South Wairarapa District Council members at Saturday’s public meeting in Featherston: Margaret Craig, left, Colin Wright, Pam Colenso, Brian Jephson, chief executive Paul Crimp, Mayor Viv Napier, and Lee Carter. PHOTO/EMILY IRELAND
Transparency and straight answers from council – that’s what the people of Featherston were calling for at a public meeting on Saturday.
Jade Holley, who had demanded the public meeting to be held, said accountability was the biggest concern she had with the South Wairarapa District Council.
“The main issue with our town centre is that we are stuck with a square that was pre-determined before council came to our town,” she said.
“It is half-finished, there is no more money for it, and we are stuck with it.
“We now have commercial land that has an easement through it because our council did not engage in due diligence . . . on an entire block of land on our main street”.
It was made public in April that the Chorus telecommunications duct which runs under the land would cost “hundreds of thousands” of dollars to move so the section could be built on.
Council chief executive Paul Crimp told the meeting that “unfortunately we were not made aware of the situation until October last year”.
Former mayoral candidate Liz Mellish said council staff had either not visited the land in person or had something wrong with their eyesight to not know about the easements.
“There is a manhole cover by the footpath on the main road. You look straight ahead and what do you see – microwave dishes, you see the telephone exchange.
“Now, if you haven’t seen that, there is something wrong with your eyesight.
“It has been there to my knowledge at least 50 years.”
Mrs Mellish said council often went into a “fortress mentality in Martinborough”.
“[They] pull up the drawbridge and pretend we don’t exist,” she said.
“What I really want council to agree is that they have made a cock-up.
“Just say that. Take responsibility. Don’t blame Chorus. Don’t blame Trust House. Actually, blame yourself.
“You are the council. You should know all this stuff.”
Featherston resident Jennifer Grey had done her own research on the land title which she brought to the meeting.
Her research revealed that the certificate of title, submitted by the surveyors of Trust House in 2013 at the time of the land swap, clearly showed details of the easement including wastewater, sewage, electricity and fibreoptic cables.
It also said the owner of those services had the right to enter the property to dig it up and do any of those things.
“I don’t understand what is not clear about that,” she said.
“Why is council saying they weren’t aware of the problem?”
Featherston needed proper answers, “instead of all this pulling wool over our eyes and saying different answers all the time”.
After being pressed, Mr Crimp revealed the easements and telecommunication right was known about at the time the land swap was made.
“This matter goes back to the reason for the land swap,” Mr Crimp said.
“It was simply to have a hard-surface area on the entire site.
“. . . when I signed off the comment from our lawyers when they pointed out the easements, it was not too much of an issue because if there was a problem, that land could be easily accessed.”
At this point somebody from the crowd called out, “Who wanted the hard surface area?”
Mr Crimp continued, “after the land was transacted, it became apparent that the community wanted something different to happen on that site”. The crowd laughed in response.