Matatā residents push back on council's 'managed retreat' plan

6:19 pm on 17 July 2019

Matatā residents who might have to abandon their homes due to an environmental risk say the council hasn't provided enough information to make a decision as big as whether to stay or go.

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.

Matatā residents are weighing up their options, after local councils and central government offered to buy properties in a dangerous debris flow zone at a market rate. Photo: RNZ / Brad White

Residents whose homes are at risk from debris flows were yesterday told they would be offered market value for their properties if they wanted to leave.

The homeowners met with Whakatāne District Council bosses last evening.

Matatā resident Rachel Whalley is one of several who will have to make the decision to stay or go.

Ms Whalley told Morning Report the market rate was not enough compensation, if "you don't want to leave".

"The council will keep telling you 'there is a risk to life and we've done all the scientific reports', but it hasn't been tested, and until it gets before an independent judge, then it's not been fairly tested," she said.

"The regional council can't explain to us what the endgame is. People can't make decisions about whether they should leave or go based on no information."

She said the information presented last night at the meeting wasn't enough.

However, it was an opportunity for people with sections who won't be able to do anything with their land to move out, she said.

Another resident, Wayne Irwin, said it wasn't about the money.

"It's where I've made my home for my retirement years. No amount of money is going to compensate for losing my home."

He has worked in health and safety for 20 years and said he had done some research on the current situation.

"We wake up every morning to some form of risk. This was a one-in-300-year event ... to get a rainfall like that again is anybody's guess," he said.

"We should be working on a monitor and manage process, but the council doesn't think of it as feasible."

Matata floods 2005

Matatā floods in 2005. Photo: Supplied / Michele Beach

In May 2005, a torrential downpour washed boulders, logs and other debris down the flooded Awatarariki Stream, destroying 27 homes in Matatā and racking up a bill of $20 million.

Residents were allowed back into the area in 2006 because the council believed it could build a structure to contain debris in a similar event, but six years later it gave up on that idea saying the area was a "high loss of life risk zone" and managed retreat was the only viable option.

Whakatāne District Council chief executive Steph O'Sullivan said homeowners in Matatā might be given more time to consider a council offer to buy their properties.

Residents in a danger zone were initially told that once the process started they would have a month to decide.

However, Ms O'Sullivan has told a media conference that would be reviewed.

"We all came away in agreement that we need to sit down and reconsider and give that some really good thought as to what the residents have said. There are a number of other points as well that we need to take away and give some thought too."

Ms O'Sullivan acknowledged some people were upset and angry at last night's meeting in Whakatāne, but said there were also residents who wanted to take the package up.

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Tony Bonne Photo: RNZ / Leon Menzies

Whakatāne Mayor Tony Bonne told Morning Report it had taken longer than it should've.

"Fourteen years is a long time," he said.

"At long last, the council has got to a conclusion. We are looking at a managed retreat which means people will be offered market value without the disaster being taken into account.

"As a council we've got an obligation when you've got a risk to life, we've got to do something."

If people didn't agree to move he said the council had options.

"The first part is managed retreat where we're in partnership with central government and regional council for funding to do that.

"The second part we've got an application to change our district plans to take it back to reserve, and then the regional council plan which we've applied for as well. If that goes through to the final stage and is accepted by an environment court judge ... at that point, they may have to move."

Mr Bonne also rejected claims that there had not been enough consultation about Matatā residents' future.

A so-called managed retreat was the only option, he said.

"Some of them accused us of not consulting but I can tell you on my time on council, I've been mayor here for the last nine years and we have consulted, we've had numerous meetings with them, so yes, there could be some faults."

He hoped it didn't get to a point when rubbish collection and water supply had to be stopped.

"The offer we've got is a very fair offer. We do want to look after those people."

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