Resignation discussed, councillor reveals

CHELSEA BOYLE

chelsea.boyle@age.co.nz

The treatment of a Carterton family who had unknowingly purchased land badly contaminated with arsenic forced some district councillors to consider resigning.

Carterton District Councillor Jill Greathead said she and fellow councillors Greg Lang and Mike Ashby had discussed resigning over the treatment of Heidi and Rupert Holbrook before a solution was finally reached.

The trio never followed through with it – and didn’t raise it with Mayor John Booth at the time – but Ms Greathead says they had been left frustrated by a lack of compassion and solutions towards the Holbrook’s dire situation.

The Holbrooks bought 121 Andersons Line in 2013 with big plans in mind for what it could be – but those plans were shattered when they realised the extent of contamination caused by an historic sheep dip.

As well as near the woolshed, soil tests showed several paddocks surrounding it to be saturated with arsenic – in one place 31 times the health standard.

The council maintained throughout discussions with the Holbrooks that they had not been required to run a soil test before approving the subdivision earlier that year.

They also say they had not known about the sheep dip and even if they had, the use of land was not changing, and staff followed the Resource Management Act requirements.

Ms Greathead said Mr Lang, Mr Ashby and herself had independently come to their own conclusions that ratepayers should be treated better.

She confirmed resignation had briefly been a talking point, before they had managed to get a solution.

“It was a discussion between the three of us,” she said.

“You get so frustrated you don’t know which way to turn.”

It was a heartfelt response, she said.

“We were not onboard with how we had left the family, the family needed help,” she said.

“Anyone with any form of compassion is going to understand that.”

Detailing her personal feelings at the time, she said she had felt let down by legislation, regulation and the bureaucracy of it all.

“You believe it’s there to protect you and at the end of the day it doesn’t.

“Why don’t we go back to the old days of shaking hands, of caring for each other, and working as a community?”

The three councillors had quickly backtracked from talk of resignation because they needed to assist, Ms Greathead said.

“We did have to fight, we got all parties in the room, we came to an agreement and that led us forward in a pragmatic way.”

That agreement involves the previous landowner, Alistair Smith, volunteering to take back the contaminated land and swapping it for a parcel of land on the other side of the Holbrook’s property.

Mr Lang said in the end a confidential agreement had been reached.

“I worked with John, Jill, and Mike to help out with a community response,” he said.

When asked if he had threatened to resign, Mr Lang said, “I don’t really want to comment on that, but at no stage had I offered my resignation”.

There were quite a few people involved in the process so “if someone had said that during the process it might have been interpreted that we were all going to resign”.

He had done his best as a councillor, and believed council officers had also operated to the best of their ability, with what they had to work with.

Mr Ashby, who is in Spain, said via a text message: “We did not threaten the council with our resignations but you can read between the lines”.

Carterton Mayor John Booth said he found out about the situation later.

The Times-Age learned about the Holbrook’s situation after requesting documents from Carterton District Council, but parts had been blacked out by the council’s lawyers, and a confidential agreement between them and the Holbrooks means much remains unknown.

Documents show the Holbrooks were told about the sheep dip when inspecting the property, but no one knew just how widespread the problem was.

The Holbrooks have previously said they cannot comment as part of the agreement.