Matata residents’ fight for their homes comes to an end

Matata residents’ fight for their homes has come to an end.

All Awatarariki residents bar one have now “reluctantly and under duress” signed settlement agreements with the Whakatane District Council.

In the end, years of bitter wrangling between residents and the council came down to an anti-climactic hour-long Environment Court hearing yesterday during which lawyers tidied up loose ends.

The only decision to be made was how long the strongest critics of the managed retreat, Pam, Rick and Rachel Whalley, have left in their beloved home.

Their home was built in 1993 by the late Bill Whalley, husband of Pam and father of Rick.

The Clem Elliott Drive property was where grandchildren gathered for Christmas and where pets were brought to be buried.

The three watched as Judge David Kirkpatrick said the court would make the order sought by the Whalleys, Whakatane District Council and the Bay of Plenty Regional Council, allowing theWhalleys to remain in their seaside home until March 2022 subject to some strict conditions.

All other residents have until March next year when, in a New Zealand first, a plan change under the Resource Management Act will take away residents’ existing use rights and effectively make them squatters on their own land.

Many have already sold to the council and moved.

The plan change and the district council’s managed retreat process, in which it bought residents out of their properties, was a result of a devastating debris flow in 2005 which destroyed several houses and made others unliveable but did not cause any deaths.

After spending seven years and $5 million investigating possible engineering solutions, the district council decided the risk to life on the Awatarariki fanhead was too great and it began a managed retreat programme. The development of the managed retreat programme cost the district council a further $1.06m.

The managed retreat programme itself will cost $15m, to be shared equally by the Government, the district council and the regional council.

Lawyer for the district council Andrew Green told the Environment Court all property owners but one were now finalising offers with the council.

The remaining property owner had refused to engage with the council at all.

Green said the council was still hoping to work with this property owner and compulsory acquisition of this property would be a last resort.

Judge Kirkpatrick said the 15-year timeframe to get to this point was “at least unfortunate, possibly more than that” but residents had to move forward.

He congratulated residents and the two councils on working together to come to a decision in what could only be a difficult situation for all involved.

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