Wellington Scoop

For sale: a home of the little blue penguins

by Alana Bowman
Consistency must count for something in Mayor Kerry Prendergast’s strategy, but it was conspicuous by its absence in a 24-hour period this week. On Tuesday, she honoured Forest & Bird and their project to save little blue penguins. One day later came her action to remove from city ownership and protection a piece of land that is a home for some of those same little penguins.

In the council chamber on Tuesday, the Mayor presented a regional community award to Places for Penguins, a Forest and Bird volunteer group which seeks to halt the decline of Wellington’s little blue penguin population by restoring habitat, providing nest boxes, controlling pests and informing dog walkers and the public about the presence of the birds.

But at a Wellington City Council meeting on Wednesday, under the rationale of “integrity”, Mayor Prendergast successfully countered a recommendation of her Strategy and Policy Committee and with her usual majority of Councilors moved to sell some Wellington open space to the highest bidder. That property, part of the Te Kopahau Reserve on Owhiro Bay, is known by neighbours as a home to penguins – a habitat that Places for Penguins would presumably be looking to preserve.

Integrity. How seldom it comes up in city council discussions but there it was, being promoted as policy by Mayor Prendergast.

What should integrity look like in government? Listening to voters – the ones who provide your pay and perks? Creating a process for residents to “Have your Say”, collecting what people said, and then doing … what? Disputing that the individual submissions are representative of Wellington? Disregarding numerical majorities of the submitters?

Ignoring the submissions of the people who respond? They are routinely dismissed as not being representative of the whole of Wellington, as though the Mayor has the actual opinion-makers – who are somehow more genuine because they DON”T make submissions – locked up in a focus group that only she can interview. The non-bothering, uncommunicating throng are claimed as the majority, a critical mass who silently but determinedly support Mayor Prendergast’s policies.

The 60% of enrolled voters who didn’t bother to vote in the last Wellington Council election, and all the residents who don’t make submissions – these are the ones driving city council policy? The unknown but knowing to whom the Mayor listens. After all, she was elected by a minority of enrolled voters – or was it the majority of non-voters – so it is to them she owes her votes.

So – there it is. Those who don’t vote, those who don’t make submissions – they are the decision makers who direct the Mayor. She is channeling the non-voters.

Councilors who opposed the sale.
Pannett. Gill. Ritchie. Wade-Brown. Goulden. Pepperell. Cook.

Alana Bowman is a Wellington resident who is also a lawyer who has practised in California.

Read also:
What can be done about the problem of consultation?


  1. Pauline Swann, 27. August 2010, 10:38

    As a member of the public who has attended many Council meetings, I have repeated to friends many times that it should be compulsory for every ratepayer to attend at least three meetings a year and watch the “antics” of their representatives – then perhaps their voting apathy would change and it would be unlikely that the majority sitting around the table would be returned. I attended this meeting and at one stage was reminded of The Mikado with the Mayor in this role closely supported by The Three Little Maids from School! I left after an hour and a half when the Johnsonville representative and his community’s submissions were ignored. So I appreciate learning how the Officer’s report to the S and P committee was dismissed; the Mayor was obviously unhappy with losing this case in the Environment Court.

  2. the City is Ours, 27. August 2010, 10:39

    Conservation groups must now put pressure on DOC to buy this piece of land from the Wellington City Council.

  3. councillor helene ritchie, 27. August 2010, 11:17

    This is a sad and mean decision of a majority of Council on the mayor’s casting vote, and a violation of an Environment Court decision. The previous evening the mayor had lauded and given Jenny Lynch from Forest and Bird a supreme award for her efforts (well deserved in my view) with the little blue penguins and the nesting boxes all around the South Coast. This is just the site where I understand, the little blue penguins are nesting/breeding at present.

  4. Monday Morning Blues, 30. August 2010, 8:40

    Congratulations Kerry, Andy and Co. You have shown contempt for the Environment Court, for the community and for the environment itself. It is not up to DOC, or anyone else to buy OUR land – it is up to Kerry and her cohorts to ensure that it is not sold . It is an insult to even suggest that the community or DOC should have to purchase land which is so obviously an essential part of the coastal reserve.

  5. Celia WB, 30. August 2010, 9:29

    The lack of consultation and landscape ignorance began when it was claimed that selling off two sections was consulted on in the draft South Coast Management Plan – it was not. The wider Wellington community supported South Coast residents in seeing this land as an integral part of the entrance to Te Kopahou Reserve. Given its Open Space zoning (which I’m following up to ensure it’s done soon), the land would have limited financial value. Even if the majority of councillors ignored these landscape and ecological connections, it seems a petty decision to have a last-minute amendment to sell off half the land. Given recent worrying news on the Coast, a reserve dedicated to a particular tireless worker of the South Coast would be far more appropriate.

  6. Carrick Lewis, 31. August 2010, 21:21

    As a long time activist in support of the preservation of the blue penquin colony and opposed to attempts to sell off this locality, I am shocked and angered at the action of the Mayor and Councillors re the decision to promote the privatisation of this treasured section of the Southern Coast. The implications are serious and there will need to be a public review of this backward step

  7. allan probert, 14. September 2010, 13:05

    Agree with all of the above comments re consultation and engagement. I believe that the officers should take a significant share of the blame for this as councillors vote on officer recommendation unless they have a significant agenda. The next council must change the paradigm of the relationship with officers and drive the city forward with a new vision. I know I would like to if elected!

  8. Nora, 15. September 2010, 20:11

    At a Meet the Candidates meeting at Ngaio last week, when this topic was raised it was dismissed by the Mayor and the three Western Ward councillors Foster, Morrison and Coughlan despite a vigorous debate and a pathetic explanation from Cr Coughlan as to why she had changed her vote after the S and P meeting on 5th August to support the Mayor at a full Council meeting on 25th August.