Residents pass deadline to enter Whakatāne managed retreat process

6:09 pm on 31 January 2020

Despite having had until today to opt into the Awatarariki managed retreat, the Whakatāne District Council said it would continue to work with residents who were yet to do so.

A small pocket of residents are still strongly opposing the Whakatane District Council’s managed retreat process which would see residents forced to leave their homes

A small pocket of residents are still strongly opposing the Whakatane District Council's managed retreat process which would see residents forced to leave their homes. Photo: Charlotte Jones / LDR

As of yesterday, two of the affected 34 properties had yet to enter the retreat while others were at various stages in the process.

Whakatāne District Council strategic project manager Jeff Farrell said while today was the deadline for property owners to enter the process, council would try to continue to work with them until up to the date of the plan change hearing.

"We are still trying to engage with some property owners," Farrell said.

"Our objective is to relocate people out of harm's way, and we are trying to work with them to explain the potential outcomes of not engaging in the retreat. We would like to explore opportunities with them up until the date of the hearing."

Farrell said it was clear some residents were happy to leave the area, and council was working with remaining residents to ensure they got the best outcome for them.

"This ends 15 years of uncertainty for residents and they are now resettled away from the debris flow risk," he said.

"It is a wise use of public funds to resettle people who are in harm's way through no fault of their own."

Farrell said council had worked with residents to ensure their settlements met their individual needs.

He said some residents had wanted the money for their home in a lump sum so they could purchase a home elsewhere straight away, while others had requested that they stay in their homes until they had built a new one.

Those who do need to stay in their homes longer for whatever reason can stay until March 2021 after settling with council.

The plan change hearings are scheduled to occur between 2 and 6 March.

Farrell said the dates of the hearings cannot be changed because independent commissioners had already been appointed for this time.

The hearing will be considering two proposed plan changes, the first will only stop any future residential development, while the second will prevent all residential use and residents will need to leave their homes.

The second proposed plan change to the Regional Natural Resources Plan has never been used before to extinguish existing land usage rights and will set a legal precedent in New Zealand.

The fact the plan change hearings are taking place after residents have been asked to enter the managed retreat process has angered some residents, who said council should be sure what they were doing was legal before removing people's homes.

Residents describe themselves as "climate change guinea pigs".

Rachel Whalley, of the Awatarariki Residents Association, has entered into the valuation process with her husband Rick and his mother Pam for their home on Clem Elliott Drive but said she was unimpressed the council had already removed three homes before the plan change hearing.

"We've already seen three homes removed before the ink is dry, and once they are removed there's no bringing them back," she said .

"That's an immediate concern for us. We would like to see council put an immediate hold on its scorched earth policy until after the plan change hearing. What's it going to be like for everyone else in the country once they have set this legal precedent."

Whalley said she would be attending the plan change hearing with her lawyer for the entire week, which would be unpaid leave from her employment.

"We will be losing money, while council staff will be paid to be there, its not a fair fight."

Some residential homes in Matata have been told by council that they are in an area at threat of a deadly landslip but residents don't agree.

The Whakatāne District Council wants to make a district plan change rezoned the Awatarariki fanhead including Matatā as uninhabitable. Photo: RNZ / Brad White

The residents association had originally represented nearly the entirety of all Awatarariki residents, but now represents only ten families.

As residents accept offers from the council they must resign from the association as a requirement of the purchase agreement.

"We were never about making everybody fight to stay, but we wanted to support people to get the best outcome for them," she said.

"Some people have needed to move for a while and would have sold ages ago if they could have but council was their only possible buyer, some have had a guts full and want to leave while others believe, as long as my bum is pointing downwards, you're not taking me out of my home. But nobody wants to leave in response to this alleged debris flow risk."

Another resident, Marilyn Pearce is adamant she will not leave her home unless council offers her "a bloody good offer" which she jokes would need to be somewhere in the region of a million dollars.

Three homes have been removed from the fanhead while another four are set to be removed by the end of April.

In total, 16 properties including nine homes have been settled with council.

Two are yet to enter the retreat process while the rest of properties are in varying stages through the process.

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