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Year in Review: May 2023

May 1

South Wairarapa District Council publicly notified a 235-hectare solar farm in Greytown under consideration for resource consent. The application by Far North Solar Farm Ltd proposed to establish a solar panel farm along State Highway 2, Bidwills Cutting, and Moroa roads.

Three men facing a raft of poaching-related charges pleaded not guilty and chose a jury trial in Masterton District Court. Jordan Churchill, Gregory Macbeath Maclean, and Murray Alan Paulin faced charges of unlawful hunting, cruelty to animals, entering agricultural land with intent, and unlawfully carrying and discharging firearms. The most serious charge was entering agricultural land with intent to commit an imprisonable offence, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

May 2

A certificate of compliance to fell a copper beech tree in Greytown was under consideration by South Wairarapa District Council. Despite going to some lengths to protect the tree in its revised resource consent application for 134 Main St, Woolworths NZ also applied to the district council for a certificate of compliance that would allow the removal of such a tree at the site. The resource consent application was Woolworths NZ’s third attempt to establish access to Greytown’s Fresh Choice supermarket via its Main St section.

The promise of new hybrid-electric passenger trains brought with it the prospect of high-skilled jobs to Wairarapa, in addition to more regular services. The government pledged to pay 90 per cent of the estimated $847 million cost of purchasing 18 four-car, tri-mode trains and related infrastructure, with the rest set to be covered by Greater Wellington Regional Council [GWRC] and Horizons Regional Council. A new depot based in Masterton was “quite big for the town because those will be high-skilled jobs that will be coming – engineers, mechanics, etc,” GWRC chair Daran Ponter said.

May 3

Four burglars stole items worth thousands of dollars from Masterton’s Wairarapa Resource Centre, which recycles and resells donated goods to keep them from going to landfill. The thieves spent two hours picking out electronics and tools between 1.50am and 3.50am before leaving with two supermarket trolley loads of goods, including a DeltaPAT appliance tester valued at almost $2000 that centre manager Trudie Jones said was “crucial to the business”.

Wairarapa social housing provider and hospitality business operator Trust House announced that Graeme Bell would serve as interim chief executive of the company until the role was permanently filled. The trust had been unable to provide an estimate of how long the process of appointing a new chief executive would take. In the meantime, Bell would work for three days a week in his interim role. The temporary appointment follows the resignation of previous chief executive Charles Kaka after a two-and-a-half-year stint in the position.

May 4

A quick stop for a coffee and a bite to eat led to chaos on Carterton’s main drag. Part of the High St section of State Highway 2 was closed shortly before 6am after the collapse of Carterton Craft Market’s veranda. The destruction was due to a truck driver unintentionally hooking the veranda with his trailer’s bolster as he pulled back onto SH2 after a pit-stop at the cafe opposite. Cafe staff reported hearing a “bang” as the entire structure was dragged to the ground.

May 5

It was announced that Wairarapa’s largest printing press would stop for the last time at the end of the year. The decision from owner Blue Star Print Group would mean 40 people – some of whom have worked at Webstar Masterton’s Ngaumutawa Rd factory for more than 30 years – would lose their jobs. The decision, which came after a week of consultation with staff, was the final nail in the coffin for the printer, which began to pare back operations several years ago. South Wairarapa District Council’s chief executive Harry Wilson had his last day in the job. South Wairarapa Mayor Martin Connelly announced Wilson’s resignation after nearly four years in the role.

May 6

Police confirmed an investigation was underway for an alleged armed robbery in Masterton. Police said the robbery, at a house on Derby St, happened around 8pm. The female victim reported she was accosted by a man as she was leaving her home via the backdoor. She believed the man was carrying a gun. However, police said they had no been able to confirm the presence of a firearm.

Wairarapa’s only public boarding house was back on the chopping block. Poto College House Trust has announced it would disband when its lease expired at the end of the year, potentially marking the end for Wairarapa College’s century-old boarding house. The trust told families and staff in a letter that 2023 would be its last year operating the hostel. It was deja vu for the boarding house, which faced imminent closure four years ago.

May 8

Emergency work to fix sewage overflows in Featherston resulted in a budget blowout. But with the work costing $240,000 elected members were left scratching their heads about who approved the spend and when, given any emergency work over $50,000 needs council sign-off.

May 9

Tensions were high at Hood Aerodrome, with claims that regulatory gridlock caused by a risk-averse Masterton District Council might result in a million-dollar aircraft investment flying out the door. The Hood Aerodrome Safety Committee met with MDC staff to discuss the council’s decision to restrict hot-air ballooning using a commercial lease agreement.

