Bella Vista homeowners are questioning the Tauranga City Council's decision to exclude the public from part of a crucial meeting about their properties.
Tauranga City Council elected members will meet on June 6 to make a decision on a way forward for the 21 Bella Vista Homes properties at Lakes Boulevard and Aneta Way that were evacuated earlier this year.
Part of that meeting will be "public excluded" and will include the presentation of Justice Paul Heath QC's independent report.
Justice Heath has investigated the council's role in the failed Bella Vista development and councillors have already been sent his report.
Councillors will deliberate and decide on one of four options after Heath's presentation on Wednesday, which will be made via video link at 1pm.
Those options are remediation with a charge, regulatory function only, buy/demolish/sell, or remediation at council's cost.
Bella Vista homeowner Andre Stewart said residents were disappointed they would not be able to hear the report presentations from Heath and the council as they happened.
"At the start we were told 'complete transparency'. What we were not told, is that that would only happen when it came to explaining the findings," Stewart said.
"It feels like 'Judgment Day' for me. Maybe it's in our best interest? All I know is all eyes will be watching that day to make sure the right thing is done."
He said the homeowners had asked many "why" questions that they still did not know the answers to.
"There are always two sides to every story and we, along with the public, want to hear the council's side."
Jenny Coffey, one of the evacuated homeowners, said: "We are disappointed to be excluded in the meeting where Justice Paul Heath QC talks to his report.
"We find out at 5pm what is in the report and that is the same time the elected members tell us what they have decided to do with us all."
Degen Prodger – the only evacuated homeowner to have moved back into his Bella Vista house since the evacuation on March 9 – said of the closed meeting: "It should not be closed and definitely open to us as we have been told repeatedly that the council want to be transparent."
Council chief executive Garry Poole said this week the "public excluded" condition was a usual part of the council process.
"And in this situation would be done to protect personal privacy and/or to keep information confidential.
"Homeowners are and have always been our priority. We will share the council decision with them first and then the wider community."
On Wednesday, from 9am-12.30pm, the Bella Vista property owners or a representative would have an opportunity to make a 10-minute presentation to the councillors.
This could be in the "open" or "public excluded" session of the meeting.
After Justice Heath's report presentation and the councillors' vote, Tauranga Mayor Greg Brownless, Poole, and general manager of the council's chief executive group, Kirsty Downey, would deliver the council's decision to homeowners in another "public excluded" meeting at about 5pm.
The council said the reasons for the "public excluded" condition were in accordance with the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987.
Those reasons were: To protect the privacy of natural persons, to maintain legal professional privilege, and to enable any local authority holding the information to carry on, without prejudice or disadvantage, negotiations (including commercial and industrial negotiations).
In a statement this week, Downey said chair of the council, Mayor Greg Brownless, had decided the meeting was going to be closed.
Brownless said the council's professional, legal advice had been to do it in confidential.
"I think when you're considering things of this magnitude, it's not a public spectacle," he said.
"But it will all be released once it's over."
Brownless said anybody in these circumstances would consider things carefully.
"Our primary thing has got to be concern for the residents … every councillor is concerned about the residents, every single one of us."
Councillor Rick Curach, who has previously been outspoken about closed council meetings, said the decision to have this one behind closed doors was justified.
"Normally, I'm a fair stickler for having as much as we can in open, but in this situation, given that we are talking large sums of money potentially … yeah, it is justified."
Curach said he did understand the public interest concerns and that the Act did provide for that.
"If the public interest outweighs the requirement for confidentiality, then you have to consider that.
"I think this case, the potential cost of having it in the open, the risk of the additional cost of having it open, would outweigh that public interest."
The four options councillors will deliberate and vote on:
• Council works with each owner to discuss how their property can be remediated; and if necessary assist them financially to achieve code compliance with a charge on the property that is realised upon resale.
• Council completes its expert assessments, issues appropriate notices and provides no further assistance.
• Council purchases the properties, demolishes them and on-sells to a developer as bare land.
• Council works with each owner to discuss how the property can be remediated and remediate at council's cost.
Source: Tauranga City Council