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Year in Review: April 2023

April 1

Wairarapa Moana Incorporation said the Crown had denied the group a right to a hearing by including them in a treaty settlement with Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa Tāmaki nui-a-Rua. Wairarapa Moana Incorporation – which said it represents “shareholders and descendants of the original owners of Wairarapa Moana” – was seeking a clear judgment from the High Court on the way the Bill of Rights Act and other provisions apply to their situation.

April 2

Wairarapa-based social housing provider and hospitality business operator Trust House [TH] announced that those of its tenants not currently receiving the government’s income-related rent subsidy were now facing a rent rise in three months. Those 180 tenants would, on average, pay between $9 and $27 a week more from July 1. In a statement, TH was at pains to emphasise that, once the increases kick in, these tenants will be paying weekly rents that range from $182 to $425 a week, which are “on average, well below the market rate”, while the increases are “at or below CPI”.

April 3

In a government funding move described by local police leadership as ‘very positive’, Wairarapa was on track to receive a significant boost in law enforcement. The funds would mean more officers on the ground, as well as increased access to dog-handling teams and better intelligence. Wairarapa Police Area Commander Inspector Scott Miller said the recent announcement by Police Minister Ginny Andersen meant the region’s policing would be significantly enhanced. Andersen said the initiative, called the Tactical Response Model, follows recently increased investment in frontline staff.

April 4

The South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] leadership team delayed publishing a report on residents’ perceptions, disclosing it only after the recently elected mayor asked for it. The report on the 2022 South Wairarapa Resident’s Perception Survey [the Report] was effectively complete in August 2022, but only released publicly by the council in February. Mayor Martin Connelly said the Report was only disclosed to him after he questioned where it was and described the delay as an error of judgment and a wasted opportunity. Residents rated the performance of the then SWDC as less than optimal.

April 5

Wairarapa councils were set to adopt a combined policy that designated town CBDs as smoke and vape-free – even though compliance with the policy was “voluntary” and would not be enforced by the councils. Previously, the councils had individual policies that did not include vaping. Carterton District Council adopted the new policy with Masterton and South Wairarapa councils are set to follow. The new policy designated each of the five towns main drags as smoke or vape-free.

April 6

A truck driver survived after rolling a flatbed truck and trailer carrying a digger at Kourarau Hill in Carterton District. Fire, police and ambulance responded to the single-vehicle crash on Westmere Rd near the Te Wharau Rd intersection Emergency services said the driver “amazingly” suffered only moderate injuries, given the entire passenger side of the truck was crushed, while ambulance staff confirmed they treated one person at the scene in moderate condition and nobody needed transport to hospital for further treatment.

Ngāti Kahungunu’s fisheries business, Takitimu Seafoods Limited, announced it was closing down after recording almost $15 million in losses. The company said it would be closing its retail store, online store, and wholesale business in Ahuriri, Napier, affecting 33 staff. A Ngāti Kahungunu spokesperson said that only Wairarapa customers of Takitimu would be affected by the closure.

April 8

Raw sewage, “third-world” living conditions causing sickness, and years of what residents described as “criminal negligence” by the council – Masterton’s Cockburn St residents had had enough. “I’m so f***ing tired of fighting for our rights to human decency,” a tearful Jaimee Charters told the council. “I’m tired of feeling like a shit mum, putting my kids in this hamster wheel through no fault of my own.” Charters was one of several residents at their wits’ end over repeated and long-term problems with raw sewage backing up and overflowing into their properties from the council’s wastewater network.

A 41-year-old woman appeared in Masterton District Court on an aggravated assault charge arising from an incident at a supermarket in which a staff member tried to prevent a case of retail theft. Police said in a statement that this was one of “a small number of shoplifting incidents in Wairarapa supermarkets” recently, noting that there “does not appear to be an increasing trend”.

April 10

Wairarapa’s sky was ablaze with hot air balloons on Easter Saturday night, attracting thousands of skyward-looking spectators. The Wairarapa Balloon Festival’s night glow event drew patrons of all ages from across the Greater Wellington Region. Event coordinator Peter Aymes said about 10,000 people attended the headline event.

April 12

More than 9 per cent of Wairarapa’s residents – and more than 10 per cent of Masterton’s – were found to be living hand to mouth and needed a handout to put food on the table. More than 4000 people accepted food from foodbanks in Featherston, Martinborough, Carterton, and Masterton in the past month, with coordinators saying demand continued to be high. The total number receiving food parcels was 4341 out of an estimated permanent Wairarapa population of about 47,000 – meaning more than 9 per cent of the region’s residents were experiencing a level of food poverty. The majority needing help was in Masterton, at 2826, with Martinborough next at 890, Featherston at 375, and Carterton at about 250.

