'I'm glad home is still there': Houses saved from Watercare demolition

8:24 pm on 30 May 2017

Residents in the west Auckland suburb of Oratia say it is a "huge relief" that Watercare has spared their homes by choosing to build a new treatment plant elsewhere.

Eighteen families have avoided being evicted from their homes after a replacement site was confirmed today.

Watercare shortlisted three sites for the replacement of its 87-year-old Huia Water Treatment Plant in Titirangi, including one that would have evicted the families in the neighbouring suburb of Oratia.

Its board has instead chosen a site on Manuka Road in Titirangi, unanimously approving the preferred option at its monthly meeting this morning.

Oratia local Tina-Lee Viskovich said the past four months had been sleepless ones for the community.

She said about 100 people gathered at Parker Road while the board meeting took place in Parnell.

"I just can't wait to get home and be with the community and have big hugs."

Ms Viskovich said she was the fourth generation who grew up on Parker Road, with the fifth generation on the way. It had made the community a lot tighter, she said.

"So I'm glad home is still there."

Manuka Road community upset at decision

Nearby residents Tamara George and Svetlana Gubanova said they were pleased the Oratia community was saved, but were angry that their neighbourhood, which backs onto the preferred site, would now be affected.

"I do not believe the decision [Watercare] has come to is the correct one at all. They have not consulted with the community as they say they have.

"I live right near that site and I have not to date even got a letter from them, aside from one tour to the site, that's all there's been. And yet they've come to a unanimous decision across the board that that should be the site - so I think they've got a fight on their hands," Ms George said.

Signs at Watercare's board meeting.

Signs at Watercare's board meeting. Photo: RNZ / Laura Tupou

The presentation at the board meeting outlined that there was no legal obligation for consultation in the process of finding a site. But Watercare environmental and planning manager Mark Bourne said it would work with the local community affected by the build to try to identify concerns and mitigate them "wherever practical and possible".

Ms Gubanova said the community would not stay silent.

"They are basically turning our community into a huge industrial site... the whole community is going to be just industrial road. It won't be Woodland Park Road anymore.

"We are going to fight until the end."

Watercare already owns the new site in Titirangi, which is covered in native bush. The new plant is expected to be completed by 2023.

The council-owned company said it would look to offset the loss in biodiversity by planting 200,000 native plants over 24 months in the Hunua Ranges.

But Ms Gubanova said the trees and wildlife habitat could not be replaced or offset by planting trees somewhere else.

The site of the new treatment plant on Manuka Rd in Titirangi.

The site of the new plant. Photo: Supplied / Watercare

'The land has been set aside'

Watercare chair Margaret Devlin said the key question in making today's decision was about minimising loss.

"The loss of trees and vegetation on the Manuka Road site can be mitigated by Watercare's progressive planting of an 1800 hectare block in the Hunua Ranges. But the company is not easily able to mitigate for the loss of homes. Simply put, those affected residents in Parker Road could not be relocated locally."

Mr Bourne said the land would need to be cleared of its native bush, but its intention to use the site had been clear for years.

"So the land has been set aside for water supply purposes for an extraordinarily long time, and in more recent decades it's had a more formal designation over it and the purpose of the designation was to signal to the community its future use."

Watercare planned to lodge an application to the Auckland Council for resource consents later this year.

The existing Huia plant treats almost 20 percent of Auckland's water and took on the extra capacity when the Ardmore plant was affected by heavy rainfall earlier this year. But Watercare said it was built in 1928 and was nearing the end of its operational life.