A house has been left on the edge after a slip at a beach haven.Video / Chris Gere
Oakland City Council has twice taken action against unauthorized works beneath a new $2.25 million North Shore home that collapsed on a cliff last month, sending a massive landslide to the beach below.
Kerri Fergusson, Compliance
The response and investigation manager said two emission reduction notices were issued to homeowner Ben Wilson at 52 Brigantine Drive – the first in 2019 and the second this year.
She said the non-consensual vegetation and stair construction work was carried out on his site above Charcoal Bay. Parliamentary documents said he admitted to carrying out the vegetation work. Council documents show the pines and locals were removed because he believed they were dangerous.
But on July 15, a massive landslide occurred on the cliff, which senior geotechnical engineer Paul Carter attributed in part to the rain.
Auckland Councillor Chris Darby asked if the vegetation had been removed and how much it had affected the sudden and dramatic destruction of the cliffs.
“An investigation is ongoing, but there is no evidence at this time that non-consensual work was the cause of the recent slip,” Ferguson told the Herald.
Fergusson said the Regulatory Service’s Compliance Response and Investigations unit and its Community Facilities team had responded to reports of non-consensual activity on council-owned land below Brigantine Drive.
The first emission reduction notice was issued on May 23, 2019, due to the loss of vegetation.
“A reduction notice has been issued to owners following the removal of a patch of vegetation and pine trees in an important ecological area, as well as extensive earthworks in a council reserve.
“The conditions of the notice require them to install sediment control devices, remove loose soil, provide a geotechnical report, provide a restorative planting plan, and conduct and maintain restorative planting,” she said.
“The owner has complied with all the conditions of this curtailment notice, noting that it has a four-year maintenance period for the planting and the planting is still in effect,” she said.
It was discovered that stairs had been built in the parliamentary reserve following the tree issue. A neighbor said those stairs were still there and had not fallen into the cliff collapse.
“In 2022, we have been warned about unauthorized stair construction in the Parliamentary Reserve and issued a second reduction notice. This has been appealed and is now before the courts,” Ferguson said.
Homeowner Ben Wilson did not respond to the Herald when asked to comment on the two emissions reduction notices he received. Wilson is the founder and leader of advertising agency BM Media, founded in 2010.
He was living in Castor Bay when the 2019 emissions reduction notice was issued, while a new house was under construction.
Asked earlier this week if vegetation had been removed from the cliffs in front of his home, Wilson said he was busy with family matters and the committee could answer questions.
In the 2019 case, city council investigators wrote to Wilson saying they had visited his property and discussed non-compliant works with him.
“We walked down the reserve and I saw a large area of the reserve, estimated to be 1000 square meters, just behind 52 and 56 Brigantine Drive, all vegetation had been cleared – mostly pines and some native vegetation. Cliffs Vegetation on the edges was also removed which may have affected its stability,” an official wrote.
There are at least 34 tree stumps in the area, mostly pine trees. One pohutukawa is completely removed, and two or three are pruned.
After speaking to Wilson shortly after the inspection, the officer wrote: “You admit that you hired a contractor to remove the pine trees from the area because you believed they were dangerous.”
A reduction notice has been issued under the Resource Management Act and the site will be revisited to check compliance.
In the second emissions reduction measure released this year, Wilson received a letter from the city council about building stairs in coastal erosion hazard areas and felling trees in breach of the Resource Management Act and the Auckland Unitary Plan.
The work was carried out within 52 Brigantine Drive and within the publicly owned Jacaranda Esplanade Reserve without permission from the owner, Auckland Council.
The letter said the staircase required building permission because even if it collapsed, it could descend by more than 1.5m. Wilson was told to remove the stairs.
A second visit by council staff resulted in the observation of evidence of trees being removed or altered. Vegetation alteration or removal is defined as the destruction, cutting, destruction or removal of any part of vegetation, including root and canopy pruning. There is no resource permission to approve the removal of stairs or trees.
Deforestation in the area is said to reduce the high value of biodiversity. The notice to Wilson said the erection of structures in the area could disrupt or remove existing vegetation and alter the existing landforms, natural features and ecological value of the coastal landscape.
The document states that Wilson has the right to appeal to the Environmental Court. A city council spokesman said no date had been set for this.