Wellington Scoop

We need rules, not a word salad

by Eugene Doyle
The District Plan is the rulebook for Wellington, and now is the opportunity to re-set it for the first time in 20 years. The plan will have long term effects; it really matters, which is why the Mayoral Taskforce gave it such prominence in its recommendations.

Late last year, nearing the end of the taskforce process, all the members were unhappy with the draft presented to us. We wanted something with more backbone, more steel …. that was said again and again: more steel.

In the end, we, the taskforce members, wrote and delivered a report that one councillor said – if implemented – would change this city forever.

This week, when I read the updates by the officers, I felt someone had snuck on to the building site and replaced that steel with blancmange. I can only touch on a couple of points but they will give you the flavour.

No Roadmap.

Recommendation 19: “Task and fund WWL to develop a road-map for consideration in the 2024/34 LTP that would see WWL (or a future entity) funded to achieve compliance with the National Policy Statement – Freshwater Management 2040.”

Officer Response:
“WWL has not been funded to develop a roadmap towards compliance with the NPS-FM. It could be expected that the development of such a roadmap will form part of the requirements set out in the changes to the (GWRC) Natural Resources Plan.”

In other words the Wellington City Council is batting off the problem to someone else. The Regional Council are expected to be the adults in the room and WCC will just wait to do what it is told.

We should not be awaiting orders from either central government or the regional council to figure out how we are going to clear catchment after catchment in Wellington. We have an environment that has suffered egregiously, legislation that has been flouted, hundreds of swimmers are suffering mild to serious illness every summer due to our contaminated beaches. And we are sitting on our hands.

Recommendation 6 of the taskforce report outlines a comprehensive suite of regulatory and non-regulatory interventions to require property developments and roading infrastructure to adopt water sensitive urban design.

Recommendation 7 which, as with many of our recommendations, specifically cites the District Plan:

“The chosen interventions should be incorporated into the Council’s Codes of Practice and District Plan and mandated for all new development (both greenfield and infill/brownfield) supported by education for contractors, community groups, and the design and engineering community.”

Officer Response one year later:
“Eventually these will be considered for future iterations of the Regional Council’s Natural Resources Plan and ultimately increasing requirements of resource consents and requirements of Council’s Planning … but this has not happened yet and is unlikely to occur in the short term.”

That’s it! Unlikely to occur … That’s all that they had to say about what was a clear, a clarion clear call to action.

I spent my career as a writer and then running businesses and I can tell you the technical term for this is a WORD SALAD. It is full of sound and fury and contains no meaning. It dodges responsibility for making pragmatic progress on the sensible suggestions contained in the recommendation. A city can write its own rules and those rules should be based on best practise, particularly in the changing world we live in. We do not need to wait for the semi-mythical Whaitua committee to report or for the Regional Council to miraculously leap into action.

There need to be clear, unambiguous rules and methods to achieve those outcomes … such as the use of water impact assessments, rainwater/stormwater harvesting, rain gardens, constructed wetlands, green roofs, improved sump maintenance, strategic street sweeping and permeable pavements to mitigate water quality impacts and reduce peak wet weather flows … … and all the other very practical recommendations contained in the report.

Two other things regarding this Officer Update:

WCC both in the Mayoral Taskforce process and as a sitting Council has recognised the Multiparty Working Group on Owhiro as a significant project for the City. It was created in 2020 to be an exemplar of the very best that the city and region can do in resolving contamination issues and restoring one bay and one catchment to good health in rapid time … to inform the roadmap towards meeting the NPS-FM.

Wellington Water and the Regional Council have had senior leaders attend every single sitting of the working group, also attended without fail by community representatives including myself. Regional Public Health, and DOC also routinely attended.

In contrast, despite personal reassurances from the Chief Infrastructure Officer that the city appreciates the significance of this project and despite commitments contained within the report of the Mayoral Taskforce, the Wellington City Council failed to attend a single meeting of the Multiparty Working Group on Owhiro. WCC is the truant, the naughty schoolboy or girl.

The absence of a strong WCC presence at the working group has meant that there has been virtually no progress on two of the other important recommendations of the taskforce, 44, and 46, namely the review of the LAWA Baywatch beach monitoring sites and the Water That Counts project for making water related data accessible to communities.

I welcome Siobhan Proctor as the City’s new Chief Infrastructure Officer and hope she will be a real agent for improving the City’s participation and leadership on this important working group.

I recognise that the Council and officers have made some important steps forward in addressing the past failures in our 3 waters infrastructure. But time is not on our side and we have a collective responsibility to address these challenges with far greater alacrity. A good place to start is with the taskforce recommendations being translated into the District Plan.

Eugene Doyle of Owhiro Bay made this presentation to today’s meeting of the Wellington City Council.


  1. Ray Chung, 11. November 2021, 21:31

    An excellent summation Eugene! Well done! I concur with your opinions and observations!

  2. Eugene Doyle, 11. November 2021, 22:01

    Thanks, Ray! The city says it wants to be a leader and then, in the next breath says: we’ll just wait to be told what to do by the government and regional council. Figure that.

  3. Ali Forrest, 11. November 2021, 22:06

    Very true. The District Plan was meant to contain concrete actions based on the vision of the Spatial Plan but if all it contains is waffle then I don’t hold out much hope for Wellington’s future.

  4. Ramon Das, 11. November 2021, 22:39

    Very well said. WCC needs to take responsibility for the quality of our water, not pass it on to someone else. Keep the pressure on, Eugene!

  5. Mark shaw, 12. November 2021, 7:06

    Go Eugene – Some one has to keep WCC honest. Shame it takes so much effort so long.

  6. James, 12. November 2021, 10:24

    ‘Word salad’ is right. The biggest challenge for public sector organisations is to avoid using the passive voice in drafting (which allows general statements to be made like ‘this will be done’ rather than ‘[name] will do this.’

  7. Ray Chung, 12. November 2021, 15:59

    We (ORCA) are having public meetings on the DDP (Draft District Plan), LGWM (Lets get Wellington Moving) and the bike lanes on Tuesday 16th November at 7.30pm-9pm, Saturday 20th November 10am-2pm and Tuesday 30th November 7.30pm-9pm all at the Khandallah Town Hall, 11 Ganges Road, Khandallah and everyone is welcome.

  8. JAB, 13. November 2021, 0:51

    There are still no reference copies of the District Plan in the libaries. All the PR fluff has made it down there though.

  9. Ian, 14. November 2021, 11:00

    JAB: a copy of the new draft plan is available on every computer in every library. Please ask a librarian if you are having trouble.

  10. JAB, 14. November 2021, 12:06

    Ian: If the PR fluff can be displayed in hard copy – which generally is a great deal easier to read and reference than computer screens with multiple links – then how hard would it be to print out say 50 copies of the plans for the libraries. Why should only the bits they want you to read be hard copy, not the lot. Much like the lack of advertising or PR on the negative changes. Most people I suspect have no idea what is going to hit them.

  11. Claire, 14. November 2021, 12:47

    Jab: I believe those hard copies are off limits at the moment because of covid. That section at my Library in Newtown is taped off. Hopefully someone at the WCC is reading this and will rectify it.

  12. JAB, 14. November 2021, 22:02

    Te Awe on Brandon Street has a reference hard copy of the spatial plan summary of responses.


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