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.


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