At a Tauranga City Council meeting today, demands were made for Council to reverse its decision to transfer historically significant property to the Otamataha Trust. The property is currently leased by The Elms Te Papa Tauranga.
Western Bay of Plenty District Councillor Margaret Murray-Benge, Friends of The Elms Chair Jim Sherlock, and Rob Paterson and Richard Price both from the Citizens Advocacy Tauranga Society Inc. (CAT), demanded that Council not renege on its promise to the Elms Te Papa Tauranga, and that it reverses its decision to transfer 11 Mission Street to the Otamataha Trust.
The property at 11 Mission Street, Tauranga adjoins The Elms site at 15 Mission Street and is currently leased by the Elms Foundation.
In December 2018, Council considered the future ownership of 11 Mission Street and agreed to consult with the community about the decision.
Council were presented with three options. These options were to transfer the property to The Elms Foundation, keep the property in council ownership or thirdly transfer the property to the Otamataha Trust with a lease that supports the Foundation’s future development plans.
Council agreed in principle to transfer the property at nil consideration to the Otamataha Trust and delegated authority to Council’s Chief Executive to negotiate the terms and conditions of the agreement and lease arrangement with the Elms Foundation and the Otamataha Trust.
The agreement terms are then to be reported back to council to be formally approved and a decision made on the transfer of the property.
In addition, the decision to transfer the ownership of 11 Mission Street was to be consulted on and reported back to council.
“We ask you to honour the past and transfer 11 Mission Street to the Elms,” says Margaret. “That was the original intention when that property was purchased by Tauranga City Council in 2009. It was understood at that time that 11 Mission Street would be transferred to the Elms but the transfer never happened.”
About 80 members of the public attended the Council meeting, many in support of the four speaking to the issue, and some coming from the Otamataha Trust to listen. The live internet feed from the meeting had a technical difficulty so was off-line throughout the meeting.
Deputy Mayor Kelvin Clout asked Rob and Richard what they thought about the property being transferred to the Otamahaha Trust and the Elms being charged a “peppercorn” rent, such as $1 a year. His question was immediately met with a disapproving chorus of objections from the public.
Rob demanded more transparency and accountability from Council.
“Council must hold meaningful public consultation, then if appropriate, transfer the site to The Elms in line with Tauranga City Council originally publicly stated intention,” says Rob. “Tauranga City Council should be protecting ratepayer assets and not gifting them to some entity whose wants may not align with The Elms ethos.”
The society was established in March 2006 to represent the viewpoint of all citizens both residents and ratepayers to the Tauranga City Council where issues of public concern arise.
“In the case in question here the publicly funded Elms is not just some bauble to be frivolously tossed around without fully informed public and community consultation,” says Rob.
After the meeting, discussion continued outside chambers.
“The whole Elms transaction is a dog’s breakfast,” says Mount Maunganui resident Max Lewis, “and Council should have done more due diligence before they entered in to doing any discussions with the Maori trust. And listening to the evidence today, clearly the land was properly purchased by The Elms back in the 1800s and there’s evidence there that shows that and council in my view did not do the proper due diligence.”
“There were some good points and there were a lot of bad points,” says Jelaire Tarawa. “It was a bit one-sided because the other side, [the Otamataha Trust], wasn’t there. Some of the things the speakers said were good, but there were a lot of things that really aren’t important, because people that are there, they’re too old. You need to bring the new generation in, because they’re the ones that are going to carry it on, not the older people.”
Peri Kohu, vice president of the Otamataha Trust also attended the meeting. The Otamataha Trust administers property in Tauranga on behalf of Ngāti Tapu and Ngai Tamarawaho.
“They were selective with their presentation, and I expected that,” says Peri. “We made a presentation to the Council a couple of months ago. The Council were given a whole lot more information than what these people gave. They gave them certain parts of that information.
“So I’m confident that the Council can make up their mind having a broader base of information. But the proof of that pudding will be when they come back to Council and have that discussion again and we’ll see what the outcomes are.”
Some found the meeting processes frustrating.
“Council is so bound up in their own internal processes that they can’t give enough thought to the community,” says Maureen Anderson. “Something should have been passed around there so that everyone could write their name down and a contact number so that when this comes up at Council again we can all be back, to eyeball them.”
Consultation will take place, with the matter then returning for consideration to Council.
“We’ll have to wait and see following that,” says Mayor Brownless.