WHAKATANE District Council is seeking public consultation on three key issues this month.
Over the past week, the council has put out three press releases announcing it would seek the public’s opinion in each issue before it makes any decisions.
The issues are whether to retain the tear-drop roundabout, the future of a moratorium blocking the sale of leasehold land in Whakatane central business district and the possibility of creating Maori wards on the council.
Social media will be used to engage people’s opinions but people are also encouraged to send their feedback through traditional methods including via the post or email.
Tear drop to stay, or not?
LAST week the projects and services committee received a report recommending the tear-drop configuration of the roundabout on Landing Road near the Whakatane Bridge be retained until permanent solutions are put in place through the long-term plan.
The roundabout configuration was put in place to address additional traffic congestion problems expected as a result of the closure of State Highway 2, while the Pekatahi Bridge deck was replaced between mid-February and mid-June. The tear-drop shape prevents traffic from Hinemoa Street from turning right onto Landing Road, providing right-of-way access through the roundabout for traffic travelling across the bridge.
Speaking to the report, council infrastructure general manager Tomasz Krawczyk said despite a 12.5 percent increase in traffic volumes during the SH2 closure, the travel time for vehicles entering Whakatane through the reconfigured roundabout had reduced by 25 percent.
“Further improvements have been noted since the Pekatahi Bridge reopened, with the estimated travel time for east-bound vehicles during the peak morning commute period reduced by three to five minutes, compared to the pre-tear-drop formation.”
However, councillors did not want to make a decision without more information from the community.
While acknowledging the significant improvements for traffic entering Whakatane from the west, members of the committee expressed concerns about impacts on residents who lived on the western extension of Landing Road.
With the tear drops, those residents are required to cross the bridge and return via the eastern roundabout at The Hub to get into town. People living on Victoria Avenue, one of the main alternative routes for Hinemoa Street traffic, have also been impacted by the change in the road layout. Difficulties for pedestrians wanting to cross Landing Road during peak traffic periods were also noted.
So, in response, the council will seek feedback on the effects of the “teardrop” from those people living in nearby streets.
Traffic flows in other locations in Whakatane and pedestrian safety will also be monitored.
Consultation forms will be delivered to all homes in the affected areas, seeking comments for elected members to consider.
Feedback can also be made via the council’s wesite, social media platforms or by letter.
A further report on options for addressing safety issues, including possible pedestrian crossing locations, will be prepared.
Leasehold – to sell or not?
WHAKATANE District Council is considering whether to remove the moratorium restricting the sale of leasehold land.
The council owns 131 perpetually renewable leasehold properties within Whakatane’s town centre, most of which are harbour endowment land from harbour and riverbed reclamation.
A moratorium has been in place restricting the sale of leasehold land since 2002. However, a policy “for the freeholding leasehold land” has been designed by staff.
It was presented to the June policy committee meeting by business services manager Roslyn Barlow.
She said if adopted, the draft policy would allow council to sell some of its commercial and industrial leasehold land, where there were compelling circumstances.
Under the draft policy, any lessee wishing to purchase property would need to demonstrate that freehold ownership would significantly advance the principles and themes of the Whakatane Town Vision Plan, the economic development of the town centre, environmental, social and cultural benefits provided by the town centre and any other criteria the council deems relevant.
Mrs Barlow said applications to purchase leasehold land would need to be considered by the full council, on a case-by-case basis.
“If a compelling case was provided, any sale would be subject to conditions and covenants [that] would endeavour to ensure the required outcomes and objectives were achieved. Sale proceeds would be added to the Harbour Fund, which currently holds investment funds totalling more than $16 million.”
Councillors requested the public be consulted before they decided whether to remove the moratorium.
Mrs Barlow said as a result, a month-long social media feedback process would be launched on Friday, providing an opportunity for people to record their thoughts and participate in an online poll.
Written feedback could also be posted or emailed to the council and marked for the attention of the chief executive.
Maori wards – create or not?
Whakatane District Council is to explore whether it should establish Maori wards ahead of the next local body elections in 2019.
The committee received a report on electoral arrangements at a meeting last week, with a majority of members supporting the retention of a ‘first past the post’ (FPP) system in 2019, in preference to the more complex Single Transferable Vote (STV) system.
Following a wide-ranging discussion on ways to promote greater Maori involvement in decision-making, councillors agreed to pursue further investigations on the possibility of introducing Maori wards and gather feedback from iwi.
The council will seek comments directly from key stakeholders and will also promote feedback via its social media channels. A report summarising the viewpoints presented will be presented to the policy committee later this year.