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Baring Head Property Deserves Protection, Says Wellington Natural Heritage Trust

INTRODUCTION

On 11th June, tenders close for the Mortgagee Sale of a stunning block of undeveloped coastal land at Baring Head, right at the eastern entrance to Wellington Harbour.

Together with Forest and Bird, the East Harbour Environmental Association, and other environmental and recreational organisations, Wellington Natural Heritage Trust Incorporated is hoping that Greater Wellington Regional Councillors and Hutt City Councillors will this week decide to join forces with DOC to secure permanent protection of this panoramic site as an addition to the East Harbour Regional Park.

Wellington Natural Heritage Trust Incorporated is a charitable conservation trust dedicated to promoting the protection of significant natural heritage sites in the Wellington Region.  The Trust,

which has 10 trustees, was established in 1999.

 

WNHT spokespeople Colin Ryder and Barbara Mitcalfe say:  “This is an outstanding 284 hectare coastal property which is located within the jurisdiction of Hutt City Council and Greater Wellington Regional Council.

 

“Baring Head is one of those rare places with a comprehensive array of geological, ecological, landscape, historical, recreational and amenity values.  There are many reasons why the property currently for sale should be brought into public ownership to preserve and protect its exceptional natural and heritage values a part of the adjacent Regional Park.

 

HISTORIC AND CULTURAL HERITAGE VALUES

Trust Chair Colin Ryder observes: “Baring Head, Orua Pouanui, was the first landfall for Maori navigators in these waters, and for European settlers starting a new life in Aotearoa. Thus the area strongly connects us with the Wellington Region’s beginnings.

For example, in the 1840s there was a small Maori settlement at Parangarahu, just north of Baring Head (on the property now for sale). The occupants were particularly important to early European settlers because the produce they grew, including wheat, was sent to the fledgling town of Wellington to sustain the European settlers until they could establish their own gardens and food supplies. Today, one can still see the remains of those activities, including pits, terraces, ovens, midden, karaka trees, and a stone wall, forming just one of at least seven archaeological sites on the property which is now for sale. In addition, there are historic documents that show a Maori track leading from Parangarahu Pa across to the Wainuiomata River, where there were extensive potato gardens on the river flats, some of which fall within the eastern boundary of the property. (Adapted from material supplied by archaeologist Bruce McFadgen.)

 

Mr Ryder says:  “Historian Helen Beaglehole, author of “Lighting the Coast”, reminds us that lighthouses are also a visible, historic reminder for us, of early colonists’ hopes and aspirations for their new country. Baring Head lighthouse, atop the escarpment, was the first to be powered by diesel-generated electricity, and it played a critical role in the early maritime history of the Wellington Region. It is one of only three New Zealand lighthouses whose buildings (early State houses in this instance) remain in situ. “

 

GEOLOGICAL VALUES

Mr Ryder notes that, according to geologist Dr Hamish Campbell, the geomorphological attributes of the Baring Head area are notable in two respects:

 

•        Firstly, there are several well-preserved remnants

of raised beach ridge located between Baring Head and the mouth of the Wainuiomata River. Such features are subject to natural degradation and human modification. They can be observed in only a few places on the Cook Strait coast and this is one of the least-disturbed, known sites, and is worthy of conservation for posterity.

 

•        Secondly, on Baring Head itself, remnants of two

marine-cut surfaces can be seen.  Both surfaces have been uplifted, and notably they have also been tilted to the north.  Dr Campbell notes that “In terms of the history and philosophy of science, the significance of these features cannot be overestimated. They relate to the Wairarapa Fault and Sir Charles Lyell’s ground-breaking

1858 publications in which he correctly demonstrated, for the first time, the link between earthquakes and faults. Baring Head complements the more spectacular flight of raised beach ridges observed at Cape Turakirae, four kilometres to the southeast “

 

LANDSCAPE VALUES

WNHT Chair Colin Ryder says:  “In the operative (1995) Regional Policy Statement, Baring Head is listed as a Landscape of Regional Significance. However, the Proposed Regional Policy Statement does not include any listing of regionally significant landscapes (and, in any case, the protection and management of such landscapes is a topic which has generated considerable debate under the RMA framework).  The marine terraces at Baring Head are described in the District Plan as being “of regional/national significance”

(Chapter 14E, Appendix).”

 

Mr Ryder notes: “The headland itself, seen from thousands of households, is a spectacular landscape feature, replicated nowhere else. Landscape Architect Shona McCahon has written about the “ typically rugged character, where the wild beaches, windswept vegetation and steep coastal cliffs tell the story of its geological formation and the exposed coastal conditions. The headland’s flat terraces, raised above the coastal cliffs, make a very striking landscape feature, a well-known landmark, seen prominently from various lookouts including the harbour entrance where thousands of visitors see it from ferries and from the air.”

