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Kainga Ora Shifts Goalposts On Controversial Housing Development To Sidestep New Government

The controversy surrounding a large-scale social housing scheme in the small tourist town of Ohakune deepens.

Ruapehu District Council (RDC) and Kainga Ora, which are partnering a proposal to build 44 houses in the first of a potential three-stage development, have now reneged on their promise to notify the consent to allow community input.

For years the two partners kept the development at Teiteit Drive adjacent to the town’s famous Carrot Park secret from the community [direct reference from OIA documents available on request], knowing it would be highly controversial.

It was only on the eve of a recent public meeting that the partners of the development committed to a 'notified' consent due to the amount of community outrage.

Ohakune Residents and Ratepayers Society president Barry Murphy says the community backlash forced Kainga Ora and RDC to change tack and notify the consents.

However, they've now done a 180-turn and pulled their promise as the consent was not “pretty straightforward (permitted activity)” as they had claimed in the application for funding and provided to ministers for approval.

The existing consents have outstanding “requests for more information” under the RMA Section 92 with RDC & Horizon Regional Council advised that two further consents are required to comply.

Knowing that notifying the consents will push the project beyond the deadline of March 2024, a requirement under the Covid relief shovel-ready money that they received from the previous government, they’ve shifted the goalposts to keep their hands on the ‘free’ cash.

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One would assume Crown Infrastructure Partners (CIP) and Ministry of Housing and Urban Development (MHUD) would see through this and cancel the contract based on the fact they are not able to comply.

“RDC and Kainga Ora are desperately and quite deviously trying to get ahead of the government before the new administration realises public funds are being squandered on a lemon next to our Carrot Park.

“This money should be directed at social housing in centres where it is desperately needed such as Taumarunui – not in Ohakune where 10 people are on the MSD waitlist, down from 12 in June.”

Residents were informed via a letter late last week that RDC and Kainga Ora would lodge a new consent for infrastructure work on the site that would not be notified.

“It’s become apparent to them that notifying their original consents for the project will very likely result in significant changes having to be made because there are so many aspects that are non-complying.

“There’s no way they would be able to break ground before the end of March deadline next year which would see the Covid money disappear.

“Essentially, having told the community they would notify us, they’ve pulled a swifty and are now trying to fast-track a new consent through that the public won’t be able to engage on. They’ve kept the project secret from the community for years, now they’ve lied to us again.”

Despite RDC mayor Weston Kirton and CEO Clive Manly repeatedly claiming in the media that there was consultation on the council’s plans for social housing, official documents [direct reference from OIA documents available on request] obtained by the Society show this is clearly a far cry, with only 21 people responding to a housing policy change in 2020 where council asked three questions to do with housing and accepting possible funding.

“There is no reference anywhere to the community being consulted on placing a large-scale social housing project on the current site at Teitei Drive in Ohakune; and the community was certainly not consulted on whether the council should sell or gift public land, for well below market value, for the development – this was done in secret and without the appropriate delegations [direct reference from OIA documents available on request].”

After an angry backlash from the Ohakune community, the mayor and CEO were forced to front a public meeting about the social housing scheme, which resulted in a record turnout of over 160 people in a town with a population of just over 1000. Both conceded that the community had not been consulted [video recording of these public statements available on request].

“Yet the mayor still keeps lying to the public and claiming we were consulted – even his council agrees the public were kept in the dark [video recording of these public statements available on request],” says Mr Murphy.

Mr Murphy suspects the latest move by Kainga Ora and RDC is a last ditch effort to shift the goalposts to sidestep the new government. He says official documents released last week show the new resource consent is to get “work underway to align with the timing requirements of the CIP funding”.

“There’s no doubt they will be wary of government scrutiny of this project because it simply doesn’t stack up, a reason they haven’t requested special authority from the local minister to proceed – as they know it’s the wrong project in the wrong place”

“There are only 10 individuals and families on the MSD waitlist for housing in Ohakune, and plenty of affordable houses available on the market for a lot less than what they are proposing. So there simply isn’t the need to build a social or affordable housing development of this scale in a community with no social support services – we don’t even have a GP.

“There were six social housing units completed this year by RDC in Moore Street, with Ngati Rangi building another four houses in Foyle Street, where consents were approved in May and work has begun to clear the sites.”

“When we exposed this, RDC and Kainga Ora invented a ghost population of people needing housing who couldn’t be quantified because they apparently ‘aren’t willing to register with MSD’. They were unable to share the methods used to qualify people to go onto the ghost list and whether they actually meet the requirements such as income testing done by MSD’.

“They’ve tried desperately to make a case for this project when there just isn’t a case to be made. RDC has even admitted the project weas earmarked for Taumarunui, where there actually is a need for social housing and there is social service support and the Taumarunui Womans Refuge (1000+ clients/year) has been crying for help for years, but no land was available to be built on within 12 months to meet the shovel ready requirement, so they shifted it to Ohakune [direct reference from OIA documents available on request].”

Mr Murphy says the Society is urging Housing Minister Chris Bishop to put a stop to this social housing debacle and direct the public money to where it is needed.

Notes for editors/reports:

- Ohakune has a population of just over 1000 permanent residents. More than 1200 people signed a petition presented to Parliament calling for the Ohakune social housing scheme to be scrapped.

- Aside from way in which the project and sale of public land has been kept secret from the public, it has attracted further controversy with a senior Kainga Ora staff member working on it failing to register a serious conflict of interest -

- The Ombudsman has upheld numerous complaints against both RDC and Kainga Ora for failing to meet their obligations under the Official Information Act (OIA) and Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act (LGOIMA) [Ombudsman’s reports available on request].

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