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Otangarei Neighbourhood Safety Panel members Karlene Joyce-Livingstone and Marcelle Kaipo, at the park with no name, want to see Otangarei’s public facilities brought up to the standard other suburbs have. Photo/John Stone

Otangarei deserves the same “love it here” focus as the rest of Whangarei, says a group of residents who want the suburb to get a better deal.

“We don’t have one swing, one seesaw or one public toilet in any of Whangarei District Council’s parks and reserves, yet we have all kinds of sports played here,” Otangarei Neighbourhood Safety Panel member Marcelle Kaipo said.

“For a community this size not to have those basic council facilities, well, what does that say?”

The main park in the area doesn’t even have a name.

With those issues in mind, the Otangarei Neighbourhood Safety Panel (ONSP) has extended its original safe-community brief into developing a community plan focused on improving public spaces and facilities. ONSP presented its vision, where the suburb would be known for things other than poverty-related problems and crime, at yesterday’s Whangarei District Council (WDC) planning committee meeting.

The group says improvements would encourage more neighbourhood and family activities and a greater sense of community ownership in a suburb where some council reserves are choked with weeds and residents clear broken glass off a playing field several times a week so children can do rugby training there.

“We’re looking at what assets and environment we need to uplift our community based on what we already have, and what we have is open spaces,” Mr Kaipo said. Those open spaces include the Otangarei Stream where a walkway could be developed, and the Fishbone Park sports field, a reclaimed wetland and former rubbish dump, the name of which reflects its quality, Mr Kaipo said.

“The central reserve is the most utilised area of our community and the most troublesome area,” Mr Kaipo said. “Three times a week I have to clear the glass off that area so the kids can train or play rugby.”

He said it was a thoroughfare that connected several suburban streets but had no lighting or landscaping. Finding a name for that nameless park, turning undeveloped land back into a wetland, streamside improvements and landscaping, developing a fitness circuit and identifying funding and partnership possibilities are among challenges the group now face.

Long-time Otangarei resident Noreen Moorhouse (QSM) said the suburb bore a reputation it did not deserve and “many people who have opinions about Otangarei have never even been there.”

Ms Moorhouse said she loved living in Otangarei but the suburb had been neglected by councils and the major landlord, Housing New Zealand. When she and her husband moved into the area in 1964 the then-council promised to build a playground there but there was still none, she said. “We pay rates, the landlords of the rental houses pay rates. We have the right to have those rates spent on our suburb.”

The ONSP took up the challenge issued to both Otangarei and Parua Bay two years ago to create a community-consensus “village plan” that would enhance the council’s catchcry of “sense of place”.

The Otangarei plan does not focus on how the changes might be achieved at this stage but on what is needed, particularly for young people to be better catered for, with improved activities and facilities at existing playgrounds and reserves, Karlene Joyce-Livingstone said.

The plan was received by WDC and is seen only as a starting point. It will be considered by WDC when looking at future planning decisions for the area. It is hoped that projects from the plan may also be developed and implemented in future annual plans.

“What we’ve come up with is short and basic, the community wants to see action,” Ms Joyce-Livingstone said.

“We live here. We’re passionate about seeing our community move on. We need to encourage the children to be part of it, to take ownership of something they can have pride in.”

Originally published in the Northern Advocate.