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The silence of our councilors

Wellington.Scoop
by Lindsay Shelton
During the current debate about some of the big issues affecting Wellington, one set of voices has been strangely absent: Wellington’s elected city councilors have been almost completely silent.

Consider the issue raised by the residents of Mt Cook. They say that Buckle Street needs to be trenched if the memorial park is to make any sense. Do councilors have any opinions on this? Do any of them agree or disagree? I haven’t seen comments from any of them. I know at least one who thinks that trenching is the best idea. But he hasn’t said this in public, so no one knows.

Then there’s the issue of a flyover at the Basin Reserve. On this subject, we do know what two of our elected representatives are thinking. Mayor Prendergast supports the unpopular idea, though that was at the end of 2008. Do councilors agree or disagree with her? Only one councilor has spoken out – that’s Iona Pannett, who opposes the flyover, and who has co-founded the Save the Basin campaign.

Related to the flyover is the Architectural Centre’s innovative plan for solving problems around the Basin without a flyover, and creating lots of new green open spaces by cutting and covering the roads. This plan has been available for discussion since before Christmas. What do councilors think of it? They haven’t told us.

And what do councilors think about the noise problems at Makara? Do any of them feel any sympathy for the problems which the local people are facing in their daily lives? We don’t know.

The impending closure of the community net has brought comments to Wellington.Scoop from 35 concerned individuals and organizations as a result of two articles which we published – one last week, the other last May. There’s a lot of distress in the community but no evident sympathy from councilors, though in May Councilor Wade-Brown said there seemed good reason to keep funding the network. Other councilors have stayed silent, leaving the only recent comment to be made this week by two council employees, who discounted the concerns of the 35 people.

The staff also told us that councilors were unanimous in deciding to close down the community net. If so, why aren’t they all speaking out in defence of their decision? At election time, if they’ve never said what they think about anything much, then how can voters assess them?

There’s one exceptional recent example of a city councilor being bold about a contentious issue. Andy Foster spoke last month at the regional council’s resource consent hearing about the proposal for a 27 acre car yard in a bush-clad valley at Grenada. He opposed the proposal, though officers of his council had approved it.

Documents from the regional council hearing record that Andy, speaking as an individual and not as a councilor, supported the Grenada Village Community Association in its opposition to the car yard. In his evidence, he described how a city council committee, which he was chairing, made decisions about a plan change for the land where developers wanted to bulldoze the car yard. His committee had resolved that “the quality and quantity of water and aquatic habitats associated with streams and wetlands should not be compromised by development.” He also said the committee intended that any development in the area would as much as possible respect the existing stream environments. That’s admirably specific and relevant to the regional council’s decision to stop the immense car yard.

But though Andy was describing processes at the city council where he spends his working hours, he felt he could only say these things as an individual.

I suggest that councilors would earn kudos, and votes, if more of them became brave enough to speak out on issues of the day. Even if they have to disagree with some decisions of their council.

There’s another issue as well. Why did the city council decision-makers fail to heed the decisions of Andy’s committee when they made their decision behind closed doors?

NB If any city councilors have spoken publically and recently on any of the issues in this article, then we will of course be ready to record what they have said, and to apologise for overlooking their opinions.

13 comments:

  1. andy foster, 25. February 2010, 10:43

    Hi Lindsay – just put relative silence down to lack of time !
    Just quickly – thanks for your coverage of the CAR HAULAWAYS decision. In my view, having chaired the planning hearings (Plan Changes 45 and 46) a couple of years ago, that set up the structure plan for the area (Lincolnshire Farm) there was never any intent that this particular area be an ‘Employment Centre’ but rather that it be zoned rural residential. The Employment Area is shown on the structure plan as bounded by a road on the western side of the stream gully in question. The developers have moved that road to the eastern side of the gully which is fine. What isn’t is the assumption that the Employment Centre should then extend several hundred extra metres across the gully system to the altered road location.
    Developer submitters to PC 45 and 46 also asked to make it easier to create flat landscapes, remove vegetation and pipe streams. On all three counts we said no, and picked up submissions from DoC and others seeking greater protection for the environment. The developers are right in that the Northern Growth area is about planning for mixed development in a better way than greenfields areas have been developed in the past. BUT they are 110% wrong if they think that means development should not respect the land. We wanted to reduce earthworks, we recognised we couldn’t protect every tiny ephemeral stream, but we certainly required developers to be very sensitive about streams and not in a month of Sundays would we have countenanced removal of 500 metres of major permanent stream. We also increased protection for vegetation.
    GWRC commissioner Ian Buchanan’s decision is an outstanding one. What I do want to see is that when streams are involved the two Councils work together to consider consents rather than being picked off one at a time.

