Opito Bay residents unhappy with possible “reclassification” of beachfront reserve

20 Jul 2021

Opito Bay residents say they have been left in the dark over Thames-Coromandel District Council’s plans for the future of Jack Mills Reserve which sits right on the beach, giving rise to fears the land will be built on.

At their meeting on 22 June, councillors approved an investigation into “reclassifying” the reserve for possible disposal which would include public consultation. The residents say their previous submissions against reclassification have been ignored by TCDC and are upset that the proposal even made it into council’s newly adopted Mercury Bay Reserves Management plan in the first place.

To date, council does not appear to have stated publicly what is behind the possible reclassification, which has given rise to widespread fears within the community that disposal will mean the land could be sold to a residential property developer.

However, following inquiries from the Informer last week, TCDC moved to alleviate residents’ concerns, stating that the reserve could not be used for housing purposes. “It’s not possible to reclassify reserve land as residential, which may help allay some of the worries and concerns of residents,” council said in a statement. 

Allan Tiplady, District Area Manager North, said, “The Reserve Management Plan provides for the future of the reserve to be considered. This will be done and reported to the [Mercury Bay] Community Board and will include the comments and response received from the community.”

John and Sue Reece, whose home sits on Black Jack Road, overlooking the land, said that the reserve was donated to the community by a local farmer, Skipper Chapman, as part of a subdivision many years ago. “When Skipper did the original subdivision, he gifted two reserves as part of that subdivision, Skippers Road Reserve and Jack Mills Reserve,” said John. “However, over time TCDC has started looking at both of them for rezoning with a view to selling them off.”

“We learned in February that council was thinking about selling Jack Mills Reserve and at the time they were asking for submissions,” said Sue. “Many residents submitted on the proposal, giving reasons as to why they didn’t want the reserve reclassified, but our views have been ignored. We have emailed TCDC asking for information as to what they intend to do with the land, but they have not responded.”

The couple said that while many people in Opito Bay are objecting to the proposal, five nearby properties, including their own, were directly affected. “We are upset because it is supposed to be a reserve, meaning a green space,” said John. “That is exactly what it is used for now. It is used by children to play, by picknickers, both summer and winter, and it is used for additional parking because the roads are too narrow to park on.

“The rescue helicopter lands there in emergencies, big trucks use it for turning because the road are too narrow to turn around. It is used for additional boat parking in the summer. In addition, if it goes into private hands, it will severely restrict access to the adjoining Department of Conservation/Crown reserve.”

Sue added that the reserve is not only important to the landowners in the area, but also for the general public as a recreational facility. “It is one of the few reserves in Opito Bay with shade,” she said. “Opito Bay is growing and green spaces will become more and more important as time goes by.”

Next door neighbours, Morgan Morris and Stefan Frew, said in their submission to council, “We have recently been advised TCDC are considering reclassifying Jack Mills Reserve directly in front of our section for the purpose of being able to sell it. We will do everything in our power to stop this and will without hesitation pursue legal action to prevent this from happening.”

By way of clarification, TCDC’s statement also said, “It’s not possible to reclassify reserve land as residential, which may help allay some of the worries and concerns of residents. If a council decision is made under the provisions of a Reserves Management Plan to change its use as a reserve, we would need to revoke its classification under the Reserves Act which requires public notification. This would be an opportunity for the public to understand our position and intentions, to support or object to the planned revocation and then any final decision would also require approval from the Minister of Conservation.  

“[Jack Milles Reserve] is clearly an important piece of land to some residents and we’ll make sure everyone’s views on its value and benefits are heard, understood and reported to the Mercury Bay Community Board if we do move ahead with considering a change of classification.”

Pictured: Opito Bay residents, John and Sue Reece, are concerned reclassification of the Jack Mills Reserve may result in the land being built on.