BUNNINGS BOUNDS BACKBy K Gurunathan 3rd November 2009
A panel of three independent commissioners will hear a plan change by Bunnings Ltd to rezone a block of open space land into an industrial zone. The hearing, starting on November 23 is expected to take three days.
One hundred, mostly in opposition, have made submissions. One, Mr Mike Woods, has expressed surprise that the commission is being convened ahead of any decision on the route of the Kapiti Expressway.
He says negative traffic impact generated by the proposed warehouse is a critical issue.
“The hearing should not be held until the route is known otherwise submitters and commissioners will be flying blind,” he says.
Mr Woods’ submission claims Bunnings Ltd’s plan change to set up the 9,400 sqm warehouse at Milne Drive, east of Paraparaumu Airport, is on land with a murky history. He believes the murky history should be exposed and influence any decision on the application.
The Ombudsman, however, has told him any such history will have no bearing on the present Bunnings’ application. Mr Woods disagrees.
“In 1993 when the Golf Driving Range wanted to buy the block at 20, Milne Drive, Kapiti Coast District Council issued the required certificate under the Land Settlement Promotion and Land Acquisition Act.
“It stated that the land was zoned industrial and was not provided as a reserve or a park or for recreational purposes or as private open space. It further said it was unlikely the land would be required for any such purpose,” says Mr Woods.
What has intrigued Mr Woods, who lives close to the site, is that suddenly in 1995 the KCDC rezoned the land from industrial to open space. According to council documents, council had unilaterally rezoned it without consulting the land owner.
This was despite the fact that the rezoning would have a significant impact on the land owner by reducing the land value and by the same token council would have also lost revenue from the reduced rating value.
“This is quite bizarre. Why would any council do something to reduce its rates take and devalue the landowner’s land without informing the land owner” he says.
In June 22, 2006, Mr Woods made an Official Information Act request to the KCDC. This revealed another anomaly.
“I was shocked to learn council had no documents or correspondence with the owner of the land showing why the land was rezoned. Council said the requested document did not exist or could not be found,” he says.
Mr Woods says the only logical explanation for this sudden 1995 rezoning was the proposal by the Kapiti District Trust, one of the biggest developers of retirement homes, to develop the neighbouring Midlands Retirement Village.
An industrial site next door would not be good for sales for the Trust, says Mr Woods.
He adds that, aside from the hidden reason for the change in the zoning, he agrees that an open space next to residential areas is a much better option for local residents.
“What concerns me are the non-transparent machinations behind the planning processes which make it undemocratic,” he says.
Mr Woods’ interest in the land was sparked off by Bunnings application in March 6, 2006, to build a massive warehouse. Bunnings wanted the application to be non-notified claiming the environmental effects were less than minor.
“Something was definitely going on behind the scenes. How can such a huge industrial/commercial venture be plonked on land zoned open space and in a residential area without significant adverse effects,” says Mr Woods.
Council’s consent process involved a ‘consultation’ phase before the formal consultation process. This was to provide guidance to developers and increase the speed, efficiency and cost of the formal process for both parties.
What is curious is that during this pre-consultation process council staff seemed to have failed to caution Bunnings that there were significant issues. Bunnings secured the approval of the adjoining land owners including the Kapiti District Trust which managed the retirement home.
Local residents left out by the non-notified process and living at the Midlands subdivision, including many living in the retirement home, reacted by organizing a petition demanding public notification and wider consultation.
Council reviewed the situation and recommended public notification on the rationale that the effects would be more than minor.
Public notification resulted in 184 submission mostly opposed to the proposal. A further 136 residents signed a second petition requesting the open space zoning be kept.
Mr Woods says another area of concern is the role of the Kapiti District Trust.
“Why does the Trust, which is supposed to look after its client’s welfare, support a move to put up a massive noisy and polluting warehouse. What advantage did the Trust see in it for itself,” says Mr Woods.
The Bunnings application also sparked off a debate amongst elected councillors. Some councillors wanted councillors appointed as commissioners to hear the application. Others believed public perceptions of a conflict of interest required the appointment of independent commissioners.
Political pressure saw the appointment of an independent commissioner, but before the hearing could start Bunnings withdrew its application stating it would reapply as a private plan change to rezone it from open space to industrial.
Documents show that Bunnings, an Australian company, told the Overseas Investment Office that securing a resource consent was going to be lengthier “than it had originally been led to believe”.
Mr Woods makes this observation: “If the public were told who gave this assurance then we could have a better insight into the council’s informal preconsultation process”.
The murky history looks unlikely to have any relevance on the Bunnings current application. The Ombudsman told the Mr Woods that the merits of the proposed plan would be judged by planning considerations and the circumstances that exist today and not by what may have existed when the land was rezoned in 1995.
The planner’s report on the application will not be available until November 16.