Thursday, April 18, 2024

Campaigners fume over change to hearings

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Rashna Tata, far left, and Michelle Varga, far right, are among the residents fighting to stop the sale of their local public reserve in Aberfeldy Avenue, Pakuranga. Times file photo Chris Harrowell

People fighting the proposed sale of east Auckland public reserves are angry they now won’t be able to express their view over a key step in the process in person.

Auckland Council voted in late 2020 to dispose of 83 properties it owns across the city in an effort to raise money from “asset recycling”.

Among the properties it wants to sell are public reserves at 9R Fortyfoot Lane, Sunnyhills; 111R Golfland Drive, Botany; 76R Aberfeldy Avenue; Pakuranga; 72R Karaka Road, Beachlands; and part of the site of a gas station at 2R Ti Rakau Drive, Pakuranga.

Council agency Eke Panuku Development Auckland is managing the properties’ sale.

For sites classified as reserves under the Reserves Act 1977, a statutory process must be followed before they can be sold.

The council publicly notified and sought submissions on its intent to revoke the reserve status of 20 properties across Auckland in February last year.

More than 1340 submissions were received, of which 1145 related to the properties in east Auckland.

None were in favour of the properties’ reserve status being revoked.

In mid-2021 Eke Panuku asked the council’s regulatory committee to appoint six independent commissioners to consider submissions about revoking the properties’ reserve status.

The commissioners will make recommendations to be reported to a council committee for a decision on whether to forward requests for reserve revocations to the Minister of Conservation for final approval.

Hearings for in-person submissions on the east Auckland properties had been scheduled to take place in Cockle Bay but have been repeatedly delayed due to Covid-19 lockdowns.

There’s no requirement under the Reserves Act for hearings to be held on the reserve revocations, but the council says it still wants to hear from the submitters.

On February 2, submitters were informed the hearings will now not be heard in-person and will instead be conducted via the internet, landline or mobile phone.

“With the much more infectious variant Omicron now in the community, all participants’ health and safety is of the utmost importance,” the council told submitters.

“For that reason, it is no longer feasible to hold the hearing in a face-to-face situation.”

Among those who oppose the in-person hearings being scrapped are local residents Rashna Tata and Michelle Varga.

They belong to a group fighting to stop their local public reserve in Aberfeldy Avenue from being sold.

Tata and Varga emailed the council on behalf of their Save Aberfeldy Ave Reserve group to express their unhappiness at the change to the hearings process.

“We wish to retain an in-person hearing format, even if the hearing must be delayed again to a later date,” they wrote.

Tata says: “We have waited so long and it is absolutely not acceptable that after so many postponements, you [the council] have suddenly chosen to change the very nature of this meeting.

“We strongly urge Auckland Council to rethink this decision.”

Pakuranga MP Simeon Brown says it’s disappointing east Auckland residents won’t be able to make in-person submissions on the proposed revocation of the parks’ reserve status.

“While the Government’s Covid restrictions do make it more challenging, the rules allow for small gatherings to take place in a safe way.

“In-person hearings should be made available within these rules so those who wish to make such a submission have the opportunity.

“It is critical everyone has the opportunity to be heard and to present their submissions on this controversial issue.”

Howick ward councillors Sharon Stewart and Paul Young voted against the sale of the east Auckland public reserves.

Stewart says the submitters should be heard in-person.

“Our neighbourhood reserves are really important, especially now that we are having wall-to-wall three-storey houses being built in many parts of our community.”

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