“It is not a damned horse paddock. It should not be up for sale to private enterprise.”
That’s the no-nonsense view of retired accountant, Alan Northcote - self-appointed guardian of Waitaha Reserve in Welcome Bay, which is being eyed up for the development of a supermarket in the dormitory suburb.
“The thing is, it’s not, that’s for sure,” says Tauranga city councillor Bill Grainger. Welcome Bay is Bill’s patch. “No council has the right to throw reserve land at a commercial entity, and I absolutely support that. A commercial enterprise should be on private land. That’s number one for me.”
And, he says, the community will have the final say on anything happening with a supermarket in Welcome Bay.
Alan Northcote has done his own research into the impact of the supermarket proposal. And the upshot, he says, is the disruption and damage to the lifestyles of Welcome Bay residents would be too much to contemplate.
“Any redevelopment of the Waitaha Reserve to include a supermarket would lead to an immediate stop to all the associated community activities as the reserve became a construction site for two years,” says Alan. And he claims the lives and activities of more than a thousand Welcome Bay people would be impacted every week. And perhaps lost to the suburb.
Alan Northcote has made it a personal crusade to fight the supermarket being built on council owned land and to preserve the public amenities, buildings and activities around Waitaha Reserve.
He lives in Greerton but his heart lies in Welcome Bay – he lived there for 27 years, and without a supermarket. “My spirit remains there and I have told the city council I have returned to haunt it.”
Alan’s research was conducted over many months and his statistics, he says, support his hunch “I have met and talked to all the groups who use the facilities and I calculate there are 1015 uses a week.”
For example Alan’s research shows 224 mainly women will lose their exercise venue at the Welcome Bay Community Centre. Eighty members of the Tauranga Leisure Line Dancers who have been there twice a week for 15 years would have to go hootenanny somewhere else.
“I am told these events could be permanently lost to Welcome Bay.” Alan believes 176 people who belong to churches using the facilities will have to go elsewhere. There’s a hip hop dance group, budget and social support services, a JP service, Zumba. And many other activities - after school gymnastics, indoor bowling and MP Todd Muller holds his electorate clinics there.
“The clinical director of the Plunket rooms has informed me they work with between 175 to 220 mums a week - vital work that should not be meddled with.”
Bill Grainger believes Alan Northcote simply doesn’t want the supermarket, full stop, although the people of Welcome Bay have been crying out for one. “Two interested entities have struggled to find suitable private land, but they say there is council land that could make a supermarket work.”
Bill says he told council it could quash the idea right then and there. “But the alternative is to open it up to the community. Let people have their say, if this was the situation, what would be your response? Because they will have the final say.”
The councilor’s reassurance is nobody would be getting anything for nothing.
“The question to the business entities would be what are you going to do for the community? Besides your supermarket, what will you give back? Will you throw amenities here or there so people can continue their activities? That’s important.”
But if it was just the supermarket, then Bill says it would be “hard luck.” The councilor would absolutely expect any facilities lost through a development to be replaced. When and where would be a matter for conversation and negotiation. “In the end it would be the community’s decision.”
But Alan Northcote suggests, that on the back of his research, council should “ leave well alone, the existing interwoven and very successful activities at the Welcome Bay community facilities.”
Two years ago the Tauranga City Council surveyed public opinion on a supermarket. More than 66 per cent of 1,937 respondents supported a supermarket and, of those, 56.3 percent preferred the Waitaha Reserve site over two others.
A similar number, 1,957 residents, responded to a recent Sunlive online survey which asked if the Waitaha Reserve should be ‘sacrificed’ for a supermarket. Seventy-three per cent were against, 27 per cent in favour. Bill Grainger doesn’t give that poll much credence. “That word ‘sacrifice’ was not appropriate. It was wrong. If you asked the same people if they were prepared to negotiate with a private enterprise, using council owned land – not necessarily selling it because it’s not on our books to sell, but long term lease, they probably would have said something different.”
And Bill himself would probably have been amongst the 27 percent. The Welcome Bay supermarket issue is back on the council agenda in June.