Compromise keeps land bordering heritage park off market

AARON LEAMAN
Last updated 05:00 28/02/2014
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University of Waikato Environment Research Institute assistants Rebecca Bylsma left, and Catherine Kirby look out over the Waiwhakareke Natural Heritage Park with Professor Bruce Clarkson, Dean of the Faculty of Science and Engineering and head of the Centre for Biodiversity and Ecology Research.

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Hamilton City councillors have taken a "collective breath" and stepped back from a motion to sell a chunk of land bordering a major Hamilton heritage park to developers.

There were subtle fist pumps and handshakes throughout a packed public gallery as councillors yesterday voted 10 to 3 to explore alternatives to selling a 5.1 hectare block bordering the Waiwhakareke Natural Heritage Park to residential property developers.

An earlier motion, orchestrated by councillor Garry Mallett, had asked the council to revoke a resolution to make the block a reserve and instead requested the land be sold.

Mr Mallett said selling the land would enable up to 60 sections for "family homes" to be developed and boost the council's rates take by about $1 million a year.

"There are so many good reasons for doing [selling] it I can't remember it all," he said.

Hamilton was an "extremely green city" and selling the land bordering the 60-hectare heritage park would not detract from conservation initiatives inside Waiwhakareke, Mr Mallett said.

"This will cause no damage and any damage can be mitigated."

But in a compromise, struck by councillor Rob Pascoe, councillors instead asked staff to report back in May to allow the council to engage with key parties over "productive financial alternatives" to selling the land.

Mr Pascoe said he had been approached by several reputable groups, including Waikato Regional Council, which indicated there were significant funding sources available to the project.

Waiwhakareke is New Zealand's largest inland restoration project.

Councillor Martin Gallagher said Mr Pascoe's initiative allowed the council to take a "collective breath" and pursue alternative funding options.

He said Waiwhakareke was a community asset and "is the Hamilton Gardens of 50-100 years' time".

Speaking to councillors, University of Waikato professor of restoration ecology Bruce Clarkson said Waiwhakareke was a unique project designed to bring indigenous nature back into the city.

The project would pay back "just a little of our biodiversity debt in the Waikato".

He said partners and supporters of the heritage park were now confronted with the indecent haste of some who wanted to dispose of the land in what amounted to a "fire sale".

"As we mark the 10th year of this award-winning, internationally recognised project . . . and the 150th of Hamilton City, will we make a decision with the long term in mind or go for the quick buck?"

Mark Servian, Green Party candidate for Hamilton East, said a sale to developers could not be undone.

Such a deal would be a "slap in the face" to all volunteers who helped plant the margins of Horseshoe Lake and return it to wetland.

"Nationally, people are watching your decision to see what kind of city Hamilton wants to be and how it fits into the clean, green New Zealand brand," Mr Servian said.

"Locally there is massive opposition to the sale of this land."

Waikato Regional council chairwoman Paula Southgate said it was keen to explore funding partnerships for the project.

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aaron.leaman@waikatotimes.co.nz

- Waikato Times

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