Late bid to save potential park land from developers

AARON LEAMAN AND HARRY PEARL
Last updated 08:44 25/02/2014

Fight on for heritage park

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A compromise is being worked on to stop a chunk of land bordering a major Hamilton heritage park being sold to residential developers.

A notice of motion has been added to Thursday's city council agenda asking councillors to revoke an earlier resolution to make a 5.1-hectare block, bordering the southeast of Waiwhakareke Natural Heritage Park, a reserve.

Instead the motion requests the council sell the land.

Councillors Garry Mallett, Angela O'Leary, Karina Green, Leo Tooman, Andrew King and Margaret Forsyth signed the motion which also requests council staff report back next month on the process to be followed to ensure the zoning of the land was appropriate for residential sub-division.

But councillor Rob Pascoe told the Waikato Times he withheld signing the motion because he did not want the land sold to the first developer.

"My rationale for initially voting against the land being declared a reserve was because I believed the Hamilton ratepayer had already made a significant investment in Waiwhakareke and I thought it was appropriate for other funders to come to the table," he said.

Council staff estimates put the cost of adding the land to the park at between $160,000 and $180,000 for planting.

Purchase for plants for the heritage park rely mostly on external funding grants.

Maintenance of the land was estimated to cost $125,000 for the first year and would drop $25,000 a year until flat-lining, when the plants were established.

Mr Pascoe said he had talks with two "influential and reputable" groups who indicated a willingness to contribute funding and would continue discussion over the next few days.

"I've told these groups that if they put some money on the table then maybe I can go back to council and convince some of these councillors who voted against the land becoming a reserve. Often in the environmental area there's a lot of pockets of money that can be got at and I don't know why Hamilton City Council hasn't already looked into this."

City councillor Dave Macpherson predicted Thursday's vote would be "finely balanced" and could be a foretaste of future asset sales.

"But it won't just be council assets we could see put under the spotlight, but services as well. Pensioner housing may well come under the gun again," Mr Macpherson said.

"The whole reason Waiwhakareke is back on the table is really for a technical reason. But other things will come up during annual plan and long-term plan discussions."

Waiwhakareke Advisory Group chairman Professor Bruce Clarkson estimates the annual voluntary effort for the 60-hectare park could conservatively be valued at $209,000.

Councillor Garry Mallett, a signature to the motion to sell the 5.1-hectare block, earlier described opponents to subdivision of the land as having an extreme point of view.

But Jennifer Lawless, Green Party candidate for Hamilton West, said she found some of the derision directed at concerned citizens and conservation groups amusing.

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"What we are trying to do is protect this heritage park for everybody. To label that as greedy seems very strange."

Ms Lawless said the heritage park, like Hamilton Gardens, helped show the city's identity and was a project that made Hamilton a great place to live.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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