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Seeking the facts, but being distracted by PR

by Helene Ritchie
The other day, I asked the Wellington City Council where could I get a hard copy of the draft District Plan. I received a quick and efficient retort: “ We don’t have hard copies available I’m afraid – it’s a massive document and comes in at over 1000 pages…

“… Our website has a guide to navigating and reading the online Draft District Plan which you can find here and there is a roadshow event next Saturday at Prefab between 11am-3pm if you would like to speak to a staff member about it.”

I am pretty angry about that. Why? I do not want to be distracted by some P.R. performance by a council staff member. I want to read, absorb and make comment on the original base document. It should be available in readable form.

Instead, the public is being redirected away from the fundamental document to all kinds of multiple processes, and even an explanation about how to navigate them.

The devil is in the detail but it is not readily possible to find and comment on the detail.

Further there has already been significant comment and effort by many put into the Spatial Plan (a non-statutory document preceding this district plan process) which preceded this process but looked at the capacity of the city to accommodate future projected populations. It did so without accurate baseline population projections (which was ultimately admitted by the Council), and without taking into account the massive increased housing and apartment development that is already happening, especially but not only in the CBD. Most of the focus of that discussion was on the perceived impact of the spatial plan on housing and on ‘heritage’ homes. However, the spatial plan was looking at space and capacity, not at rules pertaining to development and Wellington’s future.

The District Plan will set in concrete the future of Wellington for at least 10 years. It will become the statutory document. It is a complex document, not designed to be read online. Not only is it 1000 pages, but it also requires referencing back and forth, and with complex maps.

The Council needs to simplify its consultation processes which quite frankly are a joke with multiple and confusing and expensive but distracting P.R. processes with every effort made to block the public from the basic document by not having it available in a readable form.

The approach to this District Plan is entirely different from past District Plans.

Wellingtonians care massively about the future of their city, about housing, poverty, heritage, the paucity of green public open space in the CBD and the waterfront, te Ngakau Civic Square. They even care about the Council, the personnel, and the way it functions.

It’s clear that planning officers preparing this document have gone to significant lengths to have it read and commented on.

The introduction says “The District Plan is essentially a rule book managing development and the environment.” Somewhere, buried online in overlapping pages, it may be possible to find these rules relating to housing and developments, and the future of our city and suburbs.

This draft District Plan amongst other aspects proposes massive permitted changes for the waterfront, civic centre, heritage, densification, and natural sensitive areas (it identifies notable trees) and it has design guides for various areas.

Do the rules sufficiently protect and enhance, advance and require quality green public open space in our CBD?
Do they enable warm dry homes for our population?
Do they enable sufficient affordable homes? Social housing? Papakainga?
Are development rules which require regard for the impact on the natural environment, natural resources, rising sea level, climate change? Are they adequate?
Will we see a future more deregulated building environment, or sufficient rules to ensure controls to protect safety, and quality?
Are the CBD heights too high?
Should there be incentives for more height/less height?
Should there be community planning at neighbourhood level?

Does it any of that? Some of that? More? None of that?

Who would know?

The lack of ready and reading availability of the the Draft District plan will mean that the Council’s expensive way of consulting will just end up in Environment Court. By then, Government intervention might see it all irrelevant because of the overlaying central government legislation: the current Resource Management Enabling Act – enabling three-storey three houses on one section (which will have been passed), replacing the RMA as is the Government’s intention, the Three waters infrastructure changes, the reform of local government. All of these will impact on Wellington’s District Plan.

Incidental chats on ‘road shows’, and tick box ‘mother hood and apple pie’ questions on a submission form, should never replace a sound and valid consultation process with a clear evidential result, if the Council is serious about hearing from the public.

We’ve been given just five weeks to be consulted on the future of Wellington!

Deadline December 14. What’s the point of engaging?

Helene Ritchie is Chair of the Wellington Civic Trust; she is a former deputy mayor.

41 comments:

  1. Concerned Wellingtonian, 24. November 2021, 9:46

    If only a sitting councillor was saying this sort of thing, let alone doing something about it. No such luck, I am afraid.

     
  2. Ian Apperley, 24. November 2021, 9:56

    Ah yes, the time-honoured tactic by the Council of making it very difficult to get information. Once again I am reminded of the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy when the lead character asks where it was notified that an interstellar highway was going to be built through earth…

    “But the plans were on display…”
    “On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”
    “That’s the display department.”
    “With a flashlight.”
    “Ah, well, the lights had probably gone.”
    “So had the stairs.”
    “But look, you found the notice, didn’t you?”
    “Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.”

