Reclaiming the waterfront for all

Welcome Bay resident Chris Doms wants the encroachments along the Welcome Bay Road Esplanade cleared so everyone can enjoy the waterfront. Photo: Bruce Barnard.

A Welcome Bay resident is rallying his community in a bid to reclaim a public waterfront reserve that has been encroached by fences, plantings and other structures erected by private homeowners.

The Welcome Bay Road Esplanade runs along the waterfront from Welcome Bay Road, near the intersection of Waitaha Road, to Tye Park on Forrester Drive, however it is currently inaccessible and few people know it is there.

Chris Doms first tried to run along the esplanade two years ago, but fences, planting and structures erected right up to the edge of the waterfront forced him on to the mud flats below.

“I looked it up on the GIS (Geographic Information Systems) maps and sure enough, it was a reserve,” says Chris. “I called the council to talk about it and then promptly forgot about it again.”

When Chris raised the subject on the Welcome Bay Noticeboard Facebook page recently, he got a flurry of comments in support of reclaiming the esplanade for everyone to use.

“I’m really surprised at the amount of response I’ve had,” he says. “A lot of people had no idea it was there and then there are people who have known about it for many years.”

Chris has met with parks and reserves staff at Tauranga City Council, who have invited him to speak at a council meeting and to make a submission in the next Long Term Plan consultation process.

“They are aware of the issue, but constrained in what they can do. At the moment council’s resources are going into Mount Maunganui beach encroachments, which is understandable, but frustrating.”

TCC parks manager Mark Smith confirmed the council started working with landowners to remove encroachments in Karewa Parade in Papamoa and has moved progressively toward Mount Maunganui. “We will next move to start resolving harbour encroachments,” says Mark.

He says staff have an annual budget of $50,000 for weed removal and preparation for planting and a target of resolving 20 encroachments per year.

He says a formed walkway or boardwalk for Welcome Bay Road Esplanade is included in the council’s Reserve Management Plan and budgeted in the Long Term Plan for 2023.

Chris says when the council moves on to dealing with harbourfront encroachments on public reserves, he wants the Welcome Bay Esplanade at the top of the priority list.

“In the short-term, I’d like to see the encroachments removed – the fences and planting that go right up to the waterfront and block access entirely,” says Chris. “Most properties don’t encroach, but there are enough that access is entirely blocked from each end.”

With the encroachments removed, the strip could be re-grassed and be wide enough to accommodate walkers and prams, says Chris.

“That would give everyone access to that area. In the longer term I’d love to see a boardwalk built there, and that would remove the possibility of encroachments again.”

Chris says he’s not normally “a public-facing person” but he wants to take this on because there seems to a real passion for it in the community.

“We want to show councillors that this is important to us,” he says. “Welcome Bay can be a bit of a forgotten suburb sometimes.”

He’s also keen to ensure there is no animosity towards the residents living along the esplanade.

“It’s easy to be frustrated with them, but it doesn’t help anyone. It shouldn’t be an issue that splits the community.”

Welcome Bay ward councillor Bill Grainger says no one has raised the issue of access to the Welcome Bay Road Esplanade with him before, but agrees that could be because so few people are aware of it.

He is “not supportive one way or another” on the suggestion of a boardwalk.

“For some people it gives them access to walk along there, but sometimes you look at a natural piece of land like that and think ‘it looks nice as it is’,” says Bill.

He says if the Welcome Bay community was supportive of a boardwalk, he would take that seriously.