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New threats to the town belt: the expressway, and the city council

by David Lee
The loss of more of the Town Belt’s open space is threatened by new draft principles for the Town Belt which have been unanimously accepted by the Wellington City Council’s Strategy and Policy Committee (consisting of the mayor and all councillors). The principles are precursors to a council move to override the trust status of the Town Belt.

And there’s another threat: the New Zealand Transport Agency wants to take away town belt land in Ruahine Street to use for its expressway to the airport. The illustration above (from the Transport Agency) shows how Ruahine Street would look after two extra lanes of traffic were been created by cutting into town belt land.

In an increasingly densely populated central Wellington, such open space is a finite and precious resource. Over a third of the town belt has already been lost. New roads and new buildings should not be allowed. Enough is enough.

The vague wording of the city council’s draft principles means the council wants to play fast and lose with town belt land. Take for example principle 5: ‘The Town Belt will be used for a wide range of recreation activities’ which sounds innocuous enough until you read the explanation. This refers to ‘development and expansion’ of ‘formal’ recreation in recreational ‘hubs’; an attempt to treat certain parts of the town belt differently to allow more buildings there. This is contrary to the District Plan and at odds with the existing Town belt Management Plan.

The council doesn’t own the town belt but holds it in trust, under its governing document, the Town Belt Deed, which conveyed the land to the people of Wellington in 1873. The Deed states the land is to be “forever hereafter… a public recreation ground … without any power of for the said trustees to alienate or dispose of the same’. The word “ground” is significant because it implies open space consistent with the instructions of the founders of Wellington who reserved the land for the public “on condition no buildings be ever erected on it”. These instructions were on the first plan of the town of Wellington accepted by the House of Commons in 1840. They are part of New Zealand’s founding documents. The council and the Transport Agency are ill-advised to ignore it.

The Town Belt is indivisible; the Deed applies to all of it. Public opinion, as expressed in submissions over the years, opposes more buildings in the Town Belt and wants its remaining open space protected. This view was strongly supported by the recent Town Belt workshops on the principles. Why did the council go to the trouble of organising these workshops when it has ignored their outcomes?

The draft principles would also allow for the Town Belt’s co-management with mana whenua. Yet only the council is permitted to manage the Town Belt under its Deed, which is perhaps why the council now wants to get rid of it. As revealed at last week’s Strategy & Policy Committee meeting, the principles are precursors for legislation on the Town Belt, Such legislation, as currently drafted, intends to override the Town Belt Deed. This would mean the ownership of the Town Belt by the people of Wellington will be taken away by the council.

One only has to consider the council’s removal of the public’s right to have a say about developments on the waterfront with Variation 11 to see what can happen when the council has beneficial ownership of public land. The Deed, and the trust status it confers, is the Town Belt’s best protection in the face of changing policies of transitory councils.

The Town Belt is the natural inheritance of all Wellingtonians. We have a duty to pass it on to future generations, in trust, with its open space as intact as possible. The council and the Transport Agency should not have the right to take that inheritance away. There should be public outrage at their moves to do so.

David Lee is chairman of Action for Environment Inc, Wellington

11 comments:

  1. Ron Oliver, 8. July 2011, 14:40

    If I had a Million I might be tempted to invest it in a company like infratil.
    It certainly is a very aggressive company with its eye on the prize of increasing traffic flow in the Wellington Area and elsewhere. Who cares whether or not the traffic will become more congested. If there are traffic jams or hold-ups due to daily repairs to the roads, then an investor can think of how much extra petrol customers will use through idling their motors while waiting to get a park or get through to the next set of lights.
    True, there is the collateral damage of more pedestrians being knocked over, but for investors in the oil and motor car industry they probably think the price is worth it. Or perhaps not. Who knows?
    For myself if I did win a million my conscience would probably get the best of me and would probably give much of it away. I am after all not very keen on the idea of flyovers and four lane highways through and into the city I live in.

     
  2. Traveller, 9. July 2011, 6:16

    The article is restrained in light of the enormity of what’s being planned – 35 metres of town belt is to be removed to make way for seven lanes of traffic in Ruahine Street … Everyone should be sending a submission saying they don’t want this to be done.

     
  3. richard richardson, 12. July 2011, 13:45

    i feel the area of town that is proposed to be removed is low quality. I certainly have never used that area or even considered it of any value. As part of the journey from the airport to the city i would expect that an actual town belt, trees right up to the road side would be of provide more value and amenity to the journey than the the high maintenance grass slope. Perhaps this is a chance to ensure the town belt is enhanced and contributes to sense of place associated with wellington. (albeit at high speed.) maybe a scenario is to say – hey we are losing 35m of town belt here, lets make sure the new edges are of high quality, densely planted and consistent with the values embodied in notion of Town Belt.

