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Determined Pain Farm public meeting wants answers

June 13, 2024 June 2024 No Comments

Pain Farm meeting says “yes” to removing council as farm’s trustee.

By Ray Lilley

More than five years after the Martinborough Community Board (MCB) asked South Wairarapa District Council (SWDC) to see “the books” (financial records) for the 85-hectare Pain Farm Estate south of the town _ only the board members have changed.

Despite repeated requests to SWDC, they have seen no records, no leases or lease details for the land or houses, and have only confirmed that the council is using part of the land for its transfer station _ and paying nothing for the use.

MCB are designated by council as “governors” of the estate, responsible for its operation.

The latest request by the new MCB for the financials was made in January 2024, but board chair Storm Robertson told a packed public meeting in mid-May that “nothing” had eventuated.

Some 70 Martinborough residents crowded the Waihinga Centre Supper Room to protest council plans to use the farmland for waste water (sewage sludge) dispersal _ pumping from the town and spraying it onto the pastures.

Many ratepayers at the meeting claimed that Pain Farm was a bequest to the town by the late George Pain, so as “shareholders” in the estate they had the right to a voice in how it was used and where the money it made annually was dispersed.

Retired lawyer and local David Iggulden suggested that if the council is acting as trustees of the estate it was in legal jeopardy.

As trustees, “they can’t use trust income (from the estate) for their own benefit,” he told the meeting. 

“The MCB should apply to the High Court to have them removed,” adding “but that takes money. “The council has not played its part and should be removed,” and a new trustee installed.

Earlier, a local farmer told of his dismay at the run-down nature of the estate’s land. 

“The fencing, the pasture, the drainage is disgusting,” he said.

Robertson noted “we need decent management put in,” and there should be a “champion” appointed for the estate to oversee all actions that are being taken which affect the land, buildings and finances.

Earlier, board member Mel Maynard said as a child in the town she had been a “beneficiary” of the estate, with funds from it supporting local events, sports activities, sports ground and play facilities. 

The sports ground and child focus of Pain’s bequest showed that dispersing waste water “was not a use (for the farmland) under the Will.”

She noted the council’s responses to requests for information from 2019 till 2023 were “excuses for inaction,” and “finances have never been properly provided since 2019.”

The result was that MCB has had “no accounting” from SWDC.

Council in 2016 had been granted a 35-year consent to spray waste water onto the land, which meant by 2035 all the town’s waste water will be irrigated to the land. 

An audience member noted the land “is not suitable,” for waste water dispersal, and asked: “why are we shitting on someone’s gift?”

Maynard was asked whether the board was “anti the Pain Farm use” proposed?

“We want to find the view of what should be done,” she replied. “Should we fight?”

“Yes” replied a number of the audience. The council must be held accountable and required to “open the books” on the Pain Farm accounts.

Local identity Mate Higginson was adamant “that the council does not own the land. I hope the Community Board has the stamina to stand up and say the people want the MCB to represent us,” to resolve the issues.

“The council does not own the land,” he repeated. “They are not the owners  – the people are the beneficaries and all of us are owners of Pain Farm.”

“In the past 30 years the place has been bled. Money has never gone back into Pain Farm,” for maintenance and upkeep.

The Martinborough Community Board had been established with an “original purpose to hold Pain Farm Estate and to decide on Pain Farm issues,” Maynard said.

“But we’ve had a gutsful. We need your direction,” she told the meeting. 

Robertson added “decent management” should be installed and the MCB would ask “the council whether they are best placed to be the trustee” _ or whether “they should give it over.”

He also asked where the council could find an alternative waste water dispersal site: “if it is not Pain Farm, then where?”

Maynard: “19 Kitchener Street (SWDC offices in Martinborough). “They own the land.” (laughter).

At this point the Chair acknowledged Mayor Martin Connelly at the back of the meeting, who drew applause for attendance. A question to him from an audience member was overruled.

Maynard asked whether, given the costs involved in any legal action “is it not possible, to get around the table, again, and talk to council about the Community Board … being able to assert themselves as governors and about how the Community Board can be given its rightful place in administering this without having to go to court?”

An audience member noted that council CEO Janice Smith recently confirmed to a council meeting that “we (council) have an active consent to proceed on Pain Estate.”

“The council has already said … we’re going ahead. The tail is wagging the dog … and we need a mandate or a hold on this while we work these things through,” he said.

“Don’t trust these pricks,” he said amid laughter.

Robertson advised that MCB saw that it had “to change that (the council’s) whole (waste water) agenda.”

Instead of castigating the council publicly and making them “feel uncomfortable, we want to have an open dialogue … so we must respect what they do – but they must also respect you guys,” he added. 

He put a motion to the meeting:

“That Pain Farm Estate should be held as a separate, independent trust, and we ask the council to step aside.”

The show of approving hands was virtually unanimous from the 70 ratepayers in the room.

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