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One more time for Rotorua

Rotorua reserves for housing: Council urged to rethink sale of community assets:

Felix Desmarais, Local Democracy Reporter

A Rotorua resident told the council the sale of the Coulter Road Reserve for housing would crush "the heart and soul" of the local community.

The comment came as four petitioners presented separate petitions totalling 1215 signatures to Rotorua Lakes Council on Thursday, opposing a council proposal to sell reserves for housing.

The petitions were in response to a proposal uncovered by Local Democracy Reporting to revoke 10 reserve sites across the city to be sold to Kāinga Ora and other developers for housing.

Speaking on her petition, which she presented alongside fellow resident John Kininmouth, Chanel Brightwell told the council its assessments of the Coulter Road Reserve - one of the 10 reserves - were "wrong" and "soul-crushing".

"The heartbeat of our thriving community lies in Coulter Road Reserve, whose value surpasses any dollar amount, whose revocation in any way will be felt long and deep by the residents who are there who know her best.

"Listening to these reports of stony-faced strangers describing our reserve has been soul-crushing. 'No clear purpose', 'not fit for use', 'redundant', the playground is 'nearing its end of life' - you are wrong.

"Your words describe somewhere else. Somewhere completely different. The lived experience of us, neighbourhoods in that area, are completely different to what these words are describing.

"As Coulter Road Reserve saved us from the stresses of Covid, it was being marked as excessive. That is taking your hand and crushing the heart and soul at the centre of … Ōwhata community. [The reserve is] a space that constantly has our people in it, using it for its intended purpose."

She said there were solutions with eastside hapū which had "offered partnership" with the use of their landblocks.

"Solutions exist when willing parties come together and organise the sale of private lands.

"How much more must we give?"

Some of the reserves that have been identified for possible sale. Photo: LDR / Rotorua Evening Post / Andrew Warner

Brightwell's speech was met with effusive applause from supporters in the almost-full public gallery.

Her petition had 148 signatures and represented about 97 percent of people door-knocked, a letter attached to the petition stated.

In the meeting, Kininmouth said the reserve provided a sense of belonging to the community and removing part of it could take that away.

Adrienne Smith spoke to councillors about her petition for Lee Road Reserve.

She said residents were "concerned" about possible negative "knock on" impacts on local businesses - particularly those providing accommodation - from public housing in the area.

She said some residents were first home buyers with large mortgages and the value of their properties could be affected.

"You may accuse us of having a 'Not In My Backyard' mindset, but councillors, we ask, what if you had just purchased your first home only to discover a short time later that before you purchased, behind closed doors, the council had been planning to sell your local reserve?

"Should this reserve - a valuable community asset - be sold, we will never get it back."

She said the council's proposal had "total disregard" for the interests and wellbeing of residents.

"Its secretive approach and adoption of pace over local conversation is alarming and undemocratic."

Smith's speech was also met with applause from the gallery.

Deputy mayor Dave Donaldson said the council had "got [her] point, very clear".

Chris Staines, whose petition related to Linton Park West, said claims of rubbish dumping and vandalism on the part of the reserve proposed for revocation were "totally incorrect" and challenged councillors to visit the reserve to see for themselves.

"It is the safest reserve I think you can ever find.

"It is just a gem for this area."

Staines' petition had 83 signatures.

Don Paterson presented a petition with 630 signatures, which opposed the overall proposal.

He relayed the comments of other people who lived near each of the reserves to the council.

"Retain the 10 identified reserves in their entirety and preserve them for future generations."

Donaldson said the council was not in a position to make any decisions on the proposal on Thursday.

"A consultation and hearing process needs to be completed before we deliberate."

He thanked petitioners for their passion and "clear articulation of their views".

Raj Kumar Photo: NZME

Earlier in the meeting, councillor Raj Kumar had asked Donaldson if he could use discretion to allow petitioners to speak longer than the five minutes allocated in the standing orders, to allow councillors to ask questions.

Donaldson said there was a large agenda for the day and hearings would be held for people to speak on their views further.

The council has previously said no decisions have yet been made on the proposal, including how it would revoke reserve status if the decision was to progress, and the conditions of sale imposed if it went ahead.

A February report by council consultant Market Economics said Rotorua needed more than 3500 more dwellings by 2023, and 10,000 by 2050.

Last year, 1121 people went through emergency accommodation in Rotorua, according to a Ministry of Social Development report.

Housing Minister Megan Woods has previously expressed ramping up public housing in Rotorua as the long-term solution to its emergency accommodation needs and the use of motels.

On 16 June, the council said it had received 155 submissions on the reserves proposal, and on 22 June it announced it would extend the submission period for the proposal to 5pm on 14 July.

The same day, the council also announced it would hold hearings for submitters. It had previously decided not to hold them for the proposal.

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