Shared opinions? The council is suspicious

by Alana Bowman
The Environment Court criticised the Wellington City Council in 2012 for ignoring the advice of Waterfront Watch which it said was “a key party to the formulation of waterfront policy [and was] excluded from consultation.” But now, Waterfront Watch need feel ignored by the council no longer.

It has been singled out, from 196 submittors, for special comment by council staff in the summary of submissions about the plan to approve a six-storey building on waterfront land now occupied by the campervan park.

But the council comments don’t show the sense of respect stated by the Environment Court, and instead cast suspicion on the thoughts of submitters who may have offered similar recommendations to the ones advanced by Waterfront Watch.

“It was noted that 30 per cent of submissions used the identical or similar phrases in their general responses. These wordings align exactly or closely with statements made by…”

It’s nice to know that Waterfront Watch newsletters are being read closely by Council staff, but the question arises whether the staff are giving equal attention to the newsletters and websites of developers, the Chamber of Commerce, and others who support more buildings on the waterfront.

Because several developers submitted similar comments supporting the Willis Bond development, does that cast doubt on the sincerity of their submissions?

The forensics on the alleged influence of Waterfront Watch are right at the beginning of the council document, on page 2, and are oddly included under “Feedback Survey Methodology”.

Later in the document, staff make an evidentiary leap by connecting comments about retaining the campervan park to “feedback from members of Waterfront Watch.” Apparently, similar thinking presumes membership in an organisation. Quite a leap. If you expressed doubt about asset sales, council staff would allege you were a member of Labour or the Greens.

The staff spent time diligently collating “submissions [that] referenced ideas and phrases directly quoted from two documents published by Waterfront Watch.” Whether this exercise was undertaken at the staff’s own initiative or on direction from a superior remains unknown. But take the time they did.

It seems an unwarranted, and dangerous, leap to connect the use of similar “referenced ideas” and “phrases” to membership of Waterfront Watch.

Staff try to provide some comfort: “… these are legitimate submission and have been recorded as such.” At least they have been granted some legitimacy by the Council. Not thrown out completely.

But the staff then diminish that legitimacy with a peculiar editorial value judgement: “However, they are also indicative of a particular group viewpoint in relation to the current proposal under consideration.”

That’s also true about the shared opinions of the developers and architects who supported the proposal, hough they weren’t singled out for comment or collation by the council staff.

People belong to a group or organisation because of similar interests and inclinations. Their opinions should not be discounted because they use similar phrases – or more insidiously because they share “ideas”? Really.

Alana Bowman is a member of Waterfront Watch

UPDATE:
Councillors vote for new building on waterfront land
Building and/or views?

 

7 comments:

  1. Michael Gibson, 7. April 2014, 20:37

    Blimey! I put in a submission opposing such an awful use of public land but I have no idea if I used phrases that had been used by Waterfront Watch – & I am not a member even though I am a terrific admirer of what they do. By how much have they discounted my submission because it was “anti”?
    Should I ask officers if I have been bunched in with the excellent people of Waterfront Watch?
    By the way, I noticed that a number of submitters for the scheme were probably staff members of the developer – the proof is that their words had an eery similarity. Notably, they were much admired by the officers “assessing” submissions – at least one did not have an address. (even an email address) nor more than one name (which showed only the submitter’s pastime).

     
  2. Elaine Hampton, 8. April 2014, 14:30

    Sadly predictable, the Council seems determined to lease all our waterfront land at peppercorn rents claiming false benefits like “a million $ in rates”, more like less than $180K. There is no evidence the officers have distanced themselves from such spin.
    I opposed this stupid use of that part of the waterfront. As all the Councillors bar one voted for this edifice, it would seem there is a collective ‘our side is reasonable’ attitude, if no actual instruction to collate ‘anti’ submissions.

     
  3. CC, 8. April 2014, 17:47

    Elaine – some research shows that the rates return for a building on Site 10 would, at best, be in the region of $480 000 per annum. The motorhome park that is currently on the site only requires an average of 27 vehicles per day to produce the same returns as a building. Since there is also a significant return for car parking where the Willis Bond building will go, the current usage provides far healthier returns. Not bad for land that cost the ratepayers nothing in the first place.

     
  4. Michael Gibson, 8. April 2014, 20:30

    What a good point made by CC. It reinforces what I said to Councillors in “Public Participation” at the Committee Meeting viz:
    “The financial forecast – are they happy with the figures? Is giving approval to having one privately-owned building on the Waterfront worth the candle if the return is low or uncertain? Why are officers proposing to withhold the figures until after the consultation process has been completed? Are new elected members aware that they are responsible for assessing such factors before it is too late – instead of leaving it to a time to be decided by the officers? What precise financial difference is made by having such a tall building?”
    No doubt they would hide behind “commercial sensitivity” if one asked for the figures oneself – but that makes Councillors even more guilty if they get it wrong when they study the figures for themselves.

     
  5. Alana, 8. April 2014, 22:37

    So why is this progressing with today’s vote and all councillors voting for it but Iona Pannett? Why the hurry but to speed more profits to Willis Bond? And less land for public use.
    Why not require more options than either an apartment or office block? Why not require creative, innovative options for use that will be a real magnet for people?

     
  6. City Lad, 9. April 2014, 11:59

    The incredible assistance that Mark McGuinness, the sole owner and shareholder of Willis Bond & Co Ltd, is receiving from our representatives and council officials to defy the Environment Court decision requires a thorough investigation.

     
  7. James, 9. April 2014, 22:51

    I may have used the word ‘fiasco’ in my submission. I may have based it solely on the information in the container far away in front of the Star Boating Club, with no input at all from Waterfront Watch.

     

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