A taste for helicopters by Auckland's rich and famous is under fresh scrutiny after a black chopper was spotted coming and going from one of Takapuna's most expensive streets.
Auckland Council has confirmed it is looking into a complaint of helicopter activity at a $28.9 million home in O'Neills Ave. The home is owned by Chinese businessman Lichun Gao.
One of Gao's relatives, who lives at the property, told the Weekend Herald he was not aware of any choppers coming or going but had instead seen one landing at a neighbouring property.
"We do not have any helicopters and we have not used any helicopters," said the family member.
The complaint was made by a retired businessman who lives nearby and does not want to be named. He believes the shiny black helicopter has come and gone from Gao's property twice in the past month.
The most recent time was on Wednesday evening when his wife was in the garden.
While the couple hadn't seen exactly where it landed they believe it was Gao's property based on the angle and approach of the chopper - and the fact there is a viewing platform perched on the edge of the property which they claim has previously been used as a landing pad.
They say there is no other place a chopper could land in the area.
The viewing platform sits above a popular public coastal walkway between Takapuna and Milford. In strong onshore winds, the retired businessman said a helicopter would have to use a backward flying manoeuvre over the walkway to land on the platform which has large pohutukawa trees on either side.
He said it was the first time in several years he had seen helicopters coming and going at the sprawling 6533sq m property which was built by Sky TV founder Craig Heatley.
"If helicopters are coming in, I believe it could be a safety risk to people walking below," he said.
The chopper sightings come in the wake of legal action against plans by rich-lister Rod Duke to build a James Bond-style helipad at a new clifftop home he is building in New Zealand's most expensive suburb of Herne Bay.
The managing director of the Briscoe Group successfully gained resource consent for the helipad in the roof of a boatshed over a public beach, but a High Court judge has ruled the council needs to reconsider the consent.
Council's team manager of compliance investigations Kerri Fergusson said a complaint was received on Wednesday about the chopper sightings at Gao's property.
"We will be investigating to determine what activity is taking place on the site with regard to the helicopter landings, and whether it breaches any AUP (Unitary Plan) rules," she said.
Ferguson said the viewing platform was granted consent in 1992 and was included as part of the construction of the new dwelling. There was not however, based on an initial review of the property files, any consent for a helicopter landing pad.
"As this investigation has only just started and we have yet to establish if there has been illegal use of this platform we are unable to comment on future action at this stage."
Auckland Council planning chairman Chris Darby said helicopters had to abide by Civil Aviation rules and provisions in the council's Unitary Plan.
Before the Unitary Plan, it was relatively easy to apply for landing rights in urban areas, but it was his understanding the rules had been tightened to consider not just affected residents but take into account wider effects in relation to parks, conservation and coastal areas.
Darby said helicopters caused all sorts of issues in built up areas, from noise to breaching people's privacy to impacts on recreational amenity.
A spokeswoman for the Civil Aviation Authority said helicopters can take off and land on private property that does not have a consented helipad as long as they comply with rules covering the suitability of a place for landing and/or hovering.
"Most complaints received of this ilk are a noise and disturbance issue, which is a local council issue. Although the CAA likes to promote a 'fly neighbourly' culture, we endeavour not to get involved with noise debates as our primary focus is on safety," the spokeswoman said.
In 2013, a bid for a private helipad on the estate of the wealthy Spencer family at Stanley Pt on the North Shore was refused after hearings commissioners said it would disturb neighbours' enjoyment of living in a pleasant spot.
The consent would have allowed up to 500 helicopter movements a year, but was strongly opposed by local residents who said it would affect a quiet haven for people and birdlife.
- Additional reporting Michael Neilson