    WCN – Councillors wanted to see the service tendered out, to see if another provider can deliver more cost effectively for the ratepayer while still delivering the free service, hosting and support services wanted by community groups. I’ve asked to be briefed as soon as the tenders close to understand whether or not that is possible. Tenders close in the next couple of days. Until then there is not much usefully to comment on re WCN other than to say that I believe most councillors want a service to be provided. What we didn’t have a view on is who provides the service.

    MEMORIAL PARK – has to be trenched or the road shifted. Makes absolutely no sense to have a park which is supposed to relate to the Carillion and Tomb of the Unknown Soldier being separated from them by State Highway 1. To be honest I wish we’d been able to place the Unknown Warrior near the Cenotaph and made that section of Lambton Quay between Parliament and the wonderful old Government Buildings the Memorial Park/national centre – though obviously that would have been pretty challenging in transport terms.

    BASIN – I think the reason you aren’t hearing much is that we have had only the most preliminary of briefings, and certainly gave NZTA the strong message that people will want to see a much greater level of detail particularly about cycling, walking and public transport through the area. Perspectives from ground level rather than just aerial views would be nice too. NZTA will I hope release options that give us all that information soon, so that we can talk about it intelligently, and have an informed debate.

    I hope those all help your readers Lindsay. Keep up the good work !

    Warmest regards

    Cr Andy Foster
    WCC

     
  2. Kent Duston, 25. February 2010, 12:55

    You’re overlooking the “contribution” of Cr John Morrison to the Basin Reserve debate, where he appeared to claim on Radio NZ that he was in negotiation with the NZ Transport Agency – a claim denied by the Agency itself.

    So at least we know Cr Morrison’s position on this issue – he’s going to obfuscate.

    http://savethebasin.org.nz/?q=node/86

     
  3. John Morrison, 25. February 2010, 22:58

    “Save The Basin” campaign — has it ever occurred to these people that the Cricket fraternity have been saving the Basin since 1857, and we will continue to do just that into the future. The Basin Reserve Trust and the cricket fraternity have been working very hard with all stakeholders and relevant parties in this proposed project to ensure that the many wonderful features and values of The Basin are not compromised in any way what so ever.
    We are confident we will achieve that.
    Lindsay your reference to “the flyover” seems to suggest you imagine a flyover is a done deal. I can assure you it’s not.
    I find it quite extraordinary that a recently formed group purporting to “save” something are not interested in visiting or conversing with the people who look after the ground (in every sense of the word) “The Basin Reserve Trust”. They are also, it appears, not interested in speaking with the major tenant and user of the ground “Cricket Wellington” who represent a sporting fraternity that have been the guardians of this ground since its beginning.
    The Basin has a rich and wonderful history. It has fought off many threats over its long and successful life. Many terrific people have been involved with the nurturing and saving of this ground, I am proud to be part of this group and I am very confident that we will be very successful in ensuring the protection and enhancement of this ground long into the future.
    It’s a pity that Kent Duston, rather than just hurling abuse, doesn’t come over to The Basin and have a chat with us, He’d be very welcome, he may even learn something.
    Best Wishes
    John Morrison

     
  4. Jarrod Coburn, 26. February 2010, 16:16

    My congratulations to Andy Foster. Andy, you and I have often not seen eye-to-eye but credit must go where it’s due. As a resident of the Northern Ward I want to thank you for your continuing engagement with our communities. Maybe you should consider standing in this ward at the next election?

     
  5. Trish, 26. February 2010, 18:03

    Car yard: If the council staff cannot understand what the elected councillors have written in the district plan, we have a problem. Thank goodness that the separate regional council had to give its approval for the water effects while WCC plans land use. Brian Rudman, in a recent Herald column (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10627681), listed several potential disasters that Auckland’s divided local government administration has saved, and feared for the future where only one administration rules.

    WCN: Whoever in WCC is supposed to have been running a proper relationship with Wellington Community Net over the years clearly has difficulty doing the job. This is a classic situation where all interests – the council and the involved community which could not be easier to identify – should be working together collaboratively . It is symptomatic of WCC’s inability to engage with the community. It reflects badly on the elected councillors but they should be able to rely on paid staff to develop and operate policies that do not blow up in their faces. And which build stronger communities.

    Basin Reserve Roading: I fear that NZTA is about to serve us up some half-baked options which they have developed in isolation with too little time to dig out and understand the facts. They are only going to carry out a thorough assessment of the impacts of their preferred design once they have decided what they will build. At a seminar convened by the civic trust in August, both Andy Foster and Fran Wilde called for a better process to plan the improvements in which the community could be properly engaged, not just asked to submit at the end. Let’s hope NZTA are better at designing bridge structures than they are at running a proper community involvement process.

