Part of the camp at the end of Onerahi’s Pah Rd – with abandoned vehicle in the tide in the background – which Whangārei District Council wants to remove after receiving numerous complaints. Photo / Mike Dinsdale
Whangārei District Council is expected to move in and clear what some locals have been referring to as a “squatter camp” on public land on Pah Rd, Onerahi, but ratepayers could be in line for a hefty bill over the work.
Ngaronoa and Priscilla Hepi moved on to public land at Pah Rd at the start of this year, saying they had nowhere else to live after being kicked out of emergency accommodation.
The couple set up a makeshift camp at the site, but their arrival sparked a number of complaints to the council. Their presence was supported by some in the nearby community but opposed by many more.
It sparked major discussion on social media and the Hepis told the Northern Advocate when it visited in March that nearby residents concerned at them living there should “Come to talk to us, we are decent people who just want to live.”
Infrastructure group manager at WDC Jim Sephton said on Friday that the council and a range of organisations have been working together to respond to the situation at Pah Rd.
‘‘We respect the concerns of the community and the privacy of the people at the site. We are working with care and sensitivity to find an enduring solution and we ask for patience and support while we do this.’’’
Neighbours near the site told the Northern Advocate council officials tried to serve eviction or compliance notices on the couple twice, but nobody was at the site when they turned up. They believe the council will move to clear the site soon.
Ngaronoa Hepi, of Ngatiwai descent, said the land they were occupying was part of the original pā that Pah Rd is named after. He contended that it should be returned to Māori.
“There really should be a marae here.”
At that time the council said it had no plans to evict the couple and was working with them and other agencies to find a solution. The land has no ablutions or other services.
The council’s unwillingness to move the couple at that time irked some residents. One local, who did not want to be named, said the inaction meant it was now open season for squatters.
“I pay my rates and it’s galling to see people living on council land for free while I have to pay a mortgage. Does this now mean that if I want to, I can squat on council land with no consequences? There are some nice spots along the Town Basin that would suit me. Or maybe I can just pitch a tent in Cafler Park and use the council toilets in Forum North when I need to.”
The Hepis, though, said they did not want to upset anybody and asked concerned residents to talk to them so as to better understand their situation.
However, police have visited the site at times after reports of alleged unsavoury activity from people visiting the site.
The Northern Advocate visited the site again last Thursday, and on Monday this week and it appeared to be unoccupied, with one nearby resident saying nobody had been living there for a week or so.
Another commented that the area had been quiet for the past week or so.
But the site is still covered with the makeshift camp, including an old caravan, a lean-to, a number of old or abandoned vehicles – including a Toyota Rav 4 that has been driven into the mangrove area and is now stuck – and many steel chemical drums, furniture, wood, plastic and various household equipment and rubbish.
While the council is not commenting further, it’s understood it will move in to clear up the site at some stage, but by law, it will have to store anything that can be deemed personal possessions for up to several months in case the owners want to claim it back. Anything identified clearly as rubbish can be taken to the dump.
Ratepayers will have to stump up the money for these as well as any other cleanup costs – including getting the dumped car out of Whangārei Harbour, which locals fear could be an environmental hazard that could leak fuel and other pollutants into the water.