Matata mistrust grows

TRUST BROKEN: Rachel, Pam and Rick Whalley, who live on the fanhead of the Awararariki Stream say they no long trust the Whakatane District Council.

WHY would Awatarariki residents trust Whakatane District Council to pay a fair price for their homes, if they are forced to move from the fanhead in Matata?

It is a question Awatarariki Residents’ Association chairman Rick Whalley has been asking over and over, after the district council pulled out of negotiating a memorandum of understanding.

The memorandum would have allowed for an independent engineer to assess the risk of living on the fanhead, a request by the association.

In a letter from Brookfield lawyers, partner Andrew Green said the changes to the draft memorandum were not acceptable to the council and they were not prepared to enter the memorandum.

“Secondly, the council is extremely disappointed by the actions of Mr and Mrs Whalley and others, whether in personal capacities or as members-officers of the association… After the meeting, district council staff were assaulted and verbally abused by a resident of the fanhead and were threatened with future physical harm.”

Mr Green said the good faith obligations outlined in the draft memorandum had not been honoured by the association.

Mr Whalley, who lives on the fanhead with his wife, Rachel, and mother, Pam, said it had been almost 14 years since a debris flow tore through the area, damaging some of the houses.

He said during those years, their trust of the district council had waned, and the memorandum was a tool to address that.

“Firstly, they told us that we could rebuild, and then they took that away. Then they told us that they could mitigate, and they took that away. Remember the 90 percent thing? They told us they would have 90 percent agreement to sell and they took away that.

“And now they have taken away the memorandum of understanding… The mayor and deputy mayor have both said that they do not have to buy our properties, so if they get what they want we know that they are going to pull those things.”

Mr Whalley said the district council pulled out of the negotiations, one day after its application to change the regional plan was accepted by the Bay of Plenty Regional Council.

While an independent panel would decide whether to grant the application, there is no legal requirement that would force the district council to compensate the owners

Mr Whalley said a lot of people were angry but denied any assault by a member of the association. He said the verbal abuse came from one person, who was not a member of the association, and he believed the council was using it as an excuse not to carry on with the memorandum.

“They tell you what you want to hear, what makes them look good in the public and then pull it. Even to the point that they have gone in to banks and told them not to lend to us.

“How can we fight them, if we can’t get any money to fight and if we can’t get any loans that means our houses are valueless and that means that we are trapped there.

“On top of that, they have manipulated the value of our properties down to nothing so even if they do buy them, we will not receive a fair value. If this was the stock market, they would be in jail now and they wonder why somebody vents a little bit of anger at the regional council.”

Plan change publicly notifiable

MEANWHILE, a decision to grant the application would also create a precedent because there is no other legislation that gives the district council the ability to extinguish use rights.

Initially, the proposed change to the regional plan was notified only to affected parties, which would have only included the residents, iwi and other stakeholder groups.

However, the regional council agreed to publicly notify it, allowing anyone to submit on the matter.

Whakatane District Council deputy mayor Judy Turner said its original recommendation for limited notification of the plan change was based on the reasonable expectation that those directly affected by the plan changes were readily identifiable, through existing property databases held by council and government agencies.

“However, the ability of council to serve notice of the plan change to all those directly affected by the Proposed Plan Changes became an issue when the notification database was being prepared. Staff identified a number of affected properties in the wider Matata township that are owned by multiple Maori owners and although we’ve used all of the available data sources, we have not been able to find contact details for all of the owners listed on the titles for these properties.

“Public notification is now our best option to avoid unnecessary delay and give Matata residents certainty about the future of their properties as quickly as possible.”

Bay of Plenty Regional Council regional direction and delivery committee chair Paula Thompson said when considering the plan change, it relied on the information provided by the district council

“We are obliged to process the plan change request in accordance with the Resource Management Act. We’ve sought to minimise the stress of uncertainty for affected residents by moving through the required processes as quickly as possible.

“Accepting full public notification will allow an aligned and streamlined process across the proposed district and regional plan changes.”

A date for the plan changes will be confirmed later this month.