Silverstream Spur Upper Hutt, saving a public amenity for future generations

Update September 2021.On the 22nd of September 2021 Upper Hutt City Council voted to scrap the controversial Memorandom Of Understanding that was signed back in 2016 between UHCC and a developer seeking to build 100 houses on he Slverstream Spur. Silver Stream Railway is obviously delighted with this step as we understand talk of constructing any houses on the Spur is now scuppered, a major step change from only a few months ago when we saw concept drawings of the 100 houses overlooking our site.

SSR and its collaborative partners Upper Hutt Forest and Bird and Save Our Hills Incorporated remain opposed to the use of 25,000 m2 of the Spur for the construction of a kilometre long road which will sever the Spur and effectively halve its potential as an ecological corridor if merged with other adjacent reserve land. The petition we have been running calling for the Spur to be rezoned as open space and designated as a reserve was submitted to UHCC last week, accompanied by our latest reserch findings that show UHCC publicly stated via a newspaper advertisement that the Spur was to be designated as a Scenic Reserve. With the MOU now disolved and UHCC currently updating open space zoning around the city, it is the perfect time to see the original vision for the Spur realised. In addition the developer has numerous other parcels of land which they actually own which can be used to access their proposed development, without the use of public reserve land.
So a massive thank you to everyone who has supported us in this mission, while we are buoyed by this latest step, we are still expecting a long haul to get the result which the community wants. We will be continuing to update this page as new information comes to hand.

Overview

Silver Stream Railway (SSR) is a nationally important tourism attraction and is an important community and strategic asset for Upper Hutt City and the greater Wellington Region. Many hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world have visited the railway since the first train rides were offered way back in 1978. A registered charity, the railway is operated entirely by volunteers.

For the last 7 years, SSR has been battling to ensure that the railway can continue to operate into the future due to a proposed Upper Hutt City Council lead land swap deal that could spell the end of this icon of the city.

Silver Stream Railway shares most of its boundary with land known as the Silverstream Spur. In 2014 UpperMap of Silverstream Spur (outlined in black) with Silver Stream Railway outlined in Red. Hutt City Council declared this land "surplus" and put forward proposals to sell all 35 hectares. This caused a great deal of public opposition with 17 submissions recieved (out of 17) having varying degrees of oppisition to the sale yet council decided to continue with disposal efforts. In 2016 it was revealed that Council had signed a Memorandum of Understanding to swap (rather than sell) the entire Spur for areas of unviable, undevelopable  land owned by the Guildford Timber Company that were not required for its proposed "Silverstream Forest" development of 1000-3000 homes in the area. Public opposition to this document was again strong,  mainly due  to the complete lack of public consultation on the issue, especially after the public feeling was so strongly opposed to the sale of the land only 2 years previous.

Silver Stream Railway consider that the proposed land swap of the total area of the Council owned Spur for the proposed portions of land currently owned by the Guildford Timber Company will undermine its ability to continue to operate the railway and would therefore lead to the demise of the facility.A view from McKirdy station showing what residential development could look like on the Silverstream Spur.


The major issues specifically for the railway arising from residential development on the Spur are:
• The loss of the iconic landscape backdrop of the Spur as a green space that is part of the heritage character of the railway.
• The reverse sensitivity effects of prodigious amounts of wood, coal and oil smoke from steam locomotives and the noise of steam whistles and trains on the amenity of proposed residential areas.
•  The enhanced risk profile for the consequences of any fire on the Spur caused by the railway operation or associated activities by the railway along with the issues with obtaining insurance for this risk.
•  The increased probability of land disturbance above the railway could lead to earth slippage and damage to the railway track and formation due to the unstable geology in the area and the influence of changes to the stormwater catchments from the Spur that discharge across the railway.


The railway’s ability to influence the potential setting aside of areas of the Spur land from potential residential development will be significantly diminished if it is no longer Council owned land, the transfer from Council to private ownership is going to be made on the basis that residential development is intended.


