A plan to add a chunk of land to a major Hamilton heritage park has been scuttled by the city council which has opened up the prospect of it being sold to developers.
In a surprise move, councillors this week voted 9-4 against declaring a 5.1-hectare block, bordering the southeast of Waiwhakareke Natural Heritage Park, a reserve.
The vote effectively short-circuited a council resolution last September to include the land within the heritage park and opens up the prospect of it being sold to residential developers.
Waiwhakareke is New Zealand's largest inland restoration project.
Veteran Councillor Martin Gallagher yesterday described the council U-turn as arrogant and a "tragically short-sighted decision that lacks vision".
The council's back-track was orchestrated by Councillor Garry Mallett, who said the land was never originally intended to be part of the park and could, in the future, be sold for development.
He said the land was zoned residential and, by not granting it reserve status, the council was maintaining the status quo.
Speaking later, Waikato University professor of restoration ecology Bruce Clarkson said he was "extremely concerned" by the council's U-turn and would seek a meeting with Hamilton Mayor Julie Hardaker. Prof Clarkson, who chairs the Waiwhakareke Advisory Group, said any development on the vacant block could cause difficulties for restoration work happening inside the park.
"The block of land is about 5ha, whereas the park is about 60ha, but the topography all slopes toward Horseshoe Lake so it's a significant and important component of the catchment," Prof Clarkson said.
"If someone came in who had no respect for the adjacent land, we could end up with a chink in our armour at the top end. This is a really significant issue for the city and what the council has done is a retrograde step."
Waikato University's Environmental Research Institute senior lecturer Dr Dave Campbell also expressed disappointment with the vote against granting the land block reserve status.
Dr Campbell said he was concerned by Ms Hardaker and Councillor Margaret Forsyth's support of Mr Mallett in light of the pair being endorsed by Sustainable Waikato ahead of last year's local government elections.
Mr Gallagher said Waiwhakareke Natural Heritage Park was a wonderful asset to equal the Hamilton Gardens.
"Hocking off this particular area to a greedy private developer will severely compromise this vision," he told the Waikato Times.
"I worry that this could be a foretaste of other decisions to come, particularly in terms of asset sales, water meters and pension housing sales.
"This was a clear choice: a vote for the future and sustainability of the park or a vote to hock it off to developers when the market is right," Mr Gallagher said.
Council staff estimate developing the land in conjunction with the park would cost between $160,000 and $180,000 for plants.
The purchase of plants for the park relies largely on external funding grants.
Deputy Mayor Gordon Chesterman said Waiwhakareke was a "very important" ecological site and was already recognised throughout Australasia as a significant park.
HOW THEY VOTED
Declaring the 5.1ha block of land southeast of Waiwhakareke Natural Heritage Park a reserve.
For: Gordon Chesterman, Dave Macpherson, Ewan Wilson, Martin Gallagher.
Against: Mayor Julie Hardaker, Margaret Forsyth, Karina Green, Garry Mallett, Rob Pascoe, Philip Yeung, Andrew King, Angela O'Leary, Leo Tooman.
- Waikato Times