A Twizel businessman says he has had enough of investing
in Dunedin after learning the hard way about complying with
local planning rules.
Frank Hocken's company, Grant's Motels, spent more than
$750,000 on a project he says should have been an investment
in the local environment and his family's future, but now he
is set to lose more than half a million dollars on it.
Workers yesterday started pulling out 270,000 Douglas firs
planted on about 200ha of Mr Hocken's property at the top of
the southern end of the Maungatuas, just three years after he
had had the land cleared and the trees planted.
Mr Hocken (76) is conceding defeat after the Dunedin City
Council prosecuted Grant's Motels for breaching the district
plan by planting Douglas firs without consent and planting
forestry in a landscape conservation area.
But he says he is ''pretty sore about it'', the rules are
crazy, and if people cannot do what they want on their own
land, the council should buy it.
He told the Otago Daily Times the property was largely
covered in gorse and broom when he bought it about three
He believed trees would be better than gorse, suck up
nutrient and water run-off - potentially easing flooding
below - and provide future income for his family.
Forestry contractor William Oldham works with a team
yesterday to cut out a 200ha planting of young Douglas fir
trees on the Maungatuas above the Taieri Plain. Photo by
He asked the Otago Regional Council if there would be any
issues and received a verbal confirmation, but was not told to
check with the DCC and so did not.
He had no discussion with the DCC until he received a letter
regarding the breaches from staff, acting on a complaint,
about a year ago.
The DCC later argued in court he planted the trees knowing he
needed consent, because their records showed someone from
Grant's Motels spoke to staff before the trees were planted,
although Mr Hocken disputes that.
He applied for retrospective resource consent, but the
incomplete application was rejected.
His company was subsequently prosecuted for offences under
the Resource Management Act.
The company pleaded guilty at a hearing in the Dunedin
District Court in December, and is to be sentenced in May.
''I'll admit I've been wrong as it's turned out ... I'm ...
off with the DCC, their red tape and that they've gone out of
their way to drop a prosecution on us. They knew we'd work
through it, but they didn't want to do that.''
Penalties for the offences range from fines, with an upper
limit of $600,000 for an organisation, to two years' jail.
Mr Hocken said even though council staff had been to his
property, he still struggled to understand what made the
piece of land a natural landscape that needed to be
''What's wrong with trees on it? I can't understand. What's
better? Gorse and broom - or trees?''
On top of the $315,000 he paid for the land, which he hoped
to get back, and the $400,000 for clearing and planting
270,000 trees, he was spending a significant amount to have
the trees removed from all but a 25ha section outside the
protected area, for which he planned to seek consent.
''I can carry [the cost], don't worry about that. But I just
think it is so stupid.
''I wouldn't want to spend two bob in [Dunedin] any more.
I've had a gutsful.''
DCC resource consents manager Alan Worthington said the
landscape high on the Maungatuas was predominantly tussock
grassland and the key issues with the forestry were the
visual impact and that Douglas fir could cause a wilding pine
The size of the plantation made the breach a serious one, he
He said he would expect landowners wanting to carry out those
sorts of activities to check the planning rules - in place
for 12 years now - before they began major projects.
The council provided free professional advice on what the
district plan allowed.
Botanist Emeritus Prof Sir Alan Mark, who brought the trees
to the council's attention after he spotted them from the
road below, said Mr Hocken's was a ''sad'' situation.
''He probably did it in all innocence, but people planting
forestry should be aware that Douglas firs are prohibited in
many council areas because of the wilding threat.''
Forest and Bird Dunedin branch member Dave McFarlane was also
pleased to hear the trees were coming out.
He is part of a group of volunteers who have been removing
wilding pines from tussock grassland in the neighbouring
Verterburn catchment over the past 10 years.
If Mr Hocken's trees were allowed to spread, they would form
a forest that would shade and kill surrounding tussock
grassland, affecting bird and invertebrate life dependent on
it, as well as the water yield from that area and grazing for