Wellington Scoop
Network

Hands off the town belt

by David Lee
The Wellington City Council is considering drafting instructions for a bill on the Town Belt which would radically change its status and protection. Councillors are doing this against a background of complaints about their axing of jobs at Citi Operations, and complaints that they don’t know what’s going on in their organisation and that real power lies in the hands of council officers. A similar situation exists with proposed Town Belt legislation.

The officers’ report to the Town Belt Sub-Committee on 17 April, referring to public consultation, states that only five submissions opposed “the overall objectives” of the proposed legislation. The submissions referred to are on ‘tick-the-box’ council forms. There is no mention of the individually written submissions, 30 of which opposed the legislation as drafted and others were critical of some aspects of it. Unlike the tick-the-box submissions, individually written ones provide explanations for their opposition and should therefore carry more weight. So why weren’t they referred to in the officers’ report? This seems another manifestation of the culture of keeping councillors in the dark.

Although the officers’ report admits many submitters have concerns that the proposed legislation will give too many powers to officers to make major decisions on the Town Belt, it goes on to say “officers recommend no change to this overall approach”. To paraphrase Mandy Rice-Davies: “Of course they would say that, wouldn’t they”. More power over the Town Belt has long been on council officialdom’s agenda. The crucial question is why should such powers be given to it?

In response to submitters concerns that the proposed legislation would prevail over the 1873 Deed which gifted the land to the citizens of Wellington, the officers’ report claims that managing the Town Belt in accordance with the Deed creates “ongoing risk” (although it doesn’t say what that ‘risk’ is). The report also claims that the current position (where the Deed requires the Town Belt to be held “for ever hereafter…upon trust” as a public recreation ground for the citizens of Wellington “and their successors’. “without any power of the said trustees to (alienate) or dispose of the same”) gives the council “broad powers” to manage the Town Belt. The report then uses this as an excuse for seeking even more “flexible” powers over Town Belt land! This excuse ignores the fact that the council also has to manage the Town Belt in accordance with the Reserves Act, the District Plan’s Open Space C zoning (which council officials intend changing!) and the Town Belt Management Plan.

Submitters also expressed concerns about the proposed removal of the Reserves Act. This would mean another level of the Town Belt’s protection will be taken away. The officers’ report states that “Any relevant parts of the Reserve Act are going to be included in the local bill”. Which begs the question: if these parts are so important why get rid of the Act? It is frankly ludicrous that the first area of land to be reserved in New Zealand is not going to be covered by the Reserves Act.

As for the proposed legislation providing “stronger, not weaker safeguards” for the Town Belt, one can only say “yeah right”! Those so-called safeguards would be at the discretion of anonymous officials exercising what the report calls “relatively flexible powers”, without the public’s or even councillors’ knowledge. Under the Town Belt Deed, the council does not have beneficial ownership of land. This protects the Town Belt from the sort of thing we have seen with waterfront land where the council does have ‘flexible powers’. Decades of battling to protect public ownership and open space there is still ongoing. A public survey and workshops of community groups in 2011 indicate this is not what the people of Wellington (the owners) want for the Town Belt.

The bill, if passed into law according to the drafting instructions, would make the most radical changes to the status and control of the Town Belt since it was gifted to the people of Wellington. It is akin to attempting to change a will 140 years after it has been executed. It is an attempted takeover of the commons. One submitter called aspects of the proposed legislation “despicable”. Acceptance of them could be deemed a breach of trust. And all this is being done for bureaucratic “flexibility”!

The legal return of former Town Belt land to Town Belt status is to be welcomed. But this shouldn’t come at the price of compromising the Town Belt’s status. The mayor and councillors, as trustees of the Town Belt, have a duty to protect it and pass it on to future generations of Wellingtonians as they received it, with the Town Belt Deed as its governing document. They should show some leadership on this issue and refuse to rubber stamp the officials’ quest for more power over Town Belt land. The council should leave the Deed alone.

David Lee is President of Action for Environment Inc

15 comments:

  1. Elaine Hampton, 30. May 2013, 11:02

    Excellent summary.
    The Town Belt Deed should prevail. The changes have many conflicting parts, such as ‘commercial activity is not allowed’ then ‘commercial activity is allowed at the officers’ discretion.’ Do we want the Town Belt sold / leased off for dubious income like the Waterfront? The Councillors appear not to mind the $20 million debt that has been run up for ratepayers whilst the Waterfront has been lost.
    Friends of the Townbelt seem so focussed on getting alienated land back in, that they fail to see the cost that will be paid by you and me as Wellingtonians

     
  2. Helene Ritchie, 30. May 2013, 15:07

    David,

    The words “relatively flexible” have been removed by the subcommittee as a result of submissions.

