Next Tuesday, the Hastings Council will decide whether a reserve is actually a reserve. The issue is the enroachment onto a Waimarama reserve by a handful of neighboring property owners. Actually, the issue is whether the Council will have the, uh, spine to kick them off.
Des Ratima will be addressing the Council on behalf of some Waimarama residents challenging the encroachment. Here in this guest article is his take on the matter …
When is a Reserve Not a Reserve?
By Des Ratima
As a Maori writing contributor to Bay Buzz, it is almost expected that I provide a Maori perspective to issues on our landscape. WOW! What an awesome and daunting responsibility.
Not so much because of the diversity of issues, more for the diversity of opinion. Take the current debate on our replacement for Winston Peters, Mr Hone Harawira. There are as many different views of his performance and appeal as there are Maori.
So, I must admit from the outset the views I express come with a Maori flavour, but not as the voice for Maori. Understand that I adopt this position not because I lack the courage to speak for Maori; rather because I don’t have the mandate to speak for Maori. However to think Maori … well that is my right and therefore to express a Maori flavour is also my right.
This being the case, I watched with interest the recent Close Up program which did a feature on the Pouhokio Reserve in Waimarama. At the outset it appears that this is clearly an open and shut case. Private owners have encroached onto a public reserve and assumed a status of ownership, which clearly is not correct. They appear to have in fact taken illegal possession of public land. We have seen similar actions in the forests of Tuhoe and along the banks of the Whanganui River. Of course we should also recall the occupation of land in the city of Whanganui.
What makes this occupation different? Well the obvious difference is that these are not Maori occupiers. These are not people seeking Treaty redress. According to the Close Up program these are private citizens who have overstepped their surveyed boundaries and laid claim to land that is indisputably not theirs.
So in my normal logical methodical manner I went about gathering information about the issue and looking at all sides to the debate. This is an ugly mess. Hastings District Council is deliberating on a clear cut issue. The CEO instructed his staff to remove the encroachments, consisting of swimming pool, landscaping and concrete pads. By admission these properties have been in this situation for many years, even to the point of having changed owners. From the size, state and development of plants, vegetation and the pool it is apparent that this is not a new development. The CEO’s instructions should have been the end of the issue.
However, instead of complying, the occupiers are appealing. They are asking for options, including the suggestion of leasing or sale of reserve land to them. Anyone see any similarities between this issue and the foreshore and seabed debate? Surprisingly, HDC Council are reviewing the decision of their CEO and options offered by the occupiers. Even more worrying, our Councillors conducted an official visit to the site recently on the pretext of wanting to be better informed. This issue is years old and only now do they want to have a look see. Why employ staff and then do their job? Cynically, some might say this visit was merely a pretext for justifying an impending unsavoury decision.
It simply does not make sense to revisit the decision, to go to the trouble of a council site trip, to even contemplate the need to consider options, when the breaches are clear, recorded and must be rectified. The similarities between this issue and the Foreshore and Seabed bill currently in front of Parliament encapsulate the essence of Maori concerns … and that is to stop the privatisation and personal ownership of beachfront properties and reserves which result in access to the Foreshore and Seabed being closed off to the public.
These properties have million dollar valuations helped both by the location and the virtual location. To those Waimarama residents fighting against the continuation of this illegal encroachment, it is unfortunate that you have to fight, yet it is important that you do.
Where is the benefit to the public? A reserve is for the public good. The fact that Tiakitai road needs developing and signage is required at the reserve should spur the HDC onto improving the value of the reserve to the public, not encourage privatisation or illegal occupation of this reserve.
My view is that Hastings District Council must take the only course of action to rectify this situation; they must initiate the removal of the encroachments, seek reimbursement for damages, make good these damages, and develop Tiakitai road and Pouhokio Reserve for public access and use. Not to do so can only spur the residents of Waimarama and others into a predictable course of legal action that will put the rate payers in opposition to their council.