•  Iwi representation in council decisions and Whakatane’s homeless problem were discussed in the
    Whakatane District Council’s annual plan deliberations last week. Local democracy reporter Charlotte Jones reports on the deliberations.

Homeless issue raised by submitters

The seemingly growing issue of homeless people in the Whakatane CBD was raised in recent annual plan discussions.
Whakatane District Council received 10 written submissions and heard three verbal submissions as it began its preliminary discussions around the plan.
A woman, who said she owned several properties in the central business district, sought reassurances that the council would consider business owners when revitalising the town centre and asked whether anything could be done to house the homeless.
She was assured by council staff there would be ample consultation around the town centre revitalisation, but options were still being considered to house the homeless as some had indicated they didn’t want to be homed.
“The homeless issue is becoming very obvious in some places,” the woman said.
“It is not their fault and it is up to us to find a way through it. It’s not safe for them to be living on the street and it can be intimidating when leaving a shop at night to hear people nearby who are clearly under the influence of something.”
Mayor Judy Turner said she chaired the Whakatane Homeless Action Team, which had been working to home people for many years.
She said those who were left, including those in the makeshift camp by the Boon Street toilets, simply did not want to be housed.
”A few years ago we counted 53 people living rough on the streets in our CBD, that included children,” Mrs Turner said.
”We offered all those people help and now what we have left is a small gang of people who are living rough by choice.”
She said this group of people were offered accommodation during lockdown but refused it. They did receive breakfast from the Salvation Army during this time.
”The measure of a community is how we deal with our most vulnerable,” she said.
Councillors also heard from a woman who requested funding to start designing a public cycling track around Lake Aniwaniwa and Anton Steel, from the Bay of Plenty Film Trust, who is also seeking council funding.
Mr Steel said Whakatane’s unique coastline was a drawcard for filmmakers who could insert thousands into the local economy.

Iwi representation concern

AN amendment to Whakatane District Council’s significance and engagement policy allows it to fast-track decision-making for economic recovery and allows it to make decisions without public consultation.

The amendment is temporary and will expire in June 2021, if not revoked before then.
Councillor Lesley Immink has raised concern that of those who responded to the amendment, half (four people) were concerned about iwi representation in council decision making.

“It is disheartening that 50 percent of submitters raised concerns with the lack of iwi engagement,” she said.

She noted the council had held a breakfast meeting to consult with the business community, and asked what the council had done to ensure iwi involvement in the process.

Manager of strategy and community development, Cashy Ball ,said staff had approached iwi directly, that iwi would have a chance to provide feedback in an iwi forum today, and staff had produced a video entirely in te reo for social media.

Councillor Nandor Tanczos said it was a “huge topic” but clearly the council was not engaging in ways that worked for mana whenua.

Councillor Andrew Iles said the same was true for other groups such as rangatahi, and Taneatua Community Board youth member Talei Bryant had expressed in a recent video that the language used in council documents was prohibitive to young people.

He said he would like her to speak to the council about this.
Mrs Immink said although iwi engagement was required by law, council staff should include paragraphs stating their intent to consult with iwi.

“People like to see they are represented … If we put it in writing, people can see that commitment,” she said.

She and Mr Tanczos could see no reason not to include a line for iwi, as requested by submitters, even though it was already implied.

Councillor John Pullar disagreed with that sentiment because “if you include one you have to include them all”.

Councillor Gerard van Beek said adding a line would be “redundant” as it was already a requirement.

All elected members except Mrs Immink voted to adopt the amended significance and engagement policy without the added line for iwi representation.

Lack of feedback

COUNCILLOR Lesley Immink kicked off last week’s preliminary annual plan discussion by questioning the lack of feedback from the community.

She said she had been asked multiple times why the council had not mailed anything out and that the library had run out of annual plan consultation documents.

Councillor Gerard van Beek said he was concerned that the few responses the council had received were not enough on which to base decision-making.

Councillor Victor Luca agreed it was concerning to have only 10 submissions, noting it was impossible to make conclusions on a sample of this size.

Mayor Judy Turner said typically people didn’t respond if they were happy with the plan, but the council needed to hear if they were happy just as much as if they were not.

Graduate strategic policy analyst Todd Livingstone said response rates tended to increase closer to the end of the consultation process and the last time he checked, about 100 people had downloaded and read the document.

”We had considered a mail-out, but during levels four, three and two that did not seem feasible,” he said.

”We also considered using the Eastern Bay Life but unfortunately that is no longer going out.

”We are also not asking any evocative questions this time around.”

The people who made submissions said they appreciated the council’s response to the economic downturn caused by Whakaari and Covid-19, however, they would like more of a focus on climate change.

One said he did not think the community group Whakatane EPIC Town Centre was meeting its purpose and targeted rates to it should be abolished. Another said they would like to see more focus on cycleways in the district.

Submissions to the annual plan closed yesterday. It will be adopted on July 15.