Environmental / Resource Management
The Taupō District Council’s (TDC) hearing panel (Panel) recently issued its decision on an application for land use consent by Sky Play Adventures Limited and Tauhara North No.2 Trust (Applicant) to construct and operate a zipline, base station and walking tracks along and over the Waikato River, as well as a tour hub on Huka Falls Road. The application overall was considered as a discretionary activity.
A number of issues were considered by the Panel, including the proposed access over TDC land, and the ecological and landscape effects. The most contentious issue, however, was the cultural effects arising from the proposal and the alleged lack of consultation with the Tūwharetoa Māori Trust Board (TMTB) and Te Hikuwai submitters.
TMTB and Te Hikuwai submitters were critical of the consultation process undertaken by the Applicant, submitting that their iwi engagement was incomplete, limited, and that the wrong parties had been consulted. The Applicant argued it had undertaken its ‘best endeavours’ to consult and had engaged experts to assist in that process. Even so, the information supplied with the application and evidence indicated that engagement had been focussed on Te Kotahitanga o Ngāti Tūwharetoa as well as individuals from different Te Hikuwai marae.
The Panel was satisfied with the Applicant’s engagement with Ngāti Tahu - Ngāti Whaoa Rūnanga Trust, and their decision to go through the trust to obtain a Cultural Impacts Assessment. However, it was bemused by the Applicant’s approach to engagement with Ngāti Tūwharetoa and its representative organisations.
Their lack of adequate engagement was highlighted by email correspondence which revealed clear assertions from members of local hapū expressing the view that wider consultation should be undertaken with all hapū with an interest in the area. The Applicant was told that getting agreement to cross the Awa would be problematic as it would compromise kaitiaki values and its mauri. The Panel also observed that TDC had adhered to its duty under s 35A of the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) to record the contact details for each iwi authority in the district and groups that represent hapū for the purposes of the RMA. A link from the TDC website showed TMTB as being a relevant contact group for Ngāti Tūwharetoa and the Ngāti Tahu – Ngāti Whaoa Rūnanga Trust. It was therefore unclear to the Panel why a different approach was taken in regard to consultation for the purposes of the application.
The Panel noted that there is no duty to consult about resource consent applications under section 36A of the RMA, so who was consulted became a moot point. The Panel also agreed with counsel for the Applicant that consultation does not mean that agreement must occur. What was apparent, however, was that the engagement that did occur did not satisfy TMTB and Te Hikuwai submitters that they had been appropriately consulted and their concerns understood and addressed.
Having considered the lack of adequate consultation, the subsequent gaps left in the Applicant’s cultural impact assessment, and the general lack of consideration had to important evidence such as Te Ture Whaimana, the Panel concluded that the potential adverse cultural effects arising from the proposal were significant and unacceptable.
In addition to the apparent lack of proper consideration of cultural effects, the Panel also found:
The potential impacts on human health had not been adequately addressed and as such it was not satisfied that safe and appropriate access to the site could be provided.
- The ecological restoration works did not appear to be an integrated part of the proposal as should have been the case.
The landscape and visual effects of the proposal could be appropriately managed and accommodated, but the Panel was concerned that the cultural aspects of the landscape and visual assessment had not been considered.
Overall assessment under section 104 RMA
Many aspects of the proposal were considered to have positive effects both on the site, the wider surroundings, and Taupō District as a whole. There were also many elements that were consistent with the planning framework. However, the Panel was not satisfied that these positive effects would outweigh or could be considered acceptable when balanced against the potential adverse cultural effects of the proposal.
While Ngāti Tahu – Ngāti Whaoa and their involvement in the proposal was acknowledged, this did not outweigh the significance of the adverse cultural effects on Ngāti Tūwharetoa and Te Hikuwai.
The Panel was also concerned about the uncertainties relating to access over the TDC land and the potential effects arising, and the delivery of the ecological restoration works in conjunction with Ngāti Tūwharetoa.
For those reasons, the application was declined.
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