April 13

A patched gang member sought in relation to a quarter of a million dollar drug bust wound up in police custody. Michael John Clark, described by police as a patched Headhunter, appeared in Masterton District Court, where he pleaded not guilty to possessing methamphetamine for supply and elected a jury trial. Wairarapa police recently appealed for information about the 30-year-old’s whereabouts “following the seizure of a significant quantity of methamphetamine in Carterton” in March.

Hughes Line – a narrow country road with no painted centreline between Masterton and Clareville – saw a massive influx of traffic from cars avoiding the roadworks on SH2. Waka Kotahi NZTA’s SH2 safety improvements caused many motorists to take Hughes Line instead – transforming what used to be a quiet rural road into a busy thoroughfare filled with commuters and heavy vehicle traffic putting pressure on the road surface, and speeding drivers increasing the risk for other road users. Wairarapa Road Safety Council manager Bruce Pauling said he had seen poor driving on Hughes Line and recommended that all motorists follow the temporary speed limit.

April 14

At an event in Greytown, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins announced a watering down of the government’s controversial Three Waters Reforms, which had been renamed the Affordable Water Reforms and featured changes to allow for input from local councils. Speaking in front of Greytown’s non-compliant water treatment facility, Hipkins said that ownership of water assets would be transferred from district councils to 10 new regional entities rather than four, as had previously been proposed. Local councils would own the entities, but independent governance boards would run them.

April 15

A driver was flown to hospital in a critical condition after being cut free from his crashed car. Emergency services that responded to the crash on Te Whiti Rd found a car that had collided with the bridge over the Ruamahanga River. The single-vehicle crash to the east of Masterton closed Te Whiti Rd for several hours while the Serious Crash Unit investigated, with traffic diverted via Manaia and Lees Pakaraka roads. Masterton Fire Brigade, which responded to the crash with two trucks, reported the driver was cut free from the wreck, with hydraulic equipment used to remove the driver-side door.

A Wairarapa family donated $1 million to Wellington Free Ambulance to support the new Masterton station build. The donation – the single largest ever made to the charity – lifted the project to 60 per cent of its fundraising target. The $7 million state-of-the-art facility on the corner of Queen St and Russell St in Masterton would become the permanent base for more than 30 emergency response crew, patient transfer officers, and rescue squad members.

April 17

Wairarapa councils offered mixed reactions after the government quietly withdrew millions of dollars of promised water funding as part of its Three Waters shakeup, renamed the Affordable Water Reforms. The government had promised every district “Better Off’ funding to spend on water upgrades as a sweetener for councils which would be losing control of their water assets as part of the reform. The first tranche of funding was allocated in 2022, worth $500 million nationally; Masterton got $3.88 million, Carterton got $1.7 million, and South Wairarapa got $1.88 million.

April 18

Cape Palliser Rd faced an uncertain future, with Waka Kotahi NZTA discussing funding options with South Wairarapa District Council. The road is the only route connecting residents [90 according to the 2018 census] and 49 rateable properties at Cape Palliser, Ngawi, and Mangatoetoe to the outside world, and has suffered millions of dollars of damage from the surging tide. Waka Kotahi NZTA had funded the repairs, but this funding model will change from winter next year, with the transport agency’s regional relationships director Emma Speight informing the district council it would no longer be funded as a special purpose road from June 2024.

April 19

An incomplete road-widening job left multiple Hughes Line residents feeling let down by the Carterton District Council. The rural road saw a dramatic increase in traffic volume since February, with trucks and commuters using it to avoid the roadworks on SH2 between Clareville and Masterton. The council widened one-half of Hughes Line – from Clareville to East Taratahi Rd – in mid-2022, leaving the other half – from East Taratahi Rd to Cornwall Rd – as a narrow farm road with no centre line and crumbling unsealed shoulders on either side. Hughes Line resident Mike Playford said he had emailed the council 11 times since September 2022, asking them to finish the job.

April 21

A Masterton Crusty Demons fan came out on top, with the Disputes Tribunal ruling that he was owed a full refund for his ticket to last year’s cancelled motorcycle show. Ticket holders to the Crusty Demons “Rise of the Demons” World Tour at Masterton Motorplex were left holding the bag after the show – initially scheduled for 2020 – was twice postponed during the pandemic and then hastily cancelled last October. Crusty Demons’ former promoter agreed to refund all ticket holders by December 20, 2022, but that date came and went with no money in sight. One ticket holder, who paid $245.40 for a platinum family pass in September 2019, immediately [December 21] scheduled a hearing at the Disputes Tribunal, determined to get a refund.

