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Protecting the town belt (again)

by Helene Ritchie
The Wellington City Council wants to turn our Town Belt into an amusement park so that the city can be “revitalised.” If the council is successful, there will be nothing stopping a music festival, a beer festival, and a host of “vibrant” activities attacking our city’s most precious natural environment, in pursuit of the mighty dollar.

The City Council boasts that reserves and Town Belt sites would become “energised public spaces”, “driving people into the city”, and “would be positive for the local economy and hospitality industry”. In other words, it wants to turn the Town Belt and reserves and many others into profit making land.

In other words, booze, rubbish, noise, vehicles, entry fees, fire(works), shops, pubs are to be welcomed on the Town Belt and in our reserves. This is quite contrary to the prevailing protective legislation. Further, it is an insult to the hundreds and hundreds of Wellingtonians who’ve been planting, weeding, restoring, protecting, enhancing, and recently celebrating the planting of two million trees.

This is no joke. That’s what the Council says it wants for the Town Belt and reserves of Wellington. It has the audacity to disregard the Wellington Town Belt Act 2016 and to instead ask the people of Wellington to infect the Town Belt with businesses and large scale events. Where are these ideas coming from? Why are our mayor and councillors fiddling while Rome burns?

The Council has enthusiastically announced – without concern for the negative effect – plans to merge into one bumper “trading and events in public places policy”, all events on footpaths, and on specified sites on Town Belt and reserves. This includes allowing and encouraging events and other commercial activities on reserves and the Town Belt. It cites as suitable: amusement rides and devices, commercial tours, commercial group fitness businesses, recreation service provision (shops), large scale commercial one-off events eg. Homegrown music festivals, Beervana, etc., outdoor dining (aka pubs),amongst others.

It ignores the fact that the Act states that members of the public are entitled to freedom of entry and access to the Wellington Town Belt.

It tries to circumvent the Act which states that no business activity may be undertaken on the Town Belt (irrespective of any easement, lease, or licence) unless as a significant exception and then authorised only after public consultation. But the Council is proposing to do away with public consultation for the specified sites in their new policy.

The Council is guilty here of flagrantly disregarding the Reserves Act 1977, and the Town Belt Act 2016, the latter requiring the council as trustee of the Wellington Town Belt, to

recognise and provide for its protection and enhancement for future generations; to support healthy indigenous ecosystems and be accessible to all and for all to enjoy.

A myriad of reserves sites city wide are mentioned by the council. The Town Belt sites which it considers to be suitable for trading, business and commercial activity are the Mt Victoria Lookout, the Mount Victoria nature trail site, Hataitai Park, Wakefield Park. But then there is a note which says, “that the list of sites on the Town Belt is being worked through and will be updated..” Where?

Just five years ago, I managed to lead the successful creation of the Town Belt Act 2016, with the help of hundreds of Wellingtonians, Council staff, and M.P. Grant Robertson, to protect this public land from further loss, encroachments, and commercial use, and enhance the natural environment of the Town Belt. We spent six years – 2010-2016 – consulting and arguing over the use of the Town Belt, clarifying key definitions and exclusions of business, trading and commercial use. We came to the conclusion that commercial use of the Town Belt and businesses were generally not to be allowed.

Now the Council ignores and defies the Act.

Overheard recently was a conversation between the mayor, a councillor and Grant Robertson. Councillors were asking him about possible amendments to the Town Belt Act, to allow commercial activity, trading, and charging fees on the Town Belt. I cannot imagine that he – who introduced the Town Belt Act in Parliament – would entertain this. But would he?

The Town Belt and the City’s reserves should be taken right out of this policy.

There is no similarity between urban footpaths and tarsealed public places and our natural environment public place(s). In addition to all the other considerations, the Act specifies that the Town Belt is not a road, nor is it part of a road set aside to be footpath, as defined in the Local Government Act 1978.

The Town Belt and all reserves must be excluded from the Trading and Events in public places policy and instead the Council should adhere to its trustee responsibilities of protecting and enhancing the Town Belt, a flagship and defining feature of Whanganui-a-tara/Wellington.

