A Welcome Bay resident is fighting for public access to a waterfront reserve that contains private fences, landscaping and planting.
Chris Doms' campaign to have decades of "encroachments" — including fences across the reserve, hard landscaping and dense planting — removed from Forrester Drive Esplanade Reserve has now reached Tauranga City Council after finding support on community Facebook groups.
Residents on Forrester Drive, however, say the structures, paid for and maintained by property owners, were intended to slow erosion, strengthen seawalls and increase security, as well as to beautify and protect a neglected reserve never used as a walkway — not to keep people out.
Doms said some of the encroachments were in his opinion "egregious".
In an October presentation to Tauranga City councillors, he said a boardwalk along the esplanade was the dream, but at the least the obstructions should go and the land be made accessible to the public.
"This would require a reasonably small investment from the council, as the esplanade would be very walkable along almost its entire length."
Not so, say residents.
"A boardwalk/cycleway has been talked about for 20 years," said Dr John Gemming, who has lived on Forrester Drive with wife Gill Gemming for 38 years.
"Everyone who lives here is aware that one day that will happen. But even a simple walkway would cost hundreds of thousands."
Structures aside, making it walkable would require retaining walls, flattening of slopes, erosion mitigation, seawalls repairs and dealing to overgrown vegetation, he said.
Like several other residents the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend spoke to — most of whom would not be named because the tone of some Facebook threads (people talking about pulling down fences) made them feel targeted — the Gemmings knew it was council land and did not object to public access on principle.
Both said if the community wanted a boardwalk they would look to support it, however they thought the ratepayer money would be better spent on more urgent problems, such as Turret Rd.
They cautioned against people vilifying property owners, saying they had been caring for the reserve for decades, and the structures had a long history and were largely well-intentioned.
The Gemmings said that in 1984 they got permission from the harbour board to replace the section of falling-down timber seawall in front of their home with a contoured stone wall to protect the reserve from erosion.
"Over the next decade lots of people also bolstered their seawalls," John Gemming said.
He said in the mid-90s the council imposed a wider setback with "no consultation".
He had never seen the reserve used as a walkway but people had always happily walked along the beach at low tide and swum in the estuary in front of the houses.
Other residents described inheriting encroaching structures or deciding to do their own repairs or improvement after storm damage, given authorities did not seem interested.
Some had security concerns about increased public access, specifically around crime and antisocial behaviour in Tye Park spilling down their coast or making their houses easier to reach by burglars, who already targeted the area via the water.
Mark Smith, Tauranga City Council manager of parks and recreation, said the council was about to install security cameras in Tye Park to discourage "bad behaviour".
He said the council was looking to bring forward scheduled work to reduce encroachments in the Welcome Bay area.
He said that process would involve looking at the history of any structures and engaging with residents and the community before deciding next steps.
Forrester Drive Esplanade Reserve
- Harbour reserve overlooking Welcome Bay Estuary
- Parallel to Forrester Drive
- Between Tye Park and Welcome Bay Rd
- Approx 5260sq m
- 37 properties front on to it
- Two alleyway accesses
- Tangata whenua: Ngāti He
- Concrete skirt constructed on margin in 1999
- Owned by Tauranga City Council
- Source: Tauranga City Council
Tauranga City Council's management plan
1. Develop a complete walkway link from Welcome Bay Rd, across the esplanade
reserve and around the estuary to Tye Park.
2. Work with residents to remove encroachments into reserve areas.
3. Manage the reserve to reflect the significant passive recreational opportunities,
connecting people to the harbour margins while maintaining the existing ecological and landscape values.
- Source: Draft Tauranga Reserves Management Plan 2018