What can I do to help?


To assist with gathering support of our stance, we ask that you please sign our petition to the Upper Hutt City Council to stop residential development on the land known as Silverstream Spur and ask that that they formally set the land aside as a reserve as it was originally intended, so it can become an ecological and recreational area that can be enjoyed both now and by future generations. https://www.change.org/saynototheswap


Alternatively you could email the Upper Hutt City Council askus@uhcc.govt.nz (please copy us in: gm@silverstreamrailway.org.nz) and let them know that you support Silver Stream Railway in its goal to retain the Silverstream Spur as a council owned reserve free from residential development.


The signatures from the petition and any other support we receive will be presented to the council at a future meeting.


Thank you for your support, it means a great deal.

A view of what the Silver Stream Railway could be faced with in the near future.


Frequently asked questions.


How long has Silver Stream Railway been in existence? Silver Stream Railway was formed in 1956 and became an incorporated society in 1967. The society purchased its first locomotive in 1968 and now has one of the largest and most diverse collections of historic railway equipment and infrastructure in New Zealand.  The railway is a licensed operator granted under the Railways Act 2005.

Does Silver Stream Railway own the land on which the railway is situated? Yes, the land on several different titles totaling 9.13 hecters is owned by the society, with the main station area and the formation along the toe of the spur next to Hulls Creek owned outright, and the block of land bounded by the KiwiRail Wairarapa line, Field Street, and Chalfont Road owned with a 91% share belonging to Silver Stream Railway, the remaining 9% by the New Zealand Railway and Locomotive Society who have a facility on a portion of land. All of this land is zoned Special Activity under the Upper Hutt District Plan with a railway museum and ancillary facilities being a permitted activity. Silver Stream Railway is the only  landholder neighbouring the spur likely to be effected, all other ajoining land is owned by  the devoloper seeking the swap or is land zoned passive rectration.

What is the value to Upper Hutt of having the railway? Some of the benifits to Upper Hutt of having the railway include, a stand alone self sufficiant attraction which brings many visitors to the city that would otherwise not visit, the railway provides a productive outlet for its volunteers ; many of which live in the city, the preservation of an area that would otherwise have been lost ; like the other parts of the track which was bypassed in the 1950's, preservation of local history ; railways having been part of Upper Hutt for nearly 150 years,, providing an opertunity for younger and future generations to experiance life the way it was and the importance of railways in New Zealands history, and enviromental benifits through the maintenance of the green coridor the railway runs along along with the replanting of  areas not required for future railway use. 

When and why was the spur purchased by the Upper Hutt City Council?  The Spur was part of a larger block of land aquired by the Crown from previous owner GB Hull in 1950. The land was purchased and the Crown took possesion on the 1st of December 1950. The "Hutt Valley Railway Extension" (actually the new line which by passed what is now Silver Stream Railway)  severed the property almost in half, with other portions kept for animal research and highway developments. 

Under a Hutt County District Scheme review in 1976 it was proposed to rezone the spur land "Special Residential" with limited development encouraged along with a scenic lookout. Upper Hutt City Council objected to this proposal on the basis it would ruin the amenity value of the land, and sought a change of zoning to Town Belt as well as mooting the idea of the spur becoming a recreation reserve. After the submissions were released to the public in 1977, UHCC lodged a cross objection against Guildford Timber Company who were objecting to parts of their land being set aside to protect the visual amenity of Pinehaven, with the council again pointing out the Spurs potential as a "scenic reserve" with rezoning of surrounding areas requiring full evaluation of the visual impacts any devolopment might have.  By the time the District Scheme Review was completed in 1984, UHCC had succeeded in their efforts to save the Spur from residential development. and the land was instead zoned “Town Belt”.

By the middle of the 1980's  the land was surplus to crown requirements and the Pinehaven Heretaunga District Community Council commisiond a land use and development apprasial of land in Silverstream and one area looked at was the "Landcorp Block" saying that the land was avaliable for sale and outlined the UHCC's early objections to residential zoning of the land. 

