Despite the best efforts of opponents, a divisive shooting club was officially opened in the Kaipara this month by deputy prime minister Paula Bennett. But the court battles are far from over, and now Ngāti Rango o Ngāti Whātua have joined the fray. Don Rowe reports.
Three weeks ago Makarau Valley residents Chris and Kat Catchpole were celebrating the birth of their first daughter. Now they’re contemplating just how much they can take before they’re forced to leave their home of seven years.
“We bought this place for the sole reason of creating a forever home,” says Chris. “We wanted a place to bring up a family and children in peace and quiet – not to the sound of gunfire. Now that’s the reality that we’re facing.”
The Catchpoles live two kilometres from the controversial Auckland Shooting Club, a distance which club owner Raymond O’Brien has insisted would make the gunshots all but impossible to hear. Chris, who has received hampers and baking from sympathetic neighbours, says O’Brien should come and listen for himself.
“My partner came home from the hospital. She’s tired, we’ve put the baby down, she’s trying to rest and all you can hear is the guns,” he says. “It’s been a disaster to be honest. It’s ridiculous. As a father and a husband it’s bloody hard to watch your wife who hasn’t slept in four days burst into tears because she can’t sleep. It makes you damned angry.”
And the Catchpoles aren’t the only ones furious with the club. The Vipassana Meditation Centre has been in the valley for 30 years, built solely through the donations of previous students of their ten day silent retreats. They’ve been fighting for almost a year, infuriating the gun club and their flush supporters. To the gun club they’re ‘bullies’ and ‘hairy-armpitted hippies’; to residents like the Catchpoles they’re “the best neighbours you could ask for. Just lovely, lovely people.”
Now another local ally has joined them.
On Sunday, local hapū Ngāti Rango initiated weekly protests against the degradation of their sacred maunga Tuhirangi.
“Ngāti Rango and its people live from place to place but return always to their turangawaewae, a place of ancestral refuge and tranquility,” they said in a statement. “Our people return here for the environment and its peaceful surroundings of the Kaipara. The noise level and lead poisoning to the whenua will directly impact on the spiritual significance and kaitiakitanga of our whānau, hapū and iwi beliefs and tribal values.”
Because the Auckland Shooting Club is operating under a certificate of compliance rather than resource consent, there was no process of public consultation ahead of its opening. The hapū – and many in the community at large – strongly object to that.
“As a treaty partner the importance of approach and discussion by the other so-called partner is integral to finding the right pathway forward,” they said.
The Auckland Shooting Club, apparently well attuned to local geography and tribal distribution, posted this in response:
They have confused two different locations with the same name.
Residents of the valley have also received vague communications from O’Brien, implying that should Ngāti Rango be the legitimate tangata whenua – which the club disputes – then property values are sure to drop. Perhaps ironic, considering the effects on property values of what is proposed to become Australasia’s biggest gun club moving in next door.
“I was only musing on the law of unintended consequences,” O’Brien wrote when one resident asked for clarification. “Nothing more. You have a good night too.”
The ongoing court battle also continues, with the certificate of compliance issued to the ASC referred back to the Auckland Council by the High Court for reconsideration. The judge found that “the application failed to record the existence of a building and the application contained no information about discharges of contaminants (lead) to the environment.”
“Plainly the Council, in not satisfying itself about these matters, could not lawfully issue a certificate of compliance. This manifests a clear error of law.”
Furthermore, advice provided to the Auckland Council by their counsel Meredith Connell, obtained by The Spinoff, indicates even a fully accurate certificate of compliance would be insufficient:
“…there is no rule in the Air, Land, and Water Plan dealing with discharges to land or water from human activity, such as, in this context, firing of guns. As such a discharge to land or water from and associated with a shooting range should, prima facie, be treated as a discretionary activity by default, under Rule 5.5.68.”
Discretionary activities require resource consent, which is much harder to get than a certificate of compliance, and would by necessity have included consultation with both Ngāti Rango and residents of the Makarau Valley and surrounding area.
The issue of contamination is significant. In Wairarapa, a land use consent issued to a gun club by the Southern Wairarapa District Council was rescinded by the Greater Wellington Regional Council when it was decided that it no longer had any legal effect on the grounds of contamination. Two years later the club got resource consent to operate on a reduced basis of 88 days a year, however president John Donald said the number would be significantly less in practice, as the club meets only once a month.
The ASC is intent on much more intensive operations. Raymond O’Brien told Stuff earlier this month that he goes through more than 2,500 rounds per week himself. The ASC expects to have an average of 30 people shooting on any given day, which suggests that over a week as many as 75,000 rounds will be fired. On big days, when they might have upwards of 150 shooters in, it will be far more again. This on soil that contaminated land consultant Erika McDonald called “highly permeable” in documents obtained by The Spinoff. It will now fall on the Auckland Council to decide whether or not the contamination in the Makarau Valley requires resource consent.
And, according to O’Brien, that average is just an estimate.
“There is no limit to the number of people we can have on the property under ‘recreational pursuit’,” he told Stuff.
For Lesley Rountree, who moved to the valley in the late ’90s after falling in love with the peaceful and remote countryside, that is devastating. She says that already, just two weeks into club operations, the noise is intolerable.
“On a good day it’s like having a nailgun [in a] building next door. On a bad day it’s very, very loud.
“Raymond’s words to me were that it would be like gentle rainfall on the roof but it’s not that. When they’ve got the big guns going or the wind is blowing in our direction it’s like dropping rocks on the roof, not raindrops. It’s ridiculous. I find myself actually hoping for rain or a major storm because on those days there is less activity. I think we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg at the moment and it’s already bad. Based on what I’ve seen and what I’ve heard I expect it to get absolutely horrendous.”
For his part, Chris Catchpole would ask O’Brien to have some empathy for Kat, for his baby, and for all the others who were there before the club.
“I’d just say that he’s come into our community and done this. He lives off-site. He’s brought this in, and the sheer arrogance that he seems to be showing is probably the hardest thing to bear. He doesn’t care about any of us, he’s not interested in our complaints, he’s not interested in how its effecting our lives. I’d ask him to put himself in our shoes.”
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