Pūtiki Bay marina battle: Lessons from Waiheke Island protests

“Never underestimate a shift in the zeitgeist” is what a developer says can be learned from Waiheke Island battles to try to stop a marina from being built.

Kitt Littlejohn, a director of Kennedy Point Boatharbour which is developing the 186-berth72-carpark project, said global protests showed how fast political landscapes could shift and his business had learned from that.

He was commenting after violence this month including a protester stripping naked and stepping in between two workers, another protester being face-kicked by a security guard and a guard repeatedly head-kicked and forced into the sea off a pontoon down a narrow gap.

Littlejohn said having legal rights alone was not enough these days and that level of violence showed the lengths people would now go to.

“We got this resource consent in 2018 but you look at what’s happened in the world in three years – significant protest movements and it has galvanised a generation into being very vocal about what they don’t like about the establishment.

“The lesson here is that just getting a permit through the legal system is probably not enough. You need to have your finger on the pulse of the community and we didn’t do that as well as we thought we had.”

Police said this week 14 arrests had been made and Littlejohn said a private frogman had been hired to protect the construction site.

“The message to other developers is, don’t underestimate that there will be a segment who may take issue with what you’re doing and may try to frustrate it to get a bit of publicity about it and just to be prepared for it, and that involves having a very good plan and a lot of resources,” he said.

The business has now also hired a new security boat, trained extra staff and had a frogman to patrol the site.

“The scuba diver we’ve got is there to assist people if they refuse to leave from the construction zone and if it’s an assault scenario, the scuba diver moves away and we wait for police,” he said.

Protesters showed social media footage this week of swimming into the construction zone, clothing held by the frogman, then slipping under mussel buoys out of the zone.

Work resumed this week after the police arrived en masse around July 16.

“The amount of effort we’ve had to put into being able to protect the construction workers from incursions into the construction zone has been quite considerable. After the events a few weeks ago with the pontoon which was put there from trying to stop swimmers putting themselves in danger – we had to take that out because it got overrun,” Littlejohn said referring to protesters camping on it.

Barring protesters from entering the maritime construction zone was extremely complex, he said, due to it being water-based. Land-based construction sites were far easier to bar protesters from, he said.

“It took us a while to work with the police around the methodology to be able to control the construction zone. We’ve had to acquire and fit out a rescue boat and employ commercial divers who are able to assist swimmers who get into the construction zone from the water.”

Protester safety was paramount, he said.

“Key protesters have been arrested which has also assisted the situation and made the effort and energy behind the protest movement has diminished somewhat as a result which is good. We’re very happy to have the protests which is the right of every Kiwi. However it got to the point it wasn’t allowing work to proceed and that’s what we’ve been able to manage now,” he said.

The marina project was a commercial success, with contracts on 150 of the 187 berths.

Few marinas had been built in Auckland in recent years yet the boating sector had boomed, he said, so when the Waiheke project was proposed, boaties showed huge interest.

Kennedy Point Boatharbour had around 1000 names registered on its database, he said.

The only berths left were around 18m long. Berths are understood to have pre-sold from around $180,000 each.

Littlejohn said many people in Waiheke supported the project but “for whatever reason aren’t prepared to put their hand up publicly, there’s a real backlash in the Waiheke community. But lots of local businesses are inquiring about opportunities to leverage off what’s going to happen with the facilities”.

The company’s priority was people’s health and safety within an active construction site, and its site management plan was being adapted to achieve that.

“The company has developed various lawful strategies to prevent trespass and to remove trespassers from the construction zone.The police will have a regular presence on-site for the foreseeable future,” Littlejohn said.

“On-site construction resumed this week and the construction crew will be progressing through some of the piling required for the new wharf. All of the works being undertaken are in line with protocols approved by Auckland Council to ensure adverse effects on kororā are avoided, and are in accordance with the Project’s resource consent and approved construction plans,” he said.

Any pause to on-site construction caused by protesters leads to delays in work completion and additional cost. But off-site construction continued and the company remained committed to keeping as close as possible to the planned construction timeline while dealing with the challenges.

“A total of 24 piles are required for the wharf, of which two have been installed to date. The company has deferred work on nine piles that are within the breakwater footprint until the end of the kororā breeding/moulting season next year,” Littlejohn said.

Protect Pūtiki says it wants more people to get involved in the protest.

“Swimmers and frontliners needed urgently,” the group said in a social media post.

“There will be ongoing police presence and planned works this week so we need frontliners – confident swimmers and who can protect the moana and the kororā by continuing to stop works as well as those who can be present to film and hold space.”

The group says it now has more than 25,000 signatures on a petition demanding Auckland Council revoke the marina’s resource consent.

“We stand firmly for the protection of Pūtiki and all moana in Aotearoa to be respected in the protection of kaitiaki, accessible and able to be experienced by all. We stand firmly demanding the respect of indigenous connection to place, to water, and ask Auckland Council to recognise mana whenua and tangata whenua, and right this wrong,” the group says.

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