     
  4. Gina, 12. July 2011, 22:32

    Wellington’s Town Belt is one of the city’s greatest treasures. The majority of Wellingtonians wish to see the Town Belt retained as open space for informal recreation. Why are Wellington city councillors so keen to allow this wonderful asset to have more and more buildings on it? The Town Belt deed is the only thing that has protected the Town Belt from extensive development over the years. Councillors who wish to see creches and cafes on the Town Belt are keen to see the deed replaced. The Chest Hospital site on Mount Victoria, removed from the Town Belt in the early part of the 20th century and latterly returned to the council is no longer protected by the deed . The council has given permission for a large conference centre and cafe to be built on the site. The proposed principles for the Town Belt will see more and more alienation of Town Belt land especially the flat accessible portions.

     
  5. Jamie, 13. July 2011, 7:15

    Richard Richardson. I need to point out something you haven’t realized when you refer to going past the town belt in Hataitai at high speed. You are mistaken because the plan is to put major lights half-way along the current 70km/h area at the entrance to the netball courts, etc. Can you imagine what that will do to traffic flow? (Sorry should say traffic NON-flow.) As if there isn’t enough congestion now, let alone with lights, let alone with more people going to and fro for the new indoor sports centre. So much for your quick trip back and forth from the airport!

     
  6. richard richardson, 13. July 2011, 16:29

    Jamie. My comment was not really concerning speed; it was more to do with the overall experience of the journey from the airport to the CBD. You raise a good point about the ‘actual’ speed cars might be travelling along ruahine street though. This makes the town belt edge/fringe even more important. Cars moving at low speed experience the town belt in a more intensive way. Perhaps this suggests that the final solution should give a greater priority to the quality of the road edge than what is currently shown.

     
  7. andy foster, 13. July 2011, 22:26

    Hi David – While I appreciate and endorse the passion A for E has for the Town Belt, I think you are being a little harsh on Council. Over the period since the 1994 TBMP, we’ve recovered land (Te Ahumariangi Hill and Chest Hospital to add to the Town Belt) and rejected non recreational use on several occasions, resolved some encroachments, and obviously been more active in vegetation management and pest control etc.

    In terms of ‘recreation’, I have no doubt that will be a significant debate among Wellingtonians, and that’s fine, and should be welcomed. What recreation should be allowed and how should it be accommodated and where.

    In terms of the threat constituted by Government’s roading plans I think it would be good to peg out where the approximate road boundaries would be.

    I’ve attached for readers the actual recommendations agreed by Strategy and Policy Committee on 23 June – all were unanimous.

    I particularly suggest you read the ‘changes to appendix 3’ where you will see the additions by councillors – including specific inclusion of the Deed, and strengthening focus on protecting and expanding the Town Belt. The changed words are in capitals.

    RESOLVED:
    THAT the Strategy and Policy Committee:
    1. Receive the information.
    2. Note that the Town Belt Legislative and Policy Framework is currently being reviewed.
    3. Note that an initial high level review of the Town Belt Management Plan indicated a need for:
    – a clearer ‘Statement of Purpose’ or ‘guiding principles’ in the plan to help ensure that community aspirations were reflected in the Town Belt Management Plan policies.
    – clarification of how the Council’s ongoing relationship with Mana Whenua with respect to the Town Belt should be incorporated in the Town Belt Management Plan.
    4. Agree to the following draft guiding principles for the Town Belt Management Plan to be released for consultation by way of the attached discussion document IN APPENDIX 3 (AS AMENDED)

    – There will always be a Town Belt in Wellington
    – The Council will work in partnership with mana whenua to manage the Town Belt
    – The Town Belt’s natural character will be protected AND ENHANCED
    – The Town Belt is for all to enjoy
    – The Town Belt will be used for a wide range of recreation activities
    – Management of the Town Belt will acknowledge historical and cultural links to the land.

