Hastings council disagrees with iwi over accommodation plan to keep whānau out of jails

JB Heperi-Smith, Vice President of Ngāti Kahungunu, Bayden Barber, President, Jean Te Huia, Managing Director of Choices Kahungunu Health Services, and Aayden Clarke, CEO of K3 Kahungunu Property. Photo: RNZ/Tom Kitchin

By Tom Kitchin, RNZ

Iwi in Hastings wants to transform a fruit packers’ pavilion on the police grounds into a groundbreaking space to keep whānau out of prisons.

But they are struggling to gain support from the local council because they support new property developments.

Omahu Rd is a busy thoroughfare that runs through Hastings near the Hawke’s Bay Freeway – the main road into Napier – and is home to Hawke’s Bay Hospital.

It’s also home to the ‘Fruitpackers Lodge’, a quiet space that has been a home for hundreds of successful seasonal workers since it opened in 2009.

Ownership has recently changed hands – it is now owned by the police, who have been working with iwi on a housing development which they hope will be a game-changer for whānau which is battling the justice system.

The idea is for the hundreds of rooms to become places where providers can provide direct support to those who have been arrested or charged by the police.

There would be Maori kaupapa services such as health, budgeting, support for māmā and pēpi and pathways for them to find employment and avoid prison.

Choices Kahungunu Health Services chief executive and midwife Jean Te Huia said the idea was “to stop the cyclical movement of our children through state care, through the justice system and into jail”.

Ngahiwi Tomoana is the former president of the local iwi Ngāti Kahungunu and has worked closely with Deputy Commissioner of Police for iwi and communities, Wally Haumaha, on the same strategy – although Tomoana said this is not was not their idea.

“We just took the vision of the Pita Sharples, the Rose Peres and the Tom Hemopos and the Moana Jacksons who said we had to deinstitutionalize prisons and we had to bring our people into the community.”

Te Huia said the emphasis was on people living in the town, not near the prison, which was on a rural site near Bridge Pā, west of Hastings.

“You need to be where the facilities are available to them, rather than hiding them in a remote rural area where there is no support.”

Ngāti Kahungunu Vice President JB Heperi-Smith said it was to keep people out of jail.

“If I were to hold on to a proverb: ‘te piko o te mahuri, tērā te tipu o te rākau’. So if we do this, what this proverb tells us is that we must provide a loving environment and caring that supports our whānau in terms of future opportunities and if we don’t we go back to the same old same old.”

However, Tomoana said Hastings District Council is “looking askance” at the idea.

“I think they’re a bit nervous about it being right in the middle of town, but if it’s not right in the middle of town it won’t work, might as well keep them in jail. That must be in the community they came from.”

The land is backed by new homes and building sites, which developers promote as ‘desirable’, ‘premium’ and ‘a safe community for families’.

Ngāti Kahungunu’s current chairman, Bayden Barber, hoped that the iwi’s ideas would change the council’s mind.

“Council has reservations about the proximity of some new developments on the road there, but I think it’s a matter of relationships, it’s about sitting down with council. If council were to hear the vision that Jean and Ngahiwi have articulated, I think it’s pretty easy to get on board.”

In a statement, Hastings Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst said the land was zoned for residential housing.

“Any form of remand/custody accommodation is provided on land which has been designated for this purpose in other parts of Hastings. People have made investment choices based on land zoning which has been undertaken – any development occurring on residential zoned land should be Residential.”

Anna Lorck, the local Tukituki MP, shared a similar view.

“The location is prime residential land and given that Hawke’s Bay and Hastings have a housing shortage I have always felt that when we have residential land in Hastings we should build houses there.”

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