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10 Big Secrets

A secret council proposal to turn 10 Rotorua reserves into housing has been revealed in documents obtained by Local Democracy Reporting.

Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick. Photo: Andrew Warner / Rotorua Daily Post

A secret council proposal to turn 10 Rotorua reserves into housing has been revealed in documents obtained by Local Democracy Reporting. The documents relate to a closed-door Rotorua Lakes Council "forum" on 15 February that reveals a proposal to pursue a local bill to allow the council to sell the reserves.

Under the proposal, five reserves would be sold to Kāinga Ora, three to private developers, and two would become pensioner housing owned by the council or philanthropic organisations, the documents suggest. They claim Kāinga Ora has already created plans for the five sites: Lee Rd Reserve, Coulter Rd Reserve, High St Reserve, Steeles Ln Reserve, and part of Turner Drive Reserve. Other sites potentially up for sale would be Ranginui St Reserve, Gallagher St Reserve, 117 Clinkard Ave, and Linton Park West at 16 Kamahi Pl. Kāinga Ora confirmed its involvement in the proposal, which it said was in the "early stages". The council and mayor Steve Chadwick said no decisions had been made. The documents summarised what someone told elected members in the meeting. "Made it clear it was pace versus local conversations. Can't have both. If [the] council wants to drive a lot of local conversations it will take time to investigate to get people on board and need to weight [sic] up whether that is worthwhile," the summary said. "The more time that is taken, the longer we have motels for emergency housing. It is important to drive housing solutions and as quicky as possible. What is being presented is a distributed housing model. "[Kāinga Ora is] now actively engaged with [the] council and have tagged five of the 10 reserves and created plans for each of the reserves. Minister has also put in the request to [the] council to stand up and be part of the solution - use reserves for public housing." There was a "proposal" to pursue a local bill called the Rotorua District Council Reserves (Revocation and Vesting) Bill.

It said the bill was "presented" to revoke reserve classification from the land, vest the Crown reserves to the council, enable the council to sell land for the purposes of housing and enable the use of the sale proceeds for "reinvestment in reserve network and to achieve housing outcomes".n"Nine months for a local members bill to get through the parliamentary processes. Anticipate November 2022 enactment," the documents stated. It estimated five reserves sold to Kāinga Ora would yield 79 houses, three to "market sale" to yield 22 homes, and two reserves for "Rotorua Lakes Council/philanthropic pensioner housing development" with a 25-home yield.

The council was invited to clarify, correct or deny these statements from the documents. Local Democracy Reporting asked Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick if she supported the proposal and when she believed would be the proper time to reveal the proposal to the public. In a statement via the council communications team, Chadwick said the "breach of confidentiality" was "presumably aimed at undermining or sabotaging what we are trying to achieve for our community". "It also unnecessarily raises anxiety before any proposals are considered or decisions are made.

"It's very disappointing if an elected member has broken confidentiality for political gain." Chadwick said she was focused on enabling more housing in the district. "We're expecting government support to achieve good outcomes for Rotorua and [the] council also needs to do its bit."

She said closed-door forums allowed the council to "discuss ideas and options" and "provide direction on matters that may then become proposals for us to consider and take to the community".

"No decisions are made in forums. "When or if we receive a proposal, we have the opportunity to debate its merits, ensure appropriate community consultation and make a considered decision. "I'll form my view at that point. No decisions have been made."

Council district development deputy chief executive Jean-Paul Gaston said options and information discussed in forums often changed before the final proposals.

He said forums were part of the council's due diligence before finalising and presenting proposals for decision-making or consultation.

"We can assure residents they would be informed and have the opportunity to make submissions on any proposal for consideration or decision-making.

"Housing is a priority set out in Rotorua's 2021-31 Long-term Plan and all potentially viable options would be considered as part of ongoing work on multiple fronts to address the district's critical housing shortage."

He said any decisions on potential sales of council land would have to comply with the council's open spaces policy.

The policy's Ngāti Whakaue Gifted Reserves Protocol Agreement meant if reserves were not used for their original purpose they should be returned to Pukeroa Oruawhata Trust on behalf of Ngāti Whakaue, unless agreed otherwise.

Any proposed land disposal would follow relevant council and legislative processes including the agreement, the Reserves Act and the Local Government Act, the policy stated.

Kāinga Ora Bay of Plenty regional director Darren Toy said the agency was exploring opportunities with partners in Rotorua to deliver more homes as quickly as possible.

"This includes working with the council on this potential opportunity, which is still at the very early stages."

Kāinga Ora was also asked if it had any role in helping identify the reserves, what it meant to "tag" a reserve, what kind of housing it planned for the sites, and whether there would be adequate green space for residents in the developments.

Rotorua MP Todd McClay said, in his view, it was "extremely worrying" the documents showed the council was "considering how quickly [it] can make decisions and that the people of Rotorua might slow that process down".

"The council doesn't own this town, ratepayers do. They have an absolute obligation to engage with them openly and fully.''

Photo: Supplied/ Rotorua Daily Post - Andrew Warner

He believed people in the areas affected would be concerned the council was having "detailed discussions" about the reserves with the government without their knowledge.

McClay said, in his opinion: "The council and government are almost treating them with contempt."

He claimed the government had "dumped people from around the country in Rotorua motels" and said it could not now take reserves away to house those people without consulting residents.

Asked if he saw any merit in the plans given his criticism of emergency housing in motels, McClay said in his opinion the council could not "drag its feet and say it's very hard, and then all of a sudden rush to decisions that are going to have a big impact".

Housing Minister Megan Woods said the government supported the council's efforts to address the city's critical housing shortage.

"[The] government has been working with the council and iwi for the past two years to address constraints to new housing developments, through the Rotorua housing taskforce."

Woods said the National government sold off 50 public houses in Rotorua and, in her view, it was "bizarre" for McClay to complain about emergency housing that was keeping people from sleeping in cars or the street.

In her opinion, he "should be embarrassed" by National's "failure to do anything about the housing crisis".

"If National had done what this government is doing with delivering more public housing, and enabling new housing, there wouldn't be a housing crisis."

She said, in her view, McClay needed to "use facts, not fiction" regarding the origin of people in emergency housing in Rotorua.

She cited Ministry of Social Development analysis that found 88 percent were from Rotorua or surrounding towns, and many of the rest had local family and whānau.

Chadwick said her "door is always open" for McClay to "come and get a briefing about the housing strategy for Rotorua that as our local MP we need him to get behind".

Ministry of Housing and Urban Development housing and services delivery general manager Jonathon Fraser said it understood the council was "consulting closely" with mana whenua about "any possible release of reserve land for development".

"We understand that no decisions about the possible release of reserve land have been made at this stage, but when there is a proposal, wider public consultation would happen."

This was sourced form Radio New Zealand here .



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