Nelson Mail - Voices by Helen Black May 2014
As a Brook Valley resident, I have come to the conclusion that I do not need a television as I, unwittingly, have a first class seat to watch the convoluted drama of local government in action unfold in front of my very eyes.
The focal point is the attractive land of the 88-year-old Brook Valley Holiday Park, which adjoins the Nelson City Council's Waterworks Reserve in the upper Brook Valley.
When the council in February announced its proposal to close the campground, with its 50 permanent residents joining the statistics as 'collateral damage', the need for the council to use ratepayers' money to support pet projects once again came to mind, however exciting the initial proposal of a bird sanctuary may be.
I am aware that developments involving residential and recreational areas come with pros and cons.
As an earlier, not-consulted-on, council led initiative for the Brook made it less attractive for me to live here, I wanted information. If one is not into mountain biking, or paying for a walk or a gondola ride, the cons stack up.
I found out that in 2010, the council made the decision to "take over the management of the Brook camp to provide for the alignment of management of this area with the future development needs of the [Brook Waimarama] sanctuary over the next three years." (sanctuary's newsletter, December 2010) - and that the sanctuary's needs as a business venture now encompass the needs of partners who the sanctuary decides to sublease to.
The council liaised with selected stakeholders, donated over $1 million towards the pest-proof fence plus unknown "sensitive" council capital expenses, rezoned land, and planned for a track and paper road to connect the upper Brook with Stoke and Bishopdale.
The council approved partners of the sanctuary trust to lay claim to additional land within the campground before any lease agreement is finalised.
The council gave $15,000 towards a feasibility study for a gondola and adventure park for bikers, and then a new accounting model that was used as the final nail in the coffin for the Brook camp.
The council scoffs at "conspiracy" theories.
But the reality is that for the last four years or so, it has put the wagon in front of the horse and avoided initiating any public debate.
Unfortunately for the council, the Brook campground falls under the heading of strategic assets, which obliges the council to consult with the public, and councillors are obliged to vote on this matter with an open mind.
After finally acknowledging the permanent campground residents as stakeholders, the council said it welcomed any proposal they could present as a way forward for the campground.
The residents' response is that a vital chunk of the campground's land has been allocated for buildings and car parking, and it will not be viable to run a campground on what land is left. What, then, is there to consult on?
To mitigate any adverse reaction around a closure of the campground, the council ensured that the Brook's permanent residents could join the Maitai campground's 14 or so permanent residents, provided their homes complied with existing regulations.
Never mind that the law says that campers are not allowed to stay for more than 50 days in one spot. This has so far has been ignored, with specific sites allocated for permanent residents by campgrounds around New Zealand, including the Brook.
Is the Nelson council willing to open a national can of worms over existing campgrounds' practices and affordable housing shortages - and, in effect, render a small population homeless?
As the council have used public money to support these developments, I believe the public should be privy to all information before a lease agreement is signed.
There are questions I want to ask the council concerning the sanctuary and its partners. What if, in five years' time, visitor targets are not being met? If unforeseen expenses occur, who will pick up the tab? And is the land stable enough to support these developments, including the fence? What do the geotech reports say?
I do not envy the current council, which is stuck with this consultation charade. But to be silent is not helpful - and if the public, via the council, are to support these ventures, information needs to be readily available.
Before this consultation, albeit several years too late, I believe that the council needs to instigate a public meeting, so we all have a chance to ask questions and make informed decisions before the existing Brook Valley Holiday Park is gobbled up.