April 28, 2024

Portlink Decisions

Portlink Decisions

It appears that compromise has been the winner in the Portlink development battle…but while the battle is far from over, it appears that the river has lost some of its setback but the Southern grass skink has gained more habitat.

The developers of the Portlink Industrial Park in Woolston applied for a resource consent to retrospectively validate intrusion of the development into the setback from the Ōpāwaho Heathcote River, confirm subdivision boundaries and to validate the storage of containers above a 11m building height limit imposed in this particular area by the District Plan. You can read background to the whole issue in the panel below.

It has been a drawn-out affair with the original resource consent application lodged in November 2022. It took until August 2023 before the Council consent team had sufficient information to proceed to making a recommendation. The initial recommendation was narrowly for public notification of the consent due to the effects of the development being “more than minor” in terms of visual amenity, ecology, function of open spaces, and residential amenity.

As a consequence of the recommendation for public notification, the developer paused the resource consent application while it considered its own position. Six weeks later, the developer came back with some changes to its application.

The Council consent planner then re-evaluated the amended application and recommended that the resource consent should be considered on a non-notified basis given that its effects were now considered to be “less than minor”. The resource consent was then considered by a Hearing Commissioner who agreed to the non-notification and granted the resource consent with a number of conditions that largely accepted the planner’s guidance.

Southern Grass Skink

Southern grass skink basking in coastal vegetation. A remnant population of this skink has gained from the amended resource consent.

What are the consequences of the resource consent being granted
The resource consent requires:

  • The northern bund to be largely unplanted on the northern face, with only a thin 5m band of planting on the top and behind the bund. This is to allow for the habitat of a population of the Southern grass skink (At Risk – Declining). This actually means less planting than previously envisaged; good for skinks but not so good for birds or for screening the activity within the development.
  • The placement of a 2.4m high solid wooden ‘acoustic’ fence along the top of the northern bund. The fence is to be painted a “recessive” colour and maintained free of graffiti during the maintenance period.
  • Removal of the southwest bund, with this area planted densely with appropriate native species.
  • Placement of containers to a maximum of 2-high within the landscape area (from which all development is meant to be excluded)
  • Restriction on the height of container storage within the building height-restricted area to 4-high
  • Restriction on the number of hoists operating at the same time to two and other noise abatement restrictions including the requirement to have a wall of containers 4-high that can only be altered 5 times per year, alterations to be completed within 1 day.

Why was the intrusion into the landscape area allowed?   
The Council planners and ecologists felt that getting the southwest bund removed and the area planted densely with natives, coupled with an allowance for possible improvement of skink habitat on the northern bund, was a worthwhile trade-off for allowing 2-high container storage within the intrusion into the northern landscape area given that removing the tar-sealed area, laying more soil and then planting this area would probably have involved further disturbance of the current skink population and habitat. It is a reasonable argument even though our preference in terms of the wider ecology of the river catchment would have been for more extensive native planting in the northern landscape area. This is a problem that arises when developers create a fait accompli with earthworks that are then retrospectively consented.

Portlink Decisions

A particularly optimist visualisation provided by the developer of a view from Gould Crescent to indicate the screening of the acoustic fence after 5 years of plant growth. The chances of this being achieved are next to nil. The dotted line indicates the maximum container height at 4 containers high.

What do we think of the acoustic fence?
Given the “wall” of containers that the operator is required to maintain, it seems unlikely to us that the ‘acoustic’ wall will have much effect on noise effects across the river. The effect that we believe that the wall will create is a visual one – a massive canvas for graffiti artists whose artistic efforts will be extraordinarily difficult and expensive for the developer to keep suppressed as the consent requires. While artists, and the contractors engaged to paint over graffiti, are doing their thing, it is highly unlikely that the sparse plantings placed to screen the fence will survive the trampling boots, let alone flourish to provide screening. Residents should be prepared for an ugly visual result as they drive along Ferry Road, and to lodge complaints if the suppression of graffiti is not successful.

Will the noise abatement requirements work?
To some degree, they will, but only while the restrictions are complied with. The real question will be who will monitor noise levels and whether noise monitoring will be effective. After all, the consent team highlighted the difficulty caused by the form of noise created by placing empty containers. The boom, bang and vibration of colliding containers creates a spike of noise that is difficult to regulate but certainly causes disturbance to adjacent properties. Enforcing consent conditions will no doubt require constant complaints by affected neighbours.

Objection and appeals
Following the granting of the consent, the developer appealed against a number of the conditions. In particular, it objected to the noise abatement conditions, the timing required for the completion of landscaping and against the height limit placed on container storage. The first two objections will be considered by an independent Hearings Commissioner in due course. The timing of landscaping is probably a fair issue that can be easily resolved.

The objection to the height restriction is tied in with the recent decision of independent Hearings Commissioners not to grant a Certificate of Compliance. For the details of this little battle-within-a-battle, read this article, but the core of the decision revolves around whether stacked containers are buildings for the purpose of the District Plan. The commissioners determined that stacked containers are buildings and must comply with building height restrictions, if any. This is an important decision with ramifications for container storage throughout the country. The developer has appealed this decision to the Environment Court: the matter may be heard before the end of the year.

What is happening at the moment?
Given that matters are now before the Environment Court, the Court has stayed the resource consent conditions. As a consequence, the developer cannot use the space within the landscape area for storage, must maintain a staggered maximum height on containers starting at 4-high, cannot start landscaping or building the ‘acoustic’ fence, and must comply with current noise limitations as set by the District Plan. The Council’s Environmental Health Team is carrying out attended noise monitoring of the site to ascertain compliance with that plan’s noise standards. The results may also be useful for future conditions applied to the consent.

Don’t expect much change in things on-site before the beginning of 2025.

More about Portlink

If you are not familiar with the issues that the Portlink Industrial Park has created, you will want to read the following articles by OHRN; just click an image to read the article…