A contentious state housing development on a popular park in Whangārei is a step closer to reality with the purchase of the land.
Housing New Zealand is now officially the owner of a piece of land at what has been known as Puriri Park in Maunu - a site of much debate in recent weeks.
Anger has mounted in the area after residents learnt in April that Housing New Zealand was planning to convert part of what was believed to have been a public park on Puriri Park Rd in Maunu into state houses.
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However, while the area was known as Puriri Park, the part HNZ has now bought is former Ministry of Education land that has been zoned residential. What remains of the land is officially a park and is owned by Whangārei District Council.
But nearby residents were annoyed the government department had not consulted with them over the plans.
At the time, Housing New Zealand have said it would engage with residents once, and if, land purchase contracts are signed.
More than 300 people - mostly local residents with some extended family members from as far away as Hamilton - packed into Barge Park at Maunu for a public meeting about the future of Puriri Park on Saturday.
Save Puriri Park steering committee spokesperson Trevor Reader said the residents were left "shocked and dismayed" to hear the land had been sold to Housing New Zealand.
"The community came to this meeting prepared to be flexible and consider what a best fit might look like but it was clear only one party was prepared to be flexible and it wasn't Housing New Zealand," Reader said.
"Puriri Park is a community asset. To have it snatched away like that, it was underhanded."
Reader said residents felt as if Housing New Zealand were "not valuing the park and what it provides to the local community".
Residents have previously raised concerns to the Northern Advocate about the loss of a green space, "unsavoury" behaviour and the devaluation of properties if the development goes ahead.
Reader said residents questioned Housing New Zealand vigorously at the meeting and suggested alternatives such as buy back of houses, and affordable or retirement housing options but alleged Housing New Zealand would not consider these.
The Northern Advocate asked Housing New Zealand if it would consider affordable or retirement housing as alternatives to state housing alongside questions about the meeting and the status of the sale.
In response, Housing New Zealand asset development group general manager Patrick Dougherty provided this statement:
"Housing New Zealand appreciated the opportunity to talk to people on Saturday and explain what the next steps would be following settlement [yesterday] and confirmation that we are now the legal owner of this piece of Crown land.
"We're now looking forward to getting on and planning what state housing we could put on the land and sharing these details with both the people in the Maunu community and the broader Whangārei community as soon as possible. "
HNZ now owns 32,730sq m of land formerly owned by the Ministry of Education that, at first glance, appears to be part of Puriri Park. But the land is zoned residential - not as a reserve or park.
However, as it is next to 22,000sq m of park land owned by the Whangārei District Council, it has been used as a park since the 1960s.
As a result of the meeting, Reader said the steering committee would be looking into the process which saw Housing New Zealand acquire the land.
He said if Housing New Zealand is going to pursue the plan, the residents want some input and influence into the site.
"We strongly suggest NZTA undertake an analysis of the traffic delays and congestion right from 7am in the morning and 4pm at night. Turning from Puriri Park Rd onto Maunu Rd is almost impossible and carries great risk already let alone with vehicles from another 60 households," Reader said.
NZ Transport Agency Northland system manager Jacqui Hori-Hoult said the agency is unable to comment on Housing New Zealand's plans to build state houses at the park.
"When HNZ provides details of how many houses will be built, the Transport Agency, through the planning process, will be able to respond."