A woman trampled by a steer in Hinakura was flown to hospital in a critical condition. Emergency services, including a rescue helicopter, responded to the incident in the remote South Wairarapa valley. The woman was critically injured at the intersection of Martins Rd and Hinekura Rd while trying to herd a loose steer into a nearby paddock.

May 10

A taonga stolen from Parihaka during colonial raids was removed from display at Aratoi Museum to be repatriated. The tahā [gourd] display was challenged in February after an historical article was published in the Times-Age in January. Speaking of the decision to repatriate the item, Aratoi director Sarah McClintock said she wanted to work with integrity and ethics.

May 11

Carterton councillors blamed for the undesirable state of Carter Scenic Reserve are copping “some choice language” online, and the district council’s chief executive has had enough. Going into bat for his councillors, Carterton District Council chief executive Geoff Hamilton has put the hard word on the Department of Conservation.

Auckland teenager Dontae Gray pleaded guilty to a raft of charges relating to a 10-day crime spree that included a smash-and-grab robbery at Masterton’s Michael Hill jewellery store. Gray admitted to 18 charges for offences that he committed in Masterton and Palmerston North at the end of last year. Among the charges Gray admitted were two counts of aggravated burglary, which carry a maximum sentence of 14

May 12

KiwiRail’s proposed level rail crossing closures left businesses and hundreds of residents feeling they would soon have nowhere to turn. The rail company has delivered flyers to residents on Judds Rd in Solway and Victoria and Pembroke streets in Carterton, telling them the level crossings on their streets were being considered for closure “to create a safer and more efficient railway”. Closing the crossing would turn the three roads, which are currently thoroughfares, into dead ends.

Ongoing speed restrictions and long periods of congestion on State Highway 2 between Masterton and Carterton were adversely impacting the response times of Wairarapa’s emergency services. A 30kmh speed limit was enforced for over 7km along SH2 between Clareville and Masterton. Generally, emergency vehicles were able to travel 30kmh over the speed limit if they were responding to an incident. But under the temporary roadwork restrictions, all road users – including emergency services – must comply regardless of what they are responding or travelling to.

May 13

Martinborough’s growth would be stunted for two years as a result of the town’s non-compliant wastewater treatment plant. South Wairarapa District Council announced that applications for new wastewater connections in Martinborough are being “put on pause” for the time being “because the town’s wastewater plant has failed to meet performance and compliance standards”. The council said it would honour all permits, resource management, and building consents that it has already received and approved.

The driver of a stolen vehicle who fled the scene of a horrific head-on crash in Featherston was sentenced to home detention. The sentencing in Hutt Valley District Court took place almost a year to the day after Rhian Lloyd, 24, cut a corner at a State Highway 53 intersection and collided with another vehicle. Lloyd was already facing a raft of driving-related charges at the time of the April 15, 2022 crash.

May 15

Hughes Line residents, fed up with the dangerous conditions on their road and shredded car tyres, sent a letter to Carterton District Council telling them to sort it out immediately. At the start of New Zealand Road Safety Week, resident Terry Craig said the increased traffic from cars is damaging the road surface and endangering other drivers.

More than 8000 visitors streamed into Featherston to enjoy what might have been the biggest Booktown Festival yet. The town was transformed into a readers’ utopia, with bookseller stalls, readings, talks, workshops, food trucks, and more. Operations manager Mary Biggs said there was a significant increase in ticket sales compared to last year’s event.

May 16

Wairarapa was named as one of the regions in line for a slice of the government’s latest $1 billion pre-Budget announcement – but just how much remained unclear. At a media stand-up, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins and Finance Minister Grant Robertson announced a $1b package to support flood and cyclone-ravaged communities and said cyclone recovery will be a key focus of Budget 2023.

South Wairarapa’s council and community were looking to address ongoing concerns about how to best assist Wairarapa’s growing population of pensioners. At a recent meeting of the Greytown Community Board, chairperson Louise Brown said the issue of what plans South Wairarapa District Council had for the pensioner flats on West St has been raised with her a number of times.

May 17

A career criminal was jailed for almost five years for a marathon Wairarapa crime spree, including arson, theft and wilful damage to property. Wayne Thomas Patterson was sentenced in the Wellington District Court to four years and nine months in jail for a string of offences across the region. In handing down the lengthy custodial sentence, District Court Judge Hobbs said Patterson’s offending was driven by financial loss, anger and vindictiveness – and referred to the defendant’s extensive criminal history.

