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Tourism developments put cart before the horse

Tuesday October 03, 2017 Published in Letters to the Editor

Recently a proposed tourism business plan for the Turangi-Matavera area, next to Tropical Sands, was brought to my attention

 

I drive past the site every day and I was taken aback at the number of units and facilities proposed for this venture.

The reality of the situation is the land area is only the size of an envelope. A couple of weeks later, a notice in the paper asked for public comment on the Environmental Impact Assessment for not only this venture, but also the building extension at Club Raro which is well on its way to being ready for this year’s influx of students on "Spring Break". Some weeks ago a letter was published in CINews asking how the Club Raro building could go ahead without either the results of the EIA being considered, or ICI’s input. The letter said now that the resort is adding more accommodation, guest parking on the edge of the main road could pose a danger to traffic. The new development planned in Turangi provides for 15 two-storied units, a restaurant and bar, a swimming pool, a large house with a five-car garage and six outside car parks right on the roadside, with a C-shaped driveway.

Standing on the site, it is difficult to see how BTIB could agree to this plan given the sheer volume of water and sewage requirements on a residential-sized plot of land. The call made by Mata McNair recently for the introduction of town planning or at least a guideline to an acceptable plan, is applicable here.

Our Tourism ministry has made a commitment to sustainable practices as they apply to our environment and culture, but where are the guidelines? Our Environment Service’s policies have holes in them, so where does that leave us, the concerned public?

Our prime minister, Henry Puna, has promised the world we will be 100 per cent reliant on renewable energy by 2020.

Given this, shouldn't all buildings being constructed now have to meet certain standards of energy and self-sufficiency so we can achieve this goal?

One disturbing line in the proposal says, "There is no alternative to change the current project". This implies they expect to go ahead as they see fit, because they have already purchased the property.

I can understand if a developer pays $500,000 for land on a 50-year lease they will need a $10,000 return each year for 50 years or $100,000 a year over five years to recoup the initial investment before they can count any profit. Hence the need to build as many units as possible, to maximise returns.

The property sits right next to a raui site which will be affected by the grey water waste the resort owners will be pumping around the gardens. Run-off into the lagoon is a real danger. Water storage bladders will be installed under every unit with pumps which will use up our precious power resources.

If expressions of public interest are required for these ventures, why are we not consulted for our views on EIA before these projects start?

Shouldn’t sales of land such as this come with a proviso that the EIA must be accepted before development can proceed?

We are all aware of the need for progress and growth and we know there will be an increase in new buildings in the future. But as McNair asked, why don’t we prepare now, to avoid large building projects that seriously challenge our current and future infrastructure?

When presented with development proposals, shouldn’t BTIB ask themselves questions about the impact of developments before they say yes to them? Because sometimes more does not necessarily mean better.

The community is not against progress. The developer is welcome to build, but in the interest of a sustainable environment especially with respect to the size of the land, the public suggest the number of units go from 15 to eight, which makes more sense, for the size of the land. Then the personal living quarters, car parks and drive way can all move well off the main road away from oncoming traffic, for safety reasons. Also remove the restaurant, bar and perhaps a smaller pool, due to not limited space available on the land.

This is only one of many properties that are adding more accommodation to their sites, and if we allow multi-storied high density projects to inundate our lagoon front, they will set a precedent for others to follow.

And then we will lose any form of carefully-considered plans that may not be regretted in hindsight.

The Cook Islands are treasured for the blue of the lagoon and the green of the vegetation. No-one comes here looking for another Honolulu, or Gold Coast Australia. They come to get away from these places.

If we want to keep our tourism numbers high, we need to ensure we maintain the essence of who we are and how we are seen by the tourists.

That means following the business mantra of “Perfect Planning Prevents Poor Performance”, so we can protect our paradise from becoming overdeveloped and overburdened.

            Ruth Horton