided tours of Waiheke Island's Stony Batter Reserve - an historic site which offers stunning views over the island and the Hauraki Gulf - overnight stays and academic research.

It has previously been the site of a conflict between Auckland Council and the former owner of the land, John Spencer, over access to the site - which went as high as the Privy Council in England.

Now, Fort Stony Batter Heritage Park Limited has applied to DOC for a lease concession to run tours and other activities in the reserve for the next 20 years.

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The Herald on Sunday understands the company is owned by Timothy Moon, an archeologist who lives on Waiheke.

The application was to develop the historic reserve as a regional destination for cultural and educational purposes for both international and domestic tourists.

The summary of the site in Moon's full submission said it was "abandoned and falling to dilapidation".

Moon told the Herald on Sunday the plan was an "important initiative for our community", but would not comment further ahead of the consultation process.

The initiative has been backed and described as "timely" by Waitemata and Gulf ward councillor Mike Lee.

"It is an enormously important tourism drawcard that has been left on the shelf for several years," he said.

The Department of Conservation has publicly notified one company's intent to have guided tours, overnight stays and academic research at Fort Stony Batter. Photo / Michael Craig
The Department of Conservation has publicly notified one company's intent to have guided tours, overnight stays and academic research at Fort Stony Batter. Photo / Michael Craig

The DOC notification said there were plans to establish a walking track over the site.

"The tracks will be linked to archaeological, ecological and geological features of interest, to educate the public."

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There were also plans to establish guided tours through the tunnel system of the fort. The tunnels - built during WWII in case our shores were invaded - have been closed in recent years because of DOC concerns that those running tours underground could do so safely.

The plan also said any utilities added would be removable and not damage the "historic value of the site".

The reserve would be open from 10am to 4pm, seven days a week, during summer and reduced operating hours during winter.

The fort would also provide a space for scientific research.

"To allow educational institutions to visit the site to study archaeology, geology, biology/ecology, architecture/engineering at the site," the notification said.

"Research can assist in better understanding the cultural and ecological significance of the site."

Access to Stony Batter is gained at the end of Loop Rd, by a walkway that has been open to the public since a Court of Appeal decision in 2001.

That came after an almost 20-year scrap between locals, the Auckland Council and Spencer.

1n 1984, Spencer installed a wooden gate with a padlock blocking the road. This was demolished by a vehicle believed to belong to a resident. The gate was replaced by a metal one, also with a padlock.

DOC closed the tunnels at the Stony Batter in 2015 saying they no longer had confidence the local organisation tasked with managing visits could ensure the safety of visitors. Photo / Michael Craig
DOC closed the tunnels at the Stony Batter in 2015 saying they no longer had confidence the local organisation tasked with managing visits could ensure the safety of visitors. Photo / Michael Craig

Two years later he covered up a section of the road which runs along the Man o'War Bay foreshore and formed a new one on his property 20m inland.

In 1992, he covered the road behind his gate with large mounds of earth and posted security guards.

In 1993, Spencer sued the Auckland City Council for $1.9 million in damages for loss of stock. He also accused the council of "continuously and actively encouraging trespass by the public".

He lost the case and appealed to the High Court in 1997 where he was awarded $15,000 in damages and ruled that Loop Rd was public, except for two short sections, one which led to the fort.

That decision was overturned by two different Court of Appeal judgments.

Spencer then took his case to the Privy Council where it was rejected ,effectively ruling he never had the right to keep the public of Loop Rd.

The reclusive toilet paper baron died in 2016 in Britain aged in his 80s.

While Lee backed the proposed development, Waiheke Island resident and historian Sue Pawley - who ran tours through the tunnels for years through volunteer work along with other members of the Stony Batter Protection and Restoration Society - expressed her reservations.

Waiheke Island resident and historian Sue Pawley says the fort has fallen into disrepair since Stony Batter Protection and Restoration Society stopped managing the site. Photo / Michael Craig
Waiheke Island resident and historian Sue Pawley says the fort has fallen into disrepair since Stony Batter Protection and Restoration Society stopped managing the site. Photo / Michael Craig

Since DOC had told them to leave in 2016 after the tunnels were closed because of safety concerns it had fallen into disrepair, Pawley - whose father had served at the fort - said.

The society had previously both hosted tours, as well as ensuring the area was rubbish-free.

She said since DOC had stepped in the tunnels had been "trashed" and the area had become a "weed-infested mess".

Pawley said given Stony Batter's local and historical importance, it was imperative any development there meant it was still affordable to visit.

"It has to remain affordable, it is [for] the people, it doesn't belong to DOC and they are just the damn caretakers."

"Everything on Waiheke is so exorbitant except for Stony Batter."

Submissions on the plan close on Thursday September 27.