    As I recall, it is also a time-honoured tactic to bury any new councillors in so much data it is impossible to have the time to review it. Or, drop hundreds and hundreds of pages on them less than 24-hours before a meeting, as happened with the Island Bay Cycleway in the dim and distant past.

     
  3. Brian Dawson, 24. November 2021, 10:04

    I went on line and googled WCC Draft District Plan and found an online version of the entire document in less than 2 min. I’m glad they’re not printing off thousands of pages. [via twitter]

     
  4. Claire, 24. November 2021, 10:09

    There are none of the same calibre as Helene at the council. The difficulty of reading and understanding the DDP will discourage people especially new people from submitting. I encourage people to do so even if it’s just on the massive housing deregulation. Pick an issue and submit. This should be available in a short form all over Wellington. Is the WCC deliberately making it complex with too many issues using smoke and mirrors?

     
  5. Guy M, 24. November 2021, 10:46

    I think the point that is being missed here is that the Draft District Plan was produced before the recent Medium Density Enabling Bill, which effectively throws all the hard work done in the District Plan out the window, and it will all have to be re-done next year, probably around July/August. Yes, we still need everyone to submit, but also, no matter what you submit on, it is almost certain to be over-ridden by the Bill, if it is passed.

    The District Plan has been crafted to produce more dense housing just around areas of greater transport links, with less dense housing (as we have now) in the outer areas. Whether you like them or agree/disagree with the extent of this, or not, is the subject of the District Plan consultation. But the Enabling Bill will effectively over-ride ALL of that, and produce the same possible dense housing not just all over Wellington, but also in Hutt, Upper Hutt, Porirua, and Kapiti Coast, but also taking away even the slightest chance of you ever being able to appeal against it. This is why there is a huge uproar going on at the moment.

     
  6. Claire, 24. November 2021, 11:27

    Guy – doesnt the DDP become notifiable in May?

     
  7. John K, 24. November 2021, 11:34

    Anyone who cannot navigate a website should have no say in the future of the city.

     
  8. Ian Apperley, 24. November 2021, 11:54

    As for trying to get to the website this morning: the mapping component is broken. Neither does the property address search work. You can’t access parts of it without creating a profile. And from an accessibility perspective, it doesn’t appear to have any of the standards that are required. Nor does it allow you to download it, from what I can find.

    Quite the shambles. I’d be asking for a hard copy as well.

     
  9. Jim, 24. November 2021, 12:06

    What’s wrong with viewing it online? Printing it seems like a waste of money and resources.

     
  10. Helene Ritchie, 24. November 2021, 12:15

    Brian Dawson. Yes it is online. You seem to have missed the point.

    Guy M. Thanks for emphasising the impact of the RMA enabling Act which I do mention in the article (You have called it the medium density enabling Act.) You are correct, but only to a degree. The draft District Plan is about much more than medium density housing, it is about nearly all facets of our city, its built, natural environment, associated infrastructure and transport and features including historic areas and buildings. A search of the fine print as far as it is possible will see the current heritage area of Te Ngakau/Civic Centre decimated, and as far as I can tell only one heritage building proposed to be listed – the Town Hall, with even the City to Sea Bridge and associated structures proposed to be listed as non heritage.

    Demolition in the CBD will be a permitted activity but vacant land is not allowed as a result. How does this equate to the Council’s spiel (without immediate funding) about a green network throughout the CBD or major demolitions on public land that Council has agreed to?

    The devil is in the detail, and the detail is almost impossible to find, collate, cross reference, search associated maps and guidelines etc. online. The rules are really important for a future sustainable and healthy living environment and in an era of climate crisis.

    Ian. It is evident that Brian Dawson can help you find the notice in the cellar, at the bottom of the filing cabinet stuck in the disused lavatory, but only after he has found the stairs to get there!

     
  11. Claire, 24. November 2021, 13:10

    Jim: not everyone is computer savvy! (But you knew that). The library normally holds copies but, due to covid, access is denied.

     
  12. Brian Dawson, 24. November 2021, 13:14

    I think this is a very “readable form:”
    https://eplan.wellington.govt.nz/draft/#Rules/0

     
  13. Conor, 24. November 2021, 13:22

    “The difficulty of reading and understanding the DDP will discourage people especially new people from submitting.” – Couldn’t agree more Claire. That’s why I’m so glad the government has made some simple easy to understand Medium Density Residential Standards which will replace the current zoning in half of Wellington. They should do the same for high density too.
    The absurd complexity of current plans serves nobody well.

