A house is left on the edge after a slip in Beach Haven. Video / Chris Keall
Auckland Council twice took action for non-consented works below a new $2.25 million North Shore house where cliffs collapsed last month, causing a huge slip on to a beach below.
Kerri Fergusson, compliance
response and investigations manager, said two abatement notices were issued to homeowner Ben Wilson at 52 Brigantine Drive – the first in 2019 and the second just this year.
Non-consented vegetation and stair construction works were carried out below his place above Charcoal Bay, she said. Council documents say he admitted to carrying out the vegetation work. Pine trees and natives were removed because he believed they were dangerous, council documents showed.
But on July 15, a massive slip occurred on the cliff which senior geotechnical engineer Paul Carter has attributed partly to rainfall.
Chris Darby, to the Auckland councillor, asked if vegetation had been removed and how much that had contributed to the cliff’s sudden and dramatic failure.
Fergusson told the Herald: “Investigations are ongoing but there is currently no evidence to suggest that the unconsented works were the cause of the recent slips.”
The huge slip beneath the new house at Beach Haven. Photo / Chris Keall
Fergusson said regulatory services’ compliance response and investigations unit and its community facilities teams responded to reports of unconsented activity on the council-owned land below Brigantine Drive.
The first abatement notice was issued on May 23, 2019 over vegetation vanishing.
“Following an area of vegetation and pine tree removal within a significant ecological area and also a large amount of earthworks on the council reserve, an abatement notice was issued to the property owner.
“The conditions of the notice required them to install sediment control, remove the loose soil, provide a geotech report, provide a restorative planting plan and to carry out and maintain the restorative planting,” she said.
“The owner has complied with all conditions of this abatement notice, noting that it has a four-year maintenance period for the planting, which is still active,” she said.
The stairs on the council reserve down to the beach. Photo/Supplied
After the tree issue, stairs were then discovered to have been built in the council reserve. A neighbor says those stairs remain and did not fall in the cliff collapse.
Fergusson said: “In 2022, we were alerted to the unauthorized construction of stairs on the council reserve, and a second abatement notice was issued. This has been appealed and is currently before the courts.”
Asked to comment on the two abatement notices he had been issued with, homeowner Ben Wilson did not respond to the Herald. Wilson is the founder and leader of advertising agency BM Media, started in 2010.
He lived in Castor Bay when the 2019 abatement notice was issued, at which time the new house was under construction.
Earlier this week, when asked if vegetation had been removed from the cliff in front of his home, Wilson said he was busy with family matters and the council could answer questions.
In the 2019 situation, council investigators wrote to Wilson that they had visited his property and spoken to him about non-complying works.
Homeowner Ben Wilson. Photo / BM Media
“We walked down in the reserve where I saw that a large area of reserve, estimated 1000sq m, directly behind 52 and 56 Brigantine Drive was cleared of all vegetation – mostly pine trees and some native vegetation. Vegetation was also cleared from the cliff edge which may have affected its stability,” an officer wrote.
At least 34 tree stumps were counted around the area, mostly pine trees. One pohutukawa was completely removed and two or three were trimmed.
Following a conversation with Wilson shortly after the inspection, the officer wrote: “You admitted that you engaged the contractor to remove the pine trees from the area as you believed they were dangerous.”
An abatement notice was issued under the Resource Management Act and the site would be revisited to check compliance.
In the second abatement issued this year, Wilson received a letter from the council on staircase construction in a coastal erosion hazard area as well as tree removal in breach of the Resource Management Act and the Auckland Unitary Plan.
The new $2.25m house stands above cliff which collapsed. Photo/Supplied
The work took place within 52 Brigantine Drive and also within the publicly owned Jacaranda Esplanade Reserve without the permission of the owner, which is Auckland Council.
The staircase required a building consent because it was possible to fall more than 1.5m, even if it collapses, the letter said. Wilson was told to remove the staircase.
A second visit by council staff had resulted in observations that there was evidence of tree removal or alteration. Vegetation alteration or removal was defined as damaging, cutting, destroying or removing any part of vegetation including the roots and crown pruning. No resource consents were approved for the staircase or tree removal.
The tree removal within the area had decreased the high biodiversity value, it was claimed. The establishment of structures within the area was likely to cause disturbance or removal of existing vegetation and changes to the existing landform, natural character and ecological values of the coastal landscape, the notice to Wilson said.
Wilson had the right to appeal to the Environment Court, the documents noted. A council spokesperson said no date was set for that.