Saturday, December 4

Council waiting game brings developers to breaking point

A small-scale builder was forced to live out of his car while awaiting the outcome of a subdivision that he says has ruined his life.

Nathan Hogg says the waiting game he's playing with the council has pushed him to the limit.  He is pictured on an acre of land that he is trying to subdivide into Colac Bay.

Nathan Hogg says the waiting game he’s playing with the council has pushed him to the limit. He is pictured on an acre of land that he is trying to subdivide into Colac Bay.
Photo: LDR / Matthew Rosenberg

The fiasco has become a tug of war between the man, his surveyor, and the council’s environmental planning manager, who maintains that the land in question has “a number of

limitations “.

Five years ago, Nathan Hogg, 43, purchased a one-acre (0.4 ha) section in Colac Bay in hopes of subdividing it.

The plan was simple: keep a section for himself and sell the rest, freeing up money that would get him out of a difficult situation in his life.

But after cutting down trees and enlisting the help of specialists to the tune of about $ 20,000, the dream didn’t last long.

Hogg’s September 2020 application was met with skepticism by the Southland District Council, and two months later he was informed that it would likely be rejected.

He retired, but his troubles were just beginning.

“It shouldn’t get to the point where you have nervous breakdowns and sleepless nights. I don’t sleep anyway, due to pain problems,” he said.

Hogg broke his back in 2015, but returned to work prematurely as a builder in order to finance the project.

ACC wasn’t giving him enough to cover his mortgage payments, so he rented his Glenorchy property and lived in his car as recently as this year. He now lives at a friend’s house in Colac Bay.

Hogg recruited Don Moir, director of Invercargill’s surveying and wastewater specialists Ralph Moir Ltd.

Moir believed that Hogg was being misled by the council.

He admitted he was not surprised when Hogg’s first subdivision request was rejected late last year, although he still believed it should have been approved.

“The first application was certainly ambitious,” Moir said.

“When I first looked at it, I thought, ‘I have a challenge on my hands here.’

Surveyor and sewage expert Don Moir believes Hogg has received a crude dea

Surveyor and sewage expert Don Moir believes Hogg has received a crude dea
Photo: LDR / Matthew Rosenberg

The main issue at the time was the number of assignments.

Hogg wanted to build seven houses on 0.4 hectares, a high density for a small seaside town of 60 inhabitants.

He withdrew that application in December, but submitted a second one in January of this year, reducing the number of assignments to just three.

Amid the reduced allocation sizes and existing geotechnology and sewage reports, Moir believed that Hogg was ready for the races.

But nine months later, Hogg’s only prize was a $ 6,000 bill from the council, an itemized bill for his December retirement.

At a meeting of the Southland District Council in May, Hogg unsuccessfully struggled against cost, a decent portion of which had gone to the council to cover its own expenses to recruit technical experts to peer review Hogg’s team.

“Wherever they go to hire consultants and record invoices for that kind of amount, there should be some consultation with applicants first,” Moir argued.

“To me, that is so unethical.

“I would be fired from my institute for doing what the council does.”

The situation has reached a stalemate, where Moir believes the planner has everything ahead of him to approve the request, but is unwilling to pull the trigger for reasons that remain “ambiguous.”

However, Southland District Council environmental planning manager Marcus Roy said the consultant requested that the request be suspended.

“The council has requested additional information to better understand the nature and extent of the limitations on the site that has not been provided by Hogg or the consultant,” Roy said.

He highlighted multiple limitations that affected approval, including the high amount of groundwater, substantial peat, and potential liquefaction.

Moir said the ball was in Roy’s court, because he sent information on which they are still waiting for the council to give their opinion.

The request to put the application on hold occurred because Roy had indicated that it would be rejected, but had not been clear about what the council actually required, Moir said.

Both Hogg and Moir admit that the 0.4 acre of land has its problems, but other houses built on similar ground surround the property in all directions, some of which Moir has personally worked on.

“You choose any property that surrounds this block in any direction and the ground conditions are the same,” Moir said.

“It’s not like it’s an isolated pocket unlike all the land around it.

“We are not going to submit subdivision applications that are going to be rejected.”

Hogg’s original plan to build up to seven houses, including one for himself, was completely finished.

Hogg said that the expenses, delays and reduction in the number of lots had cost him too much and that he would no longer be able to establish himself in Colac Bay.

“I hate crying stories, really. And my personal position should have nothing to do with it. [with it],” he says.

“Nobody forced me to buy that property. Nobody forced me to subdivide it. He knew it would take time and money.

“But for it to go on for so long … it’s a bitter pill to swallow.”

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Local Democracy Reporting is a public interest news service supported by RNZ, the Association of News Publishers, and NZ On Air.

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