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Battle for Naenae park now won

NICHOLAS BOYACK
Last updated 10:39 11/12/2012

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It is hard work taking on the city council and Lia Haar- Strang could not be happier after winning the fight against social housing being built on Walter Mildenhall Park.

The policy committee last week voted unanimously to halt plans by Urban Plus for housing on the Naenae reserve.

The victory left Mrs Haar- Strang both delighted and frustrated. With overwhelming local opposition, she was not surprised by the decision but says it should never have got as far as it did.

"We are only 12 months from away from an election so who (amongst city councillors) would want to put their neck in a noose, so to speak."

Her petition was signed by 762 people and last week's meeting attracted a crowd of 50.

The whole process has left her questioning the way council consults with the community. Putting a notice in the Hutt News and having material on a website is not meaningful consultation, she says.

Many people in Naenae do not have a computer and with 22 percent of residents in the suburb born overseas, English is often a second language. The documentation was also confusing and she found people did not understand what was being proposed.

"It met their legal obligations but it needed a step down to take it to the community."

She found herself in a fierce battle with council and says the community's voice was ignored.

"I am only a housewife from Naenae. I do not have the resources of the council to do this."

Although she is unhappy the proposal got as far as it did, she does not blame its chief proponent, Councillor Roger Styles. All he was doing was his job and being an advocate to build housing and attract people to the suburb, she says.

The question now is what the park should be used for.

An alternative plan for a $4.5 million hub for lawn bowls has been suggested. Mrs Haar- Strang's preference is for something more focused on youth and free recreational opportunities.

Bowls have said that youth development programmes and scholarships are planned but she would like to see facilities such as artificial tennis courts and basketball hoops included.

The lesson to be learned from the fight over housing, is that the council needs to listen to the community and not impose its ideas, she says.

The "silver lining" in what has happened is that community awareness has been raised.

A working group is going to look at future development and her attention has now turned to that and getting community feedback.

Got any ideas for the park? Phone Mrs Haar-Strang on 938 7741.

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