13 Jul 2017

'This is going to set a precedent' - council applying to evict homeowners

From Checkpoint, 5:20 pm on 13 July 2017

A precedent enabling local councils and the government to evict victims of climate change from their homes may be about to be set.

The Whakatane District Council is applying for 34 properties' land use rights to be revoked in Matata, because it says they are at risk of debris flows. The change would force residents to abandon their homes and land.

Mayor Tony Bonne said the application would "more than likely" go through, and would "be a precedent for New Zealand".

"I didn't want our council to be the first one off the block. We've got climate change happening throughout New Zealand… we've got some big problems," he said.

The issue stems from a May 2005 torrential downpour which washed boulders, logs and other debris down a flooded stream, damaging more than a dozen homes.

The council said it would mitigate the risk of a future event and allowed residents to rebuild, but it now says that won't be possible.

Residents have formed the Matata Action Group to fight their land use rights being revoked. They are considering legal action.

"We've had 12 years of this s**t," said Clem Elliot Drive resident Rob Pearce.

"Stress, anxiety … as far as I'm concerned, the whole lot should be put up against a wall, and shot with a ball of their own s**t."

"The rest of New Zealand needs to start waking up because when they start going around different parts of the coast saying it's a cheaper option to kick you out, once that law goes through, that's it."

"We're going to be used as guinea pigs for the rest of the coastal people in New Zealand to kick them off their land, this isn't just about Matata," said Greg Fahey, a resident in the red zone.

The residents have been offered a 'voluntary retreat' option where the council would buyout their properties, but they say the offers are "insulting" and the retreat is not voluntary.

Grant Wilkins, who lives on Clem Elliot Drive, was offered $280,000 for his home which is insured for $600,000.

Other residents told Checkpoint they had also been offered around half what they believe their homes are worth.

Mayor Bonne said the 'voluntary retreat' package was fair.

"I think that's incorrect to say they're being offered half their value, I actually think we're doing the fairest possible system. We have no legal obligation, we could just walk away and say, 'Change of plans, everybody has to go, hard luck,' but we're not like that, we do feel for the people," he said.

The Bay of Plenty Regional Council said it had been expecting an application from the Whakatane District council for a plan change "for some time", and it was "ready to expedite planning decisions to give certainty to the Matata Community as quickly as possible."