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Saving, or losing, the Town Belt

by Lindsay Shelton
When city councillors last night capitulated to pressure from the Transport Agency, they agreed to change draft legislation (which they’d earlier unanimously supported) that’s supposed to protect the Town Belt. So much for protection – the changes would make it easier for the Transport Agency to put bulldozers through part of the Town Belt if and when they start widening Ruahine Street to build a motorway to the airport.

The DomPost described the pressure before last night’s meeting:

The Government has said it cannot support council-planned protections for Town Belt land, such as alongside Ruahine Street in Hataitai … A new bill updating the protection of the Town Belt could be prevented from going to a select committee unless changes are made easing conditions about compensation required when land is taken for public works, such as roads. The bill is going back to the Wellington City Council to make changes to allow it to proceed to becoming law.

According to the DomPost, a report to councillors said the Transport Agency was questioning the bill’s wording, because its plans to make Ruahine Street into a four lane or six lane highway as part of a Road of National Significance will potentially require parts of the Town Belt.

The original draft bill, developed over five years by the city council, included clauses that would allow the council and the public to object to any planned land acquisition, and provided for land of equal or greater value to be given as compensation, and that compensation must be agreed before the land is taken.

Under changes that a majority of councillors agreed to last night, the provision for objections would be removed; instead any objections would be sent to the Environment Court. The compensation clause would be changed so that any decision would be based on “the reasonable cost of reinstatement in some other place”, and compensation would not have to agreed before land changes hands. If the changes were not agreed, councillors were told, there was a “significant risk that the Government will not support the bill being referred to select committee.”

Before the meeting began, Iona Pannett, chairwoman of the council’s environment committee, said “the council has been asked to swallow a dead rat”. But she, Councillor Ritchie and Councillor Free were the only ones to oppose the changes.

Helene Ritchie, who led the five years of negotiations which resulted in the draft legislation, said she was furious at last night’s vote.

Others were more pragmatic. The DomPost reported:

Mayor Celia Wade-Brown said the most important thing was getting the bill before a select committee, where feedback and changes could still occur, and the final bill would still have to come back to the council for agreement. Wellington MP Grant Robertson, who will introduce the bill to Parliament, said the fundamental point remained unchanged. “It still provides strength and strengthens the protection of one of Wellington’s treasures.”

And the Chamber of Commerce, always enthusiastic about Transport Agency plans for new roads, said the council had “done the right thing.” According to Councillor Ritchie, a majority of ratepayers who made submissions on the draft legislation would not agree.

April 2014: Can parts of the Town Belt be taken for a road?
April 2011: How Hataitai would be damaged by a four-lane highway

8 comments:

  1. Henry Filth, 20. August 2015, 13:15

    Swallow a dead rat is dead right.

    But swallow it they will.

     
  2. Kerr Wood, 20. August 2015, 14:24

    This seems to mean that Town Belt land, which cannot be replaced, gets less protection than private housing, which can.
    Roads need this protection so that motorists do not have to pay the realistic land value of housing on the other side of Ruahine Street.

     
  3. Newtown, 20. August 2015, 21:34

    Does this give the Govt the power to build the Basin Flyover?

     
  4. Guy, 20. August 2015, 23:13

    The Basin flyover is not on Town Belt land.

     
  5. Phil C, 21. August 2015, 1:00

    New Zealand’s system of planning laws is absolutely insane. That a central body can make the lunatic decision to put a 4-6 lane highway through residential and communal land with no opposition is the mark of failed democratic processes.

    NZ: thirty years behind the times when it comes to transport matters. ‘Twas ever thus.

     
  6. Councillor Helene Ritchie, 21. August 2015, 12:11

    The Basin Flyover is/was partly on Town Belt land, or was at the last design – a pillar is on the Canal Reserve.

    There were strenuous attempts to exclude the Canal Reserve from the Town Belt in the development of the Bill. But after a hard-fought and hard-won fight, it was included in the Bill, unanimously supported by the Council two months ago, and now changed by the mayor/deputy mayor and 10 Councillors two days ago.

    I pointed this out some long time ago – the design and intended placement of that pillar could well have been changed since then, although that is unlikely and no one has informed me of any such design change.

    Helene Ritchie
    Portfolio Leader Natural Environment/Town Belt.

     
  7. Hilary Unwin, 21. August 2015, 14:30

    We don’t need another highway. This is crazy. The town belt promotes health and wellbeing for flora, fauna and us. [via Twitter]

     
  8. Michael Gibson, 21. August 2015, 14:59

    In view of this attack on the rights of Wellingtonians, I am wondering if the Bill’s sponsor, Grant Robertson, is still keen on the Bill – I am in touch with his office on the subject. I am also asking about the ‘secret’ legal opinion which was not shared with councillors & the breach in Standing Orders which cut down (by three days!!) into the time we had to discuss the matter between ourselves and with our local councillors. Standing Orders, which have the force of law, have been designed to protect our rights so I have asked our local Ward Councillor, Andy Foster, if he has had advice about this breach.