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Deserted baches, public danger

By Hayley Gastmeier
[email protected]

Some rickety baches on a section of Wairarapa’s south coast are tarnishing New Zealand’s clean green image and could be putting the public at risk, but the South Wairarapa District Council (SWDC) says it is unable to pursue the matter.

Featherston man Reiner Schoenbrunn, who has been trying to keep the area presentable, says no one seems to be taking responsibility for keeping the shoreline tidy.

A number of Cape Palliser Rd properties have for some time been perched precariously over the edge of a cliff as a result of rapid erosion along the south coast.

And in the last few weeks, one of the sea-front rooms of a bach at Te Kopi collapsed onto the beach below.

Looking up to the room days before it fell below to the beach. PHOTOS/SUPPLIED
Looking up to the room just days before it fell below to the beach. PHOTOS/SUPPLIED

“The debris has sharp edges and nails sticking out. Last, but not least, it looks ugly and is bad for our clean green image,” Mr Schoenbrunn said.

Despite part of the structure having hung over the cliff for more than a year, it appeared “nobody took remedial action to stop it from falling”.

In 2015, an entire property at Te Kopi was claimed by the ocean.

This prompted the SWDC to write to the owners of other properties, saying they had to demolish or remove the structures as they were deemed dangerous under the Building Act.

In the past, Mr Schoenbrunn took it upon himself to clean up debris from the shores.

With his trailer, he has collected and disposed of roofing iron and timber from eroded baches, as well as dumped tyres.

He said heavy items which he could not move still remained on the beach.

“The foreshore is littered with rotting debris, tangled wire and broken concrete from dwellings.”

The latest fallen wreckage was “polluting a beautiful area”, highly frequented by tourists.

Mr Schoenbrunn said neither the eroding baches or beaches below were fenced off, which was a significant health and safety factor.

“Nobody seems to be doing anything about it.

“You can’t just leave it to the environment to take them down.”

SWDC planning and environment group manager Murray Buchanan said the council had declared a number of the coastal dwellings dangerous, forbidding the owners from using them for habitable purposes.

The owners were also required to remove the offending structures.

But the fact that some of the baches were in multiple Maori ownership, meant the council action was at a standstill.

“We have been unable to take further action [as] we cannot identify all the owners,” Mr Buchanan said.

The only way forward for council would be an application to the Maori Land Court, which was not considered “an effective path to take”.

Mr Buchanan said should the buildings collapse onto the beach and into the sea due to erosion, there was little the council could do.

“The foreshore is legally excluded from our jurisdiction.

“We cannot act on any matter where the site is below mean high water springs as this line defines the boundary of our district.”

Mr Buchanan said warning signs had been erected, telling people to keep clear of the unstable structures.

Stephen Thawley, from Greater Wellington Regional Council, said the regional authority investigated and responded to reports of environmental incidents on land, in rivers or on beaches, on a case by case basis.

“We are happy to work with SWDC, the Department of Conservation and any other relevant parties to try and stop this from happening in this area in the future.”

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