 

ECOLOGICAL VALUES

According to WNHT Trustee Barbara Mitcalfe, the property for sale at Baring Head has exceptional ecological values, as noted in the Biological Resources Study of Wellington Region  –  Priority Sites in 1984.  Since that time, several locations on the property have been identified in the District Plan as Significant Natural Resources (Appendix to Chapter 14E).  The property’s ecological values derive from the area’s relative isolation from damaging developments and its unusual diversity of habitats: coastal cliffs, a forested escarpment and regenerating coastal forest in the gullies, rock stacks, river terraces, raised marine terraces, riverine wetlands, salt marshes, and a raised shingle beach that includes a wetland. We believe these values need to be cherished and protected, by the property being in public ownership, with public accountability, in perpetuity.

 

Ms Mitcalfe notes:  “The Wellington Region has less than 3% of its original wetlands remaining, a shameful statistic compared with the national average. Protection of wetland vegetation is a national priority, and riverine riparian wetlands are rare in our region.  The Wainuiomata River and its associated riparian wetlands are considered of National Importance. The protection of the river’s estuary is all the more urgent and important, since the other estuaries in the Wellington Ecological District (Kaiwharawhara, Hutt, Korokoro, Ngauranga, Makara) have very little natural character remaining.  Effective ecological protection of the lower Wainuiomata River, estuary and wetlands requires appropriate management and protection of the adjacent land.

In this regard, it is highly significant that both banks of the River are located within the property which is now for sale.

Public ownership of this land would provide the key to putting in place an ongoing holistic management regime for the strategically located river and wetland ecosystems at the site. “

 

Barbara Mitcalfe also notes:  “Species of nationally or regionally threatened flora and fauna are also present on the property.

Examples are a truly rare, breeding, mainland black-backed gull colony; the nationally-vulnerable, regionally-critical shrub tororaro (Muehlenbeckia astonii), and a threatened grey scrub community which is in serious decline. Two species of native mistletoes, Korthalsella lindsayi and Ileostylus micranthus, are growing on the property, but, under the private ownership of the property, have been vulnerable to browsing.”

 

Ms Mitcalfe adds:   “Other threatened flora and fauna on the

property include sand tussock (Austrofestuca littoralis), pingao (Ficinia spiralis), matagouri (Discaria toumatou), all of which are in decline in the region; the regionally-endangered plant Crassula kirkii; and  Myers cicada (Maoricicada myersi) and a number of moth species including Helastia siris, Austrocidaria lithurga, Notoreas and Graphania omicron.

 

“The following species have either been found on the property, or need to use the estuary/lagoon interface to migrate and are present in the lower Wainuiomata River: the threatened longfin eel (Anquilla dieffenbachia) the threatened New Zealand dwarf galaxia (Galaxias divergens), the koaro whitebait (G. brevipinnis), giant kokopu (G. argenteus), koura (Paranephrops planifrons), lamprey (Geotria australis), common bully (Gobiomorphus cotidianus), redfin bully (Gob. huttoni), and bluegill bully (Gob. hubbsi).

 

 

“An impressive list of New Zealand native birds recently heard and/or seen on the property, or flying above it, includes banded dotterel, kereru, New Zealand pipit, paradise shelduck, white-fronted tern, fantail, New Zealand falcon, waxeye, black-backed gull, and grey warbler.

 

PUBLIC ACCESS AND RECREATIONAL VALUES

Colin Ryder and Barbara Mitcalfe note:  “Although a small area of less than 1 hectare around Baring Head lighthouse is already included (as “Zone 4”) in East Harbour Regional Park, public access to the site is “severely restricted” (East Harbour

Regional Park Management Plan, 2007).   The Management Plan states

that “Greater Wellington will continue to work towards improving legal access to this area.”  Public ownership of the property which is now for sale would enable the Councils to create an optimum level of permanent public access from the Coast Road, across the bridge, to the lighthouse and to other parts of the headland area.

 

They state:  “The property for sale has significant potential recreational values. Walkers, runners, trampers, climbers, cyclists, kayakers, horse-riders, and nature-lovers, to name just a few groups, would derive exercise, pleasure, and inspiration, by exploring the extraordinarily spacious coast and hinterland which could be experienced on the Baring Head property.

 

“In addition, the purchase of this property for public use would enhance public recreational access (e.g., walking, cycling) along the coast from Eastbourne to the Wairarapa; and access to and along the lower Wainuiomata River and the associated wetland areas.  This river is, of course, probably the best brown trout fishery in the Wellington Region.

 

“Public ownership of the property would also enhance foot and cycle access to the internationally-known rock-climbing site on Regional Council land below the lighthouse.  This site attracts rock climbers from overseas as well as from other parts of New Zealand every year.

 

IDENTITY AND SENSE OF PLACE

Wellington Natural Heritage Trust considers that Baring Head, our eastern harbour sentinel, is an iconic, integral part of not only the Wellington Region’s topography and panoramic views, but also of our very identity and sense of place.

