Berny Maubach and Jutta Rosenblatt operate Vollrath Hanoverian Stud in Kaikokopu Rd. Berny bought the property at 471 Kaikokopu in 1978 and applied to the then Waitotara County Council to extend and occupy the road frontage (known as the longacre) on the right hand side of their entranceway.
That was in 1979, and involved the removal of a large boxthorn hedge and installation of a post and wire fence.
Since 1987 they have held an "extended" permit for the total frontage of the property, explaining at the time what they intended to do with it.
At the same time they applied for a permit to have AA signs installed with the business name at the junction of Blueskin and Kaikokopu roads.
Berny says the stud had developed by then from a hobby business into a professional horse breeding facility with national recognition.
Hedges consisting of noxious plants – barberry and boxthorn – were removed from the roadside with permission from Waitotara County Council.
Berny says they discussed a plan with councillor RM (Bob) Carroll, the sponsor of their application, and the county engineer, in that they wanted to establish shrubs along the boundary as a visual and noise barrier alongside their riding arena.
They say they can show the council gave full support.
Those shrubs have become a large, well-trimmed hedge providing safety and security for horses using the arena, they say.
Now, the land is under the control of the Whanganui District Council. Issues with a neighbour led to a meeting at the council on September 17, 2008, at which were present then council chief executive Kevin Ross, council lawyer Paul Drake, council officers Rui Leitao and Graham Dyhrberg, as well as Berny and Jutta, Bob Carroll and Murray Hughes.
The outcome of the meeting was that council officers Dyhrberg and Leitao concluded the hedge did not compromise road safety and that it could remain. Berny and Jutta say Kevin Ross sent a letter confirming all resolutions.
Now, a complaint has reignited the issue.
Midweek met with council officers Leighton Toy, general manager, property and projects, and Brent Holmes, senior roading engineer.
Leighton says Berny's licence to occupy the road frontage has expired. He was unable to provide a date for the expiry.
"We have been approached by a member of the community who has raised a concern with regards to the safety of that area of road," says Leighton.
"This has been an issue for quite some time and, as Berny would have mentioned, has been reviewed on a number of occasions.
"Brent … has undertaken an assessment, and also had an independent review on the road safety in that area, and the outcome of that process has outlined that there are some safety concerns.
"So what we put to Berny was that the hedge is of concern, so we've said the hedge needs to be removed.
"We've offered Berny the opportunity to retain a stock fence along the existing boundary of his LTO, so he can still have a Licence to Occupy in that area, but the hedge … and the way in which the road is used in that area is of safety concern."
Brent says roading rates are 61 per cent funded by NZTA.
"So NZTA effectively makes the rules. Our mandate for the next three-year block has a 'road to zero' campaign, so the Government is getting very serious around road safety, so any safety issues we identify out there we are now obligated to deal with."
Berny and Jutta say the safety issues have not been identified to them.
Someone has made a complaint and the only people who know the details are the complainant and some council officers. Berny says he has no right of rebuttal. He will never know who complained.
When he emailed Leighton asking what the safety issue was, Leighton replied, "With respect, the council is not going to enter into a debate with you about safety on Kaikokopu Rd. My reference to safety was simply in order to provide you with some background."
Berny and Jutta say their property borders a dead straight piece of road and their large but trimmed hedges could in no way interfere with any motorist's visibility.
To prove the point, Berny contacted Shayne Wainhouse of the NZ Police and asked for statistics regarding traffic crashes on Kaikokopu Rd over the past five years.
Shayne replied: "I have reviewed data held by police in respect to reported traffic crashes on Kaikokopu Rd over the last five years. There were 21 traffic crashes reported during that period. One occurred on the section of roadway that you refer to. It was at the intersection of Blueskin Rd and Kaikokopu Rd. The remaining 20 crashes occurred at various locations between the bottom of the hill on Kaikokopu Rd and the Somme Parade intersection."
In other words, no crashes had occurred at that spot.
But, according to Leighton: "We received a complaint and we investigated it, so from a road safety perspective a senior roading engineer and an independent consultant have assessed there is an issue there. And what we've got to try and do is ensure that we don't wait until there's a fatality or an accident there."
Brent adds: "The crash history is low there because it's a rural road we have a lot of near misses that are not reported as crashes."
He says there is anecdotal evidence of that.
"We don't normally allow a hedge to be on a road reserve," says Brent.
Asked why, when the hedge was deemed okay by the council in 2008, Leighton says there are more lifestyle blocks now, the road is busier and there are more freight trucks.
"He doesn't have the legal right to occupy the road reserve," says Leighton.
Until recently, the offer from the council was that Berny could retain his stock fences but the council would remove the hedges and a tree at ratepayers' expense. That offer has expired and Berny has sent a letter from his lawyer.
The council has responded that their position remains unchanged and that Berny has until November 30 to remove the hedges or "should your client fail to complete the remedial works by November 30 the council will arrange, at your client's expense, for the removal of all fencing and vegetation in front of Lot 3 DP 1505 and Lot 1 DP 82105, and reinstate a stock fence on their legal boundary".
Berny says if he removes the hedge alongside his arena he compromises the safety of his business. The arena becomes unusable until such time as he can move it further into the property and either regrow a hedge or build a wall to shield his horses from road noise and the sight of traffic flying by, he says.
Berny and Jutta say it's bad enough that modern traffic has no regard for horses being ridden or led from one part of the property to another along the road. They say not only do they not slow down as required by law, some, including trucks, actually speed up.
Berny and Jutta say they feel bulldozed by the council. They say the safety of their horses — their business — seems to be of little concern to council officers and the anonymous complaint has taken priority.