    The 259 written submissions and 62 oral were all carefully considerd by the subcommittee, and much of their comment is incorporated in the two documents: the Town Belt Management Plan and the drafting instructions for the legislation. The majority of submissions were highly supportive, and constructive, and added significantly to the body of the final report of the subcommittee.

    Thank you for your contribution.

    Kind regards
    Helene Ritchie
    Councillor
    Chair: The Wellington Town Belt Subcommittee

     
  3. Michael Gibson, 30. May 2013, 16:47

    The submissions were never even tabled at a Council Committee Meeting and were never produced for the inspection of members of the public attending such meetings. I think that this alone more than justifies Mr Lee’s points about officers being wrongly in control.
    It would also be wrong to buy off some Councillor by putting the Town Belt under the control of some Council Controlled Organisation (CCO) like the Waterfront and paying him or her a small extra fortune to keep quiet about its activities.
    What this means is that any Local Members Bill will be highly controversial and should not be put before the House of Representatives.

     
  4. Councillor Helene Ritchie, 30. May 2013, 20:19

    Hi Michael,
    The submissions are public documents and all available of course to councillors (and subcommitteed members) and the public. They are summarised and comments are made in the body of the final report to the subcommittee. They were fully considered by the subcommittee – heard and read, and discussed and much of them formed part of the final Plan.

    There is no intention that I know of to have the Town Belt become a CCO. That certainly was not part of our deliberations whatsoever.

    The subcommittee made up of Councillors Ritchie (Chair) Morrison, Foster and Pannett, reached a unanimous decision by consensus (and vote) on the entire Town Belt Management Plan, and the report which includes recommendations, drafting instructions, the Plan and Appendices is 448 pages long.

    The subcommittee and the staff worked very hard and have produced an excellent document – The Town Belt Managment Plan for the next 10 years, and drafting instructions to go out for further public consultation once the Bill is drafted.

    Our aim, in summary, has been to protect and enhance the Town Belt for all to enjoy, by the best means possible; and we have worked hard to achieve that. For the staff and myself as Portfolio leader of the Natural Environment, this review started almost three years ago; for the hearings subcommittee itself some three months ago. It has been a mammoth and important undertaking for the future wellbeing of the Town Belt and the Capital.

    I am disappointed that you are so dismissive of the outcome which has resulted in significant strengthening of the protection and enhancement of the Town Belt for future generations, and greater clarity of its governance and day to day management. So many members of the public made so much constructive effort and the City and the Town Belt has been the better for their positive and learned contribution.

    Kind regards
    Councillor Helene Ritchie
    Chair The Wellington Town Belt Subcommittee
    Portfolio Leader Natural Environment

     
  5. Maximus, 31. May 2013, 11:45

    Thank you Helene,
    Would you be able to elaborate on how the proposed land grab by the NZTA figures in that Town Belt proposal? As you know, the NZTA propose to widen the Wellington road / Ruahine St route in Haitaitai that runs along the edge of the town belt, from 2 lanes to 6 lanes in places, hence taking a large swathe of the Town Belt land and converting it into Tarmac. Also destroying the Badminton Hall etc. NZTA will be quite insistent on that, as their Basin Reserve desecrations will come to nothing unless they can also build a second tunnel and widen these roads – I would be most interested to hear how a sub-committee composed of pro-road Morrison, anti-road Pannett, perennial fence-sitter Foster, and yourself managed to negotiate an agreeable way forward on that issue.

     
  6. Mike Mellor, 31. May 2013, 21:08

    Ruahine St is actually proposed to be eight lanes wide for some distance each side of the Goa St intersection: three lanes in each direction, a turning lane and a service lane – see http://www.nzta.govt.nz/projects/mt-victoria-to-cobham/docs/nzta-witi-brochure-201107.pdf – encroaching up to 35 metres into the Town Belt from the existing road, and exceeding the existing designation by up to 25 metres.

    The description of the service lane varies: on p1 it’s a “new pedestrian and cycle path”, a “new dedicated pedestrian and cycling facility” on p3, a “separate … pedestrian and cycle path … shared as a ‘service lane’ with vehicles” on p12, and a “service lane shared with pedestrians and cyclists” on p13.

     
  7. Councillor Helene Ritchie, 31. May 2013, 22:17

    Dear Maximus,

    I reply to your question:

    The Minutes of the Town Belt Management Plan Hearings Subcommittee, adopted 30 May show you in two places that the subcommittee made the following amendments (relevant to your question):

    1. Alexandra Road should not be used as an alternative vehicular to/from Hataitai Park access except for utility vehicles
    NZTA in their submission wanted to use Alexandra Road instead of entry/exit opposite Goa St onto Ruahine
    NZTA in their submission also wanted the subcommittee to recommend that Council enter into a voluntary agreement regarding Ruahine St etc.

