Matata residents slam ‘Clayton’s consultation’

SLICE OF PARADISE: A recent photo of Awatarariki shows what the area looks like now, after many of the residents have rebuilt and worked to established the area in the 14 years since the debris flow that caused mass destruction in 2004. Photo supplied.

AS Whakatane District Council moves to incorporate an Australian report that defines debris flows as landslides into process for a proposed plan change for Awatarariki, residents are accusing it of conducting a “Clayton’s consultation”.

The council lodged the report with the Bay of Plenty Regional Council and anyone who wanted to submit on it had 15 working days to do so. However, Awatarariki Residents’ Association Rick Whalley said the document was complex and difficult for a layman to understand.

Mr Whalley said the council’s decision to lodge the report, without discussing it with them, increased the level of mistrust among the residents’ association.

He said the council wanted Awatarariki residents to join them in their conversations regarding the Government and attracting central funding to allow the purchase of houses on fanhead.

“So how can we trust them because it is going to cost a lot of money if they have to buy us out and the council hasn’t got that money and the regional council hasn’t got the money… how can we trust them if they go down the plan change road at the same time as they are doing this. If they change the plans they don’t have to give any compensation.”

Mr Whalley said the association was open to sitting down with the councils and Government to find a way forward.

However, he said to date they felt the council had only provided Clayton’s consultation.

“We have always said that we are for working with them and we will go and sit down with them and talk to them and hopefully find something to take forward to the Government. But it is something that we both agree to and finding that trust is hard because of what has happened in the past. So yes, we are sceptical.”

Mr Whalley said he attended a meeting between the council and the Matata Residents’ Association earlier this week, hoping to find some insight into their decisions.

However, he said the meeting reconfirmed his belief that the council’s consultation process was not open.

Public affairs manager Ross Boreham said the council was proposing to reference guidelines in the Australian Geomechanics Landslide Risk Management report in its proposal to change the regional plan.

Mr Boreham said the guidelines stated debris flows and debris avalanches had been included in widely-used classifications as technical terms for a landslide.

The council had proposed to reference the guidelines because of the specific requirement in the Resource Management Act.

“The council recognises that this is a complex document, which is why 15 working days were provided for interested parties to submit on it before the plan change applications are finalised. Once the proposed plan changes are notified, there will be a much longer period for submissions, which could include any issues submitters wish to raise about this document.

“No previous risk assessment reports will be removed from the applications.  The reports, which have been previously provided to property owners, have used the Australian Geomechanics Society Guidelines for Landslide Risk Management as the risk assessment methodology for assessing the debris flow risk on the Awatarariki fanhead.”

If approved by the regional council, the change will allow for the existing rights of 44 properties on the Awatarariki fanhead, near Matata, to be extinguished.

Mr Boreham said a community meeting held two weeks ago was not part of the consultation, but a chance for Whakatane Mayor Tony Bonne to answer questions from the Matata Residents’ Association.

“The plan change applications are part of a formal RMA process. All parties have the same status in that process and the same right to express their views and cite evidence they believe supports those views. The evidence will be weighed by independent, expert commissioners, who will determine whether the plan change applications should be granted.

“While the council believes there is a very strong public safety case for the proposed plan changes – we certainly wouldn’t be going down this road if that was not the case – there is no predetermined outcome. The commissioners’ decisions will reflect the merits of the evidence presented to them and if any submitter does not agree with the hearing outcomes, they will have a right of appeal to the Environment Court.”