 

COMPARISON OF PLANNING PROCESSES VS. PUBLIC PURCHASE The Trust has assessed the comparative outcomes if the land is purchased for a Regional Park or if is sold to private buyers.

 

Mr Ryder states: “At the time when the District Plan was prepared, this property was (as it is now) in private ownership.  Accordingly, the District Plan’s provisions do not prohibit subdivision or development of the land, but do, however, place a range of restrictions on potential developments, in recognition of the site’s rural and natural character, its location within the coastal environment, its significant natural resources, and its archaeological sites.  Likewise, although the operative Regional Policy Statement lists Baring Head as a Landscape of Regional Significance, of course this does not preclude subdivision and some development.

 

He says: “Public purchase of the property would provide a superior outcome in comparison with reliance upon RMA planning documents and processes.  The reasons for this conclusion include the following:

 

•        Optimum public access: Securing long term public

access to the whole Baring Head area is an absolutely key consideration in reviewing options for the property.  Public ownership of the whole property will enable the creation of an optimum level of permanent public access from the Coast Road into the property in order to enable public enjoyment of the considerable range of values that the property provides.  This access could be proactively designed by the two Councils, who would have full control of the process and would be able to concentrate single-mindedly on pursuing the public interest.  In comparison, seeking to provide for public access in the context of a private owner’s subdivision consent application process would inevitably involve trade-offs to satisfy the individual interests of potential lifestyle block owners, and most likely such a process would not be driven by the Councils themselves.

 

•        Maximisation of recreational benefits:  Purchase

of the land by the Councils would enable the maximisation of a range of exciting recreational opportunities on the land.

In comparison, continued private ownership would mean limitations on recreational use because of the need for private consent and the likely development of private lifestyle blocks and/or private business activities on the land.

 

•        Optimum protection for the continuum of natural

features:  As we have indicated above, this property has a remarkably diverse range of connected significant natural and historical features.  It should be noted that these form a continuum extending across most of the property (excluding some less significant, flatter land along the river basin).  In our Trust’s opinion, the optimum means of protecting (and in some cases restoring) this continuum of natural values is to secure the land as one unit, as a public reserve which can then be proactively and efficiently managed.  (Despite the undoubted significance of the land and its recognition in the District Plan and Regional Policy Statement, it would simply not be possible for consent authorities to, in effect, prevent development across most of the property in order to protect the continuum of natural features, in the event that a future private owner lodges a subdivision consent application.

Such an attempt through the RMA process would inevitably be

defeated in the Environment Court.)

 

•        Guaranteeing the most appropriate land uses:  Public

ownership will give the Councils the ability to guarantee the most appropriate uses of the land.  Because of its location and high natural values, we submit that this property is absolutely not appropriate for additional built development, except perhaps to a very modest extent along the river flats near the Wainuiomata River (some of which the Councils could potentially subdivide off, but this comprises only a small portion of the overall property).

 

 

 

 

•        Avoidance of fragmentation:  The sale of this property

to another private buyer would almost certainly result in substantial fragmentation of the land through the future approval of subdivision(s)

into lots of 15 or more hectares.   Even if sensitively designed,

this fragmentation would inevitably diminish the expansive uncluttered landscape values of the site and lessen the prospects for successful management of the sensitive interconnected ecological and other natural features of the land.

 

•        The practical difficulties for private owners at

this site in managing a range of ecological, landscape and heritage covenants across much of the land:  There are many situations in which covenants on private land can be an appropriate mechanism to protect and restore natural features and other features.

But this is not a model that is suitable for every situation.

In our view, the sheer expanse of the features requiring protection here (as indicated in our discussion of the heritage, landscape and ecological values), and the particular challenges and skills involved in achieving appropriate ecological protection for so many different types of ecosystems across many hectares, mean that in reality it does not seem entirely prudent or practical to leave this responsibility in the hands of possible future lifestyle block owners.  This is a case where management of the site as a whole, rather than segmented covenanting, is needed.

In addition, we consider that the existing Regional Park personnel are already admirably qualified to manage and protect the property’s values.

 

CONCLUSION

Colin Ryder and Barbara Mitcalfe note that some years ago, this area was proposed as an addition to East Harbour Regional Park.

 

 

They say:  “Now the Regional and Hutt City Councils are presented with a unique opportunity to fully protect this remarkable place for future generations, for what is likely to be a discounted

cost (because of the circumstances of the sale).

 

“The issue will be discussed at a Greater Wellington Regional Council meeting at 9.30 a.m. on Tuesday 8th June in Wellington; and we are also hopeful that Hutt City Council will discuss the matter at a Council meeting on Wednesday 9th June.

 

“Although the success of any tender for the land cannot be guaranteed, Wellington Natural Heritage Trust believes that the combined efforts of the Regional Council, Hutt City Council, and the Department of Conservation, through the tender process at this time would have an excellent prospect of a positive outcome.”

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