DCC tried to assist landowner

Alan Worthington.
Alan Worthington.
Prosecuting the owner of a Maungatua plantation was not a decision taken lightly, the Dunedin City Council says.

The action was progressed only after trying many times to assist the landowner in applying for a resource consent so he could keep some of his trees, staff said.

Of his own volition, Frank Hocken this week started removing 270,000 trees he planted three years ago, without resource consent, on the top of the Maungatuas, within the Maungatua landscape conservation area where forestry plantations are prohibited under the Dunedin district plan.

The prosecution of Mr Hocken's company, Grant's Motels, was the first the council had brought for a district plan breach in six years, resource consent manager Alan Worthington said yesterday.

''Our standard approach is to try and work through situations to try and minimise the negative outcomes to an acceptable level.''

It was an unusual step for the council to take, but the case was such a serious breach of the district plan it was felt prosecution was warranted.

Mr Hocken was given ample opportunity to apply for consent to see if some of his trees could be kept.

More than a dozen approaches were made from the council, offering advice and assistance, Mr Worthington said.

The first contact was on August 30, 2010, before the trees were planted, when council records showed a council planner advised Mr Hocken during a telephone call that a resource consent was required for a forest on his land.

Mr Hocken denies that discussion took place and says he believed the council may have confused him with someone else.

Mr Worthington said the council then tried to work with Mr Hocken from December 2012, following a complaint made in September, to encourage and assist him to lodge an application for resource consent.

In the following year, the council contacted Mr Hocken at least eight times, informing him resource consent was required and how it could assist, including a site visit in June, when a council planner and landscape architect viewed the site with Mr Hocken and his consultant, and discussed what was needed in an application.

Mr Hocken was advised of the prosecution that month and that a consent application would influence the prosecution process, but an application submitted a month later was inadequate, and a promised application never appeared.

The prosecution went ahead and Mr Hocken pleaded guilty.

As recently as March 3, the council wrote to Mr Hocken advising him there was only just enough time to complete an application.

Mr Worthington said it was also worth noting the majority of Mr Hocken's site was not covered in gorse as he suggested. Rather, it was tussock land with some native scrub and a light smattering of gorse.

Mr Hocken said, when contacted, he decided to give up on a consent because of the cost and the opposition it was likely to attract, which would increase the cost.

''They wanted to publicly notify it and Lord knows where that would end. We'd spent thousands and thousands on consultants and lawyers and we just weren't prepared to go down that path.''

So he decided to take out the trees, now about 1m high.


Wilding threat very real indeed

After receiving a "tip off" from a professional in the forestry industry, I decided to investigate this suspected plantation in 2012 which was the basis for this prosecution. I have been leading wilding pine removal operations for over 5 years professionally, and know first hand the rate of recruitment of these species (D.fir being 2nd or 3rd worst behind contorta and nigra). The seed rain from this plantation would blanket the Maungatua range from the westerly wind, and add to the significant problem already in the Verterburn catchment and post office creek area.
Question is, do we want wide open natural spaces, tussock grassland/shrublands, or do we want pine trees which reduce biodiversity to a monoculture, destroy soils,remove recreation opportunities and reduce streams and river yeilds? Making simplistic and misinformed comments about vege gardens and so on in an urban environment is just ridiculous. How do the commenters' feel about aerial spraying of mature native forest undertaken without consent on private land? Should be able to do what you want, aye? (My next investigation).

RMA trouble

Some questions for DCC planning.

Using the heavy hand of the system is not appropriate. When you state the "standard approach is to try and work through situations"what exactly does this mean? It sounds a bit 'your way or the highway' to me, otherwise the DCC and Mr Hocken would have resolved the issue, surely. So I take it that the DCC didn't get what they wanted.

Using the same principles of reason that the trees did not fit in within a rural natural lanscape then all people living in a residential zone should not be able to grow a vegetable garden, as this is a rural activity, or they may not plant their gardens with any species they desire as some plants will certainly not comply with existing vegetation.

What about household outdoor play equipment for children on residential land when there are areas for parks and reserves?

The RMA is a hideous piece of legislation that is exhorbitantly costly for applicants and is lacking common sense. Has the DCC got resource consent for all their own projects across the region? 

More proof

I would need more proof that the initial call took place than just the word of the DCC. The council may have told him after the complaint was laid but I think this is just a typical response from any council. They will have the call recorded along with the time, date and number of the person they were talking to, I would like to see all that before I believe any of this. 

Ignore advice at your peril

So what part of "you will need a resource consent" did this guy not understand (several times over)?

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