Public voice their concerns over block's future

Porirua City News | 23 March 2005

Porirua City News, 23 March 2005: Public voice their concerns over block's future

Public voice their concerns over block's future

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Photo: Greater Wellington regional councillor Chris Laidlaw: "If we work together it is the only way that we will get enough pressure on the minister [of SOEs, Paul Swain] to get him to blink."

Photo: IN THE FRAME: Friends of Maara Roa member Sylvia Jenkin shows a public meeting just what Landcorp's proposal to sell off 35 percent of Belmont Regional Park means. "As far as I can see that corporation is not accountable to anyone except the shareholder - the government, which no doubt draws dividends," she says.

Photos: Jim Chipp

The proposed sale of the Waitangirua Block of Belmont Regional Park could face some heavy opposition following a public meeting at Pataka [Porirua] on Thursday evening.

Fifty people turned out, some travelling from the Hutt Valley to discuss Landcorp's plans to sell more than 200 hectares of the park, and an appropriate response.

The Friends of Maara Roa, the Friends of Belmont Regional Park were well represented and several city and regional councillors and Mana MP Winnie Laban attended.

Landcorp has signalled an intent to sell the farm, and was obliged to offer it to Greater Wellington regional council first.

Friends of Maara Roa member and Cannons Creek resident Sylvia Jenkin pointed out to the meeting that although some parts of the Waitangirua Block are on conservation covenanted land that will not guarantee that public access is maintained.

The Friends of Maara Roa have worked extensively to rehabilitate the bush of Long Gully, but should the land be sold privately they may lose all access to it.

"A conservation covenant is not a public place and neither is a Landcorp farm," Ms Jenkin said.

"If this farm is sold, all the 80 hectares of covenants would be in somebody's farm and those owners would be able to say 'no you can't (enter)'."

The taxpayer paid for this land and now the ratepayer might be asked to cough up to retain it, she said.

Greater Wellington regional councillor Chris Laidlaw has been busy in the Waikato facilitating discussion between Transpower, which plans to erect 70-metre high transmission pylons across the landscape, and the local farmers on whose land the towers would be built.

The scale and depth of feeling among the Waikato community is causing a rethink, he says.

"They [Transpower] are now beginning to blink, simply because of the pressure that they are facing in the Waikato.

"If we work together it is the only way that we will get enough pressure on the minister [of SOEs, Paul Swain] to get him to blink."

This farm sits right in the middle of Belmont Regional Park, he says.

"If this farm is lost the integrity of the park would be lost forever."

Landcorp was obliged to approach the regional council and offer first option to it.

"The price made my hair stand on end … a price which I cannot divulge," he said.

Porirua City News understands the asking price was $14 million.

However, Mr Laidlaw believed that Landcorp's estimation of the number of residential units that might be fitted onto the block was wildly optimistic because complications like future link roads, easements and covenants had been ignored.  For this reason the offered price was unrealistically high.  The councils would require a whole range of conditions that would make life difficult for the developers, he said.

"What do we do next?" he asked.  "My feeling is that we are all in this together.

"The petition is something that I would encourage you all to sign.

"I am prepared to take this petition and put it on the minister's desk.

"If we don't work together on this we don't get very far."

He questioned whether the World War II ammunition bunkers sprinkled across the park had heritage value and suggested they ought to have District Plan protection.

Friends of Belmont Regional Park convenor Richard Sadleir said Landcorp had never managed to get Waitangirua to a viable farming level in 20 years, using it as a holding area for a few sheep and cattle.

"They have spent very, very little in terms of capital.

"We think … it is a bloody immoral thing for the organisation to do, to turn around and say: 'we're not going to sell it as a farm, we're going to sell it as a housing development."

Porirua and Hutt city councils should revisit their district plans, he said.

"And very, very closely lay down bylaws implying that you would not allow housing to go in there … that would not be a guarantee, but it would bloody well slow them down and those with the money to do these things do not like to be slowed down."

He asked everyone present to write a letter to their MPs saying 'I will take this matter into consideration when I vote'.

"Having done that, phone five friends and ask them to do the same thing."