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After 170 years, greater protection, and enhancement, for Town Belt

by Helene Ritchie
The Wellington Town Belt Bill as an Act will be an historic piece of legislation, designed over five years of consultation over the preceding management plan, drafting instructions and the Bill. Hundreds of Wellingtonians have fought to ensure greater protection, enhancement and management of the Town Belt for future generations.

The Bill has now been read a first time in Parliament and been referred to the Local Government and Environment Committee which is calling for public submissions by October 29.

The Town Belt is that extensive crescent shaped landscape of trees and tracks that clothes our Capital City and is the green backdrop to our harbour.
 It is the lungs of our city. 
It fosters growth, health, public recreation, and the natural heritage in the coolest little capital in the world.

It is 170 years since the Town Belt was set aside in the initial settlement plan for Wellington. In 1841, 624 hectares were reserved for Town Belt by early settlers. By 1995 one third of the land had been taken by the Crown, or “lost”, leaving just 424.5 hectares. Today through the Bill we will have clawed back and defined the extent of the Town Belt as 520 hectares. In future the Council will have the ability to add more land.

The purpose of the proposed Act is to impose on Council responsiblities, and provide powers to protect, manage and enhance the Wellington Town Belt….as a public recreation ground for the inhabitants of Wellington.

The Bill should be supported for the following reasons:

It provides far greater protection and clarity than the 1873 Deed, the current governing tool which for example declared that it shall be lawful for the Corporation to demise or lease all or part of the lands herby conveyed…(the Town belt).”…. and provided no ability to add land.

The Bill, with the underpinning and complying Management Plan, will impose prescriptive responsibilities and restrictions on the Council, significantly restrict leasing, significantly restricts business activities, defines public recreation, and enables the public to be involved in a variety of ways to ensure its protection, management and enhancement, while entitling the public to freedom of access and entry.

The Bill categorically says that the Council will have “no power to sell, exchange or use as security Town Belt land.”

No land will be allowed to be removed by the Council.

Instead it proposes to immediately add 101 ha to the Town Belt, including Polhill Gully in Aro Valley, and to ensure that in future it will grow as land will be able to be added.

In the words of the Queens Counsel who provided a legal opinion: “the Bill better expresses in a complete way the basis upon which the Town Belt is to be made available and managed, better defines Council’s powers and provides for improved transparency in its decisionmaking.”

Significant gains for the people of Wellington and their Town belt, have been fought for and achieved in the Bill .

In summary:

· Greater protection of the integrity of the Town Belt land

· Clear and legal definition of the extent of the Town Belt.

· Clarification and differentiation of the roles of trustees and of officers

· The ability to add land to the Town Belt in future

· Clear and legal protection (and definition) of the Town Belt as a public recreation ground for the inhabitants of Wellington.

· Clear expression of the entitlement of “inhabitants” to freedom of entry and access to the Wellington Town Belt

· Significant restriction and controls on any, if any new building(s), and the ability to demolish (Management Plan)

· Greater and clear powers for the “inhabitants” to be consulted regarding any/if any new building/structures

· The clear statement in the Bill that Council “has no power to sell, exchange or use as security any part of the Wellington Town Belt”

· A clear process for Council to be able to fight for the appropriate level of compensation, including a grant in land, should the Crown over the next hundred and seventy years ( or so) ever again use its powers of compulsory acquisition to take land from the inhabitants of Wellington and from their Wellington Town Belt.

· Significant clawing back on the amount of Town Belt land allowed to be leased at any one time, to 8 hectares (NOTE: Without the Bill, the 1873 Deed alone says “it shall be lawful for the Corporation to demise or lease all or any part of the lands”… (of the Town Belt), and more recently!-the 1908 legislation allowed 40 hectares to be leased)

· The retention of two large and critical pieces of the Town Belt which were nearly “lost/exempted” during this process now remain-the Exhibition grounds, (John Street) and the Canal Reserve (from the Basin Reserve along Kent and Cambridge Terrace)

· A sound, transparent management regime through a complying (with the Act) Management Plan reviewed every ten years and requiring extensive public consultation.

I repeat, I am confident that, if the Bill as proposed is passed as an Act, the Wellington Town Belt will have far greater protection, enhancement, management and access as a significant public recreation ground in the Capital City, and for many generations to come.

We are looking forward to the day the Act receives Royal Assent.

Councillor Helene Ritchie is the city council’s Natural Environment Portfolio leader.

4 comments:

  1. Ellie, 30. September 2015, 14:28

    Helene, I don’t think people are convinced.

     
  2. Andrew, 1. October 2015, 15:28

    Will the bill ‘compel’ the WCC to actually act, or act with some haste, against encroachments on the town belt?

     
  3. Polly, 1. October 2015, 16:02

    And where does the CEO stand on this matter?

     
  4. City Lad, 2. October 2015, 7:12

    This proposed Bill will fail. The Town Belt will rejoice. Trees won’t be cut down for more buildings.