A Māori man who stood up in a public meeting to show his support for a planned rehabilitation programme in Central Hawke's Bay was yelled at to "speak English" by members of the crowd.

The man was saying a mihi at Monday night's meeting in Otane when things turned nasty.

"Speak English," yelled at least two people in the 200-strong crowd, followed by another person who called out "we can't f****** understand you".

When the crowd was told the man would speak in English after his formal greeting, a voice called out:

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"Well f***** hurry up then."

Tensions were high at the community meeting, called by Te Taiwhenua o Heretaunga to discuss its planned residential programme for Māori women who have been in prison.

Last week it announced it would be starting the rehabilitation programme - E Hine - at the Te Waireka residential facility in White Road, Otane.

Te Waireka was formerly used by Central Health to run a residential drug rehabilitation centre for youth, but this was closed two years ago after Central Health was purchased by Te Taiwhenua o Heretaunga (TToH).

At last night's meeting Otane locals were vocal about what they perceived to be a lack of consultation with the community, ahead of TToH's decision to run the programme - under contract to the Department of Corrections - in the town.

Residents also wanted assurances that break-ins, theft and intimidation they claimed was caused by youth from the previous drug rehab programme would not recur under the E Hine programme.

Present at the meeting were TToH board chairman Mike Paku, CEO George Reedy, COO Waylyn Tauhiri-Whaipakanga, programme manager Diana MacDonald and programme co-ordinator Sheree Davis.

George Reedy began by apologising to the residents for the lack of early consultation, explaining that despite the programme having 10 months of planning behind it, TToH had not been at liberty to make any formal announcement until the contract with Corrections had been signed, 10 days ago.

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He said there was no secrecy behind the programme and said he, Paku and the TToH staff were there to answer any questions the residents had.

To the question of security, Tauhiri-Whaipakanga said the women who would come to the programme had either served their time or had not been sentenced to prison.

They were free to be in the community but had chosen to come to Te Waireka to "heal and go forward without offending", she said.

"They have to meet strict criteria to be on the E Hine programme. They will be under supervision 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and they will have a very full timetable of activities learning life skills, budgeting, cooking, fitness and nutrition.

"They will have cultural activities, education programmes and learn job skills. They won't leave Te Waireka unsupervised. After six months they can choose to go home to their own community.

"These are women who want to be here," she said.

The pilot programme will initially house four or five women, then up to 12. They will stay for six months. The Department of Corrections will monitor the effectiveness of the programme with a view to rolling it out nationally.

Many residents remained unconvinced, demanding to know what level of offenders would be brought into the community.

"What promises can you give us that we will be safe?" asked Beckie Gartner.

Concerns were raised about property values once the programme was established, and the school roll declining due to Te Waireka being 500 metres from Otane Primary School.

Other residents said they would support E Hine.

"I see the fear," said one resident, "but these are women who have had a hard time. You are going on about the trouble we had before. These women aren't even here yet, give them a chance. Everyone should be backing this."

TToH will now meet with immediate neighbours of Te Waireka.