Hunt for homes as permanent residents told to leave camp

KIRSTY MCMURRAY
Last updated 05:00 16/01/2014
Jeff Watson
CHARLOTTE CURD/FAIRFAX NZ
MOVING ON: Fitzroy Beach Holiday Park lessee Jeff Watson’s time at the camp is up in June. 
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They're mostly old or sick or poor and soon they may be homeless too.

The 20 long-term residents of the Fitzroy Beach Holiday Park will be kicked out after council policy changes and the appointment of new lessees who are planning to revamp the camp.

The beachfront campsites and the man who has run the place for the last 18 years will also soon be gone.

Current lessee Jeff Watson lost the park when the New Plymouth District Council awarded the tender to John and Jan Crawford, who take over on July 1.

"I'll be OK but it's the other people who live here I'm worried about. They're panicking. Some of them are quite ill and have nowhere to go, " Mr Watson said.

Being evicted is a big blow for Gary Allen who thought he'd see the end of his days in his caravan beside the sea.

He has a swag of health problems and says his doctors tell him he is living on borrowed time.

"I never expected to be here long and now I'm getting kicked out. I don't have any money to move and if I do manage to I'll probably cark it the next day," he said.

Council manager of property assets, Peter Handcock, said the council has been trying to help rehome the residents who were given a letter in June 2013 warning they would have to leave when the lease runs out in June this year. But the other options they're providing isn't palatable to most of the residents.

They could shift their homes to the Marine Park Motor Camp in Waitara, which isn't classed as a reserve, but a move like that could have big consequences for residents like Denise Pittwood.

"We don't want to move to Waitara. It's so far away from town. If I move there I'll have to quit my job and go on a benefit."

Selling up and moving into more conventional accommodation isn't a good alternative either.

Mr Watson owns about $500,000 worth of cabins at the park but hasn't been offered the price he wants for them so is likely to remove them and sell them elsewhere.

It won't just be his cabins he's losing either, but the business and the place he's sunk his time, effort, money and energy into for nearly the last two decades.

"When I got this place they were going to shut it down. It was full of prostitutes and drug dealers and I came in and and started building and making changes and turned it around and they gave me a 15-year lease."

He had hoped to get the lease renewed and buy the buildings and infrastructure from the council so he would have something to sell when he retired one day.

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"I feel like I've been kicked in the guts a bit."

New lessees the Crawfords are former New Plymouth residents who moved away to live in Thames eight years ago but always planned to return.

They'll be buying the council-owned buildings at the camp, upgrading the bathroom and kitchen facilities and adding more cabins. "I plan to have it looking like a different place by Labour Weekend. We've got heaps of ideas and a plan to implement them," Mr Crawford said.

Changes required by the council will also include moving cabins and tent-sites away from the beach and growing a "vegetation buffer" between the camp and the Coastal Walkway.

Mr Crawford said the situation with the permanent residents was unfortunate, but out of his hands.

"I feel for them but the council set the rules before we even began to negotiate the lease."

Mr Handcock said the proceeds of the sale of the buildings would be used to reduce council debt, and money would be saved on rates and maintenance.

In the short term, Mr Watson is having to tell his regular campers they can't book next year's holiday in advance.

- Taranaki Daily News

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