Awatarariki managed retreat moving forward depsite push back

10:10 am on 27 December 2019

Three Matatā homes have been removed with more to go in the new year as part of the council's managed retreat from area, making this the last Christmas many Awatarariki residents will spend in their homes.

The late Neville Harris’ home was the first to be removed as part of the Whakatāne District Council's managed retreat process. Two more have now followed.

Neville Harris' former home was the first to be removed as part of the Whakatāne District Council's managed retreat process. Two more have now followed. Photo: Charlotte Jones / LDR

The majority of residents have now entered the valuation process, but some say this does not indicate their support for Whakatāne District Council's managed retreat.

The retreat's most ardent opponents, Rick and Rachel Whalley and Marilyn Pearce have entered the valuation process but still intend to challenge the retreat in court.

They believe there is no way they can be offered a fair price for their homes but are curious to see what they will be offered.

The three said they were concerned at a clause included in the property valuation and site consent form which stated: 'I acknowledge that the details of the valuation report and site assessment are confidential to the Whakatāne District Council'.

They also said they were concerned after hearing from those who had accepted an offer on their home, that in order to close the deal they had to sign a confidentiality agreement, leave the Awatarariki Residents' Association and withdraw all submissions they had made for the legal case.

A homeowner who has accepted the council's offer has confirmed these conditions.

Rick said it was a "gag order" by the council and took away their human rights.

Rachel described the situation as a deliberate manipulation by the council.

"They want to get as many people to sign up and pick us off one by one," she said.

"It's morally and ethically wrong. I wonder if councillors knew how this was being implemented if they would even have voted for it in the first place."

The Whalleys and Pearce refused to sign the original consent form and instead submitted one to the council with the confidentiality clause omitted, which was accepted.

"They have always said the process will be open and transparent," Rick said.

"But if we can't speak to our neighbours about it, where's the openness and where's the transparency? If the ratepayers don't know what the prices are or what it cost them. With that clause in there they can hide their figures and we don't want that for the people of Matatā or ratepayers."

However, council chief executive Stephanie O'Sullivan said this clause was never intended to stop residents from speaking but rather was a directive for council staff. The clause asking them to withdraw their support from the court case was to save the public money.

"If they would like to tell media or each other the offers they have received for their homes they are more than welcome," O'Sullivan said.

"It's not appropriate for council to tell people how much others have received for their homes, but if they would like to, they can."

O'Sullivan said many people would prefer to keep their offers confidential as they were looking at purchasing new homes and having vendors know how much they had to spend could affect their negotiation process.

Torrential rain in may 2005 washed boulders, logs and other debris down a flooded stream, badly damaging properties in Matata .

In May 2005, torrential rain washed boulders, logs and debris down a flooded stream, badly damaging properties in Matatā . Photo: GNS

Council planning and infrastructure general manager David Bewley said residents who had sold their land through the managed retreat process were required to withdraw any direct or indirect support for the plan change opposition as part of a broader policy about the "prudent use of public funds from ratepayers and taxpayers".

"The use of public funds to offer landowners current market value for their properties with no market discount for the presence of the hazard, provides the affected property owners with an ability to relocate away from the high-risk area and move forward with their lives," Bewley said.

"It is incongruous to then allow these owners to continue to oppose the plan change, as the council will be required to defend its proposal using further ratepayer funds to do so.

"On this basis, it is fair and reasonable to ask landowners accepting the offer paid by public funds to not incur further public spending to achieve an outcome that they no longer have a material interest in.

"If all owners of properties with houses sell to the council, it will enable the council to withdraw the regional plan change as it will no longer be necessary. This will save ratepayers the costs associated with the regional plan change component of the joint hearing."

The first home to be removed as part of the managed retreat belonged to the now-deceased Neville Harris.

In 2015, following the disaster, Harris told the Beacon that he especially built his home to withstand floods by constructing it on poles rather than a concrete floor.

The original debris flow picked up his shed and moved it down the street while the railway line was wrapped around the back of his house.

"It's the old story - local knowledge, talk to the locals about what they have experienced," he had said.

He built his home in the 1980s after buying the section from the Crown.

"You would expect something bought from the Crown would last a lifetime, not turn into an intolerable risk to life," Harris said.

However, he was philosophical about the risk those four years ago and said, "you never know what might happen".

Key facts

  • 34 properties are deemed to be high risk
  • 32 properties have been entered into the managed retreat programme and are now at varying stages
  • Three homes have been removed
  • Eight properties - six occupied and two unoccupied - have entered into unconditional agreements
  • 11 have been given an acquisition offer
  • Nine are waiting for valuations to come back
  • One is investigating possible Māori reservation status
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