Disappointment as “bureaucratic blocks” stall housing efforts

07 Sep 2021

Frustration is mounting over a lack of progress on identifying any suitable public land for the provision of pensioner and assisted living accommodation in Whitianga.

Despite the Mercury Bay Community Board agreeing to consider making a site available, one advocate says multiple reports from Thames-Coromandel District Council staff have yet to put forward any realistic option and instead persist in highlighting the hurdles and difficulties associated with the process.

The Mercury Bay Community Fund (MBCF) previously identified the School Road Reserve or the overflow parking area at the Mercury Bay Bowling Club - which leases its site from TCDC - as potential options for a new pensioner housing development. The proposal was for a lease arrangement with no council funding being sought.

MBCF Trustee, Alison Henry, was scathing in her response to the latest TCDC staff report on the matter which came before the 18 August meeting of the Community Board, which was held remotely under Alert Level 4.

“This report does not provide a review of the Bowling Club site or any other identified site, and it is both unfortunate and disappointing in that it does not give you as a board any guidance as to how you could or should help,” she said

“It looks at all the bureaucratic blocks and processes, but does not look at what could be possible. It appears to be a cut and paste exercise from other documents including casting back to the Robinson Road and White Street reserves which we have already stated are not suitable for our purposes, but still seem to be there in the preferences of staff.”

The comments echo those made in April this year when an earlier report on the issue was presented. Board chair, Rekha Giri-Percival, was among the critics at the time saying the content was not line with some of the conversations around the boardroom table in which the members had signalled a clear desire to find a solution. 

“Our trust has presented to the board for five or more years and there is no question that there is a demonstrated need for pensioner housing in this area,” Mrs Henry said. “It is reflected in TCDC’s own Positive Aging Strategy. We provide a lot of facilities for young people and for sports, but we’d be hard pressed to find what we provide for our aging population.” 

In their case to the Community Board earlier this year, the MBCF, which currently operates nine pensioner units in Whitianga, reported having 36 people on their waiting list. 

The Mercury Bay Enabling Good Lives Trust has previously addressed and written to the Mercury Bay Community Board seeking land that can be leased in order to build a house for assisted living. 

The report under discussion noted that that the MBCF had suggested the site would need to accommodate six to eight units and be no more than 2km from Monk Street. It provided comment on seven potential locations. It stated development at the School Road Reserve would be “premature” as it was being evaluated as a potential site to mitigate stormwater issues in the area. A site at the Taputapuatea Stream Reserve was also deemed unsuitable, while another recreation reserve at 245 Cook Drive was noted as prone to flooding. 

Another option examined was the Cook Drive Reserve which already accommodates Whitianga Social Services and St John. However, staff recommended the Community Board gave further consideration to sites at 137C Albert Street (the White Street Reserve) and 50 Robinson Road (the Robinson Road Estuary Reserve), despite stating that the latter may not be suitable due to limited space for construction. The White Street Reserve would accommodate just two units.

The staff report also recommended dialogue be opened with the Mercury Bay Bowling Club as regards their long-term plans. However, other than “supporting the aspirations” of the two local groups, the Community Board made no further resolutions, electing instead to discuss the matter at a workshop later this month.

Deputy mayor, Murray McClean, clearly signalled his concerns about committing to pensioner housing at the Bowling Club site when there was a lease in place for another 10 years. “It’s too far out to make any of those decisions, the whole council will have changed by then,” he said. “If we put the land into pensioner housing, we are tying it up for perpetuity. It may get used for a swimming pool one day, we need to be very cautious.”

Mrs Giri-Percival said she believed there was still merit in a discussion around the currently under-utilised part of the Bowling Club site but emphasised that, if the matter was to workshopped, it should happen sooner rather than later. “They’ve come to us a number of times, It has been going around the table for some time,” she said. 

Describing it as a “worthy cause”, board member, Jeremy Lomas, agreed that some sense of urgency was needed.

It was unanimously agreed to bring the existing report back to a board workshop later this month. Councillor Tony Fox said the board would need to work out its position on the issue of pensioner housing and where that sat in terms of the need for open space which would be at a premium in 50 years.

Pictured: Alison Henry of the Mercury Bay Community Fund at the School Road Reserve, one of the sites they have identified to be suitable for pensioner housing in Whitianga.