A QUIET, rural neighbourhood is in turmoil, with roadside plantings sparking a “neighbours at war” situation.
The Nukuhou dispute, which has been ongoing for more than three years, last week moved off the land and into the Whakatane District Council chambers with Michael and Margaret Kirk seeking the closure of Fairview Road, where they have lived for 30 years.
The Kirks applied to close the road, and take ownership of it, after it was discovered that they had illegally planted two rows of kiwifruit and a shelter belt on the road berm.
The council was alerted to the dispute when a neighbour, who has since died, complained about the shelter belt shading his home.
There were also accusations of neighbours blocking others’ right of way on the road and, sabotage of orchard gates.
The complaint led to the council discovering the illegal planting, which had been done in the early 2000s.
Staff had been unaware of it beforehand because the Kirks had assumed all financial and practical responsibility for the road after buying their property in 1989.
The Kirks asked the council to close the road because removing all the plantings would be very costly and they had already been told by transportation manager Martin Taylor that they would not be granted a licence to occupy.
Mrs Kirk said she and her husband were surprised they were declined a licence to occupy when their neighbour on the same road had been granted one.
“Our request for a licence to occupy is on a section of road that only serves two properties and we have fully maintained this short road for decades … during this time we have taken all financial and practical responsibility for the security and maintenance of the road; Whakatane District Council has not had to spend a cent on it. This reflects the lack of council and public interest in the road,” she said.
The road is short, a dead end and services only two homes and a forestry block, but deputy mayor Judy Turner is concerned that closing it will see the council lose the “future-proofing it provides”.
“We can’t anticipate the future use of the road 20-to-30 years from now,” she said.
“There could be lifestyle blocks up there, and all of a sudden that road could have greater public use.”
Mr Taylor advised councillors that generally licences to occupy were granted for temporary structures, such as seating outside a café, and were for the “good of the public, not financial gain”.
“If even one person objects then the structures must be removed,” he said.
“We are setting ourselves up here for something that will have to removed; there has already been one complaint.”
Mayor Tony Bonne disagreed, saying licences were often granted to farmers who built permanent fences and gained commercially from the extra paddock space.
“I don’t understand how this can be shading the home when its 300 metres away. Surely we have a practical solution here,” he said.
Mr Bonne suggested the council refuse the Kirks’ request to close the road but open discussions with relevant landowners to see if they could come to some agreement on a licence to occupy – possibly with some stipulations as to the size of the shelter belt and where the Kirks’ workers could park.
All councillors agreed with this approach and it also satisfied the Kirks. Kirk said it was as good an outcome as they could hope for and they were open to all discussions.