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Leach's Forestry Project - Questions!

If there is one thing that I have learnt over the years it is that perception is just about everything when it comes to politics. And if there is one thing that politicos should do during terms in office is ensure that they keep their noses clean - very clean if they are not to be tripped up by perception.

A case in point is currently under way on land adjacent to the Whitianga Water Works.

I have undertaken investigations by way of OIR’s through our Council, having been made aware of a perception of a questionable commercial relationship between the Council and the Mayor. This post comprises information gleaned from those exchanges, and from interviews conducted with people who have been involved.

The story dates back to 2000 when Glenn Leach purchased the land in question from a Mr & Mrs Bray. An e-mail trail indicates that prior to the sale, the Bray’s had endeavoured to get access through the Water-Works to a 17h forestry block at the back of the land that was to form part of the sale to Leach. The trail indicates willingness on the part of Council to accede to the Bray’s request, but in true TCDC fashion at the time, nothing of a legal nature was entered into – simply a resource consent application, and emails acknowledging the request, but nothing else.

Leach apparently saw fit to rely on this form of ‘agreement’ when he purchased and subsequently sold off sections at the front of the land that may well have provided the necessary access when harvesting the trees became necessary.

Such was the case at the end of 2014 when a rapid exchange of emails again took place after Leach failed to secure access through the Golf Club, or Cycle Club that occupies adjacent TCDC land on a ‘grace & favour’ basis – no lease in other words. The only practical access became the road up through the Water-Works – an additional gate was all that was required to access further TCDC land that would be used as a log storage facility. Staff decided to give Leach use of the light access service road – never designed for 40 tonne logging rigs – raising questions regarding restoration. So no lease rental, no legal agreement, nor any resource consent for the logging yard, or restoration arrangement.

This last facility appears far larger than anticipated, and although requirements were put in place regarding its use in correspondence dated 23 December 2014 to Veolia and Scobbie (logging contractor), Council staff conveniently decided that a resource consent was not required. Interestingly, a copy of this letter was apparently requested by Council house solicitor, Paul Davies on 27 March 2015. Could it be that concerns about this state of affairs were being expressed in the Castle at that time – one can only speculate, and no doubt Mr Davies would claim legal privilege were it pursued?  

Further, a rather disturbing letter from the Waikato Regional Council following my inquiry there indicates that verbal assurances were apparently given by the logging contractor to their Resource Consent Officer that again obviated the need for a earth moving resource consent for either the road or the log storage site.

The road through the Water Works was an existing road, and accordingly required no consent - no argument, but the large log storage area is another matter, and a further inspection by WRC may well reveal deception in that regard, particularly as the yard lies adjacent to a water course. It is interesting that an email from a planner in the Whitianga TCDC Office on 26 November 2014 indicates that in his view “It is a stretch to fit the works into this framework (of permitted activities).”

The logging operation is now in full swing, and the extent of the log storage area may be gauged from the accompanying photograph taken on 28 April 2015. I would suggest as a lay-person only, that the extent of this operation requires a resource consent – full-stop, and that had the extent of the log-yard operation been clearer to staff in December, both TCDC and WRC may well have required same at that time. As an aside, one must question the fact that the all the correspondence surrounding this issue appears to have been conducted out of the Whitianga office, thus insulating the Castle from the issue – I wonder why? Just another example of the advantages of the dissemination of decision making to the area offices, or disadvantage if you are that way inclined. 

But aside from this, what is blindingly obvious from all of the e-mails, letters and other documents with which I have been supplied is the fact that staff have leaned over backwards to accommodate the needs of Mayor Leach in his private capacity, a matter about which Mr Davies may well be concerned. One is entitled to ask whether the same consideration would have been extended to any ordinary member of the public?

I would suggest otherwise, and therein lies the perception that our Mayor has received special treatment to enable him to accomplish a fairly large scale commercial operation without the need for pesky leases, formal agreements, of heaven help us – resource consents. Not a ‘hanging offence’ perhaps, but nevertheless an indication of the unhealthy relationship between Leach and staff who show every sign of entrenched intimidation.

Readers may or may not recall, but one of the first actions Leach took on gaining office was to ensure the removal of the Planning Manager Peter Mickleson – part of the Great Cleanout that he promised to excited audiences during his campaign. Mickleson told me at the time that he knew he was in the gun for having opposed Leach’s application to sub-divide the land in question in this post – a matter that ended up in the Environment Court – resolved if I am not mistaken mainly in Leach’s favour, but at considerable cost. I believe that Mickleson received a substantial six figure settlement to leave, along with many others of course - the quantum of which has never been revealed. Such was life in the Castle at the outset of this Council when such settlements were the norm.  

I wish to make it clear that I am not accusing anyone in this post of having broken any law – simply that the situation outlined indicates an unhealthy relationship between the Mayor and staff. Furthermore, if it is good enough for the WRC to undertake a further inspection to ensure that there have been no breaches of the WDP, that TCDC should institute a similar inspection to ensure that there have similarly been no breaches of its District Plan.

That would appear the least that should be undertaken in the circumstances.  




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