Cultivation legal opinion sought

The Queenstown Lakes District Council is seeking a legal opinion over the cultivation of land at south Hawea Flat, near Wanaka.

The council initially told landowner Dugald Innes consent was not required and cultivation began.

Then, after taking ''site-specific ecological advice'' on Monday, the council told Mr Innes an ecological report ''and possibly resource consent'' would be required.

In response to an Otago Daily Times request for clarification of the council's position yesterday, general manager, planning and development, Marc Bretherton said the council was seeking a ''more detailed legal opinion''.

''Once we have received it, we will be better placed to determine what, if any, further action is required.''

The Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand has strongly criticised the council for allowing cultivation without resource consent, as it says the land is ecologically important.

It has warned it could take Environment Court action against the council for failing in its district plan obligations.

A visit to the site by the ODT yesterday found cultivation work being carried out. However, a council spokeswoman said later this was on land next to the area the society was concerned about.

Forest and Bird acting Otago-Southland field officer Jen Miller said even this work required the council to be sure resource consent was not required.

''I think what we are witnessing here is an extraordinary litany of council ineptitude.

''On Thursday of last week, they had all the information they needed to at least raise some red flags around the legality of the work that was being carried out.''

Ms Miller said the society had made several attempts to contact the council yesterday but had received no response.

Mr Innes has not responded to ODT messages.

- mark.price@odt.co.nz