Tauranga Mayor Greg Brownless, council chief executive Garry Poole and general manager of the council's chief executive group, Kirsty Downey, fronted the media following the public excluded meeting with Bella Vista homeowners on Wednesday evening.

The homeowners had just been told that councillors had unanimously voted in principle to buy the 21 Bella Vista homes that were part of the failed subdivision.

The Tauranga City Council would now look at negotiating with the homeowners to achieve full and final settlement.

An independent investigation by former High Court judge Paul Heath QC into the council's role in the failed Bella Vista development had also just been released publicly.

Advertisement

The report found the council acted correctly in some areas but failed in others.

Heath said an inquiry or investigation was needed into why the council failed to adequately perform relevant regulatory functions.

He also recommended the council take immediate steps to resolve outstanding differences between it and the homeowners.

These are some of the questions asked by members of the media, and the answers given by Poole, Brownless and Downey, during that press conference on Wednesday evening.

***
Are there any other developments at risk?

Garry Poole: "Not to my knowledge."

Can people trust that the council is going to actually be able to conduct consents appropriately from now on?

Garry Poole: "Yes, they can."

But we weren't aware that there were issues at this place, so how can you make that assurance that it's not occurring in other places?

Garry Poole: "Well, that will be something we look at when we consider the investigation that Mr Heath is recommending."

What impact do you think today's decision will have on the pending legal action against the Tauranga City Council?

Garry Poole: "I think it has the potential to change that legal action. Because we have signalled that we wish to focus on a solution rather than litigation.

"So we have 19 of the homeowners represented by a barrister who was in the room today, and has not filed proceedings. And we have two homeowners who have employed a different barrister, who has filed proceedings. And we look forward to having a conversation with that second barrister as to a way forward."

What about cost? Have you estimated what this is going to cost?

Garry Poole: "We have some indication of what it is going to cost, but it's not appropriate for me to talk about that at this time."

Is it going to be on the ratepayer?

Garry Poole: "We're working with our insurers to see where the burden falls."

What about the cost up to this point? So legal advice, external communications, all those things. How much has that cost since March 9?

Garry Poole: "I think, from memory, I think the figure is close to $2 million since March 9."

Is this the most expensive option (of the four considered by council)?

Garry Poole: "No, it's not."

Homeowners have said, obviously, that they are happy with the outcome. However, there's no real timeline for them now. What can you give them – any assurance that this is going to happen soon or are they going to be waiting for months?

Garry Poole: "What I have given homeowners this evening is an absolute undertaking that we will be moving as fast as we can, and we are fully committed to getting a resolution as quickly as possible.

"And while, from a homeowner's perspective, this has taken quite some time, you will be aware from your work in other jurisdictions that to get to the point that we've got to as quickly as we have is kind of very unusual. And in relative terms, very speedy, and we want to keep that same approach going to get resolution for the homeowners."

Heath mentions there's a need for an inquiry. Do we have any idea ... how that will be conducted? Will it be independent?

Garry Poole: "First of all, Heath says he recommends that the focus is on quick resolution for homeowners. So his order of importance is: resolve the issues for homeowners and on the basis that that is not a long period of time, he then thinks that we should then consider the independent investigation.

"And the investigation would be independent because I'm very conscious of the fact that it has to be credible in the eyes of the homeowners and the wider community, and other agencies that will be looking into this matter."

Has council changed any of its practices since the Bella Vista debacle started?

Garry Poole: "We have not changed any practices specific to Bella Vista at this point, but we are constantly changing our procedures to try to increase our effectiveness and efficiency."

How did the councillors react to what was said this morning? How much did that sort of emotion part of it have an impact on their decision, when they were trying to balance the cost side of things as well?

Greg Brownless: "Obviously it was an emotional time, and we were affected by that because we are human too. We can understand how the homeowners feel, but we can never put ourselves in their place because that would just be to minimise the way they're feeling.

"But I think it's the overall combination of things – the report from Mr Heath, what we saw developing with our own eyes since the beginning of this, and in the end, I think one of the homeowners said 'doing what is right'. And in this case, we're doing what is right. They're totally innocent in this."

A speedy process – would there be anything that you would change if you had to do it again?

Garry Poole: "I don't think we could have got to this point any quicker if we were re-running this episode again. I mean, quite clearly, our overwhelming preference was to never have to repeat this exercise again. So hopefully the question turns out to be very academic."

And what about the properties and the land ... will there be homes there eventually?

Garry Poole: "Eventually there will be homes there I'm sure, given the demand for land in the city."

Are other houses that were developed at that time going to have the same issues as this one?

Garry Poole: "I think if you look at the earthworks on this particular site, it stands out as being quite unique. And the questions that you're asking will be the subject of the recommendation of Heath for an independent investigation, which we'll look at as we consider Heath's report."

If they're so unique, why was it even built on in the first place?

Garry Poole: "I think, again with the benefit of hindsight, we can say it's a unique kind of subdivision. Remembering at the time, what was trying to be delivered was more affordable housing. So what the developer set out to do was in some ways a good thing, but matters escalated out of control, effectively."

In your opinion, did council inspections pass work that should never have passed?

Garry Poole: "What is apparent is that the inspection process was not adequately carried out."

So, yes?

Kirsty Downey: "Paul Heath covers that off in his report. He identifies that the inspection process undertaken by council staff through the Bella Vista development were inadequate."

***
Note: The 20-minute press conference outlined above, as well as some of the questions and answers included, have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Read more: Homeless, furious: Inside the Bella Vista Homes nightmare