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Tensions boil over at SWDC

“I’m sick of listening to this, all this gobbledegook,” a voice cried out from the public gallery at yesterday’s South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] meeting.

The Martinborough resident said the council was turning “an old man’s wishes into shit” before an adjournment was promptly called.

It was not the first time Wednesday’s meeting became heated. During the public participation segment, long-time council critic Gary Dittmer told those present he will be withholding his rates.

The next speaker, Jim Hedley, said South Wairarapa farmers have been “abused by council” since amalgamation in the late 1980s and have been subsidising urban rates since then.

When Hedley’s five minutes to speak expired, he continued his presentation and acting Mayor Melissa Sadler-Futter instructed councillors to “please stop engaging”.

As the meeting continued, the controversial topic of wastewater disposal at Pain Farm was discussed.

The Pain Farm land was bequeathed to the former Martinborough Borough Council by George Pain in 1932 to be used as “a sports ground for the residents of Martinborough and as a playground for the children”.

A 1966 court order approved the following scheme: “that the income of the trust lands should be used … in maintaining and improving the Borough’s parks, sports grounds, camping ground, swimming baths, providing, equipping and maintaining sports facilities and a children’s playground in such manner and in such proportion as the council shall from time to time decide”.

Last year, SWDC requested that 76 hectares of Pain Farm be designated for “waste disposal purposes” in the Wairarapa Combined District Plan.

The requested designation came as a shock to the community, despite the project being signalled in the council’s 35-year-consent, which was approved in 2016.

New legal advice presented to the SWDC meeting said plans to discharge treated effluent to gifted land are “defensible”, despite the council not seeking a court order to do so.

“This is because the terms of the trust allow for council to deal with the Pain Farm for the benefit of the inhabitants of Martinborough,” the advice stated.

Councillor Kaye McAuley said she thought the council should “stop trying to establish whether we as a council can legally go ahead with this proposal”.

“It should be pronounced as dead in the water.”

She said too many things had changed since the council gained resource consent in 2016 and believed the council should be evaluating other options for wastewater disposal.

Councillor Aidan Ellims agreed that much had changed in the past 10 years and noted Martinborough is “expanding towards Pain Farm”.

He said neighbours have threatened to take legal action against the council in relation to the wastewater disposal.

Councillor Alistair Plimmer acknowledged the issue is emotionally charged but posed the question: “If not Pain Farm, where will you dispose of wastewater?”

SWDC chief executive Janice Smith said, “From my seat, this is not a debate”.

She said while hindsight is a “powerful tool”, the council has an active consent with conditions and councillors “need to understand that”.

Relitigating past decisions is “a dangerous road”, she said, “so we need to be careful how we navigate this one because we have an active consent in play for Martinborough”.

At this point of the discussion, a Martinborough resident called out from the public gallery that she was “sick of listening to this” and said the council was “bulldozing [its] way through to turn an old man’s benefactor wishes into shit”.

“And he was a special man in this community,” she said.

“He was well-thought-of, and he left his farm to the children of Martinborough, to the community, not to any board, community board, borough, or anything else.”

Sadler-Futter then adjourned the meeting and the council’s livestream was stopped.

When the meeting resumed, Sadler-Futter said the council recognises Pain Farm is “an extremely emotional topic to discuss, but we do have to follow due process”.

Councillors voted to “support the continued involvement of the lawyers in trying to help us understand the trust itself and our relationship as trustee”.

After the meeting, Smith said SWDC understands that people feel passionate about council’s work and noted that public participation is one opportunity for the community to have a voice.

“The Chair also has a responsibility to ensure that the meeting runs smoothly and that the work of our elected members and staff is delivered in a legal and reliable manner.

“Sometimes historical decisions can seem out of step with our current experience.”

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air


  1. I agree, that a wastewater facility hardly seems to be in keeping with Mr Pain’s wishes. If the council is not willing to respect the donor’s wishes, then they should not have control over the bequest. Buy another piece of ground.

  2. Surely if a lovely old gentleman from Martinborough left his farm, Pain Farm in 1932 to the children for sports grounds/swimming baths/playgrounds, then surely that is what his wishes are,not a wastewater area.
    SWDC need to think elsewhere where they can buy some land that isn’t near the town,in a little valley somewhere to build the waste water system. Priorities also call for sensible answers

Comments are closed.

Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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