Red Helicopter against a blue sky. Isaac benhesed / Unsplashed

Motion Grounded: Council Decision Keeps Helipads Hovering Over Gulf


In a decision that clipped the wings of its advocates, Auckland City Council’s Planning, Environment, and Parks Committee on Thursday rejected Councillor Mike Lee’s motion to prohibit private helipads in the residential and settlement areas of the Hauraki Gulf Islands.

Lee found his efforts to quiet the skies thwarted, 8 votes to 10, in a debate that soared past two hours.

Auckland Council Chief of Strategy Megan Tyler told councillors the cost of doing work on the ban as it wrestles with more than $12 Bn of debt, would soar into the tens of thousands of dollars. Moreover, Tyler warned of headwinds for the council’s existing work plan, indicating that expedited changes to the Hauraki Gulf District Plan would divert resources and attention.

While Lee’s motion didn’t take off, the committee agreed a compromise, passing an amendment to force future helipad consents to consider the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement. This introduces an added layer of environmental scrutiny via the Resource Management Act (RMA).

Resistance to Lee’s proposal wasn’t solely based on financial concerns or work load. Councillor Chris Darby, among others, advocated for a holding pattern until a broader, city-wide solution could be developed. Specifically, most preferred waiting for the integration of the Hauraki Gulf District Plan into the Auckland Unitary Plan. That merger though, is around two years away.

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Aotea, Local board chair Izzy Fordham voiced her concerns over the outcome, “It was disappointing that Cr Mike Lee’s Notice of Motion at Thursday’s Planning Environment & Parks Committee meeting didn’t get the support it deserved – an opportunity lost to better protect our Gulf Islands, our Mana whenua sites of significance and the intrinsic values we hold for our future.” she said.

“Thanks must go to those Councillors that gave their support to Mike and his communities of Aotea, Waiheke and Waitemata. The amendment that was passed for a plan change to the HGIDP for the NZ Coastal Policy Statement to now be considered in helipad consents is welcomed – a small win but not the one we were hoping for.”

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Pa Beach Cafe, 82 Blackwell Drive, Tryphena, Great Barrier Island (Aotea)

Lee’s motion had unanimous support from the Aotea GBI, Waitematā and Waiheke Local Boards.

During the debate Lee cautioned that failing to pass the motion might signal to developers and residents that the council is leaning towards a future ban, prompting a barrage of new applications in the interim years before the council could revisit the issue.

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Pa Beach Cafe, 82 Blackwell Drive, Tryphena, Great Barrier Island (Aotea)

In the aftermath of the vote the Waitematā and Gulf Ward Councillor shared his frustration.

“I am very disappointed. Especially by the failure of the councillors and mayor to listen to the pleas of the affected communities and their local boards to ban helipads from residential areas,” Lee expressed his surprise at the lack of support from Labour Green-aligned councillors, who he believed would back the motion in favor of community interests over “privileged A-Listers.”

Lee argued the Coastal Policy Statement concessions fell short of addressing the core issue, which, according to him, has been deteriorating over the years. He highlighted the growing number of private residential helipads, pointing out, “On Barrier, there is already 11 private residential helipads, one property has two! Even the search and rescue public helipad at Fitzroy is being abused by high-end cruise ship companies. On Waiheke, there are 61! In the city, Herne Bay and Westmere helipads are bitterly opposed by aggrieved neighbours.”

Lee further criticized the council’s planning bureaucracy for permitting aircraft operations in residential areas, deeming it unsafe and incongruent with global health and safety standards. “It’s extraordinary in this health & safety sensitive world that the council planning bureaucracy thinks it’s safe for aircraft to be landing and taking off in residential neighbourhoods – whether it’s Aotea, Waiheke, or Westmere,” he drew comparisons to cities like Sydney, where residential and business area helipads are banned.

The councillor also recounted Mayor Wayne Brown’s departure before the vote. “Yes. The mayor did walk out before the vote and I thought ‘Thank God’. No such luck. However, he voted via his phone from a cafe to help torpedo our motion!”

“We got close 8 votes to 10.” he added.

Undeterred by the setback, Lee vowed to renew the fight. “We will be back next year – before the election.”

“Politicians, including aspiring mayors, will be held to account,” he promised.

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