     
  6. Kent Duston, 27. February 2010, 17:53

    John Morrison –
    Just to put the record straight, the cricketers haven’t been saving the Basin Reserve for the last 150 years – the people of Wellington have. And the Save The Basin Reserve campaign is the latest in a long line of people (who are not cricketers) who care deeply about preserving the Basin.

    So it’s hard to take your statements seriously. If you were genuinely interested in preserving the Basin Reserve, you would have been vociferous in your opposition to this ill-conceived plan; instead, we’ve heard nothing but silence, obfuscation and the occasional platitude from you.

    Which is hardly surprising given your voting record at Council. You have consistently voted pro-road, which leads a great many Wellingtonians to conclude that – far from being the self-appointed saviour of the the Basin Reserve – you are merely a stalking-horse for the roading lobby, and you are entirely comfortable with the Basin being defaced by a flyover.

    And if you have been meeting with NZTA and other stakeholders to discuss the design of the flyover, why have you not tabled any designs for the flyover, or the outcomes from any of these discussions? Surely the people of Wellington – who pay your salary – deserve to know what you have been discussing.

    Of course you may be the sort of politician who is entirely comfortable with back-room dealing. But with the consultation period for the flyover due to start in two weeks, it’s now time to nail your colours to the mast so Wellingtonians know where you stand.

    If you have information about the flyover designs, or there have been negotiations about the impact on the Basin Reserve, then I challenge you to release them to the media – this week.

    If you don’t have any new information, then I challenge you to unequivocally state your position on the flyover this week; are you for or against? Yes or no? Give Wellington a plain answer on whether you are going to continue to stand passively by while the Basin is irrevocably damaged.

     
  7. John Morrison, 28. February 2010, 0:09

    Kent Duston—
    Kent, what an extraordinary and very unfortunate outburst.
    You seem to preoccupy yourself with personal abuse via the media which is very disappointing and rather sad given what we are facing here. To suggest I and many other cricketers would stand by and let the Basin be damaged in any way is outrageous in the extreme and to be honest is very offensive to the many cricketers and cricket lovers who have fought hard over the last 150 odd years to nurture and protect the Basin Reserve.
    I can assure you that if cricket and cricketers had no interest what so ever in the Basin Reserve it would have disappeared many many years ago.
    I do agree that many Wellingtonians have joined with the cricket fraternity over the years in ensuring the wellbeing and preservation of The Basin and to those people we are all very grateful.
    I don’t know why I have to tell you yet again Kent, I am dedicated to ensuring the preservation of the Basin Reserve and your suggestion that I have some other agenda is wrong, it’s outrageous and it is extremely offensive.
    I have to ask you this Kent, is your self appointed title of “Save The Basin” appropriate or should it in truth be “Stop, Any Road, Any Where, Anytime”. Kent, most people believe that is in fact your real agenda.
    So lets stop all the dramatics and the publicity seeking and address the real problem — the preservation of the Basin Reserve.
    If you are genuine Kent I invite you as I have already done so to give me a call and let’s have a chat. I suggest we meet at The Basin, I can arrange that at a mutually agreeable time. You never know Kent you may find you are attacking and abusing the wrong target.
    I look forward to your call.
    Best Wishes
    John Morrison

     
  8. Polly, 28. February 2010, 11:58

    The question to Councillor Morrison is: “Did he or didn’t he” vote for the flyover, and with consultation coming up in the next two weeks “will he or won’t he?”

     
  9. Celia Wade-Brown, 28. February 2010, 17:18

    Dear Lindsay and Wellington.Scoop readers!

    Basin Reserve: I have suggested to staff and the NZTA that we have bus priority lanes around Basin Reserve and do NOT increase capacity for private cars. More cars will only create more parking problems in Strathmore near the airport, the city centre and more emissions and noise. Different designs, over or under grade – all the NZTA seem to think about is increased capacity. We must not turn over the city to more and more asphalt – it doesn’t make economic, social, health or envronmental sense! I was waiting for the designs to be available to the public to comment – and offer some alternative solutions! That will happen from 15th March onwards.

    Recently I have sent SCOOP some comments about why we shouldn’t wait for after the RWC to spruce up and calm Lower Cuba Street. I have also commented on the liquor ban issue and why I support going out to consultation on a city-wide ban.

    I have been exploring how WCN could be continued at less cost to Council but have to be careful not to sully the process of expressions of interest. When Council officers comment it was a unanimous decision, fair enough – but Ngaire and I (well supported by Iona and Andy) realised we would not get a majority for continuation of the status quo – partly because I don’t believe many councillors understand the ICT side and some don’t seem to understand the needs and constraints on community groups. I am willing to wait to see the outcomes of the expressions of interest for ongoing web presence – which MIGHT NOT mean closing down WCN. I am a strong supporter of community ICT access – via Smart Newtown, the city council flat complexes and Wellington ICT’s seminars, SeniorNet also does a good job. Whether WCN is the only vehicle we should support will become clear in the next month or so.

