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Eskdale Park planning will be strong on community input

Eskdale 2

Any proposal by Hawke’s Bay Mountain Bike Club to use part of Eskdale Park will definitely go out for public consultation, if or when an application is received, an Eskdale Park working group was reassured last night [Nov 10].

There has been a suggestion from the club that it may apply to use Eskdale Park to access its mountain bike trails on PanPac Forest land, however, no formal application to lease land on the park has been received by Hastings District Council.

The working group was reassured that formal processes which governed such applications would be followed, should such an application be received.

“In fact, under legislation, any application by any group to permanently use any part of a Recreation Reserve must be publicly shared and opinions sought before any decision is reached,” said Hastings District councillor and Council’s Eco-District Subcommittee chair Ann Redstone, who led the meeting.

Hastings District Council open spaces manager Rachel Stuart apologised to the working group and, through them, to the wider community, for any confusion the process to date had caused. Council had received feedback from some members of the community that the idea of the club using the park was unwelcome, and a Friends of Eskdale Park had been formed. From that, a small stakeholder group and the larger working group had been formed, including representatives from the Friends of Eskdale Park, the mountain bike club, mana whenua, family of the original donors of some of the park land, local businesses, and schools.

Since 2018, the mountain bike club had been working on plans to build new bike trails on privately-owned PanPac Forest land. The club had reached a lease agreement with the private landowner and received Resource Consent to build the trails, accessed from Waipunga Rd. The proposal included an idea for accessing the trails via a footbridge from Eskdale Park. Preliminary drawings showed carparking, a short children’s pump track, and a container that might be used for a café or bike repair facility.

Council’s strategic projects team had worked with the club on its applications for Government funding for its new trails on private land, given the potential benefits to the region’s tourism economy.

“But that support for funding for the development of trails on private land does not negate the need for a separate and fulsome process with regard to any use of a public park, in this case Eskdale Park,” said Ms Stuart.

To date, no application for that had been received by Council. That limited Council’s options, however it had discussed the possibility at a public planting day on the park in July this year, to get early-engagement feedback from the community.

 “It is a step we regularly take when ideas for parks come up. It signals to the community that there is an idea in the offing, and the feedback gives the person or group looking to lodge an application information that may change their plans prior to putting in the considerable work that such an application requires.

“Any group can apply to use a park and Council receives such requests regularly. We are required, under legislation, to consider those requests and, after community input, come to a decision.”

With regard Eskdale Park, Ms Stuart presented two options to the working party meeting: wait and see if any application to use the park comes forward and, with public input, deal with it as a single request to lease part of the park; or to prepare a 10-year Reserve Management Plan (RMP) with the input of the community.

At a community meeting in September, Hastings mayor Sandra Hazlehurst suggested that the way forward might be to prepare an RMP, essentially a master plan for the park.

An RMP achieves a number of things, said Ms Stuart. “It gives the community, users and interest groups the opportunity to put forward their ideas for the park and allows everyone the opportunity to comment on those and offer their own suggestions. It can also set boundaries on activities in the park. There are ample opportunities through open days on the park, on-line surveys and group meetings to provide input.”

Council had so far prepared eleven RMPs for parks and reserves across the district.

Eskdale resident and former Havelock North mayor Jeff Whittaker had been closely involved with the preparation of the Keirunga plan. “I fully support the RMP process when you look at the outcomes that have been achieved for Havelock North Village Green and Keirunga Gardens. I have no doubt that, as a community, we can achieve equally successful results for our park. It is a fantastic opportunity for everyone to express their real feelings and ideas for the future of a park that we all love so much.”

The feeling at the meeting was that an RMP was the best way to proceed. Friends of Eskdale Park spokeswoman Trina Bergloff-Howes said a decision to support the RMP process had not been easy. “[We] want to see Eskdale Park maintained in its natural state. We feel that going forward with a Reserve Management Plan is the right direction. Everyone will be given the chance to have their say about the park they love when submissions are called for by Council. We would like to thank HDC for this opportunity.”

Council officers will continue to receive feedback on the process before preparing a recommendation for a Council meeting to consider in December. If Council agreed to prepare a management plan, the process would begin in the new year and take a minimum of 12 months to complete.

12 November 2020

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