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Ngatangiia in urgent need of an area plan

Monday October 02, 2017 Published in Letters to the Editor

Government has various improvement plans for the Muri area, where I live, but none so far address all the issues which I think are involved. More importantly, they don’t address them as a whole. In my view, a holistic approach is the only way to go.

 

Roads, yes, lagoon, yes, sewage, yes, and so on, all positive plans, but all are being treated as separate parts. In fact, I think they need to be coordinated as part of an overall plan; an area plan. The shambles of the water project can be avoided if the pieces are put together and organized properly in a step by step process beginning at the beginning. The beginning must be land acquisition where needed, and it will be.

Priority number one in an area plan has to be the interests of the residents of Ngatangiia. So far, we’ve heard about nothing but tourism and tourism businesses. The Muri electorate, like others around Rarotonga, has about 700 voters, meaning a resident population of around 1500 or more. Their interests must come first. They live there, and will continue to live there after the tourists fly home. Tourism is important to the economy, but tourism business interests must not be allowed to dominate development to the exclusion of those of the interests of residents. These come down to “quality of life” issues.

New Zealand has once again stepped in this time with a gift of $28.8m to fund a reticulated sewerage system.

That in turn means land acquisition, excavations, trenches, and noise, dust and disturbance on a grand scale. Can anyone guess how long it might take to put in place? What about sewerage seep in the meantime?

To me, it makes sense to plan to deal with roads together with this reticulation stage. As we know from the experience of resealing the roads through town two years ago, this also means excavations, trenches, noise, dust and disturbance on a grand scale.

The roads themselves must incorporate provision for footpaths, and proper street lighting across the full width of the existing road easement. Over the years, the road easement has become part of the “site creep” of some establishments in the Muri area. Pushback is going to annoy some business owners. Cooperation and conciliation will be required.

Apart from the resulting narrow crumbling roadway, another significant annoyance to residents and tourists alike is traffic volume and, worst of all, parking, or the lack of it. Parking must be part of the area plan. Uncontrolled and often unsightly roadside advertising signage is another problem to be addressed.

It amazes me that even with the huge growth in tourism-related businesses in Rarotonga, we still don’t have any town planning laws or rules. Leaseholders must satisfy only Infrastructure Cook Islands as to compliance of a planned development with a building code, Environment as to their specific and narrow area of authority, and Health as to sewerage and waste issues.

The big gap in the middle is town planning. Unlike most developed countries, (we’re about to become one), nowhere are there laws regulating who can build what and where, what it looks like, what effect it might have on the community, and how it fits in with other building or interests in the area.

For example, many of the numerous “bungalows” that have sprung up around Rarotonga are poor quality copies of New Zealand “baches” which simply don’t fit in here, even with plastic thatching on their roofs. These are quality of life issues.

Government should take control of all aspects and co-ordinate the various departments involved to move separate plans to a workable whole; an Area Plan.

Everyone’s interests must be taken into account. Town planning rules must be a part of it. Worked properly, this could be a model for other areas of Rarotonga with dense tourist activity.

            Mata-Atua McNair