A new tourism venture for Taupō, an aerial adventure at Hipapatua Recreation Reserve (Reid's Farm) has taken the first step along what could be a lengthy path towards becoming an operating business.
4Nature NZ Ltd, which also set up the Redwoods Treewalk in Rotorua, wants to set up a commercial fly line (a pulley suspended on a cable, mounted on a slope) in the reserve, but neighbours in the area are opposed, saying it is a commercial activity that is not permitted under the reserve's management plan.
They also have concerns over noise, parking, the impact on the reserve and its other users. Some are worried that the wilding pines which will be used to support the fly-line structure are not safe enough, and others that having a fly line in the area will affect local bird life and plans to restore the area to native plants.
Five other possible sites had been considered and ruled out as unsuitable.
Members of the public who attended a public information event with Alex Schmid of 4Nature NZ Ltd last month say they were alarmed by a lack of detailed information available on the proposed operation which they felt made it difficult to properly assess whether the licence to occupy should be granted. Those who were at the event also said they categorically rejected Schmid's allegation that he was subjected to racial slurs at the meeting.
The public notification of the commercial licence application drew 33 submissions, 26 against and five for. Last Tuesday a group of about 20 submitters, most of them opposed, attended the Taupo District Council's Fences, Roading, Reserves & Dogs Committee meeting, which was tasked with the job of deciding whether or not to grant a commercial licence to occupy the reserve to 4Nature NZ Ltd.
The committee has the delegated authority to approve a licence but final delegation for consent lies with the full council on behalf of the Minister of Conservation. Once the licence is granted other consents are expected to be needed to carry out the activity.
Submissions in support of the fly-line centred on supporting the growth of tourism near Wairakei Tourist Park and the economic strengthening benefits of attracting a high-quality tourism offering.
But those opposed said the fly-line did not comply with the provisions of the Hipapatua Recreation Reserve Management Plan and was inconsistent with the recreational uses in the plan. Many felt Wairakei Tourist Park was a much more suitable location rather than a reserve bordered on two sides by residential properties.
Some submitters had engaged consultant planner Joanne Lewis to provide a report on the application and her assessment concluded that the part of the reserve in question was identified as a restoration area.
Lewis said although there seemed to be an expectation that the effects of the fly-line would be dealt with through another process such as the resource consent process, the reserve area was zoned rural, which meant that a wide range of activities were permitted without a consent being needed. She said with very little information available about the potential effects, the committee needed to be cautious.
Read the proposal document below:
"There's simply not the information that would inform a decision about effects and for that reason alone the proposal should be set aside ... if indeed there's an interest in pursuing it then the appropriate thing is to revise your [reserve management] plans and ask the community again for their input."
Noise was another potential issue, with many submitters feeling that people shouting and calling out to each other would disrupt the peacefulness of the area.
The safety of the wilding pines that were proposed to be used to hold up the fly-line structure was also questioned, as was whether the proposal would conflict with the council's and Greening Taupo's plans to restore the Hipapatua Reserve.
Schmid said while he understood most of the concerns and questions, planning was still at the very early stages and many concerns would be answered during the resource and building consent process.
Access and safety would be big issues and an arborist brought in to determine the safety of the trees. Similar operations already existed overseas as well as at the Redwoods in Rotorua and TECT Park near Tauranga. He also said he would support a replanting programme in the area and be happy to work with Greening Taupo.
Proposed hours of operation would be 9am to sunset in winter, and 9am to 7pm in summer. He was confident any effects on the overflow camping area at Hipapatua could be managed with some rules around times when campers could arrive and had to leave by.
Council senior reserves planner Nathan Mourie told the committee that in his opinion neither the reserve management plan nor the Reserves Act prohibited commercial activity on the reserve. He reminded the committee that at this time they were acting in the capacity of landowner and that gave them the right, if they wished, to later put in place lease or licence requirements the applicant would have to meet.
Any regulatory considerations such as resource consents would be considered in a separate process following the licence decision.
A discussion by the committee members revealed some had concerns about aspects of the application given the land's rural zoning but members eventually voted in favour of approving the licence, with councillor John Boddy voting against it.
Chairman Barry Hickling said it was not an easy decision to make as there were some concerns about the safety of the trees but he was confident any issues could be mitigated with the use of conditions in the licence to occupy the reserve.
"The applicant is the same one that developed Redwoods in Rotorua and that is a quality development," he said.
"If there was to be a partnership with Greening Taupo to further develop that reserve I think there could be some really positive benefits for our district."
The council will consider the committee's recommendation at its monthly meeting on Tuesday, April 30.