Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett has waded into local body politics, saying the west Auckland suburb where she lives is the “wrong choice” for a new water treatment plant.
Watercare is considering two potential sites in West Auckland for the plant. One option, in Oratia, would result in 24 families losing their homes, while the other, in neighbouring Titirangi, would mean the felling of acres of native bush.
It was standing room-only at the Oratia School Hall last night for another round of consultation meetings with Watercare and local body politicians about the proposal.
Paula Bennett, who has lived in Oratia for the past eight years, left no doubt where she stood on the issue.
“This is a council and Watercare process – this is not central government – but I am a citizen and I will stand with the residents of Oratia.
“I feel really strongly that this is absolutely … and quite happy to have that on record … that I think this place is the wrong choice.”
It was “tricky” for her as a Cabinet minister to get involved in local issues, she said.
Cabinet rules did not allow ministers to use their position in anyway that might benefit them personally.
“I have taken advice from them, because this is personal … and I don’t want to see Watercare tearing the heart out of what I think as our community, and I think it will,” she said.
Two West Auckland councillors Linda Cooper and Penny Hulse were also not shy about declaring Titirangi as their preferred site for the plant.
It was clear that Oratia was not the right place, Ms Hulse said.
“Believe me, as a very balanced politician I had to think long and hard before saying that, but I am very clear about that,” she said.
Auckland Mayor Phil Goff told the audience that if Watercare did choose Oratia then the resource consent process would be heard by independent commissioners.
“But I don’t believe you will make [that decision],” he said to Watercare chief executive Raveen Jaduram.
Mr Jaduram apologised to residents who complained Watercare’s consultation process had caused a lot of unnecessary stress and said the message it had received from them had been loud and clear.
“I personally get at least three emails every week. And they all have your stories.
“All I will say is have confidence in yourselves, have confidence that Watercare will make the right decision and have confidence in the council that it will make the right decision.”
A final decision by Watercare’s board will be made in May.