Over two dozen submitters were set to give their thoughts on the council’s civic facility plans as part of the 2023-24 Annual Plan and speed management plan hearing. Among the seven submitters due to present their views to the council were former Masterton mayor Bob Francis, road safety campaigner Aaron Slight, and the Masterton Youth Council.

May 18

Emergency service workers from Wairarapa were assisting with the devastating impact of Wellington hostel Loafers Lodge’s fire. It was uncertain how many lives the fire claimed at the time, with six people confirmed dead and 11 still unaccounted for. Three fire crew members from Masterton were on the scene on as part of the urban search and rescue group to support local crew and help assess the building’s structural integrity.

May 19

The future of a popular Masterton gym hung in the balance, with a consenting issue arising after a neighbour’s unsubstantiated noise complaints. Wai Weight was a pioneering 24/7 gym when it first opened at its current Bentley St site in 2009, but owner Bevan MacKenzie said its ability to operate at night might be at risk. Shift workers and rail commuters have trained at Wai Weight in the early morning since it was the only night gym in town, but last year trouble began brewing when a new neighbour started making noise complaints.

May 20

KiwiRail surprised Carterton District Council [CDC] by delivering flyers to residents that outlined a proposal to close two more level crossings in Carterton – which would effectively turn Rhodes St and Brooklyn Rd into dead-end streets. CDC chief executive Geoff Hamilton said the proposal was news to him. “As the chief executive, I was unaware until this morning of the intention to close Brooklyn Rd,” he said.

In a remarkable turnaround, Masterton Intermediate and Lakeview Schools were revealed to have slashed chronic truancy by 84 per cent compared to the same time last year. After only one term, the two schools’ jointly funded attendance programme is already producing positive results, with only 11 students missing 20 or more school days – down from 71 during term one in 2022.

May 23

More than 1000 Wairarapa drivers were caught up in a 48-hour police blitz on the region’s roads. While police were generally pleased with the standard of driving, there was a total of 56 infringement notices issued in operations over a two day period. Of the 949 drivers stopped, 12 were fined for not wearing seatbelts, nine for using a cell phone while driving, and 35 for speeding.

May 26

A man who drunkenly assaulted his pregnant partner and pointed an air rifle at a police officer, before turning it on himself, avoided jail time. The man appeared teary-eyed in Masterton District Court, where he was sentenced to five months community detention.

Masterton’s storm-damaged roading network would cost about $27 million to fix, leaving councillors praying for a better-than-expected winter for the region. And although it was anticipated that Waka Kotahi funding would foot the bill for the majority of the works, Masterton District Council might need to take out a $5m loan for the rest.

May 27

KiwiRail fronted about its proposal to make Judds Rd a dead end at a fiery public meeting, where it agreed to listen to the community’s concerns. The state-owned rail company faced a crowd of hundreds of angry Masterton residents at Copthorne Hotel Solway Park after first proposing to close the crossing earlier in the month via a leaflet drop to some Judds Rd households – a move that took even the Masterton District Council by surprise. Breadcraft Director John Cockburn said his 250 staff needed access to Ngaumutawa Rd to avoid the dangerous Judds Rd-SH2 intersection, which he dubbed “the gauntlet”.

May 29

Wairarapa DHB spent more than $1 million on contractors in its final year, with holiday pay issues making up more than half of that spending. Details of the contractor expenses were included in response to a question in the Health Select Committee Review of Te Whatu Ora Wairarapa for 2021-22.

May 30

Just over two weeks after the skatepark kaitiaki [guardian] role was discontinued due to lack of funding, a group of teenagers was beaten up a 14-year-old at Masterton’s skatepark. The perpetrators also allegedly harassed other children and threw fireworks. Emergency services responded to the assault and took the victim to hospital, with several police staying on to make enquiries.

May 31

Waka Kotahi denied a $14 million funding request to realign Martinborough’s Hinekura Rd, saying the investment does not represent “value for money”. The road had been closed since June last year following a significant slip triggered by a severe weather event, cutting off about 30 families. Alternative routes were in place but add significant travel time.

Meridian Energy lodged a consent application with local councils for its latest wind farm development in north Wairarapa. The Mt Munro wind farm was set to be built eight kilometres south of Eketahuna and will comprise 20 turbines that generate up to 300 gigawatt hours of energy a year – enough to power about 42,000 homes.

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