A decision to revoke the reserve status of seven Rotorua reserve development sites has been unanimously scrapped.
The proposal has cost Rotorua Lakes Council taxpayers just over $82,000 so far.
The turnaround was brought about by a motion by Rotorua’s new mayor, Tania Tapsell, and discussed at the council’s first substantive meeting – after the inauguration – on Thursday.
It follows months of torrid discussion about the proposal after it was unveiled by Reporting on local democracy in April.
More than 600 people submitted the proposal, most in opposition, and a council committee heard oral submissions over four days of hearings.
Four petitions were also filed against the proposal, totaling more than 1,200 signatures, and in August a small picket was held outside the council building with protesters holding “kill the bill” signs.
The final council only approved the proposal after a casting vote from former mayor Steve Chadwick.
At Thursday’s meeting, Tapsell said she was happy to bring the motion to council within the first month of the new term.
She said it “justified what many people in our community felt and faced firsthand through the decision-making of the previous council”.
It acknowledges the proposers of the proposal.
“It was quite a challenging time. There was a lot of pain, there was a lot of anger, and there was a lot of frustration about the process.
“While the goal of even looking at the reserves for sale is still valid as we have an acute housing crisis, the vast majority of feedback has been that these green spaces and our public reserves need to be protected.”
She said there were other avenues to promote “highly needed housing and social housing in 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.
Opportunity to learn from experience
Councilor Don Paterson, who was an outspoken opponent of the proposal before the election, said petitioners had made “strong and impassioned pleas … in the face of intimidation and insult”.
“I am extremely grateful that I am now in a position to heal the pain and despair caused by this whole sad process. This is the opportunity to put this unfortunate chapter behind us and move forward as a community.
“However, we must learn from this.”
Councilor Trevor Maxwell, who, as part of the previous council, had generally supported the proposal, said he would support the scrapping because he could “calculate” and knew there was already enough support for it to pass.
He asked if the site of Wrigley Rd Reserve could still be withdrawn because of the general support for that particular reserve, particularly from the Fordlands Community Centre.
Maxwell also expressed disdain for the “leaking” of information about the proposal earlier in the year.
Tapsell said she was happy to hear Maxwell would support the motion.
She spoke about the issue of “leaks”, while at times there was a time and place for confidentiality, with the new council the community would see that “they can be confident that we will openly share the information as soon as practicable”.
She said the motion to scrap the withdrawal of reserves did not prevent members of the community from coming back to the council for a new proposal.
“Unfortunately, this decision was made urgently, it did not allow the wider residents of those neighborhoods or the wider residents of Rotorua to have a say before submitting a social housing proposal.
“I, as mayor, am very open to future opportunities and we can take our time looking at them to make sure that they are achievable, that they are what the community wants and that they are made and designed in a way that still those green spaces.
“Yes, we need housing, but our green spaces are important now and will be even more important for future generations.”
‘Tears on the floor of the council chamber’
Councilor Robert Lee said he had run for election because of a series of “confusing decisions” from the previous council, one of which he believes was the reserve proposal.
“Tears remained on the floor of this council chamber.”
He said using a local account to enable the sale of the reserves was “disturbing” and if the reserves were revoked, the Reserves Act had a mechanism to do so.
Lee said he hoped a repeal of the Rotorua District Council (Representation Arrangements) bill would also follow.
Councilor Rawiri Waru said he was not a “fan of digging up other decisions that were made”, but rather of finding other ways to “make things right”.
“I think this is the path for now. This is the easy part… the hard part is what we’re going to do.
“We need more houses…thousands of houses [are] obliged. 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 tabled the reserve proposal – and conformed to the decision.
A city spokeswoman confirmed that the cost to date for the proposal has been $82,385.61 consisting of more than $38,000 in legal fees, more than $34,000 for consultants such as surveying work and land intelligence audits, and more than $10,000 for “collateral for consultation” such as advertising, drone images and video.
The spokeswoman said there may be additional charges to finalize but are “not expected to be substantial”.
Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded by NZ On Air