Lower Hutt: River realignment to affect Mill Street and popular Walking area

Despite angry and strenuous objections from Lower Hutt Mayor David Ogden, Greater Wellington Regional Council will proceed with consultation on the taking of houses for the Mill Street stopbank and the narrowing of the dog-walking area alongside State Highway 2 north of Melling.

GWRC’s Hutt River Advisory Subcommittee, which includes three Hutt City councillors as well as mayors and regional councillors, earlier this month decided to approve “in principle” the flood protection works that only recently came to light, surprising and angering locals.

Recently GWRC told 14 Mills Street residents that up to a dozen houses might have to be bowled to make way for a straightening of a bend in the Boulcott-Connolly Street stopbank that engineers say constricts the river.

But flood protection manager Graeme Campbell told the subcommittee that it was wrong to suggest, as reported from the residents’ meeting, that up to 40 houses along Connolly Street might have to go.

He also assured a Rotary clubs delegation that the Hutt River walking trail along the right, or western bank, built by Rotarians, would be recreated in the remaining narrow corridor between the river and a possibly widened highway.

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Engineers believe the river-channel widening is required to slow floodwaters as much as possible opposite the floodplain-encroaching Transpower electricity substation and Safeway Storage buildings before it reaches Melling Bridge. But it means the park-like river verge now used by dog-walkers and many others for open space recreation will be lost to a new river berm and heavy river-slowing vegetation plantings.

Rotary Club of Hutt City member Robin Maud made a public submission for all nine Hutt Valley clubs, saying they agreed flood protection is paramount. However, the river corridor had evolved into a public recreation zone that should be preserved as much as possible in any new works.

“The results of your determinations here will affect whatever future generations will have for recreation in that area,” Mr Maud said.

Residents of the Western Hills did not have many flat reserves among their suburbs, and a large number of people from the hills came down to the river bank for recreation of all types along the river, not just dog walking.

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Rotary’s submission says alternatives dismissed by engineers, and other new ones, should continue to be investigated. Among their points were:

* The right (western) bank along this reach was the most highly-used section along the entire river, with over 100,000 visits per year.

* GWRC had not properly considered retreating the eastern bank, which had less recreation appeal.

* There were other river control measures such as rock lining and groynes that would allow retaining a wider berm and more views.

* The Transpower substation would have to be moved sometime in the future and then the right bank could be preserved.

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Rotary wanted GWRC to retain the maximum right-bank berm, ensure access points on the right bank to the river and beaches, maintain river views, and minimise buffer planting, which screened river views.

Above all, Mr Maud said, it wanted to be assured this was a preliminary decision, and GWRC would engage in wide community consultation. The council had already been very cooperative, he said. GWRC flood protection officers gave committee members an assurance that they would do so.

A few Mills Street residents came to the meeting, but didn’t speak publicly, saying they were there to observe the council’s processes. They had expressed shock and anger to the meeting that told them their houses were now, they had said, worthless, unsaleable and not worth continuing to put money into maintaining until GWRC took them and paid them compensation under the Public Works Act.

Mayor Ogden told them, ”I’m sorry you’ve been put through what you have been put through. I’m pretty perturbed about it, and needless to say it’s not good enough.”

Flood protection engineer Jacky Cox said a number of flood works designs had been investigated and this was only a starting point for consultation.

The river could not be deepened because of erosion danger, and the need to maintain a constant river gradient and level as at 1998. The left (eastern) bank was not considered for channel widening because it already had an established vegetation ”buffer zone”, removal of which would cause greater erosion. There was much more room available on the right (western) bank for a wider channel, buffer zone and berm. Rock lining was a possible alternative to a large vegetation buffer zone on the right bank.

After a lot of questioning, but no discussion or statements by councillors, committee chairman and Hutt Valley regional councillor Sandra Greig put the motion and immediately said ”All in favour?” But Mayor Ogden said he’d like to speak to the motion.

He said he wouldn’t vote for the motion because it showed ”a lack of foresight and consideration of other options. I know we are the largest populated floodplain in the country and flood defences are paramount. I’m not going to vote for it because of the impact it may have on the Waimare Croquet Club and Mills Street.”

Cr Ian Buchanan, chairman of the catchment management committee that will also have to approve the measures, said ”This is not a final decision, we’re just agreeing to [the engineers’] preferred option. This is about them consulting; those who are concerned should take heart” and a different result could happen.

Councillors worried about what the consultation process would be, as there is no formal requirement for one under council rules, but the motion passed with only Mr Ogden’s nay.

Later, in discussion of the Boulcott, Mills and Connolly Streets stop banks, Mr Ogden again chided officers for the ”suffering” caused to Mills Street residents by the officers’ ”secrecy.

”As a long-time Hutt Valley resident, I never heard of Mills Street having to be taken.”

He pointed to the Belmont Flats residential neighbourhood which had successfully resisted GWRC attempts to increase flood protection but was still there as an encroachment on the river. (Not mentioned at the meeting, but implied in council papers, the Safeway site is also a floodplain encroachment that GWRC could order removed by the designation process.) The committee wasn’t asked to vote on Mills St.

But Mr Ogden said, ”This is a mistake by GWRC.” It wasn’t necessary to take the Mills St houses, and the stopbank didn’t have to be of the same larger construction as the new Ewen-Ava one. He said he wants the engineers to find another solution to save the houses. He was there as the residents’ voice on the issue and it wasn’t a political fight between Hutt City Council and the regional council.

”I know you think I’m always coming here and complaining, but it’s fertile plains to complain about. I’m very disappointed to have to come and do it.”

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