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When officialdom railroads a resident for a road

Margaret and Murray Shaw's Birdpark is a development over several acres and three lakes based in Glenview, Hamilton. Part of it is about to be demolished under plans for the new road in the area.

OPINION: What happens when you take a stand against Hamilton City council?

Murray and Margaret Shaw have spent nearly three decades developing several hectares of prime Peacocke land  - not for houses as part of Hamilton's long-awaited expansion, but as a lake-filled bird park for people to enjoy. 1500 locals visited on his first open day.

Filling one branch of the Mangakotukutuku gully, Murray has planted every one of the 3,300 trees himself, cleared the gorse and weeds, built the paths, managed the water quality using weirs (a type of dam), and hand-reared the resident population of mandarin ducks. If anything can be called a labour of love, this is it.

Now, the council wants to bulldoze a major road through it, taking a 60m wide strip to split his property in two, and removing up to 700 trees.

The city needs space to grow, and growth needs roads, and some land owners are going to be affected. Not everyone will be happy. Not everyone will want to sell. It comes down to the greater good. The Public Works Act allows for governments and councils to overcome stubborn owners like Murray. It is a necessary evil, balanced by a requirement for fair compensation.

And so Murray's complaints have been ignored. But that is not the point Murray is making. He is not against selling his land if it is needed. He simply points out the obvious issue that building the road over a gully is vastly more expensive than building it a mere 600m to the south over flat land.  He has mapped out alternatives and it is hard to disagree that they are clearly better. Murray began by trying to save the Council millions of dollars.

But that is not the point of this column. Having taken a stand, Murray got a visit from council staff. Suddenly the weirs, the oldest of which has been there since the 1950s, have been declared an earthquake hazard. Really? They manage the water flow, protecting the gully system from floods and droughts. He has been told to remove them, which will guarantee environmental damage from erosion instead.  

The council says it will withhold issuing new titles if he subdivides the land, holding him to ransom. He lists several more "problems" that council has invented. The message being sent is loud and clear: cause trouble for council and the council will cause trouble for you. Most people roll over when they get faced with this bullying, which is why council staff try it on. But Murray has never liked bullies, so it is a tactic that will backfire on the staff. He is more determined than ever.

In the meantime, Hamilton City Council has begun the process of negotiating "fair compensation" by valuing the two hectares affected by the road at $335,000. That's the equivalent of 20 residential sections at under $17,000 each. I knew staff were out of touch with the market, but this insult shows a disturbing lack of respect for the law. The Shaws are getting their own valuation.

What's more, the road boundary is a mere 2m from their house, which so far is not part of the compensation. Council's own planning rules prevent a house from being built that close to a road, so surely a road cannot be built that close to a house.

I am generally against councils spending money unnecessarily, but there is a fundamental moral responsibility for staff to treat all citizens with respect and to honour the legal requirement to pay fair compensation. I will follow the outcome with interest.

I recommend taking another look at the road location. There should be clear justification and cost information for any decision so I will be disappointed if the council does not have this readily available. Transparency is required by the Local Government Act and is a core value of the Hamilton Residents and Ratepayers Association. I would like to see a comparison between routes and to understand the reason for selecting the apparently more difficult one.

In answer to the question, "what happens when you take a stand against Hamilton City Council?", the reply is some people are prepared to stand by you. In the case of Murray Shaw's bird park, that number is over 11,000 people who have already signed their online petition. We want to see a change in council's approach to the people it is supposed to serve.

Council responds

The proposed road layout was not a sudden surprise. It was proposed more than a decade ago through the Peacocke Structure Plan, and underwent a full public consultation process over four years as part of the Southern Links designation process. Independent commissioners, following formal Hearings, recommended the designations fixing the road alignment, concluding in 2016.

This was not mentioned in the article. Neither was the fact the property owners submitted in support of the route for the road in 2007 and did not object to the designation in their 2014 submission. This is all public information.

Suggestions the Council staff are in any way holding the property owners to ransom over issuing titles for their subdivision consent are ridiculous. The property owners lodged an application for a housing subdivision on part of their property. As a normal part of the consent process they have been notified the ponds they have constructed will require consent from the Waikato Regional Council. This is a totally separate process from the land acquisition process for the road. Mr Bydder's claims of Council staff 'bullying' the property owners have no basis in fact. 

The Council is guided through the land acquisition process by the Public Works Act, and valuations have been obtained from independent, qualified valuers. As part of the process, the Council will pay reasonable costs for the landowner to seek their own valuation and/or legal advice. Mr Bydder's statement that the Council's approach shows a 'disturbing lack of respect for the law' is clearly unfounded.

Richard Briggs

Chief Executive

Hamilton City Council.





 

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