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Coastal development that preserves the coastline: Whitianga Waterways

This paper uses Whitianga Waterways as a case study of coastal development and was delivered by Bain Cross to the Coasts and Ports Australasian Conference in 2003. This paper is also available to download (109Kb PDF)

Setting: Coromandel Peninsula

  • Proximity to one-third NZ population
  • Constant development pressure last 30 years
  • Development pressure & land values increasing
  • Coastal land at a premium

Typical rugged bush clad coastline - courtesy of Tourism Coromandel Coromandel map - courtesy of Hopper Development Ltd Typical deserted sandy beach - courtesy of Tourism Coromandel Remote hideaway - courtesy of Tourism Coromandel Remote camp site - courtesy of Tourism Coromandel

Policy Context

District Plan strategy:

  • Concentrate development in 7 main towns, and strongly limit other coastal development
  • Fully service those towns
  • Identify future development areas
  • Rezone areas when appropriate

Future Development areas


  • Capital intensive activities (forestry, glasshouses, etc.)
  • Land modification (quarries, earthworks etc.)
  • Subdivision of land


  • One of 7 main towns on the Coromandel Peninsula
  • Identified for growth potential for last 30 years
  • Fully serviced, but with stormwater disposal problems
  • Infrastructure developed

Whitianga Waterways Concept

  • 1500 lot canal housing project, on 220 hectares of land
  • Access by 1500m harbour channel
  • Canals for vessels drawing 1.5m
  • Relocate State highway to bypass town centre
  • Design residential neighbourhoods
  • Identify four different housing areas
  • Public access along all canals (private frontage)
  • Local commercial centre, access by canal and road
  • About 1500 properties when finished
  • Permanent population of 5,200
  • About 28 years to complete

Whitianga Waterways development map - courtesy of Hopper Development Ltd Whitianga Waterways development stages 1 & 2 - courtesy of Hopper Development Ltd Whitianga Waterways stage 1 constructed - courtesy of Hopper Development Ltd

District Plan Provisions

  • Flexibility to deal with changing markets, political situation
  • Certainty to satisfy environmental, community concerns
  • Durable to transcend at least 7 changes of Council and two District Plan reviews
  • Must work in practice

Anticipated status of the canals

Same model as Pauanui:

  • Public ownership
  • Vested in Council as reserve
  • Available to all, subject to reserve management plan

Pauanui Waterways - courtesy of Hopper Development Ltd Pauanui Waterways - courtesy of Hopper Development Ltd

Final status of canals

  • Private ownership
  • Vested in body corporate
  • Central part available to public, administered by body corporate, Regional and District Councils

Whitianga Waterways Canals under construction - courtesy of Hopper Development Ltd Whitianga Waterways Canals under construction - courtesy of Hopper Development Ltd

Analysis of application process

  • Total time concept to approval 4 years 9 months
  • Concept development & research 2 years, 42% of total
  • “Waiting” time 26.25 months, 46% total, all within final 2 years 9 months
  • Remaining 12% hearings time, deliberations, etc.


  • Plan provisions must anticipate market and political changes over very long period (probably 28 years)
  • Resource Management Act deals poorly with land/water jurisdiction
  • Change from public to private ownership of canals significant; private status of canals yet to be proven
  • Long delays “waiting” unacceptable
  • Contest between iwi needs Central Government resolution

Purpose of RM Act

Sustainable management of resources:

  • Tools for assessing information not available
  • Purpose difficult if not impossible to monitor

Sustainable management v sustainable development:

  • Can demonstrate that Whitianga Waterways is a sustainable development
  • Difficult/impossible to demonstrate that this growth in Whitianga is sustainable management

Completed canal development - courtesy of Hopper Development Ltd