There is no public appetite to relitigate the protection of the Town Belt and our reserves.

This is one more Council nonsense which I and many others vigorously oppose.

You can tell the council what you think by making a submission to the Council – submissions close on 5 p.m. 16 August.

14 comments:

  1. Dave B, 15. July 2021, 14:35

    There already is a piece of public land where amusement rides and devices, commercial tours, commercial group fitness businesses, recreation service provision (shops), large scale commercial one-off events and outdoor dining can take place. This is of course the Waterfront, and in particular Frank Kitts Park. Oh wait, isn’t part of this the land that the council wants to redevelop and turn into a fenced Chinese garden?

    Here’s an idea: Wellington City Council please leave our public spaces as they are – town belt, waterfront, Frank Kitts Park etc. These don’t need changing. Instead please focus on the things that really do need attention such as transport, housing, the 3 waters, also fixing Civic Square and reopening the Central Library.

     
  2. Conor, 15. July 2021, 14:45

    I think the protection is a bit over the top. Would be great to be able to buy a coffee in for instance the carpark of Otari Wilton’s Bush, a currently banned activity.

     
  3. Ms Green, 15. July 2021, 15:40

    Conor you live down the road. Can’t you be without coffee for 10 mins? Take a thermos. Go to a cafe in Wadestown or Crofton Downs also 10 mins away.
    Check the whole Council plan. It’s the thin (or fat) edge of the wedge which concerns.

    Dave B. Yes you hit the nail on the head! Open space is running out on the Waterfront … with buildings replacing it. So let’s fill up the Town Belt with beer festivals as well as more buildings on the waterfront.

     
  4. Peter B, 15. July 2021, 16:10

    I thank the people of 1873 for their vision of a public recreation ground – the town belt – for Wellington residents. The legislation in the Town Belt Act 2016 should remain as is so the people of Wellington can continue to enjoy the surrounding area unheeded from encroachment of any kind.

     
  5. K, 15. July 2021, 19:23

    Well this wouldn’t be an issue if the council hadn’t sold off large chunks of the waterfront to have private buildings built on them. If they hadn’t done that there would be ample open space for all these types of events. Having said that, I wouldn’t mind a luge on Mt Vic, that would be great – and I don’t really see why people are allowed to ride bikes all over the town belt, but an operator can’t rent bikes, also having a coffee cart and other food trucks seem like legitimate use cases that would enable greater enjoyment of the town belt.

     
  6. Pauline, 16. July 2021, 8:32

    Great article Helene and your comments Dave B…..

     
  7. David Mackenzie, 16. July 2021, 9:21

    Agree with, Helene.

     
  8. D'Esterre, 16. July 2021, 14:47

    I remarked to somebody relatively recently that we’d need to keep sundry hands off the Town Belt. That was surely prescient. Is this another flight of fancy on the part of Council officers, who aren’t aware of the legislation? And yet another submission, of which they’ll take no notice? Or direct Councillors to reject? We need commercial activities in the Town Belt like we need toothache. Enough already! Let’s keep it for the purpose for which it was intended. Bless those early citizens for their vision in establishing it.

    Dave B: I completely agree.

     
  9. Clementine Smith, 18. July 2021, 20:02

    It is indeed worrisome that the WCC is planning that business activity be permitted on the Town Belt. A glance at previous applications for access to the Town Belt (a road in Wadestown, a revolving restaurant, a gondola to name but a few) shows where this may lead. Unfortunately the wording in the legislation ‘the Council may authorise business activities on the Wellington Town Belt on any conditions that it considers appropriate’ likely makes it difficult to stop the proposal. There are many suitable locations to run festivals and other activities, other than on Wellington’s arguably greatest taonga, the Town Belt. The proposed activities will almost certainly involve the accessible flat land on the Town Belt, potentially denying access to citizens with mobility issues.
    The recent consenting of a memorial to Anne Frank on the Town Belt may well open the door to other memorials which, although worthy in their own right, have no place on the Town Belt.

