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Local Government

Williamson Park to have a wetland

The revelation that Williamson Park is slated to undergo a transformation into a wetland has sparked mixed reactions among Whangamata residents. On 9 April, TCDC staff unveiled this plan to Councillors, members of the Whangamata Community Board, and members of the Whangamata Ratepayer Stormwater Action Group (WRSAG).
 |  Rob Boston  | 

This is the situation at Williamson Park which requires urgent storm water infrustructure.

While some were taken aback by this announcement, it came as no surprise to members of the WRSAG, who have been closely monitoring developments in the community.

The formation of WRSAG in January 2023 stemmed from a groundswell of community concern following the havoc wreaked by Cyclone Hale. Deputy Mayor Terry Walker recognising “this was a powder keg waiting to go off” pressured the council into forming a workshop, where the brief was that council must act quickly, hear community woes, and get on with stormwater improvements that have been neglected for the past 20 years.

With a workshop established, it soon became apparent to WRSAG members that previous reports commissioned by previous councils had been shelved without proper consideration. Despite persistent requests for transparency, access to these reports was repeatedly denied, – deemed too contentious for ratepayers- highlighting a concerning lack of accountability. Some reports were eventually obtained through the Official Information Act (LGOIMA).

In 2018, council engaged Opus Consultants to look into ‘what’s going on with the Williamson Pond’. They provided three options, stating they would be contentious and would need consultation with the community. It is no coincidence that the Williamson Park Pond was the catalyst for the formation of the WRSAG, following the effects of Cyclone Gabrielle and Cyclone Hale. The pond was identified as just one of the issues to be dealt with as part of an overall Master Plan.

Yet, despite extensive consultations estimated to be over $200,000, and over a year of workshops, vital information from these reports remains inaccessible to WRSAG for review and discussion. Furthermore, revelations of council staff bypassing democratic processes in workshops raise serious questions about transparency and public engagement.

Despite current legislation stating council staff can’t make decisions in workshops, they held a ‘democratic vote’ during the latest meeting. Only three stakeholder representatives were allowed in this meeting with a majority of council staff – swaying any vote in the council’s favour. Following this decision, WRSAG members were told to stop arguing because they were ‘outnumbered’ by council staff.

It is WRSAG’s belief that all options from the Opus report should be considered, and decisions should be made after consulting with the community. “However, it appears council staff don’t value engagement, consultation, or transparency, which should be an important part of their job”, states WRSAG’s spokesperson and WRA chairman, Rob Boston.

The proposed wetland in Williamson Park has ignited further debate, with residents expressing apprehension over potential environmental and practical implications. Concerns range from increased mosquito populations and safety hazards to doubts about its efficacy in addressing beach scour and pollution. WRSAG is resolute in their commitment to safeguarding Williamson Park’s iconic status, vowing to oppose developments that compromise its integrity.

Residents are urged to voice their opinions to Deputy Mayor Terry Walker, and WRA pledges to provide comprehensive coverage of workshop proceedings in all Coromandel based news publications. As guardians of our community’s interests, it is imperative that residents remain informed and actively participate in shaping the future of Whangamata.

“Unfortunately, the outcome of the pond has been decided by TCDC council to become a wetland – with no consultation with residents in the area.”

Rob Boston is Chair of Whangamata Ratepayers Association