War of words around Pilot Bay boardwalk

By John Cousins

8 comments


A bitter dispute between one of the leading opponents of the Pilot Bay boardwalk and a wheelchair-bound city councillor could end up before the Human Rights Commission.

Comments made by Colleen Spiro at a council meeting last week have elevated into a war of words on her Facebook page, with Cr Tony Christiansen saying he was forwarding her comments to both the Human Rights Commissioner and the Disabilities Commissioner.

The bad feelings between the two sprang from a part of Mrs Spiro's presentation to the council and Cr Christiansen's response.

Mrs Spiro said there were safety issues with building a boardwalk along Pilot Bay's grassy foreshore such as when a child, acting impulsively, ran back to his parents on the grass.

"They were not going to be looking out for wheelchairs, pushchairs or joggers or bikes or anything like that. So there is the potential there for accidents."

Later in her presentation, she said that it was not impossible to get wheelchairs up on to the grass, adding that when she broke her ankle she was able to get up there in a wheelchair without a problem.

She had seen mothers and grandmothers pushing pushchairs on the grass, so it could not be that difficult.

Cr Christiansen responded that he was offended by her comments, saying that people with disabilities and impediments did not have the same opportunities as able-bodied people.

"I have lived in Tauranga all my life and I am as passionate about Pilot Bay as you are. I have grandchildren, just like you do, so you aren't anything special other than you believe in something differently or see it differently to what I do.

"What you are saying is that I should not have the same rights in the city that I pay the same amount of rates as you do."

In response to a challenge from Cr Christiansen, she said that able-bodied people had just as many rights as disabled people, so there needed to be some balance.

"Tony, with respect, if you can climb the 5th highest mountain in the world [Mt Kilimanjaro] you can go along Pilot Bay and I know you can do that."

The row extended on to her Facebook page later that day, when Mrs Spiro said that sometimes people with disabilities demanded rights over able-bodied people. "We, as able-bodied people are claiming the right for Pilot Bay to be retained as a natural little piece of paradise. Do I feel selfish, or am I sorry about this ... no I am not."

Cr Christiansen wrote back: "Why should you expect to be in front of council and not be challenged on such ridiculous statements."

Mrs Spiro wrote back: "Bring it on with the threats of Human Rights and disabilities people ... because you and others (the minority) are actually discriminating against able-bodied people."

Cr Christiansen told the Bay of Plenty Times that he was still considering taking a case to the Human Rights Commission.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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