The Sunday Star-Times (Auckland)
By ALEXANDER Miriyana
1 non-Xena graphic.
Ross and Maria Bethell, owners of land used by XWP and HTLJ for location shots, is having an argument with a local council over how they will be able to use their land.
HIGH on the hills shrouded in native bush, fantails flit and wild pigs fossick. Below, the surf foams on to Bethells Beach and in the distance, the brilliant blue waters of the Tasman glisten. It's a 332ha slice of paradise and it belongs to Waitakere, west Auckland, farmers Ross and Maria Bethell. But there's the rub. While the farm (which has been in the Bethell family for five generations) might be theirs, a 20-year fight with the local council means the couple cannot live off their land. The Resource Management Act protects the coastal farm because of its native bush cover which means the Bethells have to get permission to use it. Ross and Maria want about 150ha to farm cattle and re-forest with pine, eucalyptus and kauri trees. However, the Waitakere City Council has given a loud and consistent "no", saying the existing native vegetation -- largely manuka and kanuka -- is "significant" on the basis of landscape value, visual impact and future native forest potential. It ruled those values should take precedence over Resource Management Act provisions for reasonable use. To say the Bethells are angry is an understatement. "All we want to do is make a living off our own property to support our family," said Ross, whose two sons -- John (9) and Lee (7) -- should be the sixth generation to work the land. Instead, Ross has reverted to his carpentry trade to make ends meet and Maria makes the daily 45-minute drive to Auckland to work as an office manager. They get occasional income from the Xena and Hercules productions, parts of which are filmed on their land. Suggestions the Bethells don't care what happens to the land are denied. "We've always had a conservation ethic and the property has beautiful areas of native bush. But they're only there now because my family has looked after them all along. We wouldn't dream of touching them. "But the land we want to use is in a self-contained valley, only visible out to sea." Bethell, and several environmental experts, say the vegetation they want to clear -- manuka and kanuka -- is not significant. "Those species are well represented in the area. In fact, from Cape Reinga to the Bluff, so they can't be considered significant. I don't see how taking 150 acres of trees out of the 5000-odd hectares of the Waitakere ranges is a problem, we're taking around 1%." The Bethells are also prepared to replant other parts of their farm and put covenants over indigenous areas to protect them, but the council won't budge. Letters of support from 130 neighbours also failed to sway the local authority. The Bethells have been left little choice but to appeal the ruling in the Environment Court. They've already spent $ 20,000 fighting the council and can ill-afford the estimated extra $ 80,000 to go to court. But they have no choice. Without a change in fortune, they face leaving the farm that has been in the family for generations. Tears well as they consider the prospect. "It would just become too expensive to hold on to and we'd be forced to sell. But I don't want to do that. I couldn't live with myself, this is our heritage," said Bethell. Federated Farmers is behind the Bethells, with Auckland president Colin Bull saying the Resource Management Act lets councils become too draconian. The Waitakere City Council failed to respond to several requests for interviews.
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