    With the following changes to appendix 3 as follows:
    (i) THE IMPACT OF THE TOWN BELT MANAGEMENT PLAN
    Amend the appendix under the heading “The impact of the Town Belt Management Plan” add a note “THAT LAND HAS BEEN RECOVERED TO THE TOWN BELT AND THE CROWN HAS NOT SOLD ANY OF THE ALIENTAED FORMER TOWN BELT LAND.” (page 196 of the agenda)
    (ii) DRAFT TOWN BELT MANAGEMENT PRINCIPLES These principles must be interpreted as a whole and not used as isolated statements.
    1. UNDER THE TOWN BELT DEED OF 1873 THERE WILL ALWAYS BE A TOWN BELT IN WELLINGTON
    This reflects the Council’s commitment to ensuring that there will always be a Town Belt in Wellington for Wellingtonians to enjoy.
    The physical size and continuity of the Town Belt will be retained where possible.
    THE MAYOR AND COUNCILLORS ARE TRUSTEES OF THE TOWN BELT ON BEHALF OF THE CITIZENS OF WELLINGTON.
    The Town Belt will continue to be GOVERNED in trust by the Council.
    The physical size and continuity of the Town Belt will be retained AND ENHANCED where possible.
    AMEND THE TEXT TO STRENGTHEN THE DESCRIPTION REGARDING OPPOSING ALIENATION OF TOWN BELT LAND. (Page 203 of the agenda)
    5. Note that public consultation on the draft guiding principles would occur from the beginning of July to 9 September 2011 and that the draft guiding principles for the Town Belt Management Plan will be presented to SPC for approval in December 2011 following public consultation.
    6. Agree to:
    – consult on the draft guiding principles for the Town Belt Management Plan by way of the attached discussion document .
    St
    8 delegate to the Chief Executive and Natural Environment portfolio leader, the authority to make editorial changes to the discussion documents and make amendments required as a result of decisions of this committee, prior to it being released for public consultation.
    NOTED:
    The resolution differs from the recommendations in the officer’s report as follows:
    The Committee added the text in bold and deleted the text with strikethrough.

     
  8. Richard, 13. July 2011, 22:53

    Many of my elderly and disabled friends use the grassed area on the Town Belt adjacent to Ruahine Street for walking their dogs. There are few flat accessible areas on the Town Belt that can be easily accessed by car for those who can’t walk far. I will be very sad to see this area lost to roading.

     
  9. Mike Mellor, 14. July 2011, 16:43

    Andy: your suggestion of pegging out the proposed SH1 boundaries through the Town Belt (and across Kilbirnie Park) is an excellent one. Can WCC organise that, please?

     
  10. Andrew Thrift, 15. July 2011, 13:26

    “The physical size and continuity of the Town Belt will be retained where possible”

    It’s the last two words that bother me; very woolly for an asset that is supposedly there, in trust and in perpetuity for future generations. How about “We will only ever grow the Town Belt and never reduce its size, ever”?

    The latest “Let’s move the traffic jams 10 yards down the road” ideas about the road expansion gives a feel for how flimsy “where possible” is; I imagine another 200 years of that sort of “protection” should see it off completely.

     
  11. David Lee, 18. July 2011, 15:14

    In reply to Andy Foster, the council only has itself to blame for raising concerns about the Town Belt with the convoluted way it is reviewing TB policies. Instead of releasing an updated draft of the existing Town Belt Management Plan, it has come up with a set of vaguely worded “guiding principles” that require a an accompanying “What we mean” explanation in more ambiguous language [one would have thought that principles should be self explanatory]..

    The existing TBMP rightly has as its first aim: “A Town Belt which is managed with the principal intention of the original Deed of 1873, which is to keep the Town Belt land forever as a public recreation ground for the inhabitants of the City of Wellington.” The guiding principles on the other hand don’t even mention the Deed {although there is a reference to it as an after thought in the appendix]. The Deed is the Town Belt’s governing document. It defines its special trust status.
    Managing the Town Belt in accordance with the Deed should be the primary guiding principle. Why isn’t it?

    Cr Foster no doubt has the answer. He has stated that the principles are precursors for legislation on the Town Belt. This should set alarm bells ringing among the owners of the Town belt, the citizens of Wellington. The council has drafted a Local Bill on the Town Belt that states its purpose is to; “replace the various powers and limitations in the Deed”. This Bill would give the council the power to grant easements [property rights] over TB land. It would enable the council to undertake “any work which is in its opinion desirable” {including the construction of buildings and roads]. The Bill would allow the council to permit “any” temporary use of the Town Belt “on such conditions as it thinks fir”. it would also give the council power to restrict public access “to any part of the Town belt whenever and for as long as desirable to do so”.

    One of the guiding principles proclaims “There will also be ‘a’ Town Belt.” One wonders what sort of Town Belt? Under this legislation it would end up as just another council reserve. Present and future generations of Wellingtonians would lose their natural inheritance,