Briscoe Group boss Rod Duke sat in the public gallery at the High Court today, where he faces a legal challenge to his plan to convert a boatshed on a popular inner-city Auckland beach to a James Bond-style helicopter pad.
Environmentalists and residents of the upmarket Auckland suburb of Herne Bay sat in a solid row in front of Duke in court. Led by the Kawau Island Action marine protection group, the opponents want a judicial review of Auckland Council’s decision to grant resource consent for the helipad without any opportunity for public feedback.
Construction has already started on the helipad, which Duke – a keen golfer – has said will allow him to get to out-of-town golf courses more quickly.
Opponents argue that when granting non-notified resource consent, the council only took into account the views of neighbours, including Duke himself, as he owns three sections above the boatshed. They say the council didn’t consider any impact on beachgoers, who could be sitting on the sand below or swimming in the water when helicopters come in to land.
“If the public had been consulted there would have been questions asked about how people on the beach would be affected by a helicopter arriving suddenly,” Kawau Action Group lawyer Gill Chappell argued in court today. She mentioned safety issues but also raised the impacts on “a person quietly enjoying the beach or swimming in the water”, like sand blowing up into children’s faces, or a backwash from the sea.
“These are questions that would have been asked.”
Chappell wants the council’s resource consent to be quashed.
It’s the second time Duke’s Sentinel Beach helipad plans have been questioned in a court this week. On Tuesday, Kawau Island Action chair Andy Coleman asked the Environment Court to put an immediate stop to any building work on the helipad, arguing that the consent had been granted on the understanding the helipad would be supported by the original boatshed’s wooden piles. But these have been cut down and replaced by steel posts.
“Black steel beams have a structural use and when left exposed look industrial and ugly, whereas timber piles are a natural product and blend in with the environment,” Coleman told BusinessDesk.
The environment court judge refused to stop the building process, saying any arguments about breaches of the resource consent should go to a full hearing in the normal way.
Coleman is frustrated by the decision.
“Does this mean that people don’t have to comply with their consents? Does this mean people can undertake activities that are not permitted? By deciding not to stop the work immediately pending a full hearing, it could take us to after Christmas, by which time the shed might be built and helicopters in use.”
The opponents to the helipad claimed a minor victory in court this morning, however, when Duke’s lawyer Setareh Stienstra abandoned a raft of questions about whether Kawau Island Action had sufficient “standing” to be bringing the case. Questions had included how the action is being funded and where Kawau Island Action holds its annual general meeting.
Kawau Island Action argued the questions, which were initially brought up before the court hearing started, were a stalling tactic for the legal process, something Duke’s team rejects.
The case is continuing and should finish tomorrow.