    Finally, it’s important that councillors approach issues under consultation with some aspect of an open mind – at least to HOW or WHETHER things should be done. Though our minds are not meant to be empty either!

    My principles of supporting healthy modes of transport, economic development by helping people achieve independent ICT access (especially migrants and refugees) and local input are reasonably well known, I hope – and I spend a fair amount of time addressing individuals’ inquiries/comments by phone and email… However, thanks for the reminder to share views via Wellington.Scoop and I shall do so more frequently!

     
  10. John Morrison, 28. February 2010, 18:18

    Polly, thanks for your very sensible question. I can assure you I have never voted for a flyover and I certainly won’t be voting for one in the future.
    Best Wishes
    John Morrison

     
  11. CC, 28. February 2010, 19:35

    As a consortium of developers once said, “Why have a mayor and councillors you can bribe? Much better to have a majority who will do what you want anyway and will keep their mouths shut while doing it.”

     
  12. Stephanie Cook, 2. March 2010, 19:51

    Well better late than never, here are my views on some of the issues raised above. Buckle Street ideally should be trenched to maximise the value of the proposed park, but the government seems reluctant to spend that much money and would, it seems, prefer to move the road closer to the school so our kids are breathing in more fumes! As for the basin flyover, ahhhh 60’s retro may be hip, but not when it comes to roads! Re the Architecture Centre’s plan, anything that minimises the impact of roads and increases green spaces has got to be worth a look.

    Noise at Makara, another example of how to wreck paradise!

    Re Community Net, we were advised that there were other ways to provide this service. Clearly that message hasn’t got through to those who relied on it – maybe these other ways aren’t going to do the trick. Hmmm.

    Finally, well look at the upsurge in debate on the supercity, what a surprise, but some of use knew this was just a not so sneaky way for the public of Auckland to be asset stripped!

     
  13. Filmsoc, 13. March 2010, 17:01

    WCN. The comments by the various councilors here are beyond belief! Nowhere have the users (and I’m one of them) been advised that an option for continuing WCN has been put up for tender. As for the “other ways to provide the service”, an online tool has been provided to all 570 users “on the best option for them to continue their online presence outside of WCN.” This is their Summary of the main options:

    One page or brochure site: This is a single page or a few pages displaying information about your group or organisation and what you do. It may include your contact details so that people can call or email you for more information. For this type of site an online template option like Google Sites or Weebly.com would be great.

    Medium Size Site: A site with more than about 5 pages, primarily to give information on your group or organisation. It may have an image gallery or other interesting ways to showcase your activities. You might use this type of site to display minutes of meetings, sports schedules or church congregation times. A free or paid template site would suit this kind of website. You should also consider create a Facebook fan page or group.

    Large complex site: A large site may have hundreds or even thousands of pages. It will contain lots of different data types like forums, online forms, listings, news items, RSS feeds, image libraries and more. You should use a CMS (Content Management System) if you will have a large site. This will give you complete flexibility over how you design your site; the layout and the look and feel. Some popular CMS are; Drupal, Joomla, MySource Matrix and Silverstripe. You can access the first two by using a web host who offers cPanel like you could on Wellington Community Net.

    Social Networking site: This type of site is primarily for interaction. You can have events, group chat, forums, online polls, images, videos and more. These work very well for clubs and social groups, charities and many non-profit organisations. Ning is the best website for this, though People’s Times is also worth trying. You should also consider create a Facebook fan page or group.

    Wiki: A wiki is a site where you can collaborate with your group members. It is an editable page(s) where ideas can be shared and built upon. A wiki may suit a small working group. Try wikidot.com or wikia.com to start with.

    Blog: A blog is a page that is generally maintained by 1 (perhaps 2) people. You use it to share your ideas and thoughts and readers can comment on them. This could be a first starter for an online presence if you are unsure of how you will use the internet for interaction. Try blogger.com.”

    Really useful eh?

    So much for Andy Foster saying that options for WCN have been tendered out. The online tool doesn’t give that impression. It is completely geared towards breaking up WCN.

    Also none of the councilors make any mention of the fact that a group of volunteers is prepared to take over the server and relocate at an organisation that has offered to host it for free. It is planned it would be run on a voluntary basis so costs will be also non-existent. If that happens all the website addresses that have been established over the years will be retained. In our case we have an ad booked in a publication due on the streets in June and we will need to know which web address to include in the ad.

    And it’s a bit of a hollow promise for aspiring mayoral to promise to support WCN. By the time of the council elections it will be long gone – unless common sense prevails and the council lets the group that has offered to take it over do just that.