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Housing shortage: Homes could be built on cemetery reserve

The section of Rotorua cemetery reserve planned for housing.
The section of Rotorua cemetery reserve planned for housing. Photo: Local Democracy Reporting/ Andrew Warner

Cemetery reserve land could be returned to iwi and developed to help address Rotorua's housing shortage.

Rotorua Lakes Council has backed the idea and invited the public to have a say on a proposed land purpose change.

The council has publicly notified a change of purpose for about 3.5 hectares of land next to the Rotorua Crematorium and Cemetery to speed up the potential development.

The land borders Sala Street and Te Ngae Road and was gifted to the city by Ngāti Whakaue in 1880, when Rotorua was founded, for use as a cemetery.

But the ground in the northern area was not suitable for burials and needs to be returned to the iwi as it was not being used for its gifted purpose, as per a 1996 agreement between the two.

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Photo: LDR

The process to revoke reserve status could take five years and, in a statement this week, the council said it was enabling "this aspiration sooner" by changing the land purpose to community housing.

"Rotorua Lakes Council supports this aspiration as part of the recently signed Rotorua Housing Accord."

It would be leased to Ngāti Whakaue through the Pukeroa Ōruawhata Trust for development to begin while it waited for reserve revocation.

Rotorua land planned to be returned to iwi sits next to the used cemetery site on Sala Street.
The land planned to be returned to iwi sits next to the used cemetery site on Sala St. Image / Rotorua Lakes Council Photo: Rotorua Lakes Council

The statement said the nearby crematorium posed no health risks to people and the council would retain and manage the significant area of vegetation between the crematorium and the reserve area proposed for housing.

Te Ngae Road is a state highway and the council said noise pollution mitigations would be considered during the design phase for any housing.

"Waka Kotahi [NZ Transport Agency] has also given preliminary approval for a housing development in this space subject to further detailed information being provided about the proposed development."

Councillors approved consultation on the matter in December.

Council urban development lead Stephanie Kelly said in a report for a meeting that the trust wanted to develop the land to aid the housing crisis in the city, specifically to provide opportunities to Ngāti Whakaue descendants.

She said the trust was discussing funding to enable this with the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development.

A council project in 2021 found Rotorua would need about 9740 additional houses in the next 30 years.

In response to Local Democracy Reporting questions, Pukeroa Oruawhata deputy chairman David Tapsell said it proposed last year to consider certain surplus gifted reserve whenua being returned and potentially used for housing developments.

"We are keen to explore the potential development of housing on this whenua, which would support our aspiration to see Ngāti Whakaue whānau and other Rotorua residents into safe, warm homes, while also helping ease Rotorua's housing crisis."

He said the process for the cemetery reserve had only just begun and planning was at an early stage.

"It is far too soon for us to explore any plans or details."

"We are pleased that Ngāti Whakaue, through Pukeroa, can continue making a significant positive impact for our people and the local community - as we have done since 1880.

"In this case, it is through the potential development of new housing which will help ease pressure in other parts of the city."

The consultation period closes on 8 August.

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air