A decision to revoke the reserve status of seven Rotorua reserve sites for development has been scrapped by a unanimous vote.
The proposal has so far cost Rotorua Lakes Council’s ratepayers just over $82,000.
The reversal was brought about by a notice of motion from new Rotorua mayor Tania Tapsell and discussed in the council’s first substantive meeting – following its inauguration – on Thursday.
It follows months of torrid debate over the proposal after it was revealed by Local Democracy Reporting in April.
More than 600 people submitted on the proposal, most in opposition, and a council committee heard verbal submissions over four days of hearings.
Four petitions opposed to the proposal were also submitted, totalling more than 1200 signatures, and a small picket was held outside the council building in August with protesters holding “kill the bill” signs.
The last council approved the proposal only after a casting vote by former mayor Steve Chadwick.
In Thursday’s meeting, Tapsell said she was pleased she was able to bring the motion to the council within the first month of the new term.
She said it “put right what many people in our community were feeling and were facing first-hand from the decision-making of the previous council”.
She acknowledged the submitters on the proposal.
“It was quite a challenging time. There was a lot of hurt, there was a lot of anger and there was a lot of frustration at the process.
“While the purpose of even looking at the reserves for sale is still valid in that we do have an acute housing crisis, the vast majority of feedback was that these green spaces and our public reserves do need to be protected.”
She said there were other opportunities to progress “much-needed housing and social housing across this district” but she said the decision to scrap the proposal showed the new council would make decision-making transparent and listen to the community.
Chance to learn from experience
Councillor Don Paterson, who before election was a vocal opponent to the proposal, said submitters had given “powerful and impassioned pleas … in the face of intimidation and insult”.
“I am extremely thankful to now be in the position to heal the hurt and despair caused by this whole sorry process. Now is the opportunity to put this unfortunate chapter behind us and move forward as a community.
“However, we must learn from this.”
Councillor Trevor Maxwell, who, as part of the previous council, had generally supported the proposal, said he would support scrapping it as he could “count” and knew there was already enough support for it to pass.
He asked whether Wrigley Rd Reserve’s site could still be revoked due to the general support for that particular reserve, particularly from the Fordlands Community Centre.
Maxwell also expressed disdain for the “leaking” of information on the proposal earlier in the year.
Tapsell said she was pleased to hear Maxwell would support the motion.
She addressed the matter of “leaking” saying while there was sometimes a time and place for confidentiality, with the new council the community would see “they can have confidence with us that we will share the information openly as soon as practicably possible”.
She said the motion to scrap the revocation of reserves did not prevent any community members coming back to the council for a new proposal.
“This decision was unfortunately rushed through, it didn’t allow the wider residents of those neighbourhoods or the wider residents of Rotorua to have a say before a proposal of social housing was put forward.
“I, as mayor, am very open to future opportunities and we can take our time going through those to make sure that they are feasible, that they are what the community wants and that they’re made and designed in a way that still has those green spaces.
“Yes, we do need housing but our green spaces are important now, and will be even more important for future generations.”
‘Tears on floor of council chamber’
Councillor Robert Lee said he had run for election due to a series of “puzzling decisions” from the previous council, the reserves proposal being one of them in his opinion.
“Tears were left on the floor of this council chamber.”
He said the use of a local bill to enable the reserves’ sale was “troubling” and if reserves were to be revoked, the Reserves Act had a mechanism to do so.
Lee said he hoped a withdrawal of the Rotorua District Council (Representation Arrangements) bill would also follow.
Councillor Rawiri Waru said he wasn’t a “fan of digging up other decisions that have been made” but rather finding other pathways to “make things right”.
“I guess this is the pathway for now. This is the easy part … the hard part is what are we going to do.
“We need more homes … thousands of homes [are] required. Where are we going to put them? How are we going to build them? That’s the real challenge.”
He said green space was very important. “It can’t be all concrete jungle.”
The motion passed unanimously with applause from the public gallery – populated by many who had submitted on the reserves proposal – meeting the decision.
A council spokeswoman confirmed the costs to date for the proposal were $82,385.61, made up of more than $38,000 in legal costs, more than $34,000 for consultants, such as survey work and land information checks, and more than $10,000 on “consultation collateral” such as advertising, drone footage and video.
The spokeswoman said there may be further costs to finalise but they were “not expected to be substantial”.
Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air
Story Credit: rnz.co.nz