April 22

A prominent South Wairarapa farmer, one of the district’s biggest ratepayers, condemned the current rating structure and described at least one council as “very irresponsible”. Dan Riddiford – the fifth-generation owner of Te Waiti station – said although he was liable for tens of thousands of dollars in rates every year, he and other rural ratepayers get almost nothing in return. In the year to the end of June 2021, Riddiford’s rates liability was $48,780, in 2022, it was $54,228, and this year he is up for $45,439.

South Wairarapa District Council said it would not close SH2 for Featherston’s Anzac Day parade, thereby preventing the traditional march from Anzac Hall to the War Memorial on Fox St. South Wairarapa Mayor Martin Connelly said the non-closure was because the council could not afford to pay for SH2 traffic management. The service will go ahead, but it will be stationary in front of the Fox St War Memorial.

April 24

A critical shortage of GPs caused the region’s biggest medical practice to close its doors to new patients in what is described as a healthcare “workforce crisis”. Masterton Medical was not accepting new enrolments, and Greytown medical centre did not have a permanent GP and relies on its nurse practitioner, locum GPs, and other nursing staff. Carterton, Featherston, and Martinborough medical centres were accepting new patients, but only for those who lived in the area.

April 25

It remained to be seen whether the latest iteration of a resource consent application that had already been the subject of a long-running saga would placate opposition to a proposed third access point for Greytown’s supermarket. Woolworths NZ, however, was hoping the third time would be the charm and maintained its revised application – publicly notified by South Wairarapa District Council– adequately addressed the most contentious issues, including pedestrian safety, signage, and a copper beech tree.

April 26

Thousands gathered around Wairarapa as a crisp Anzac Day dawned. Residents, veterans, and dignitaries were among those who congregated at cenotaphs and memorials across the region yesterday, from Eketāhuna to Lake Ferry. Many rose in the dark to attend dawn services – a tradition in New Zealand since 1939 – paying respect not only to those who lost their lives in Gallipoli in WWI but to the men and women who have served the nation in the years since, and still do. In Tīnui, where the world’s first Anzac Day service was held, the mood was particularly poignant after the devastation of Cyclone Gabrielle. Despite some concessions, traditions held fast for the village’s 107th service.

In a surprise to absolutely no one following the online teasers, Crackerjack, the bargain-hunting retailer announced it was opening in Masterton. The retailer that sells everything from confectionery to furniture and cosmetics at basement prices confirmed the rumours [that it started] of a Masterton store were true – although it was yet to indicate a timeframe for opening beyond “later this year”.

April 27

Wairarapa’s largest printing press was on the line, with Blue Star proposing to close its Webstar Masterton facility. The announcement came as a shock for the 40 employees who could be affected, Blue Star chief executive Jill Cowling said. “We have a lot of good people who have been with our business for a long time. There are a number of employees who have been there for more than 20 years,” she said. “This afternoon would have been a shock.” Cowling said the proposal, should it go ahead, would see operations shift from Masterton to Webstar’s Auckland printing facility, with some work transferred to plants elsewhere.

South Wairarapa District Council’s annual plan consultation was set to go live, but residents would instead remain in the dark about potential rates rises and what the council plans for the coming year. The problem? A majority of councillors only saw the draft consultation document for the first time yesterday and were expected to approve it at a 9am meeting. Councillors had also received an email suggesting that if they did not sign it off, “we’re going to look bad”, one elected member revealed.

April 28

A long-time speed enforcement advocate got a shock when a car crashed into the corner of his house. Zane Edhouse who lived on the corner of State Highway 2 [SH2] and Boundary Rd in Featherston, has for years pleaded with the police to strictly enforce the speed limit on the approach into the town. At about 11pm just as he was sitting down for a cup of tea, a car fleeing police crashed through his fence. “I went into my bedroom, and boom! Everything in the house exploded, and I was like, ‘What the f ***!’ There was s*** everywhere, and there was a car there with two guys sitting in it,” Edhouse said. “

April 29

Poor maintenance of KiwiRail equipment was holding the entire North Island’s rail network hostage, Greater Wellington Regional Council chair Daran Ponter claimed. A KiwiRail equipment failure in Auckland would force Metlink to run fewer passenger rail services across the Wellington region from May 1.

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