Tauranga City Council commissioners faced eruptions of jeers and heckling while fronting a Mount Maunganui community meeting on Tuesday — with one attendee describing the behaviour as “embarrassing” and “horrible”.
A series of “Let’s Talk: A Conversation with Commissioners” meetings are being held throughout the city over two weeks.
About 90 people attended a meeting in Ōtūmoetai on Monday. On Tuesday night, the second meeting of the series was held at Mount Maunganui Golf Club, attracting an estimated 100-120 people and emceed by Duncan Garner.
It began with a presentation led by commission chairwoman Anne Tolley including videos of plans for the council’s civic precinct project, Te Manawataki o Te Papa, and efforts to gain central Government support to fast-track an upgrade of State Highway 29.
She told the crowd the meetings were to “talk about where we think we go next as we head into the next Long-Term Plan for 2024/34”.
“A big part of the way we have been doing that is by advocating to the Government and ensuring we’ve been advocating to the Opposition as well,” she said, regarding SH29.
Commissioner Stephen Selwood said the plan was to create a key arterial route from SH29 in Tauriko through to Barkes Corner, down Cameron Rd and into the CBD and over to the Mount. He said this critical corridor would service 70 per cent of the city’s jobs.
The heckling started after a woman’s question about what the commission was doing about Mount Maunganui’s air pollution.
“I’ve got young children. We host AIMS Games, sports events, and we are breathing the waste air from New Zealand’s biggest port. They’ve been given years and years, these businesses, and they keep getting more time.”
Another woman interjected, “It’s a big problem”, which another person repeated.
Commissioner Bill Wasley said: “To be blunt, there is no simple solution in terms of air quality or a simple silver bullet.”
A man called out: “Just respond”.
“It’s not a simple yes or no,” Wasley replied.
The crowd erupted in jeers as Wasley tried explaining anything the council could do would require a District Plan change, which took time.
“I see you shaking your head but at the end of the day, we are required to operate under the RMA [Resource Management Act]. It’s very process-driven,” Wasley told the crowd.
A man called out: “We don’t have a council, we have you people. But you’re not elected.”
Tolley said the council was carrying out a study expected to provide evidence for use in potential hearings to address air quality concerns. Until that was finished, later this year, nothing could really be done, she said.
A woman gave her view that most people were not aware of the submission processes where individuals can have a say on industrial resource consents to discharge emissions, and asked why people were not better informed.
Tolley said she could not answer as the Bay of Plenty Regional Council was the lead authority for air pollution.
“We are really worried about what our children and residents are breathing,” a woman said.
“Who is going to take responsibility for this town? There are so many people passing the buck,” said another.
Tolley disagreed, saying: “We are going to make a decision but we want to make that decision when the evidence that supports it [is completed].”
The crowd became agitated again when the subject of Plan Change 33 — which would enable more housing intensification — was raised.
A man told commissioners he made a submission on the plan change when housing heights up to 11m were proposed. He said he later saw this had changed to 22m. He questioned how commissioners “pushed this through” with no consultation about the change.
“Twenty-two metres, that’s huge. How does that just get pushed through?”
Tolley responded to the man, saying she and the other commissioners did not know why there had been such a change and promised to investigate and get answers.
“That’s what everyone here wants to know,” a man called out.
Property developer Peter Cooney stood to acknowledge “some of the good work this commission has done compared to previous councils”.
However, he questioned Plan Change 33 in Mount Maunganui saying 22m was “excessive for an area of such an iconic status as this”.
“If you are going to do this intensification, wouldn’t you go through a spatial plan and take your time?” he said, to loud applause.
Another man said the traffic was already terrible at Mount Maunganui and more people would make it worse.
Links Ave and Oceanbeach Rd were brought up with many complaining they did not want the changes to Links Ave made.
When Tolley said Oceanbeach Rd had become an arterial route, the crowd erupted with jeers again, with calls of “rubbish” and “no it’s not”.
Tolley said it was, that there was a community liaison group and Links Ave changes were a reflection of the residents of the street.
An older woman visibly upset about increased traffic on Oceanbeach Rd, stood to say it was only a matter of time before someone was killed.
“If anyone is hurt there is summer, it’s your fault,” she said to Tolley, before leaving the meeting.
Another woman asked if the commission would host a similar meeting with the regional council to help answer the many air quality questions.
“This is horrible with the heckling, and a bit embarrassing,” she said.
A woman thanked the commission for cycle paths and asked if there was some emergency law the council could invoke to stop emissions into the air, to which she was told there was only a national directive.
A younger man said he was really impressed with the commissioners for coming and “sifting through the rubble of the previous council”.
In his view: “Tauranga always elects some pretty gnarly councillors.”
Thenight’s last question was from a woman who wanted to know what she, as “someone who paid top dollar for their water view” was entitled to if housing intensification interfered with her view.
Tolley said there was nothing in the law to protect her.
Selwood said in closing: “We all need to understand that there will be differing views across the community, that your council — appointed or elected — have to negotiate for the best interests of the city. Those negotiations aren’t easy. You can’t just blame who has been elected. It’s a conversation across the community and requires compromise amongst all parties.”
The next meetings will be at Welcome Bay Community Church on Monday, Pāpāmoa Surf Life Saving Club on Tuesday, and Tauranga Racecourse on Wednesday, starting from 6pm.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly named developer Scott Adams as speaking at the meeting. The speaker was Peter Cooney.
Kiri Gillespie is an assistant news director and a senior journalist for the Bay of Plenty Times and Rotorua Daily Post, specialising in local politics and city issues. She was a finalist for the Voyager Media Awards Regional Journalist of the Year in 2021.