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Council's plan to sell reserves for Rotorua housing called 'a betrayal’

Felix Desmarais, Local Democracy Reporter

A proposal to sell 10 Rotorua reserve sites for housing has been met with vehement opposition, with some claiming it would debilitate local businesses and bring Fenton St's problems to the suburbs.

The claims were heard by Rotorua Lakes Council's Strategy, Policy and Finance Committee meeting on Monday, the first day of four covering verbal submissions from the public.

Local Democracy Reporting revealed in April the council was discussing a proposal to sell reserve sites for housing.

The proposal would revoke the reserve status of the 10 sites to enable the council to sell six to Kāinga Ora for public and affordable housing - and the rest to other developers.

It was later revealed the government began the discussion about reserves early last year.

The public consultation submission period started on 30 May and closed on 14 July, with 639 submissions received. Of those, 160 wished to speak at the hearings.

By 2pm on Monday, 20 submitters had been heard, with all opposed bar one.

In the hearing, Patricia Hosking, who has also announced her candidacy for the general ward in the October local election, said she was "incredibly saddened, disappointed and angry" about the proposal.

She said she opposed the sale of all reserves.

"I was stunned to discover what had been planned … you did not intend to consult the public over the sale and had a bill prepared with the intention of bypassing the Reserves Act to speed up their sale. It was beyond belief.

"Claiming these reserves are unused and unwanted and surplus is wrong. It has shown you up to be uninformed and unworthy of being their guardians and our elected representatives."

She said the sale of the reserves would be a "betrayal" of previous councils, the community and future generations.

"[Their] lives will be a living hell because this council [is] filled with people who don't understand, don't care, don't listen and are unable to foresee the implications of their decisions."

She said she believed the decision had "already been made" because the council had already spent a lot of time on the proposal, including drafting a local bill to enable it.

"I hope I'm wrong. I'm asking you to draw a line in the sand and stop this madness. Leave the reserves alone."

Worry about impact on holiday park

Submitter Amy Haddon expressed concern a Kāinga Ora development on Lee Rd Reserve would negatively impact the next-door All Seasons Holiday Park, a view which was also expressed in the hearing by park managers Tracey and Kevin Thornborough.

Others expressed concern about the high water table in the Lee Rd area, and its perceived flood risk.

One of those was Andy Marshall, who spoke on behalf of Hannahs and Holdens Bay Residents and Ratepayers group.

He also said there was a risk with a public housing development that negative behaviours seen and reported from Fenton St would be transferred to the area, and Lee Rd would suffer from a long police response time due to its location.

Another submitter, Nicholas Breen, also said incidents on Fenton St - such as a ram raid last week, and reported issues in emergency accommodation in motels - showed safety issues could be transplanted from the city to the suburbs.

"Some of my ancestors were a part of the land grabs … over 150 odd years ago. I'm not proud of that and I don't want to be a party of any future land grabs, and that's what I see this is - a land grab."

Colin Bates said he was "strongly against" the proposal and said the council had been "unfair" to refer to poor maintenance on Coulter Rd Reserve as a reason for its revocation, and encouraged the council to better maintain it.

Real estate agent Bryn Parry said he was opposed to the sale of any reserves, partly because with intensification ramping up in the city, they would be needed.

He also believed a Kāinga Ora development on Lee Rd Reserve would "disproportionately" change the areas "demographics" and the council would be better off pursuing large-scale greenfield developments.

"The benefit of selling them doesn't outweigh the cost."

However, fellow real estate agent Steve Lovegrove stood alone among the 20 in saying he supported the proposal because it would help resolve the housing situation.

Lovegrove said he was not in favour of an exclusive sale of land to Kāinga Ora.

"We do need social housing, I'm not against that [but it] shouldn't be exclusively dedicated to that."

He also advised caution in selling Lee Rd Reserve for public housing due to the potential impact on the All Seasons Holiday Park -"right beside a successful tourist facility".

Reminder about city's housing crisis

At the beginning of the hearing, committee chairwoman Merepeka Raukawa-Tait said there was a housing crisis in Rotorua and the council was "looking to ensure that we can get our families into homes at some stage".

The council has previously said no decisions had been made and community feedback would be used to help decide whether to proceed and how.

Decisions still to be made include whether or not to proceed with the revocation and sale of any reserve or part reserve, the legal method for revocation and disposal, the reserves to be developed or enhanced with funds from the proceeds of any sales and any conditions to be applied to housing development by purchasers.

The hearings will continue tomorrow, then again on Thursday and Monday.

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