     
  14. julienz, 24. November 2021, 14:47

    I regard myself as reasonably computer savvy but I am having great difficulty finding any design standards that will apply in areas affected by the “rapid transit” designation in the NPS-UD, and as Conor says the government is trying to override most of the outer residential material using urgency in parliament. This round is non-statutory in any case so are we better to wait until it gets to the binding statutory process next year? Spending hours trying to making constructive suggestions that are then ignored by councillors is very discouraging. The fact that the council is paying someone to assist with making submissions points to the process being anything but simple.

     
  15. James, 24. November 2021, 15:10

    I just tried the link suggested by Brian Dawson, and got the message “System is down for maintenance. Please try again later.”

     
  16. Trish, 25. November 2021, 9:17

    From what I’ve read, the Council is making it really easy for everyone to have a say about the district plan. You only need to go to one of their roadshows where all the information will be on display. If you have any concerns, you only need to talk to one of the nice young Council staff. As soon as they get back to the office they will incorporate your suggestions into the draft plan. Or is it more complicated than that?

     
  17. Brian Dawson, 25. November 2021, 9:52

    Morning all. This link seems to be working fine this morning.
    https://eplan.wellington.govt.nz/draft/#Rules/0
    Just select “Read Entire Plan” if that’s what you want to do. I can’t speak to the map or address search functions, but that’s not what Helene said she was after.
    Helene, I thought your point was you wanted it available in a “readable form”? I’m really impressed with the online version and and note that each page has a “print” option if you want to run it off.

     
  18. Mavis, 25. November 2021, 10:06

    Yes Trish it is much more complicated. It is not just about having nice random chats with nice random young (as you say) people/staff about nice random thoughts.
    It is a prelude to formal legal and likely litigated process.

     
  19. K, 25. November 2021, 10:53

    The draft plan is all online easy to find any information you wish, in a format that lets you share it easily with others within a few seconds. Wasting thousands of dollars printing hard copies sounds like insanity to me, and very wasteful.

     
  20. Jane Hurley, 25. November 2021, 12:41

    The draft District Plan is a complete joke. Virtually the entirety of my elderly mother’s residential section has been appropriated by the council as an ‘area of natural significance of indigenous biodiversity’, including the concrete path down to the house, her flower beds, the camellia hedge my late dad planted, his vegetable patch at the back … They have annihilated her control over her ability to do what she wishes with her property i.e. extend the house, pull down and rebuild, put a granny flat or sleepout out the back, put in a garage, and her land values — and all because she and my father treasured their bush all these years. Now they’re being punished for it, while neighbours who chainsawed their bush down years ago retain absolute control over their private property and their land value.

     
  21. Matt, 25. November 2021, 13:40

    If you want to print the full 1226 pages, go to https://eplan.wellington.govt.nz/draft/#Rules/0/0/0/0/0 click the “Print” button, then click “full plan”

    https://docs.isoplan.co.nz/pdfs/wellingtonDraft/1/01Nov2021/merged/fullplan.pdf

     
  22. Ray Chung, 25. November 2021, 19:30

    Jane Hurley: I absolutely agree with you. This SNA (Significant Natural Area) is invidious and nothing more than a land grab by the council when they already have control of 96% of the natural area in Wellington and do precious little to clear it of gorse, broom and other noxious weeds. The Onslow Residents Community Association is holding a public meeting on this next Tuesday 30th 7.30-9pm at the Khandallah Town Hall and you’re very welcome to attend.

     
  23. Jane Hurley, 25. November 2021, 23:05

    Ray Chung, I totally agree. They are happy to sell off their ‘own’ land (Shelly Bay) to developers for a luxury $500 million development, and ignore the mana whenua, but they’re seizing control over my elderly widowed mum’s residential section! Thank you for the invitation. Both my brother and I will do our best to be there.

     
  24. Ray Chung, 26. November 2021, 11:05

    That’s great Jane, when you come next Tuesday, come and see me and I’ll introduce you to friends who are also affected and will be pleased to help. Of course, feel free to ask any questions and comment. We’ve invited council officers, councillors and the mayor but don’t know who’s attending yet. We had a meeting a fortnight ago and only one councilor turned up.

