Burrows St in central Tauranga sits right on the edge of a traffic chokepoint in the city that has grown too big for its own good. Now, the Department of Corrections is looking to merge
its three Community Corrections sites in Tauranga into a single site. The location? Burrows St. Bay of Plenty Times reporter Jean Bell speaks to those who would be affected.
A proposal to build a Community Corrections site in the Avenues - which would see around 100 offenders visiting the area per day - has concerned some residents and businesses.
But the Department of Corrections says public safety is a top priority and existing sites in Tauranga were already placed in residential areas near schools and early learning centres.
The Department of Corrections is seeking community feedback on its proposal, which awaits Tauranga City Council consent, to merge its existing three Community Services sites - two on 11th Avenue and one in Greerton - into a single office 2693sq m site on Burrows St.
Community offenders would see their probation officer, participate in rehabilitation programmes and meet up with community service teams before heading out to complete tasks such as cleaning graffiti.
The proposal said about 100 people would report to the office each day of the working week and about 60 would come in on Saturdays. Construction of the new office would begin late this year and finish in early 2021.
A resident, who asked to be called Jan, said most of the neighbourhood was "immensely concerned" about the offenders who would visit the office in the area.
"I'd be intimidated, elderly people would be intimidated," she said.
"Who is going to be responsible for these people?"
Jan, who said she had lived in the area for 43 years, said there was a large number of elderly people and young children in the neighbourhood, with St Mary's Catholic School nearby.
"It is most inappropriate."
She said she was not opposed to the office being established, but believed it should be located away from a school or residential area.
There was no space for parking in the area and she was concerned about the office's impact on the already busy traffic flow on the street.
Grace Rd and Neighbourhoods Residents' Association spokeswoman Lee-Ann Taylor said residents had "definite concerns" about safety and traffic.
The association was planning a meeting so residents could get fully informed about the proposal and discuss it, with a Corrections representative possibly present, she said.
"We're trying to be reasonable and look at the big picture here."
Cam Hill, who works at The Good Neighbour, said although some residents might be intimidated by different types of people appearing in the area, he did not think it would necessarily lead to more crime in the neighbourhood.
"If you live next to a rugby park, you're likely to get a few balls in your yard."
Hill said programme participants would be looking to do their time and improve their lives.
"Not everyone is a high-level criminal and they're not going to be rapists and murderers.
"This is people's starting point, not their end."
He said community service work contributed "thousands and thousands" of hours to the good of the community.
The social organisation had previously worked with offenders doing community service, who had helped build community gardens and stock firewood, among other tasks.
Meanwhile, an automobile business owner in the area, who did not want to be named, feared the office would lower the public perception and security of the location.
He said the owners and staff of small businesses could suffer.
"[Customers] get nervous if there's a perception that there's a rising security risk."
He was also concerned about offenders becoming familiar with the area and returning after-hours to get up to no good.
"They might be guilty of tripping up on the sidewalk but they're criminals at the end of the day."
St Mary's Catholic School principal Ben Fuller said he was aware that parents had concerns about the proposal but the school was yet to form an official position.
He said the school was happy to consult with Corrections but it had several unanswered questions, including what types of offenders would be in the area, along with the risk the office's visitors would pose to children.
Gurdwara Sikh Sangat Tauranga president and spokesman Puran Singh said those at the temple did not feel strongly either way.
"If the community is happy, then we are happy. If the community is unhappy, then we are unhappy."
He said the temple was a religious organisation and did not quiz people on why they came to the temple or the area, so long as they were peaceful.
Department of Corrections district manager Mark Nijssen said the department was awaiting community feedback and Tauranga City Council approval so no final decision had been made yet on the new office.
"Public safety is our top priority. We have processes and strategies in place to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the community, staff and any visitors to our sites," Nijssen said.
The three existing Tauranga sites were located near schools, early learning centres, residential properties and other community facilities, he said.
The department's experience was that offenders attended their scheduled meeting then left the area and any impact on parking would be assessed through the resource consent process.
The Bay of Plenty Times asked whether sex offenders would visit the site but the Department of Corrections would not clarify this.
Tauranga City Council was contacted for comment about mitigating the impact of increased traffic in the area and what is needed in order for resource consent to be approved but it did not respond before publication.
The Department of Corrections is happy to talk to members of the community if they have questions, concerns or want more information.
Contact Karen van der Zee, acting lead service manager, Community Corrections, Tauranga. Email: email@example.com.