In 1987 the Pinehaven Heretaunga Disctrict Community Council wrote to Landcorp who now held the land in preperation for disposal asking if it was for sale and at what price. Even at this early stage the letters mentioned its reserve use and potential. A valuation was then undertaken by Landcorp, however the purchase was sidelined by the local govenment amalgamations that happed in 1989. 

In 1989 Upper Hutt City Council started work to finialised the sale, having a valuation undertaken in May 1989. Landcorp also had their value updated and eventually arrived on the sale figure of $59,000. You will note that neither of the valuations mention residential development, both being undertaken on the basis that it was not possible.  The matter was subsequently discussed in 6 council meetings, however these discussions were held during public excluded parts of these meetings. An official information act request was made for copies of these reports, and minutes, which was responded to by UHCC with a copy of the only 1 report which has already been made public (in 2014), and no reasoning as to why the rest of the documents were not relased. A complaint has been filed with the Omudsman in an effort to have these important documents released.  

The only Council meeting documents made public so far back in 2014 show part of the land in the area of the unformed Kiln Street may have a potential for development however “that the bulk of the land was best suited to passive reserve uses”, and that it “would complement the adjacent Silverstream Railway Society (sic) facility as well as providing a buffer between that facility and any other development that may take place in the area of the unformed Kiln Street”. These observations are still very relevant 32 years later. After  the investigations and valuations were completed and agreed upon the Spur was purchased by the UHCC in March 1990 using funds from the contributions made during development for the creation of reserves, the reserve fund. 

During the resource consent application the council made to its self for the aborted forestry project on the spur in 1994 the documents to support this application state:  "It is understood that one of the reasons, if not the main one for the lands purchase from the Crown was to achieve the aim of completing the backdrop to Silverstream-Pinehaven. Commercial afforestation of this area will enhance that and will, at the same time, provide a return to Council". It goes on to say when referring to "Public Access and Recreation Potential" that "Combined with the native bush buffer and existing native areas, the site could develop into a valuable local resource and an attractive passive recreation area, which members of the public should be allowed to access at all times". When the subject of residential development is raised by a submitter the report states "In fact forestry use would appear more appropriate than the location of residential dwellings on this area which would detract from the amenities. As it stands the site provides the ideal separation between Hutt City and Upper Hutt" and "Upon harvesting in approximately 30 years, if the site is not replanted for a further harvest, then it should be returned to native bush. This would ensure the landscape and amenity value of the site is continued".

The earliest known document commisioned by UHCC looking at disposal was commisioned in 2007, which seems to coincide with the release of the master plan document by the Developer, which showed the Spur being used for development. The UHCC report was focused on any offer back requirment the land may have, and was poorly reserched especially where it stated "the council had no particular purpose when the land was purchased".  

Silver Stream Railway is currently undertaking a multi-faceted research project to expose the full reasons for the council purchase of the land, and a full history of the spur, which will be published here as the information is collected. We would like to agknoledge the assistanse of the team at Hutt City Council Archives (Lower Hutt) who have gone out of their way to assist with this research.
The official map from the Upper Hutt City Council's Plan Change 50, showing two areas earmarked for development very close to the railway, one coming within 15 meters of the boundary.


How is the railway likely to be affected? The main effects of a residential development adjacent to the railway are mostly related to reverse sensitivity issues (noise and smoke) however the railway is concerned about the storm water run-off from any development, slope stability, risks associated with vegetation fires and increased or unobtainable insurance premiums.  It is inevitable that residential development on the Spur would result in complaints from new residents about smoke discharge and excessive noise. The railway considers it a realistic concern that complaints would force the council to take action that would result in a restriction of the railway activities. Complaints and consequential restrictions could occur regardless of any existing use rights and having in place reverse sensitivity covenants removing rights of owners to complain as Council has statutory responsibilities to respond to such complaints.


