Community & Environment

No, Council is not destroying a bird park, despite what some say

This story was published in the Waikato Times (Saturday 17 October 2020)

By Hamilton City Council Chief Executive Richard Briggs.

This week I have been asked to tell my staff to throw away millions of dollars of ratepayer money, break a $290M funding agreement with Government and ignore years of consultation with landowners and iwi. I’ve also been asked to expose ratepayers to millions of dollars in new costs.

The strangest thing about this is many of the people asking me to do this are Hamilton ratepayers.

Let’s be clear. I’m not going to.

I’m talking about the Shaw’s Bird Park, and the campaign demanding Council moves the planned road. It’s a campaign which has attracted television attention, a raft of social media comment, an online petition and abuse of my staff. It’s included uninformed, misleading and at times downright dishonest claims.

The perception seems to be Council suddenly decided to put a road through private property without telling anyone. That we’re bulldozing the park. That we could save millions by moving the road. That we’re destroying pa sites. That we don’t care about the environment.

None of those things are true.

Council is not ‘destroying’ the park as has been claimed. It is building a section of a road network developed in consultation with the Shaws, other landowners, mana whenua and the wider public. This work has already been ongoing for years, across multiple Councils.

The road avoids most of the planting and ponds on their property and we are trying to negotiate with the Shaws to see what other steps we can take to support safe access to the property.

Council did not suddenly decide to put a road here. The Shaws wanted a road in this area for some time to support their plans for a subdivision. After a three-year public process costing millions of dollars, the agreed road network was confirmed by independent commissioners in 2014. The Shaws knew exactly where it was going. They were consulted, provided feedback, and congratulated the Council on the project.

Based on those decisions, and with no objection from the Shaws, Council purchased land, let contracts and obtained Government funding for the project. Neighbouring landowners have made plans, including making major investments based on those plans. Environmental work is underway. A new intersection is being built to connect with State Highway 3.

In 2018 the Shaws opened their property as a bird park and publicly opposed the road they were supportive of in 2014. They have done substantial planting on an area they knew was designated for a road.

We have looked at other options for the road across years of planning. They weren’t the right options then and they would be terrible now.

Moving the road would not save ratepayers money. It would cost Hamilton ratepayers tens of millions of dollars. It would impact neighbouring property owners and many others who have made significant decisions based on those previous longstanding agreements. It would delay much-needed housing for our city in the Peacocke area.

It would be unreasonable and irresponsible to put that burden on all Hamilton ratepayers because one landowner has changed their mind.

Hamilton City Council is continuing to negotiate with the Shaws to get the best possible outcome. But it’s time everyone was aware of all the facts.

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