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Claim ratepayers ignored over ‘youth prison’ proposal

South Auckland ratepayers claim voices have been ignored during bitter battle against ‘youth prison’ proposal

Residents living near a planned “youth prison” have been locked out of Oranga Tamariki’s court-ordered social impact study, the head of the suburb’s ratepayers’ association claims.

Dean Andre also believes Auckland Council needs to do more to “protect” residents, though the council is bound by Environment Court directions.

Part of the Whakatakapokai Care and Protection Residence. Photo: Oranga Tamariki

Residents in the south Auckland suburb of Weymouth are engaged in a bitter battle against Oranga Tamariki’s plans to turn part of Whakatakapokai, an existing care and protection facility off Weymouth Rd, into a youth justice residence.

The site is next door to the Crown’s recent “flagship” community housing development and locals, according to Andre, fear the impact of potential escapees.

According to Manurewa Local Board documents, the proposal would allow the facility to house children for either care and protection or youth justice reasons, including those in Oranga Tamariki custody for “certain adult jurisdiction reasons”.

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It would increase the number of people able to live at Whakatakapokai from 20 to 30.

The Environment Court in August threw out a social impact assessment completed for Oranga Tamariki, ordering a more extensive study be completed prior to a decision on the ministry’s application.

Oranga Tamariki is due to submit its updated assessment on Friday.

Andre, head of the Weymouth Residents and Ratepayers Association, believed residents’ concerns had been ignored in the latest study.

“In terms of the social impact assessment, the community’s had very little say,” he said.

"We've got some sort of glimpse into it because they gave us a preview, but that preview consisted only of five slides from a Powerpoint presentation.”

Stigma was one concern held by the Weymouth residents - Auckland Region Women's Corrections Facility, youth justice facility Korowai Manaaki and Auckland South Corrections Facility were all within four kilometres of Whakatakapokai.

However, their primary concern, according to Andre, was a "prison" previously located at the site had closed down after escapes affected the community.

"Then they sold the surplus land and they built all this community-based housing,” he said.

"Everybody that's bought into that community-based housing has bought in on the expectation there won't be a prison there."

The Waimahia Inlet development, a project of more than 200 homes pegged by the previous Government as a “flagship” of its housing policies, is next door to Whakatakapokai.

Andre said there were "definitely" going to be escapes if Oranga Tamariki's application was approved.

"This is a very, very, very low security facility - much lower than a low security prison ... what we just don't know is what the number of escapes is going to be."

Oranga Tamariki’s Youth Justice Services deputy chief executive Alan Boreham said the matters raised by Andre had been put to the Environment Court prior to the release of its interim decision in August.

The matter remained before the court, he said.

“As a result, the matters are sub judice and we cannot comment further.”

Along with the updated social impact assessment, Oranga Tamariki had also been directed to complete a social impact management plan.

Auckland Council would be able to review and submit comments on the assessment and plan before the Environment Court considered its decision.

A spokeswoman said Auckland Council had no input in the preparation of Oranga Tamariki’s initial social impact assessment, though it had asked the ministry’s consultants, Beca, several questions about the work.

Asked whether it was seeking the views of ratepayers living at nearby Whakatakapokai, the spokeswoman said Auckland Council was aware of opposition to the proposal and had tried to keep submitters involved in the court process.

The council, citing its “regulatory role”, was not seeking community input into the updated assessment and management plan.

The work was being completed by Oranga Tamariki and the council was not in a position to seek views on the updated assessments, the spokeswoman said.

The council also had to comply with “specific directions” around its involvement from the Environment Court.

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