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Councillors rally to back mayor

Viv Napier. PHOTO/FILE

hayley.gastmeier@age .co.nz

South Wairarapa councillors have moved to publicly rally around the district’s mayor.

Wednesday’s South Wairarapa District Council meeting was the first time the council had met after the withdrawal of a proposal for a major commercial development in central Featherston, and the discovery that the land it was to be built on may be rendered useless due to the presence of a telecommunications right of way.

As a result, the Featherston community has been left upset and angry.

In light of the news, some residents in the town have indicated a lack of confidence in Mayor Viv Napier.

On Wednesday, councillor Colin Wright put forward a motion that they back Mrs Napier as leader.

Mr Wright said he believed that public comments made casting doubt over the council’s functioning were unhelpful for both the council and community.

“If any mistakes have been made, we need to learn from those mistakes, pull together as a team and move forward.”

Councillors threw their support behind Mrs Napier, saying she was “dedicated, hard-working and democratic”, and a change in leadership now would make matters worse.

Lee Carter abstained from voting, saying she thought the motion was premature, while Colin Olds said Mrs Napier was “unfortunately suffering from a hangover from the previous administration”.

Speaking from the public gallery, Featherston’s Martine Bijker called for the council to defer the motion.

“You are effectively asking [councillors] to absolve Mrs Napier of any responsibility for this Featherston land issue, prior to proper investigation of the matter being completed.

“Your wish to clear the air, looks to me like a wish to push this all under the carpet and make it all go away.”

Featherston Community Board chairwoman Robyn Ramsden was emotional as she explained overhearing council staff using unkind phrases to refer to the town – a claim that outraged all councillors, who said that kind of behaviour was “absolutely not acceptable”.

The council has launched an investigation into the matter, and acknowledged Mrs Ramsden’s call for the empty plot of land in Fitzherbert St to be gravelled immediately, so the community could begin using it however they saw fit.

The section came into the council’s hands as a result of a land swap with Trust House, which says it had no knowledge of the telecommunications right of way.

Featherston resident Jennifer Grey has spent countless hours collating articles and documents relating to the land, dating back to the 2009 Trust House proposal to build a $7 million commercial development.

“These documents show repeated cycles of hope and broken promises, of delays and years of neglect by SWDC, years of a rubble pit in the middle of town.”

She said the right of way was evident on a title plan from 2013.

Another resident of the town, Jade Holley, said the council had pushed forward with the neighbouring town square, despite the majority of the community being against the project.

It took up valuable commercial space, and the finished square did not include features that were in the original design plans, including the artists’ quarters and the pergola.

“I look forward to seeing Featherston Town Square completed, or demolished, which is my preference.”

The council resolved it would gather all documentation and information available on the land issue, as well as revisiting plans and council resolutions on the town square project, and hold a workshop to come up with solutions to the issues.

The Featherston board is to host a public meeting on the withdrawn development and vacant land, to be held at Anzac Hall on Saturday at 2pm.

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