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Final plan change in Awatarariki saga made

The flood in 2005 destroyed homes. Photo: RNZ / YouTube

Two councils have approved a plan change to end human habitation in the area of Matata devastated by a debris flow in 2005 – the only question now is how long do the last residents have left?

Bay of Plenty Regional councillors voted last week to formalise a plan change that will extinguish all existing use rights in the area.

This follows a Whakatane District Council vote the week before on a plan change that will prevent further development of the area.

These two plan changes will, in the end, apply only to one of the 34 properties on the Awatarariki fanhead.

Local Democracy Reporting understands this property owner has refused to sell or leave his converted shipping container home.

The Whakatane Council has been seeking to remove all residents from the Awatarariki fanhead after the debris flow destroyed several houses in the community.

The debris flow from the Awatarariki Stream at the Western end of Matata saw an estimated 300,000 cubic metres of rock, including boulders as large as seven metres in diameter, wooden debris and mud flow through the Awatarariki subdivision.

It destroyed 27 homes, damaged 87 properties and destroyed a railway bridge, resulting in an estimated $20 million in damage. There were no injuries, and no lives were lost.

Through a managed retreat process progressed in partnership with the regional council and the Government, the council bought 33 of the 34 high risk properties. About half of these properties contained houses.

Regional Council team leader kaiwhakatinana Karen Parcell told councillors the managed retreat process had been very difficult for residents, but she was satisfied the circumstances at Matata justified the process and this final step of the plan change.

Eastern Bay councillor Bill Clark says he remembers in 1981 when a developer “bullied” the Whakatane Council into allowing the subdivision at Awatarariki.

He says his family was there when the debris flow hit and, through his own reading, he had found the area had a history of destructive debris flows.

“It’s total poor council decision making,” says Clark.

Kohi Maori constituency councillor Toi Kai Rakau Iti says councils should now turn their minds to the issue of urban development and subdivisions currently being promoted in the context of climate change.

He says one came to his mind, the proposed subdivision of the Opihi sandspit opposite Whakatane township.

This development has recently been subject to independent hearings as iwi oppose the development.

Iti says by doing this, a repeat of the situation could be avoided as it had been difficult for all involved.
All regional councillors voted to implement the plan change.

The chief executives of both councils must now set a date for the two plan changes to become operational.

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