A wealthy couple seeking public submissions on their bid to have helicopter rules relaxed on their Herne Bay property has raised questions over the suitability of rules around private air transport in Auckland.
Property developer Simon Herbert and his wife, former Miss New Zealand winner Paula Herbert, applied for an increase to the number of trips they can take in and out of their waterfront Cremorne Street property in their helicopter.
The application seeks to change their resource consent to increase from one take-off and landing a day to two, with an increased maximum per week increased from two to four, and keeping a maximum of 104 flights per year.
The application was put up for a limited notification by Auckland Council back in March, with just direct neighbours being invited to submit on it.
Newsroom understands neighbours disgruntled by the potential increase in noise disclosed to the Herberts that they were planning to apply for a judicial review of the notification through the High Court.
But in early July, the couple agreed to put their application out to wider public notification – allowing groups in the wider community to have their say in a submission period ending on Tuesday 16 August.
The couple and their consultant Craig Shearer did not reply to requests for comment.
Don Mathieson, co-chair of the Herne Bay Residents’ Association, said the Herberts must have decided it was in their best interest to front-foot the issue and pay for a wider notification.
“If you were sitting on my couch and I poked a pin in your arse, you might decide to stand up, would you not?”
Mathieson represents a group that has opposed the wealthy Aucklanders bringing helicopters in and out of the usually quiet suburb, but he says it’s nothing personal against the Herberts.
“It’s just the proliferation of helicopter landing pads,” he said. “Imagine in five years’ time if there were 10 or 20 landing pads, all the noise of helicopters coming and going every Saturday or Sunday morning.”
Locals talk of decks shaking, crying babies and flying deck chairs – with early morning noise breaking the peace for neighbouring properties. These are among the reasons community groups like the Resident’s Association and Quiet Sky Waitematā have called on neighbours to write to the council if they are concerned about the proliferation of private helicopters in the skies of the city and the wider Waitematā Harbour.
In the Herberts’ case, access to a new helicopter – an Airbus H130 T2 as opposed to a Eurocopter 130 – may have allowed them more weekly flights.
Acoustic consultant Nevil Hegley wrote in a letter to the Herberts’ consultant that the new helicopter has a motor that can be started up and turned off much more quickly – after about 30 seconds as opposed to the old model, which could take up to four minutes.
He said this would allow the helicopter use to comply with noise limits even with more arrivals and departures.
Mathieson said this would basically double the noise generated from the property.
Quiet Sky Waitematā secretary Jeanette Budgett said she is concerned about the rising number of applications for private helicopter use in Auckland’s residential suburbs.
She said the public notification of the Herberts’ bid for increased use is an “unprecedented opportunity” for the public to support change to a set of rules she said were not fit for purpose.
Adverse impacts of noise and rotor wash on nearby public space needed to be taken into account, especially as Auckland stood on the precipice of greater intensification.
“As the city grows, public spaces need more protection,” she said. “The harbour at the moment is seen as a great big passive aerial motorway.”
Previously, helipads in the area have been approved with limited notification – just to directly affected parties.
Budgett said those might have flown under the radar, getting personal helipads in ahead of legislation which could make it a harder prospect.
Local tensions have flared following the plans of Briscoes chief executive Rod Duke to convert a Sentinel Beach boatshed into a helipad, while concerns about roosting dotterels near Ali Williams’ and Anna Mowbray’s Westmere property have kept their plans up in the air.
Meanwhile, an increasing number of applications for helipads on Aotea Great Barrier Island and Waiheke is causing concern among locals, where current rules mean they don’t need to be notified.
Mathieson said Waiheke currently boasts around 50 helicopter landing pads, with a potential for perhaps double that.
And the people weekending in Waiheke want to land somewhere on the mainland.
“It’s been proliferation out on the islands, where perhaps people are landing on large sections,” Budgett said. “But here in the city they are coming and landing on 800 metre squared sections that are much closer to neighbours.”
She wants to see Auckland hit the pause button on this issue and consider all options.
“We do need to cater for alternative forms of transport. Maybe we need more heliports like at Mechanics Bay… but if personal aerial transport is an option in the future there would be more rules around it.”
Heliports like the one in Mechanics Bay – just over six kilometres from the Herberts’ house – offer helicopter services to the wealthy without bringing choppers into suburbia.
“This is uncharted territory still,” Budgett said. “We haven’t worked this out at all.”
It’s not the first time the Herberts have tried to add to their allotment of daily flights, with a failed attempt in 2020.
At the time, barrister Rhys Harrison wrote to the Herne Bay Residents Association’s Dirk Hudig after reviewing the couple’s resource consent application, in which he said the adverse effects of suburban helicopter usage were “considerably more than minor” and pointed out safety risks that could be attached.
He said the previous owner of the property had used the helipad within the current set of terms, which allowed for the use of a helicopter on a weekly business trip as opposed to daily commuting.
“Motor vehicular access is available for that purpose, and a heliport is available at Mechanics Bay less than 15 minutes drive from the property,” Harrison wrote.
“Convenience, or suitability to a new owner, is not a reason for changing the essence of the consented use and imposing a considerably greater burden on the receiving environment.”