A group of Te Kauwhata residents say they are dismayed that Waikato District Council has spent almost $140,000 preparing and defending a plan to slice up prime real estate near the village against the wishes of ratepayers.
Figures released to the Herald under the Official Information Act show the council has paid $139,204 in legal costs for the preparation of the Te Kauwhata Structure Plan and dealing with an appeal to the plan by the Te Kauwhata Action Group.
Under variation 13 of the structure plan, the council wants to intensify residential development in the west of the North Waikato village, which is made up mostly of lifestyle blocks up to 5000sq m and zoned "country living".
But if the changes are approved it would allow a flood of sections zoned "residential" and averaging 800sq m in size, up to six times smaller.
The Te Kauwhata Action Group, which appealed the variation in the Environment Court this month, believed the council had already spent more than $520,000 creating the plan so another $139,000 on legal fees was a waste of ratepayers' money.
Spokesman John Cunningham said the plan was poorly thought-out and consulted ratepayers who rejected it from the beginning. "I'm disappointed. It's a lot of ratepayers' money in something that one would imagine that with better consultation may not have had to go to court."
Despite a number of court-assisted mediations, the group could not get the council to rethink the plan, leading members to believe the council is making a "rates grab".
"Whenever a developer does a site they have to make contributions to council through sections and for roading and water."
The group has accused the council of inflating the projected population growth of the 1100-resident village to an unrealistic 7000 residents by 2060, in support of its stance.
Mr Cunningham said the council based these figures on residents working nearby at the Springhill Corrections facility, the industrial growth at Hampton Downs and the proposed commuter rail route between Hamilton and Auckland. So far none of these had created a population boom for the township, while the commuter train would now not go ahead.
The group had paid $30,000 through fundraising to take the case to the Environment Court and were commended by the judge for their effort.
It's not the first time the Waikato District Council has been taken to the Environment Court by a disgruntled ratepayer.
In October last year Raglan resident John Lawson opposed a 3m setback rule for new buildings in the Raglan "living zone" at a hearing before the court.
The court agreed with Mr Lawson that the setback should be 6m and ordered Waikato District Council to adjust its District Plan accordingly.
Mr Cunningham said he had never encountered a council that was so stubborn and unwilling to listen to its ratepayers.
Another resident, David Chown, said he was dismayed and worried at the events taking place.
"My feeling is that council is not listening to the local people, but going ahead with what they wanted, no matter what. I and many others are just appalled that the council spends ratepayers' money fighting their own ratepayers."
On Friday a spokeswoman for the council said it could not answer questions about where the council got its population prediction figures from until today because the staff member in charge of those was away.
The outcome of the hearing was expected within the next two to three months.