Wellington Scoop

Di Buchan to stand for regional council; urges young people to vote

Media release – Di Buchan
Resource management and community consultant specialist Dianne Buchan has decided to seek election to Greater Wellington regional council and she is urging every resident, especially young people to get out there and vote this election. “Young people have the most to lose from poor environmental choices and have the most to gain from electing a council with strong environmental credentials. The future is theirs. I want to make sure that future is worth having.”

Dianne Buchan, previous Chair of the Wellington Civic Trust, chair of the Lambton Harbour Community Consultative Committee and member of the Leadership Group that drew up the Waterfront Framework to guide future development, has consistently advocated for more effective and respectful methods of involving communities in decision-making. “I watched in horror the unfolding of the City Council’s design competition for Chaffers (now Waitangi) Park which led to so much acrimony and ill-feeling.” She led the Wellington Civic Trust’s successful case against the Greater Wellington regional council’s decision to approve the Hilton Hotel. More recently, she was one of the judges for the recent Ideas Competition for a structure on the Outer T at Queens Wharf. “The outcome of this has still to be decided. I am really hoping the design that finally emerges will be a cause of celebration rather than the usual outrage associated with community consultation processes on the development of Wellington’s waterfront.”

But it is not just the waterfront which concerns her. She is also passionate about the need to act more responsibly towards the natural environment for the sake of people yet too young to speak for themselves. “The time has come to stop pussy-footing around on environmental issues. Local body decision makers need to think more creatively and act more courageously and they need to find ways of taking people with them in that process, not looking on the public as the enemy. Decision makers need to genuinely listen to what people are concerned about and work with them to find solutions. Our environment is under threat on so many fronts and there is much our regional councils around the country can do to turn that around. Most people have no idea how much responsibility regional councils have for environmental wellbeing.”

“Greater Wellington regional council has primary responsibility for the resources and services that will determine the quality of life we leave to our children and grandchildren. It is Greater Wellington that decides our public transport systems, safeguards the cleanliness of our water, the quality of our air, and manages our coastal areas from inappropriate development – this includes the city’s harbour edge. It is Greater Wellington that supports the thousands of volunteers across the region who are working to restore our streams, rivers and dunes and it is this council that manages our regional parks. As our urban areas become more densely inhabited our rural, natural areas will become increasingly precious but they will also come under increasing pressure. We will need strong leaders with vision and knowledge to support the staff carry out the work that needs to be done.”

Given the level of responsibility that regional councils have – the general lack of interest among so many residents in this region about the elections, about who gets elected to look after their interests is a real concern. Despite pressing environmental issues in the Wellington region, voter turn-out is one of the lowest in New Zealand, she said. “I want to use the expertise I have developed in community participation to change this”.

“Low voter turnout in the Wellington region, while being deeply concerning, is not surprising. Many people feel disempowered, unable to influence decision-making no matter how hard they try and how many are involved. We have a long history of decisions being made without any public consultation (the Wellywood sign and the Cobham Stadium are just examples in a long line) and with processes that, at least on the surface, seem to be a total sham. Even when there is a clear majority in favour of a particular course of action or against a particular project, it seems almost inevitable that will have no bearing on the outcome.”

“But for the sake of the future of society and our planet people must become more involved in the decisions that shape their lives. They must speak up to protect the future of those who are yet too young to speak for themselves. It is a civic duty to protect their interests. Getting involved is more than just voting – that is only the first, but still a very important step. We have to ensure that Greater Wellington uses effective methods for consulting so that people are informed and motivated to contribute their ideas and feel assured that their views are helping to shape the future. How exciting that would be!

“The most important group we need to get mobilised to vote and to get involved in decisions about major infrastructure projects and environmental protection are young people – yet they seem to be the group least likely to vote. We need to adopt the communication tools they use and those are not necessarily the same mechanisms that their parents and grandparents are comfortable with. Most young people are deeply concerned about the state of the world and they have great ideas and strong values which they are expressing through a variety of social media tools and forums. Greater Wellington needs to tap into those to ensure the views of our young people are heard clearly at the decision-making table.

Dianne Buchan
027 683 0213

Ms Buchan has run her own business, Corydon Consultants, for the past 20 years and has been closely involved in urban design, environmental issues in the city and designing, implementing and managing community consultation processes throughout New Zealand and the Pacific. She has a Masters degree in Public Policy from Victoria University, is a certified environmental practitioner, and a member of the New Zealand Planning Institute (NZPI) and the Environment Institute of Australia and New Zealand (EIANZ). She is also convenor of the EIANZ 2010 conference being held in Wellington in October which is expected to attract 300 participants from Australia and New Zealand with many world-class speakers talking on the importance of science, policy, leadership and action to address the environmental challenges of our times.