A group lobbying for a controversial bike park in a small Hawke’s Bay town was upset the community had been informally consulted about the plan without their knowledge.
The proposed redevelopment of Eskdale Park into a mountain bike hub, north-west of Napier, shocked many locals, because many neighbours feared it would destroy an idyllic recreational park.
A petition, signed by 900 people in the region who were opposed to the development, was presented to Hastings District Council last year.
The new plan included replacing the toilets and playgrounds, adding a bike track, bike hire facilities, a container cafe, roads and a swing bridge across the Esk River.
In emails released to RNZ under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act, the Hawke’s Bay Mountain Bike Club told Hastings District Council there would be huge benefits to the development.
The club’s chair Scott Richardson said: “together we are building a regional asset that will not only engage locals of all ages in sport, but will also encourage national (and international where possible) bike tourism”.
A proposal by the club estimated the park had the potential to generate up to $4 million per year into the local economy.
In July, council staff met with Eskdale locals at a community tree planting day beside the park to tell them about the plan.
The mountain bike club knew nothing about the meeting until they saw a social media discussion on Neighbourly.
Planner Roger Wiffin wrote in an email: “The club has become aware that the preliminary information regarding the potential for development/use.
“This has been communicated to the wider public despite no formal plans or strategy being developed. It is apparent that this information has been released by council staff with no prior notice being given to the club.
“It seems obvious, based on social media activity that if there is any form of public process current plans will need to be placed, at best, on hold for an indefinite term or, at worst, abandoned.”
Richardson said the council and bike club needed to “act promptly to avoid unnecessary escalation of the situation, as this has the potential to derail to all our efforts and investment to date”.
The club was forced to put its plans on hold after the debacle, with the council’s open space and building services manager Colin Hosford saying it needed to start “with a clean sheet of paper and rebuild it from there.”
“This is the political dimension we need to manage,” he wrote.
Hastings Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst told RNZ last year that meeting the community at the tree planting day “wasn’t the process that should have been carried out”.
“I did apologise… that’s not the way we do business, we get all of the community invited to a room and then we present a way forward so we capture everybody’s views.”
After the debacle the council changed tack, holding a community meeting in September.
Last month, the council said a long-term reserve management plan for Eskdale Park would be developed over the next year, giving park users a say in its development.
This plan was brought forward by about 10 years because of the bike park controversy.