Rod Duke's unfinished helipad at Sentinel Beach as it looks now. (photo: Instagram/leelorat)

Give it up, Rod: Your helipad by stealth is beneath you

Briscoes boss Rod Duke continues to fight to have a helipad protruding over a picturesque Auckland beach, just so he can get to his golf games quickly.

Despite its geographical status as an isthmus, central Auckland is not flush with good swimming beaches. Would-be bathers are at the mercy of time, tide and parking availability. The main options are extremely tidal and bustling Pt Chevalier to the west, or the less tidal but wildly congested eastern beaches of Mission Bay, Kohimarama and St Heliers.

Although I’ve lived in Auckland for the better part of 25 years I had never been to Sentinel Beach until this summer when a friend suggested it as a viable alternative for a dip.

The tiny cove is reached via a pathway and steps at the end of a cul-de-sac in swanky Herne Bay, a suburb where a well appointed dog kennel could cost you $1 million.

I’d read about the battle over Briscoes group managing director Rod Duke’s plans for a helipad at his new waterfront mansion, but had dismissed it as a stoush between the privileged occupants of over-priced real estate and paid no attention to the location. So as I settled on Sentinel Beach’s sands I was bewildered to see a large black structure jutting out into the picturesque bay.

Even though neighbouring boatsheds are clustered along the coast and it follows the footprint of its old 1950s predecessor, the flash new shed is obtrusive. All the more outrageous is that its purpose is not to house a boat but to provide a landing pad for the helicopters Duke wishes to catch to and from his golf games.

Rod Duke is a wealthy man. He owns four-fifths of Briscoes Group, operator of the Rebel Sport, Briscoes Homewares and Living and Giving chains, and is worth $750 million according to the last NBR Rich List. For many years he’s been seen as the jolly elder statesman of New Zealand retailing, the go-to spokesman for the state of the sector and therefore a harbinger of the country’s economic well-being.

The increasingly drawn out war over his beachfront folly has exposed another side to the affable oracle of retailing. Duke has now hired practically every lawyer and planning expert in Christendom to fight the latest court decision quashing consent for his helipad, his strategy seemingly being to wear everybody down.

Duke appears determined that his desire for a convenient game of golf will override all other considerations, not least his well-heeled neighbours’ right to quiet enjoyment of their properties and Auckland beachgoers’ safe and peaceful access to the bijoux bay.

This is the story to date. In August 2017 Auckland Council granted Duke and his wife Patricia consent to build their heli/boatshed on a non-notified basis, meaning the public got no say. The consent came with flight path, time of day, noise and frequency restrictions, with only three flights (one arrival and one departure) allowed in any seven-day period and a maximum of one flight a day, which the Dukes initially attempted to appeal.

The pair duly got on with knocking down the old shed and building a new structure with a retractable roof which would expose a helipad, and all hell duly broke loose around the neighbourhood.

The Dukes’ boatshed-come-helipad under construction at Sentinel Beach. (Photo: Radio NZ).

It culminated in a High Court appeal late last year. Justice Christine Gordon ruled in December that Auckland Council had erred by failing to take recreational use, safety, noise and special circumstances into consideration when it decided not to publicly notify the Dukes’ consent application. She ordered the couple back to the drawing board.

The Dukes have come back on the offensive with a a two-pronged approach: applying to have the shed itself declared legal, and making a second application to use it as a helipad. The couple enraged locals by conducting helicopter test flights last week to determine noise levels in support of their bid.

The Herne Bay Residents Association is apoplectic, asking how a structure which has been deemed illegal could now possibly get a certificate of compliance. It should go to the Environment Court for a ruling on whether the shed has any existing use rights and if so to what extent, it says.

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As Justice Gordon points out, it was her job to decide on the process, not the merits or otherwise of the Dukes’ intended domestic transport arrangements, but she hits the nail on the head in her ruling nonetheless.

“Stripped down, this is an application for use of a boatshed which is on a beach used by the public as a helicopter landing pad, with the Council itself accepting that the helicopter activity does not have a functional or operational need to be undertaken in the Coastal Marine Area,” she wrote.

In other words, a helicopter is not a boat and this is a stealth operation to build a helipad on a beautiful pohutukawa-fringed piece of Tāmaki Makaurau coastline.

You would’ve hoped this kind of deceit was beneath a man of Rod Duke’s wealth and stature. Rod, there’s still time.


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