Toilets on Russell wharf: 'We're saying no' - tangata whenua

3:25 pm on 12 March 2019

A controversial plan to revamp the historic Russell wharf with a cafe and toilets is set to gain final sign-off within a fortnight.

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Photo: Bay of Islands Information Centre

The council-owned company Far North Holdings has secured a million-dollar grant for the project from the Provincial Growth Fund.

But local Māori and some others in the community remain opposed.

Far North Holdings wants to strengthen the wharf, provide extra berths, and replace the ticket kiosk with a cafe, complete with toilets for the growing number of visitors to Russell.

For tangata whenua, the toilets are a major problem, according to Kororāreka marae chair Deb Rewiri.

Leaving aside the risk of breaks, leaks and spills, she says the idea of toilets over water is offensive.

"From a cultural perspective, we're saying no. This is not negotiable or debatable. We will not agree to having a toilet in the wharf. Everything inside of us is speaking against it. And in terms of a cafe - they cannot operate a cafe unless there's a toilet there.

The marae also had a problem with the cafe building, which would take up more space on the wharf than the present kiosk.

The wharf was congested already, and expansion to cater to tourists threatened the community's use of it, Ms Rewiri said.

"Our children still have their swimming sports on (from) the wharf ...our children swim off the wharf; we've got a lot of other activities associated with the wharf that have been carried out for a very long time," she said.

Far North Holdings said the company has listened to local concerns and reduced the size of the cafe, altering plans for a mezzanine floor.

The wharf plans will not affect local activities, and sewage would be piped securely to Russell's treatment plant, according to chief executive Andy Nock.

The nearest public toilets in Russell itself are a ten minute walk away and inadequate to cope with growing visitor numbers and people waiting for a ferry, he said.

The Russell Protection Society has also objected to the changes planned for the wharf.

The wharf was a public asset but the public had been denied the formal right to have a say in its future, the society's president Bob Drey said.

Although there had been public meetings, organised by the company and the Russell Wharf and Waterfront Trust, the plan had not been publicly notified.

He said if the plan had been publicly notified, it could have been challenged in the Environment Court.

The society was also concerned by the clause in the council's sale agreement with far North Holdings, stating that if the wharf were ever to be sold, the Wharf Trust had the first option to buy it, he said.

"Far North Holdings is a commercial organisation and presumably will try to make sure the wharf earns them some income. If it doesn't, and wharves are very expensive to maintain, then it could be sold off and that concerns us greatly," he said.

However, Mr Nock said a sale was not on the cards.

"I mean, it's a fundamental infrastructure asset so I don't see that's either going to be with far North Holdings or with the council," he said.

Regional Council consents manager Jeff Heaps said Far North Holdings' latest design for the wharf building, which would gain final sign off this month actually had a slightly larger footprint than the earlier one.

But he said the variation was not significant enough to trigger public notification.

Ms Rewiri said Kororāreka marae remained adamantly opposed to the wharf toilets and would be calling on other hapū to support a public meeting as soon as possible to discuss their options.

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