Winton loses appeal over tree-planting on Wakatipu Basin property

A business that wants to develop around 200 residences and a wellness retreat outside Queenstown has failed in its appeal over its tree-planting activities.

The 42ha Waterfall Park between Lake Hayes and Arrowtown is owned by Winton Group whose Winton Land has since December been trading on the NZX.

Waterfall has big plans for its rural site, advertising “a selection of restaurants, event spaces, a chapel and a day spa and wellness retreat”.

But the company lost an appeal over its activities on its rural property in the Wakatipu Basin area, well before the development of the bigger scheme has even begun.

Winton Group wants the Waterfall Park property in the Speargrass Flat area for residential, commercial or retirement village development purposes, giving it a range of options.

But neighbours and the local council have opposeda 205m line of Leyland Cypress trees and its attempts to have the land rezoned have not been achieved either.

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Waterfall Park Developments went to the High Court at Invercargill to appeal against an Environment Court decision last year about its tree planting on its land near Queenstown.

Waterfall’s director is Chris Meehan is also chief executive of NZX-listed Winton Land which in December made an initial public offering of $350 million for expansion and development.

Winton specialises in building retirement villages and residential housing and has a national string of projects throughout New Zealand.

But the High Court rejected its arguments about needing evergreens at Waterfall Park as shelterbelts, backing the neighbours and the local council.

Winton’s neighbours James and Rebecca Hadley and the Queenstown Lakes District Council prevailed in the case ruling on land alongside the Queenstown Trail boundary.

The Hadleys live beside that trail and argued Waterfall’s trees were not permitted as a farming activity. Instead, landscape architect Rebecca Hadley argued Winton’s moves were landscaping.

She argued the tree-planting needed consent because it was not listed as a permitted activity.

A council landscape witness said the planting was akin to screen planting that was associated with rural residential living, rather than a shelterbelt.

A council planning expert did not consider the planting to be within the definition of farming activity because it was not established for that primary purpose.

Last March, the Environment Court said the tree planting breached the Resource Management Act.

So Waterfall Park appealed against that, saying the Environment Court was mistaken.

Meehan gave evidence about the evergreens and why they were picked over the more common deciduous trees.

While acknowledging he is not a farmer, he said the farm was exposed to cold westerly and south-westerly winds and deciduous trees would not offer as much shelter in winter as evergreens.

He also pointed out that Leyland Cypress are commonly used for shelterbelt planting in the Wakatipu Basin and there are many examples of evergreen species being used as shelterbelts on farms in the area.

He also outlined plans for the land in the longer term.

Winton had a staged development strategy for Ayrburn Farm and the adjacent Waterfall Park Zone.

It had sought rezoning that would enable up to 200 residential homes, a retirement village of equivalent size, or rural lifestyle development.

If Waterfall Park did not achieve the rezoning it sought, then the options for the use of
the land would be essentially limited to farming options and Waterfall Park wanted
to make the site attractive to potential buyers and private for future residents, Meehan told the court.

The land is leased to the nearby Loch Linnhe Station which is allowed to graze sheep and undertake farming activities on the Winton land.

Winton says its land is “located the base of a picturesque waterfall and surrounding the beautiful Mill Creek. Waterfall Park will be transformed with extensive landscaping, restored heritage charm and pedestrian and cycle trails. Alongside will sit a selection of restaurants, event spaces, a chapel and a day spa and wellness retreat.”

Winton has advertised that “this once secluded valley and waterways will be revived as Queenstown’s forgotten treasure”.

The latest decision backed the Environment Court decision and ruled against Waterfall Park. The company had not identified any error of law and its appeal was dismissed.

In December, Winton issued around 90m new shares, being up to 30.4 per cent of the total shares on issue immediately after the offer.

Meehan said today: “This judgment is regarding some trees we planted for shelter and protection purposes at Waterfall Park, which we believed we didn’t require resource consent for. The court has determined otherwise, so we will apply accordingly.”

Winton is trading around $3.30, giving a market cap of $978m.

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