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NZ’s environmental refugees to be evicted from their homes

Press Release – Awatarariki Residents Incorporated

Press Release Awatarariki Residents Incorporated 18 September 2018 ________________________________________ NZ’s environmental refugees to be evicted from their homes through Councils’ proposed plan changesPress Release Awatarariki Residents Incorporated
18 September 2018
________________________________________
NZ’s environmental refugees to be evicted from their homes through Councils’ proposed plan changes
Monday 17 September was the last day for submissions to the Whakatane District Plan Change 1 and Bay of Plenty Regional Council Plan Change 17. The proposed plan changes recognise the natural hazard risk in Matatā caused by the debris flow event of 2005, and propose risk avoidance measures which, if successfully implemented, will result in extinguishing land rights for residents in the Awatarariki area. Awatarariki Residents Incorporated (ARI) with the assistance of legal counsel Rob Enright submitted applications to both plan changes that outline the significant social impact to the affected community of Matatā.

The ARI represents 25 members who are adversely affected parties in the proposed plan changes. Most families have intergenerational history of grandparents, parents and grandchildren living in the Awatarariki area. The plan change notice is an eviction notice prohibiting future residential status for homeowners.

Since the devastating debris flow event of May 2005 residents had returned to their homes in Matatā, cleaned up, rebuilt and got on with their lives with assurances from Whakatane District Council that mitigation measures would be pursued to address risk hazard. Over the 13 years since 2005, the Whakatane District Council (WDC) has taken a shifting position on the extent of tolerable risk and degree of urgency for intervention and have take an approach of risk avoidance instead of risk reduction.

The ARI submission to the plan changes raises questions regarding flawed community engagement, validity, jurisdiction and fairness of the council’s proposal under the terms of the RMA, whether planning instruments were used appropriately and consistently, imprecise modelling of risk based on untested methodologies, and lack of alternative interventions.

What is happening here could happen to many other communities around New Zealand and set the precedent for how local council’s engage with their communities around natural hazard risk in the future. This is a matter of national importance as outlined in the RMA National Priorities 2018 and is also linked to adaptability around climate change.

Our small community is the first cab off the rank and we are being used as crash test dummies in an outcomes driven approach by WDC that is focused only on risk avoidance and retreat and will result in us losing our homes with no compensation. The process unfairly victimises us and we lack the resources to put up a good defense and an argument where we intend to focus on resilience, adaptability and risk reduction. Our people have been living with this uncertainty for 13 years, consultation with WDC has not been robust and as our submission states ‘we are environmental refugees’. Our homes have been effectively ‘sterilised’ through this process, meaning they are worthless. We are unable to loan money against our properties in defence of them.

We ask that Central Government show leadership and proactively support communities such as ours; and we urge everyone who owns their own home to support our society through the plan change process so that your rights will be preserved in the future. Wake up NZ, your homes could be next!

Rick Whalley
Awatarariki Residents Incorporated

Copies of ARI submissions are available at the following links
Bay of Plenty Regional Council – Plan Change 17
Whakatane District Council – Plan Change 1

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