Resource consent row over Buddhist monastery

By NICHOLAS BOYACK, Hutt News, Aug 11, 2009

Wainuiomata, New Zealand -- Four monks living in a house in Wainuiomata have been forced to apply for resource consent on what appears to be an obscure technicality.

The application cost over $3,000 and local councillor Ray Wallace says the situation is "nonsense" and shows that the Resource Management Act urgently needs reforming.

The Buddhist monks from Thailand have lived at 46 Pencarrow Crescent since April 2008.

They do not conduct services at the three bedroom house and rely on members of the congregation to feed them. But it is their reliance on supporters to bring them food that has caused them problems.

Buddhist tradition requires them to worship before they eat. As a result, the city council has deemed the house a Place of Assembly and under the District Plan they are required to get resource consent.

The application has drawn four objections from neighbours, who are mainly concerned about the extra traffic involved in delivering the meals.

The trust that runs the monastery says "there is nothing out of the ordinary" in the way the monks operate and large gatherings are held elsewhere.

"The monastery, being a residence for monks, should not be confused with a church or temple. It is where the monks live but as a direct result of the traditions of the Buddhists it is also a place of minor worship with offerings.

"The monastery provides a peaceful haven for the monks, who seek to practice their religion in a peaceful and tranquil environment."

Trust spokesman Wallace Gordon says that if consent is refused, the monks will have to move and the house will be sold. That is a situation Mr Wallace does not want to see happen.

"This is quite ridiculous because what about people who are delivered meals on wheels? I personally think this is just a nonsense. What the hell is next? If I have a dinner party and invite half a dozen people around, will I need resource consent."

It would be different, he says, if the monks were having ceremonies involving 40 people but he says they should be able to pray without the council imposing red tape.

He believes the government needs to urgently review the legislation.

Neighbours Paul and Eileen Harwood say they "strongly oppose" the application as the monastery and extra traffic will change the nature of the area.

"At the moment we know all our neighbours, who is coming and going, and we all watch out for each other. This is one of the main and very important reasons we purchased here and we would definitely not want to lose this. Monastery traffic already compromises this."

David Jones believes that if consent is granted the monastery will expand and traffic on the private road used to access the property will increase.
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"Additionally the increased traffic would erode the road rapidly and there are considerable safety concerns for young children and livestock; these are life style properties."

The Hutt News asked Local Government Minister Rodney Hide to comment on the case. Mr Hide has made little secret of his frustration with councils and his belief that the Resource Management Act needs to be reformed.

A spokesman said he did not want to comment on local cases but referred us to some of his speeches on the need to cut council red tape.

In a speech to the Wellington Chamber of Commerce he said one of his main priorities was to "cut the red tape driving everyone crazy" and simplify the RMA.
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