Can the railway not move somewhere else? The formation on which the railway runs was built in the early 1870s and has had trains running over it for 123 of the 147 years it has been in existence. Therefore there is a major and important historical link to the past, something that would not be possible on another site in the Wellington Region.

Having houses on the spur would not impact the railway because the trains only operates a few times a month on Sundays? While it is correct to say that the railway only operates trains for the public, generallyon the 1st and 3rd Sundays of the month, there are many other times when the train operates, including charters which can operate at any time of the week, day or night, along with work trains, and mechanical test trains. In addition other work takes place around the railway on any day (or night) including mechanical engineering work, and boiler inspections all of which are scheduled to suit our volunteers avaliability, most of which work full time. Any limitations imposed on operations outside of of regular public operations caused by houses being built on the Spur would have a detremental impact on our ability to maintain our facility and equipment in addition to the other impacts we forsee.

Do the railway support the construction of a road on the Spur to access the neighbouring land?  Previously SSR have indicated in presentations and submissions to council on the matter that there was no objection to a small area of the Spur being used as a road to access any potential development on neighbouring land. Recently this aspect of the use of part of the Spur has been studied in greater detail by our members in collaberation with Forest and Bird, and as a result of that research we no longer support the construction of any road or access to neighbouring land on the Silverstream Spur. It has become apparent that due to a number of factors, namely the reduction and damage to the ecological corridor function of the spur, the topography of the land, and the required standards that a road servicing a development of the proposed scale would have to meet, mean that a road will consume a far greater area than we had anticipated and would not be in keeping with the vision we see for the Spur as an amenity for whole community. Guidelines for a development of this scale (1500-1700 dwellings) mean that the Spur road and Kiln Street would legally require the road reserve to be of a minimum of 25 meters wide, with a maximum gradient of 6-8% depending on the standard used. To gain the required height to the neighbouring land (approx. 100 meters) would require a 1.2km long road, to achieve this gradient with the resulting loss of nearly 10% of the spur just to a road. This would have a devastating impact on the ecological function of the Spur, edge effects from such a wide road reserve would serve as a barrier to this corridor function of the area especially to smaller birds. Other options are available to the deveoloper to access their land, without needing the Spur.

Won't there have to be a zoning change and public consultation before any houses are built on the spur? No the apparent current zoning ,Residentual Conservation and Rural Hill in roughly equal areas, would allow for up to 20 sections as a permitted activity something the concil could not refuse, and that the public would not be notified of, nor would we have an opertunity to have the railways interests represented through statutory process. It is an almost inevitable that housing development of at least this density would be a consequence of a council decision to swap this land.

Is Silver Stream Railway anti-development of the surrounding area? Silver Stream Railways interest is the protection of the spur from residential development which would have a detrimental impact on its future viability as an operating railway and the loss of an important backdrop for Upper Hutt city. Other areas of this proposed development are outside the scope of the railway however we believe that destruction of the Spur for use as a road/infrastructure corridor is not in keeping with why and how the Spur was purchased. Previously the railway has made surplus land avaliable for housing, which enabled the Amberly Gardens subdivision of over 50 houses to go ahead.


Has the railway always been opposed to the sale or development of the Spur land? Yes, our volunteer members have spent many hundreds of hours attending council meetings, writing submissions and undertaking reserch over the various proposals that have come about in the last decade. With the spur having been purchased by council originally to protect the railway with the council saying so in its own reports that the spur “would complement the adjacent Silverstream Railway Society (sic) facility as well as providing a buffer between that facility and any other development that may take place in the area of the unformed Kiln Street” . It has been quite disapointing for the railway's membership to have had to spend so much time to ensure the future of this facility when previosly council had saw the value in having it as part of the city.