     
  10. Helene Ritchie, 20. July 2021, 11:43

    Thank you Clementine Smith. Your fears are justified when you say “a glance at previous applications for access to the Town Belt (a road in Wadestown, a revolving restaurant, a gondola …) shows where this may lead.” You are right. The Council should not include the Town Belt in its proposed Events and Trading Policy (to become a by-law?). This is the thin edge of the wedge, which could lead to amended legislation and alienation of the Town Belt in various ways.

    Council and councillors in partnership with mana whenua have in law the responsibility to be Trustees of the Town Belt, meaning we citizens vest trust in them to be kaitiaki of this whenua and its wairua – a far deeper trust than simply renaming the library or streets in te reo. The primary purpose of the Town Belt Act is to protect and enhance its natural environment and freedom of access. The Council contravenes the fundamental purpose and principles of the Act with what appears to be this endeavour to get around the Act and to use the Town Belt for commercial purpose.

    You suggest that the Council has an automatic right to establish businesses on the Town Belt. It does not. But it is trying to achieve that through its proposed policy by closing out the public. To avoid an uproar from citizens, it is proposing that events – concerts, beer festivals etc. on named sites would not be publicly notified. The Act requires if any business is to be established the Council has to publicly notify that. But the Council policy says 6.4.3 “… further public consultation will not be required for licences of a preapproved nature which relate to a pre-approved site.” Such as on Mt Victoria (or Otari and our reserves under the Reserves Act 1977).

    The Council wants “to amalgamate the Footpath Management Policy (2007) Trading in Public Places Policy (2006 with revisions in 2014) to enable outdoor dining, street events, sandwich boards, street appeals, busking, events, retail displays, parades, festivals, marches/protests, hawking, open air markets, commercial fitness classes, temporary retail and food stalls, recreational equipment hire …”. There are a number of other sections of the Act which address the matter of businesses eg. any business can only be temporary, defined as less than four weeks. Further, there are prohibitions on structures and new buildings.

    Freedom of access would be denied if charging came into effect. The Council is proposing to treat this natural environment as if it were an urban environment, wanting to treat the Town Belt as if it were footpath. But the Town Belt Act states that the Town Belt is not a road.

    The council’s plan would open a pandora’s box and is preposterous. I am deeply disappointed that the Council is even contemplating exploitation of the Town Belt with such disregard and disrespect. It should remove the Town Belt and its named (and others yet to be named) sites from the new Events and Trading policy. Council and councillors should be nurturing not exploiting the Town Belt as the trustees that they are supposed to be. The Town Belt (and reserves) have no place in this proposed policy.

     
  11. Violetster, 21. July 2021, 13:55

    Nooooooo! It’s our only local piece of wilderness. They have already put in picnic tables that are grounded in over-large areas of concrete. Leave it alone!

     
  12. Claire, 21. July 2021, 15:53

    I would advocate off-road cycleways alongside the town belt. For example Berhampore golf course, Newtown upside the belt backing onto the hospital, and below Govt House. Beyond the Urban Farm. Perfect all away from roads and retail.
    I used to go to One Love when it was held at the Velodrome. Perfect place for events. But not so the town belt itself.

     
  13. D'Esterre, 23. July 2021, 13:04

    On Tuesday there was a public meeting at the Khandallah Town Hall on the subject of Council proposals to designate private property – or parts thereof – as SNAs. This means that actions by owners, such as building (even small structures such as fences) and trimming or clearing vegetation, will require resource consent under the RMA. This impinges upon private property rights. That meeting was well-attended, and there was vocal opposition to the proposal. Here we have the Council attempting to allow commercial activities in the Town Belt, while at the same time proposing to take away private property rights because somebody has decided such properties have significant biodiversity.

    The Council ought properly to be designating the Town Belt as a SNA. Leave private property alone!

     
  14. Pam, 25. July 2021, 22:36

    Over 50% of the original Town Belt has been lost. Let’s protect what remains. Submissions on commercialisation of the Town Belt close on August 13. For those who value precious open space in Wellington consider making a submission.