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?

 

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