Wednesday, 27 Oct 2021

Auckland Council reveals extent of environmental damage from shut building site

Auckland Council has released photographs of pollution from Flat Bush building sites, shut down after it took matters to the Environment Court to get work cessation orders.

Five pictures display the lack of sediment control or anti-runoff measures from the site where frustrated council officers decided a work ban was justified to prevent further damage.

Environmental degradation is shown in the photographs, with sediment runoff from the site reaching waterways in the area.

Sediment can smother plants, insect larvae and fish eggs and destroy the spawning areas for fish, clog fish gills or kill fish and runoff fills streams, obstructs waterways and clogs storm sewers and ditches.

Associate Environment Minister Phil Twyford said after seeing the images: “Auckland’s streams and estuaries are being polluted with sediment run-off from construction projects that haven’t followed the rules. Ultimately this pollution ends up in our harbours and in the Hauraki Gulf. The Government strongly supports Auckland Council’s increased efforts to crack down on this kind of illegal pollution.”

Auckland mayor Phil Goff vowed two years ago to crack down on the worst sites, touring Flat Bush which he said featured strongly, saying:”There’s a general problem of non-compliant building sites from Paerata in the south to Hobsonville in the north.”

Photographs on Hera St showed some protection measures such as sandbags but a drain was blocked by debris and the measures were inadequate to deal with the scale of runoff from the properties off Flat Bush School Rd, south Auckland.

The council took the case to the Environment Court but not before trying other steps.

Gary Taylor, Environmental Defence Society chief executive, said: “I feel angry. People still do bad stuff. This is what motivated me to be an environmentalist some decades ago. It’s appalling and it’s outrageous and you’d think people just wouldn’t get away with it. The directors hold the responsibility for this.

“Sediment is New Zealand’s worst pollutant. We spend a lot of effort trying to reduce it from farming and forestry in rural New Zealand but this situation in Auckland shows it’s also an urban problem.

“It’s good to see the council on the job, enforcing the rules in its plan. But there ought to be sanctions against the directors of the companies. Under the Resource Management Act, directors have personal liability for breaches of this kind. They should be prosecuted, absolutely.”

Hay bales and silt fences at the bottom of urban development catchment areas were often inadequate. Ministers were concerned about sediment pollution in urban areas, Taylor said.

The council went to the Environment Court against DLL Estate and DLL Homes of Manukau.

Marcus Jacobson is DDL Estate’s sole director and the sole director of its shareholder Rua Whare which he wholly owns. He told the Herald that the Environment Court matter was being handled by DDL’s Baljit Dheil and provided contact details.

She is the DDL Home’s sole director and sole shareholder but did not respond to requests for comment on the court case.

Kerri Ferguson, the council’s compliance response and investigations manager, said issues arose at the sites earlier this year.

“There had been ongoing failure to comply with the conditions of resource consent, as well as breaches of the Auckland Unitary Plan, primarily due to sediment and erosion control, and streamworks issues,” Ferguson said.

“Despite abatement notices and fines being issued by the compliance monitoring team, the breaches continued to occur. This resulted in the council seeking an enforcement order from the Environment Court to ensure compliance.

“The enforcement order was granted by consent on September 24 and requires DDL Homes to install, certify and maintain sediment and erosion control measures. In addition, the developer must provide and implement the documentation required by the resource consent.

“The council will ensure that the enforcement order is complied with, so that the development is completed in accordance with best practice sediment and erosion control, and that the effects of the streamworks are adequately mitigated.”

Shane Brealey, a director of apartment developer NZ Living, said: “A shocker alright.The council is certainly under pressure, given the high level of construction activity at present.”

Stats NZ data shows consents have been issued for around 19,000 new Auckland houses and more than 41,000 nationally.

Brealey said his business was asked detailed questions on consenting issues and wondered how council staff had so much time to spare “while others are filling our streams with silt and building tomorrow’s leaky buildings, using temporary cladding materials”.

Goff said two years ago: “We’re not looking to shame but to change behaviour – to speak softly but carry a big stick. It’s all very well for us in the cities to tell farmers ‘stop putting sediment into the harbours’ but we have got to walk the talk ourselves.”

Julien Leys, Building Industry Federation chief executive, was disappointed to see blatant disregard and non-compliance by the house builder.

Building a record 45,000 new homes, combined with material and labour shortages, could create problems, he said.

The federation backed the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment getting stronger powers to investigate and prosecute non-compliant building site owners, Leys said.

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