     
  25. Claire, 27. November 2021, 13:22

    I have been to the library in Newtown. The tape stopping people getting to the WCC plan has been taken down but still no copy of the district plan even in modified form! I have asked the Librarian about this.

     
  26. D'Esterre, 27. November 2021, 16:12

    Brian Dawson: “Read Entire Plan.” Tried that today: the link wouldn’t open. In fairness, my computer is old, and I’ve had previous problems using it to access the DDP. But it wouldn’t open on my phone, either, and that’s much newer.

    Trish: “…you only need to talk to one of the nice young Council staff.” Heh! Yes, I tried that. Said Council officer decamped smartly when asked about the section of the RMA upon which WCC is relying to designate parts (often very large parts) of private property as SNAs. I suspect that WCC knows it’s on shaky ground there.

    Jane Hurley: “….appropriated by the council as an ‘area of natural significance of indigenous biodiversity'” The word you’re looking for there is “expropriation”. Of all the egregious proposals by Council, this is the worst by far. It is theft. It proposes to take private property; owners keep title (for now), and continue to pay rates, but lose control over their land. On the other hand, WCC arrogates to itself and to DoC the right to build and maintain public walkways and bikeways on such land. I do hope that you manage to attend ORCA’s public meeting next Tuesday.

    Ray Chung: “…do precious little to clear it of gorse, broom and other noxious weeds.” We’ve for many years been pleading with the council to fell a pest tree on Council land at the end of our street. That tree is now huge; Council knows that it’s a pest tree, but will do nothing about it. Lots of fine talk about environmentalism, but little action.

     
  27. Jane Hurley, 28. November 2021, 16:24

    D’Esterre: “WCC arrogates to itself and to DoC the right to build and maintain public walkways and bikeways on such land.” WHAT? Are you serious? The WCC and DOC could build public walkways and bikeways through my elderly and very fragile, forgetful and anxious mother’s property? How in heaven’s name are my brother and I expected to be able to keep her safe if the world and his brother are free to saunter all over her section and around her house? My God!

     
  28. Ray Chung, 28. November 2021, 21:04

    Hi D’Esterre, we met the Parks and Reserves people to point out the huge Macrocarpa trees on Kanpur Park and they removed two trees that were closest to Sita Way and thinned out three other trees. The guy we met was Paul Andrews and I’ll be happy to advocate on your behalf to talk with them as we’ve had these previous meetings. Alternatively, contact Paul directly? If you can, please come to our public meeting on Tuesday too as there should be council staff and councillors there. Although I can’t guarantee that, as they and Andy Foster were meant to come to our last meeting a fortnight ago and they didn’t come with the excuse that they were concerned they might face a “hostile audience” of ratepayers.

     
  29. TrevorH, 28. November 2021, 21:58

    SNAs? I will take my chainsaw to all the native trees we have planted over the past 40 years rather than undergo Marxist expropriation.

     
  30. D'Esterre, 29. November 2021, 9:48

    Jane Hurley: I doubt that the Council or DoC would be able in the near future – or perhaps ever – to build paths etc on private property such as that of your mother. But the intention is clearly to link up SNAs, and if it is practicable in some areas to build such structures, it’ll happen. In any event, the fundamental issue at stake is the protection of private property rights, which is why it must be resisted.

    Ray: thanks for that name. We’ll approach him directly.

    A hostile audience of ratepayers? Of course it would be hostile! What did they expect? It’s their job to face ratepayers and defend their policies. If they can.

    TrevorH: I think that many people have reacted similarly. The Council has failed to anticipate the unintended consequence: that residents would get rid of native flora, rather than have properties expropriated. So in the end we have a less leafy suburb than now. Add to that the clearance needed for multi-storey buildings, and we’re set fair for non-leafiness.

     
  31. nemo, 29. November 2021, 10:35

    TrevorH – please don’t do that. Leave the trees alone.

     
  32. Ms Green, 29. November 2021, 12:27

    Wellington City Council should identify all road reserves as SNAs or provide some other protective mechanism.

    Road reserves provide a significant amount of green belt of infrastucture in Wellington but are gradually being eroded/sold/leased quite often for car decks or housing.

     
  33. D'Esterre, 29. November 2021, 13:31

    Nemo: many of us like native flora. But if the Council is proposing expropriation of land with such vegetation on it, then the logical strategy is to fell it, and replant with exotics. So: Khandallah may not be less leafy, just less native-tree-leafy.