What would Silver Stream Railway like to see happen to the Spur? SSR’s preference would be for the area to be zoned in its entirety as a reserve  so that it ends any chance of it being sold/swapped/given away in the future, and  for it to be progressively cleared of exotic forest (the railway has spent approximately $30,000 in the last 5 years clearing exotic trees from its land adjacent to the spur) followed by replanting in indigenous trees so it becomes an open space that everyone can continue to enjoy and completes part of the wider ecological corridor. Having such amenity areas so close to areas of population is becoming increasingly important as suburbs expand, once this area is gone it will be gone forever.


Why is storm water run-off of concern to the railway? All of the reports and data made public so far do not show any streams or water courses on the spur, including a report commissioned by Upper Hutt City Council that states that there “no permeant aquatic systems and no habitat for fish” on the spur land. This is entirely incorrect, several streams and water courses flow year round under the railway flowing off the spur, including some that are home to native koura (freshwater crayfish), listed by the department of conservation as a threatened species.  Most of the railways storm water infrastructure was built (to a high standard) in the late 1800s and 1900s and was built to cope with a forested hill side during heavy rain fall which it still copes with to the present time. Adding extra run off surfaces (roofs, driveways, roads etc) and removing vegetation will reduce the absorption rate into the local system, increasing early flows and damaging runoff of any moderate rainfall events, overwhelming pipes and causing damage to the railway infrastructure. The formation the railway is built on is prone to slope instability when it becomes saturated. This could be materially affected by any increase in total flow volumes from the catchments occurring over longer periods. The instability of the weathered greywacke rock faces above the railway are also prone to increased instability which will be made worse with greater amounts of saturation occurring. All of these effects on storm water discharges are likely to occur with any residential development on the spur, even with incorporation of storm water neutrality on peak flow rates being included in the design.A juvenile native freshwater crayfish, one of many found during recent culvert maintenance work.


How could the development affect the railway’s insurance cover? Silver Stream Railway rely on their  Public Liability Insurance policy cover that is required to allow operation of the railway with the ever present risk of fire and other risks associated with the operation of a railway.  As with most insurance, the ongoing ability to first obtain any kind of cover and then at what premium cost requires frequent assessments and changes of insurer.  Any material change to the risk profile of a heritage railway such as Silver Stream Railway such as would result from adjacent residential development will place more pressure on the insurability of operating the railway.


Why is there a risk of fire? Steam locomotives when working can emit sparks and embers which can travel some distance from the locomotive and set fire to dry vegetation. SSR takes the risk of fire very seriously and is continuously improving its efforts to mitigate this risk. Examples of the controls in place to manage this risk include all steam locomotives being fitted with spark arrestors, regular trimming of vegetation, removing exotic tree species from land owned by the railway and replacing them with natives, clearing of trackside drains, and not running steam locomotives during long periods of dry weather. As the railway continues in its transition away from fossil fuels, the use of more sustainable fuel can result in increased chance of emission of sparks, which is something that will be closely monitored when further trialling fuels in the future.

 

Am I able to walk around the railway site when it is not open?: No for your safety the railway is not able to be used as a walking or cycle way , the railway can operate at any time of the day or night, and often undertakes track maintenance work during the week where rail vehicles are operating. Under the Railways Act, all of the railways land is defined as railway premisis and our permission is required before entry even if it is not near the rail tracks. Best to come during our operating days and ride the train as Tracks are for Trains.


How has Silver Stream Railway contributed to the regeneration of native bush and wildlife in the area? The railway in collaboration with Forest & Bird has undertaken significant work on restoring the stretch of Hulls Creek from Field Street in Silverstream to the confluence with the Hutt River (opposite Reynolds Bach Drive). The vision has been to improve the habitat of the stream for fish and aquatic insects and to create a corridor of native plants for birds. The railway consider that residential development on the Silverstream Spur would result in a loss of opportunity to continue to expand this restoration project on land adjacent Hulls creek to the Spur land on the other side of the railway. The railway has also cleared areas of exotic trees (gum and pine) and these areas and other areas not required for current or future railway purposes are progressively being planted in native plantings. In addition, trapping of introduced mammals to assist with the establishment of native bird populations in the area have been undertaken by railway volunteers.Map showing the "Significant Natural Area" on the spur, which it is claimed will protect the railway. As is easily seen it is some way from the railway clearing the way for development to occur on land very close to the railway.

