Space invaders eye Tauranga

By: Dan Hutchinson

Daniel Hutchinson
From The Hutch

Horses for courses could easily become houses for courses given the political situation in Tauranga right now.

The 85ha expanse in Greerton is occupied by the Tauranga Racing Club and Tauranga Golf Club. It is firmly in the sights of town planners once again with the Greerton Maarawaewae Study.

The space is owned by the Crown and was protected as a reserve in the late 1800s. It is managed by Tauranga City Council which, of course, is under statutory government management.

And this big, green, juicy oval in the heart of the city is looking more like a target every day.

Council commission chair Anne Tolley says the area is continuing to grow and that’s why they need to have a “conversation” about the area.

People are invited to give their thoughts on what should happen to the area, with an emphasis placed on the expecation of 15,000 more people living in the area in the next few decades.

“Do we add into that more housing, which has been put to us as a solution to the high cost of housing, do we protect it as green space, or do we have a combination of that?” she asked via Stuff this week.

The commission makes its decision on the future of the land in April next year after canvassing the public’s views, which would effectively side-line it as a local election issue.


The naysayers

It’s hard to tell what the public appetite is for converting this green space into more housing. Unless you enjoy a day at the races, why would you care what happens to the site?

There are the obvious naysayers (excuse the pun), but this huge reserve is the envy of most cities. Looking at making this space more attractive to more people is admirable, but there is an air of inevitability when it comes to more housing on this land. It will be called compromise.

Green spaces are rare for the very reason that cities are always short of space, and the closer to the centre of town, the scarcer it becomes.

But cities are more than just about cramming the most buildings into the smallest amount of space. They are about amenity and charm, culture and heritage, innovation and architecture.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t be looking at better uses for our green spaces, but if the views of the general public are clear then those views must be respected. That’s why you have an elected council to make local decisions.


Loud and unclear

Protests in Wellington this week most certainly had the desired effect, even if I still don’t understand half the logic. A cross-section of those 10 per cent of people with reasons for not getting vaccinated took to the streets to vent their frustration.

Thousands of people - everyone from gang members to church goers, conspiracy theorists and those who just don’t like being told what to do - marched on Parliament. It was illuminating to put the faces and fears of the unvaccinated out in public.

Their rights are about to be seriously curtailed as vaccination passports and mandates loom, and they are not happy about it. Most people have other ideas, but it’s never a great idea to dismiss someone without listening to them.

They chanted and seethed their way through the city, the atmosphere reaching something of a flashpoint as gang members on big bikes smoked up the tarmac.

They were universally ignored by politicians, and after breaking through the first barrier it all came to a relatively peaceful end as tennis balls, with both plain and obscure messages, were hurled at the media.


The next phase

Requiring people to be vaccinated isn’t something that just cropped up during this pandemic. Many countries refuse entry to people not vaccinated against various contagious diseases - particularly where they have come from an area where the disease is prevalent. Yellow fever is just one example.

But vaccination itself has always been voluntary in New Zealand. The expression ‘it’s a free country’ is not just a glib saying, it underpins our whole society.

So mandating vaccines for Covid may make a lot of sense and it protects the right to vaccinated Kiwis to access their health system when they need it, but it’s a big deal for a democracy such as ours.

For some, any threat to the right to choose their own destiny is a bigger threat than a disease that can and almost certainly will kill many of the unvaccinated.

Drawing up battle lines and ignoring the problem is not the solution though. Let’s hope Kiwis can work this one out as we move into the next phase of this thing.