6 Jun 2018

'Hell and back': Bella Vista homeowners to be compensated

8:12 pm on 6 June 2018

Tauranga homeowners who have "been to hell and back" after the failure of the Bella Vista development are to be compensated, with the council agreeing to buy 21 homes.

Defunct Tauranga housing development Bella Vista Housing Development.

Defunct Tauranga housing development Bella Vista Housing Development. Photo: RNZ / Eva Corlett

The council had signed-off the development despite major construction defects.

Mayor Greg Brownless and council staff met with homeowners this evening to notify them of its decision.

"The homeowners have, in their words, been 'to hell and back'. First, with the liquidation of the developer and watching work stop on their properties, to then being evacuated, and living with the uncertainty of what would happen.

"We have listened to homeowners, who told us that purchasing the properties was their desired outcome," the mayor said in a statement.

The council also considered the results of an independent investigation, overseen by Paul Heath QC.

A report by the former judge recommended "immediate resolution" of any claims made by homeowners and an inquiry into why the council failed to properly apply the Resource Management Act and did not perform adequate building inspections.

Mr Heath warned against a "witch-hunt" but said it was important that an investigation looked at "what lessons can be learnt from the failures to minimise the risk of something like this happening again".

"I cannot emphasise enough that my findings that the Council did not perform its resource consent and Building Act regulatory functions adequately do not mean that the Council is necessarily legally liable to homeowners who have suffered loss."

The council will now begin negotiations with homeowners to reach settlement, but the cost of buying the 21 properties is not clear yet.

Chief executive Garry Poole said the council would work as quickly as possible to get the matter resolved.

Residents met councillors this morning urging them to be compassionate and back the purchase of homes at the market value they would have had before defects were found.

Many were emotional as they described the excitement of building their first home and starting families, before those dreams were thwarted as their homes were condemned.

Some described suffering through stress-related health issues, overcrowding into family members' homes, employment difficulties and relationship break-downs as a result of being forced to leave their homes.

Meanwhile, information newly released to RNZ under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act by Tauranga City Council showed it spent as little as $2000 a year on training its building officers in the past five years.

In 2013 it spent a total of $2000 on such training, and $3000 the following year.

Since then this has risen to peak at $60,000 in 2016, before dropping to $45,000 last year.

Its total number of building officers has more than doubled since 2013, from 30 to 65.

However, the council has hired just a single trainee building officer since 2015.

Many councils have struggled to recruit and retain building officers amid the construction boom.

Tauranga council's turnover among building officers is between 12 and 13 percent a year; 10 percent is a level many organisations aim at.