What will happen to Silver Stream Railway if the development goes ahead as shown on the currently available maps? It is likely that insurance cover will become difficult or impossible to get for railway operations due to the increase in risk profile, changing from bare tree covered land, to high value housing. It is also likely that complaints due to noise and or smoke would mean that the railway would have to operate less often which would have flow on effects of not being able to earn money to cover maintenance costs, which would ultimately result in full closure and the loss of an important amenity in Upper Hutt.


But there is a shortage of houses, should we not be building as many as possible on the spur? Large areas of the spur are completely unsuitable for any type of housing, due to the steep unstable slopes that dominate the spur. There are only small pockets of suitable land, which would only nett a very small number of high priced houses in the context of the entire development of 1000-3000 houses. More importantly developments need to take in other factors including amenity areas for residents to undertake passive recreation activities, something the spur would be very capable of providing and is doing so currently. Due to the high costs associated with this type of development, these houses will not be suitable for people looking to climb onto the property ladder and therefore any number of houses on the spur will do little to help the housing crisis.

Why is the spur being considered for part of this development? The spur is required in part to provide road access to the developers adjacent land, and being at the likely starting point of the development the sale of sections on the spur will help contribute to the massive costs associated with the other stages of the development. With these high costs of developing both access and required utility infrastructure in the areas already owned by the developer it is concluded that the spur will yield a high number of sections to recover at least a portion of these costs. With no hard evidence to the contrary this is the only conclusion that can be reached as to why the whole spur is being sought by the developer.

The spur is covered in pine trees so it would be no loss if it was developed? While the bulk of the spur was planted in pine trees in the early 1990’s by the Upper Hutt City Council, several areas were not planted, and others have had the pine trees cleared and are now important areas of regenerating native bush. If the pine trees were to be strategically removed and replaced with native plantings, in time the whole area would continue to grow into a major ecological area, with the added bonus that it is so close to Silverstream village adding a wonderful backdrop to this area and the entrance to the city. The Upper Hutt City Council commissioned Boffa Miskell ecological assessment of the Spur land has amongst other things neglected the contribution of the current Spur vegetation cover to provide a habitat for native birds and other fauna. The location of the Spur and it’s connection to more significant neighbouring areas of native vegetation such as the restored section of Hulls Creek, means native birds and fauna utilise the Spur as part of a common habitat. Consideration of ecological values for the combined land area should be the basis of any ecological assessment rather than considering them as separate areas. 


But the developer is offering up other land to be used for recreation?  While it has been stated in media releases by the developer that there will be opportunity’s for recreation on the exchanged land, any firm details have not been released and the land and its associated difficulty’s and the future costs to Upper Hutt residents has not been disclosed to its true extent. The majority of the developer’s area being "swapped" (over 80 ha) has been earmarked as a Significant Natural Area, meaning it cannot be developed anyway. The swap therefore allows the developer to dispose of land that is of no benefit to their development, and at the same time gain a large amount of land that has no such restrictions imposed. Silver Stream Railway believe as a moderate sized provider of what is an immersive recreational, historical and educational amenity in the area, that the exchange of  this "difficult" land for the "easy" spur land will result in the continued pushing of the claim that recreational land is being provided by the land swap, however in fact most of the land in this exchange is very difficult to walk on, the ground is steep and heavily carpeted with litter from difficult to remove aging pine trees.  We foresee the loss of our railway facility in the long term, and its replacement by a facility that will require considerable investment by the council to design, develop and maintain. With the spur already being owned by the residents of Upper Hutt it can continue to serve as its original intended purpose “best suited to passive reserve uses” without any additional cost or risk.

If you require any further information please get in contact with us.