Wainuiwhenua - The call is out for the 550 hectare block to be retained in public ownership. Photo by Mark Coote.
Approximately 550 hectares of land surrounding Paekākāriki township, currently owned by Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA), will be declared surplus after the completion of the Transmission Gully motorway, scheduled to be opened in 2020.
A Kāpiti Coast steering group, Wainuiwhenua and local hapu Ngāti Haumia ki Paekākāriki, are calling for it to remain in public hands.
Jenny Rowan, former Kāpiti Mayor and co-chair of the group, says, "Common practice for NZTA with surplus land is quite literally to flick it off to the nearest developer. As a community we think that's a wasted opportunity for sustainable, long-term economic development and growth."
The Wainuiwhenua group, made up of community stakeholders, mana whenua and Paekākāriki Community Board members, has developed a work-plan and governance structure for the land disposal, "We think we might be the first in New Zealand to 'poke the bear' so to speak as to how we might get NZTA, under the Public Works Act and within the Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) land disposal processes, to take seriously a community-led vision like the Wainuiwhenua project."
But under the Public Works Act (1981) community groups cannot acquire lands.
"So the most straightforward way to achieve this vision is to have the lands transferred to another public agency for a range of public works," continues Ms Rowan "and the obvious agency to lead that process is the Kāpiti Coast District Council."
The range of public works include carbon sequestration, public reserves for conservation and recreation, housing, electricity generation and flood protection.
In 2003, Paekākākriki experienced a flash flood costing the Kāpiti Coast District Council (KCDC) over $400,000 in repairs. In 2015 residents were forced again to evacuate homes due to flooding. With a plan to reforest the hills and recreate the low-lying wetlands, Wainuiwhenua seeks to mitigate flood hazards and protect local homes and businesses in a time of predicted rainfall increase.
With a vision that includes cycle, horse and walking trails to connect with the existing park networks of Queen Elizabeth Park, the Akatarawas, Battle Hill Farm Forest Park, Whareroa Farm and the Paekākāriki Escarpment Track, "The opportunity is region-wide" says Deputy Mayor Janet Holborow. "Each year 35,000 people visit the Kāpiti Coast to walk the escarpment track. Imagine Kāpiti progressing from being a day-visit destination to a domestic recreational hub. A place to visit for two, three, four days at a time with significant economic benefits."
Included in the plan are provisions for 3-5 wind turbines, community gardens and a small, affordable housing development, "Wainuiwhenua is on the way to become the game-changer that local Councils across the country are looking for. If the Kāpiti Coast District Council show leadership in this acquisition, Wainuiwhenua could become a leading-edge model for how community, council, and central government partnerships can work together to respond to the challenge of future-proofing our communities," says Ms Rowan.
The group say support for their vision is growing. With pre-election communication from the group eliciting positive conversations with ministers Hon Eugenie Sage, Hon Kris Faafoi, Hon Phil Twyford and Green Party co-leader, James Shaw; Greater Wellington Regional Councillor Penny Gaylor and candidate Neil Mackay; and a very high majority of District Wide and Southern Ward candidates publicly supporting the project. "We are absolutely expecting, after this election, to see more strong strategic support from the Kāpiti Coast District Council in a way that we can see ourselves coming together at critical times to do business," says Rowan.