15 April 2024

Environment court deems shipping container public art, Council disappointed

A disused shipping container on a private property in Flagstaff claimed by owners to be ‘public art’ has been upheld by Environment Court. Hamilton City Council, however, tends to disagree, and is disappointed at the decision.

Allowing a shipping container to be displayed on private property because it is deemed public art “is not common sense”, says Grant Kettle, Hamilton City Council’s Planning Guidance Unit Manager.

Shipping container is 'not' art
Owner of property claims this to be a public art (photo courtesy/HCC)

Kettle said this did not mean that anything goes in terms of public art on private property in the city.  

“Anyone considering placing public art on their property should check the rules in the District Plan and have a chat to us to understand their obligations.” 

The Environment Court issued their decision yesterday (13 March) to allow a shipping container to remain on a private section located on Petersburg Drive, Flagstaff, stating it is public art. This follows Council issuing an abatement notice to remove the structure in August last year.

Council received multiple complaints from people in the area who said the structure made the neighbourhood resemble a dump site. In response to complaints, Council visited the site and classified the container a building under the District Plan, requiring a resource consent. When no resource consent was applied for, Council issued a notice to remove it.   

The property owner’s contention was that the the shipping container and its associated artistic components was “intended, conceived and constructed” as a public artwork. Signage at the property refers to the installation as a public artwork relating to the housing crisis.

Grant Kettle said the Court’s decision has highlighted that the definition of public art in Hamilton’s District Plan may need a refresh to make sure it is achieving good outcomes for the city.  

“Common sense tells us that the structure on this site is a shipping container, first and foremost. The Court’s decision to disregard this fundamental element is disappointing for the community and shows us that our definition is open to interpretations that may lead to outcomes the community does not want.” 

The shipping container appeared shortly after submissions were received from members of the public in opposition to a residential development proposal on the site. The proposal included a duplex dwelling on the site, which is zoned as natural open space and has a proposed Significant Natural Area (SNA) under Plan Change 9. 

Council is currently considering its legal options including any appeal against the decision and proposing changes to the District Plan. Cost to ratepayers will be a component of this decision.  

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