     
  34. Jane Hurley, 29. November 2021, 14:37

    Yes. It’s already happening. My mother can see and hear it from her house. And if the worst comes to the worst, it is something we will have to think about, despite the fact that it breaks our hearts. Those who have cherished their bush are now being punished for it, whereas those who cut theirs down have their land rights unaffected.

     
  35. Ian Apperley, 29. November 2021, 14:52

    Interesting comments, it seems that a country problem has arrived in the city. Having SNA designated on your property, regardless of where you live, is basically the same as having it turned into QEII reserve. There are immediately a lot of caveats and property owners are lumped with a whole new set of obligations and rules.

    In short, yes, you do lose control over that land and what can be done with it, unless you choose to operate inside that legislation, which could be said to be unworkable and onerous, as farmers have long complained.

    Oh, and a word to the wise… You may already have trees on your property that are designated protected. Cutting them down could result in all kinds of legal pain.

     
  36. Jane Hurley, 29. November 2021, 15:31

    Only about 150 trees in Wellington are presently protected. The Council seems to have done a spectacularly bad job at protecting anything up until now. However, when the land over which you are losing control is virtually the whole of your section, excluding the present small house, that seems a rather draconian “solution”.

     
  37. Ray Chung, 29. November 2021, 17:56

    Ms Green; you’re absolutely correct. There’s a multiple-unit development on Monowai Road in Johnsonville where there isn’t enough room for off-street parking so the council allowed multiple car parks on the council berm to be included as “on-site” parking. The town planners always seem to be able to find a reason to allow this use of council land and then rate these exclusions as “less than minor!” We’ve discussed this with the Northern ward councillors about this continuing trend but the only councillor who was interested was Malcolm Sparrow and he’s left the council now.

     
  38. D'Esterre, 30. November 2021, 1:04

    Ian Apperley: it’s one thing to have part of one’s rural block expropriated. Having the same happen to a chunk of one’s suburban section is a horse of a completely different colour. Doubtless you’re aware of the pig’s ear that the WCC has made of much of this. Note what Jane Hurley says above about the parts of her mother’s property designated as an SNA: that’s been repeated all over Khandallah, and no doubt elsewhere. Native plants? Good luck with that.

    One of the SNA designation criteria is rarity. Regarding biology, the WCC apparently believes that’s exhausted by flora; or it assumes that rare native fauna live only in areas of native flora. This is far from the case. The small native critters which frequent our gardens don’t care that they’re not in a native forest: the weta which set up home and family in my plant pots – or in holes in the branches of the cherry trees – aren’t fussed what kind of plant it is. Nor do the skinks worry that they’re living in a crib wall, rather than their “natural” habitat. The native bees pay as much attention to exotic as to native plants. And this area is spider city: they’re found in abundance. The WCC needs to recognise the fact that, regarding densification, there might be much more to lose in suburban gardens than just plants. And SNAs would not replace what’s lost.

    “Cutting them down could result in all kinds of legal pain.” Firstly, the Council has to know about it. After the appalling way in which residents hereabouts have been treated, which of them would snitch on a neighbour? Secondly: some years ago, KCDC took two prosecutions of ratepayers (for felling native trees on private property) to the Environment Court. It lost the first and withdrew the second. There’s no reason to suppose that the WCC would fare any better, protected trees or not. Negotiating a resolution beats prosecution hands down. Which appears to be how the Environment Court sees things.

    In any event, what may be happening here is pre-emption: landowners felling trees so that their land won’t be designated as an SNA.

     
  39. Jane Hurley, 30. November 2021, 11:11

    D’Esterre, if it was just a ‘chunk’ of my mother’s property, it wouldn’t be so bad. It’s virtually the entirety of my mother’s section apart from a narrow corridor around the (small) house itself and a triangular chunk on the opposite boundary.

     
  40. D'Esterre, 30. November 2021, 17:38

    Jane Hurley: it’s simply astonishing that the WCC sees nothing exceptionable in this proposal. I’ve heard other accounts of expropriation, though your mother’s situation is the worst. I do hope that you’ll be at tonight’s ORCA meeting. Some time back, there was a meeting at Khandallah Town Hall, at which we the ratepayers discovered the enormity of what was being proposed. The mayor did a very poor job of attempting to justify it.

     
  41. Ray Chung, 30. November 2021, 18:17

    Hi Jane, hope you can make it tonight. I’m meeting the council officer about SNAs in Broadmeadows next week so will talk to you tonight about your Mum’s place too.

     

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