Environment Tribunal rejects Regional Council’s request over Upper Hutt wetlands needing protection
Natural wetlands may be protected under the Resource Management Act.
The Greater Wellington Regional Council’s insistence that there were wetlands to be protected at the site of a housing estate in Upper Hutt’s Whiteman Valley was dismissed by the Environmental Court.
The court said the board failed to prove their case by a “massive margin”.
Developer Stuart Adams had purchased the land on Katherine Mansfield Drive in subdivided lots.
As part of the work on the site, he had cut down pine trees, which caught the attention of the regional council, who then said there were wetlands on the property that needed to be protected.
The development had already been approved by Upper Hutt City Council. A few isolated wetlands on the edge were already protected.
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A few houses were already on site when the regional council issued a notice of compliance ordering the stoppage of work and the restoration of wetlands. This would mean that more houses could not be built.
An expert report commissioned by Adams showed that there were wetlands, but concluded that they were subject to a section of the Resource Management Act which excluded them because they were considered pasture.
Whiteman’s Valley has been cultivated for over 100 years.
When the regional council objected to the expert’s report, they took the case to the Environmental Court to seek enforcement orders, but their case was dismissed after failing to prove that it there were wetlands that needed protection or were not excluded under the RMA. .
The ruling by Environment Court Judge Brian Dwyer and Environment Commissioners David Bunting and Ruth Bartlett said: ‘We observe that it may come as a surprise to those familiar with farming practices that it is suggested that mowing , the clearing of drains and the clearing activities that the regional council was concerned about were somewhat unusual in a farming situation.
They also asked how the effects of mowing, drain cleaning and ripage (breaking down hard soil) undertaken by farmers would be typical; but would be atypical if made by a developer managing pastoral property.
“In our view, the proposition put forward by the regional council that the effects generated by one party are typical while the effects generated by another party are atypical is simply absurd.”
The court held that the expert’s report was accurate and that the regional council had not substantiated any of the reasons given for its request for an enforcement order.
The court reserved the decision on costs, finding it appropriate given the apparent inability of the regional council to undertake a full assessment of the vegetative, hydrological or soil condition of the site, after rejecting the report of expertise, or to prove adequate or accurate expertise. supporting his position.