Why Is Matarangi Asking for TCDC Help?
History of the Matarangi Proposal and TCDC Long Term Plan Consultation
The way the document is written, readers of the Thames-Coromandel District Long Term Plan 2021-31 Consultation are well justified to wonder why Matarangi would ask for Council’s assistance with the acquisition of a golf course.
In a phrase, it is for permanent protection as open space of a coastal area of high natural beauty and environmental and amenity value which Council itself, through its plans and controls, has required to be open space.
The TCDC document makes no mention of the considerable background, decades long, during which Matarangi time and time again has had to fight to protect its critical open spaces from residential development. It overlooks the errors made by TCDC, for which the current Council accepts no liability. This issue will not go away by Council “Doing Nothing”.
Here is why Matarangi considers Council is obliged to partner with Matarangi in achieving permanent protection of the critical open space:
Matarangi is a low lying, narrow sand spit over four Kilometres long enclosing the Whangapoua Harbour. Since 1968 Matarangi has been developed as a seaside settlement. Having regard to the coastal and natural environments, high natural scenic value and vulnerability to disaster, all four District Plans controlling this development have required significant open space in the development, upwards of 40%, and housing cells separated by open space.
As far back as 1997, the predecessor of the Environment Court, having heard ecological and engineering evidence of the vulnerability of the Matarangi Spit Head, determined that “Those parts of Matarangi which will be essential as public open space .......should be identified, defined, and vested as public land” and “Subdivision and building should be prohibited on the Spit Head, which is the whole of the area west of a line drawn across the peninsula at the 3300-metre mark”. The Board also prescribed residential setbacks of 100m from the ocean beach and 40m from the harbour edge.
Complying with this direction, in the next two District Plans, Council showed the Spit Head as Designated Reserve awaiting transfer of title to TCDC. During this period the first nine holes of the golf course were constructed and extended onto the south side of the Spit Head. We have not located any TCDC record of Resource Consent being granted for this development on designated reserve land.
In 1997, entities associated with Mark Hotchin and Eric Watson acquired the undeveloped land and proceeded to file resource consent applications for large subdivisions, which included housing cells separated by open spaces formed by the proposed extension of the golf course to 18 holes. If this open space (required by the District Plan) was not golf course, it would have vested in Council as Open Space Reserve.
At the same time, their development company proposed to Council that four holes of this extension be constructed on the untouched northern half of the Spit Head, land designated as a reserve. As well as completing a significant amenity for Matarangi, the significant financial advantage to the developer was an equivalent area could be developed and sold for housing.
On 25th March 1998 Council accepted an offer from the developer, lifted the designated reserve status and allowed the land to continue in their private ownership. On their side the developer agreed to an encumbrance in favour of TCDC on the property providing that if there was no longer a golf course the land would vest in Council.
The developer failed to register this encumbrance on the land title until 16th September 2005. When they did there was another encumbrance with first priority, a mortgage to HSBC bank registered 8th June 1999. If the TCDC encumbrance had been registered with first priority the land would have had less value as security for the mortgage.
Why was the TCDC encumbrance not registered promptly so it had first priority? Over the lengthy time lapse of six and a half years there is no record of Council staff following up on the developer’s failure to register the encumbrance in favour of TCDC. There are almost no records Council can locate for the original agreement or any follow-up by staff.
The TCDC encumbrance failure became critical in November 2010 when, in the wake of the Hanover Group failure resulting from the GFC, HSBC forced a mortgagee sale and the short-lived encumbrance was lost in the transfer of title to the buyer.
Golf (2012) Ltd acquired the golf course freehold property, unencumbered by any reserve requirement, in 2012.
That same year Council notified its new Draft District Plan, zoning the Golf Course as Open Space. Golf (2012) objected to this zoning, requesting substitution of Residential zoning and pursued this all the way through the TCDC Hearings of objections and an appeal to the Environment Court. The Hearings Commissioners, when recommending the zoning stay as Open Space, also recommended that, “The Council, in conjunction with the Matarangi community, should work as a priority to formally acquire land containing Holes 1 and 2 of the Matarangi Golf Course.”
The Golf (2012) appeal to the Environment Court was dismissed in June 2019, confirming again the Open Space zone for the land, even though held in private ownership. A further appeal to the High Court was withdrawn only when the property was acquired by a group of locals who formed a company to hold the course while long-term community ownership and protection from subdivision in perpetuity were sorted out.
Matarangi is seeking Council support in resolving these issues by proposing that both parties contribute to the cost of achieving permanent community ownership, protection of the open space in perpetuity and viable maintenance of the Open Space property.
Since 1985, Matarangi volunteers have worked thousands of hours and the Ratepayers Association has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on ensuring the District Plans contain provisions appropriate for development and the provision of open space. The overall cost to other parties, including TCDC, has topped $1 million. These issues and costs will recur unless a permanent solution is reached.