    2. ….Agreed that there will be no voluntary agreement with NZTA over the loss of Town Belt land taken compulsorily under the Public Works Act, as that would be contrary to our Trustee obligation.

    Councillor Foster voted against this but these decisions remained unchanged by the subcommittee at the final unanimous vote of the final meeting on 30 May of the subcommittee.

    The Minutes of the 17 April adopted on 30 May also say, “5. Note that the officers will prepare a final draft of the Wellington Town Belt Management Plan and drafting instructions based on the above (and other) changes for approval by the TB Management Plan hearings subcommmittee.”

    I trust this is helpful.
    Kind regards
    Helene Ritchie
    Councillor
    Chair The Wellington Town Belt Subcommittee

     
  8. Councillor Helene Ritchie, 3. June 2013, 11:59

    P.S. Re process from now on:

    The report of the subcommittee with recommendations on the final Town belt Managment Plan for the next 10 years, and the drafting instructions for the Bill, unanimously voted on, goes to the Strategy and Policy committee on June 20, and final Council on June 27.

    Amendments could be made by councillors, but as this has been such a thorough process, I am optimitistic that none will need to be made.

    The draft Bill, once drafted itself will go through a further consultation process, and a Crown-Select committee process.

    Kind regards
    Helene Ritchie
    Natural Environment Portfolio Leader
    Chair Town Belt Subcommittee

     
  9. Maximus, 3. June 2013, 17:32

    Thanks Helene. Very informative. But I’m not as hopeful as you that the draft Bill will go through unscathed. Basically it sounds as if you have a Bill that would make it very difficult for the Government to take land for the purposes of roading. Clearly, bully-boy Joyce and his evil henchmen want to push a new 6 – 8 lane highway through the edge of the Town Belt, and don’t plan to be stopped in that.

    The National Government have already proven themselves quite at home by subverting justice and cutting out any say that the public might like to think they should have, and so I have no doubt that either at Select Committee stage or later, the Bill will be changed to give a clear route that NZTA can take to abscond with the land.

     
  10. Councillor Helene Ritchie, 3. June 2013, 20:23

    Yes the draft bill still has a further process.

    The 10 year Wellington Town Belt Management Plan and the drafting instructions for the draft bill to be prepared have been approved by the subcommittee I chaired, and should be approved by the Strategy and Policy Commttee (20 June) and Council (27 June).

    Regards

    Helene

     
  11. andy foster, 5. June 2013, 12:15

    Hi Maximus – the clear legal advice we had is that the Public Works Act gives the right for NZTA in this case to take land for a public work. As I understand it there is little or no other legislation that prevents that occurring throughout the country. The advice we had was that there was little chance the Government (probably of either colour) would give away that PWA power in a local Bill as is planned for the Town Belt.

    Council has made clear that we want to minimise any intrusion into the Town Belt for roading purposes, and I think we will get a reduction in scale of works.

    Council, like anyone else has the right to make a submission on any designation application along Ruahine St, and I am sure we would do that to limit impacts on the Town Belt. Both the TBMP and Council’s submissions to NZTA and ongoing discussion make that very plain.

    Then the question becomes how do we respond when NZTA seeks to take a (reduced) area of land ? One option is that we will not negotiate. The legal process would be followed through, the land would be taken for roading, and Council would receive (monetary) compensation reflecting the monetary value of the land taken.

    The other option which to me makes a lot more sense is for Council, as trustee on behalf of the citizens of Wellington, to negotiate with NZTA in terms of like for like compensation. The Crown holds former Town Belt land that it doesn’t need or use, and we have said that we would like it back. (land above the Colleges, Clifton Terrace, Devon St gully in Aro Valley) This land was identified as desirable to be returned to Town Belt in the 1995 Management Plan, the 1998 Reinstatement Policy and is again in the current Management Plan.

    Under the 1995 TBMP we’ve recovered significant land areas from Telecom/Chorus (large part of Te Ahumairangi Hill), and the Crown (Chest Hospital)

    I think that allowing Council to negotiate the best possible outcome when faced with the PWA process would serve the Town Belt far better.

    Regards

    Andy

     
  12. David Lee, 6. June 2013, 18:54

    Helene, you have removed the phrase “relatively flexible” from the instructions for a bill on the Town Belt. But you are still going to give council officials more power over the TB. Do the instructions still seek to abolish the restrictions the Council has over Town Belt land? Will the legislation prevail over the Deed? Will the council be able to undertake work on the Town Belt “it considers desirable”, including construction of buildings? Will the council be able to authorise “any use” of the Town Belt, including “for profit/commercial activities? Are council officers still going to be allowed to interpret ‘public recreation ground’ as “applying to circumstances as they arise”? Is the Reserves Act still going to be removed from the Town Belt? If the bill is still going to do these things then the removal of “relatively flexible” seems like just a bit of spin.

    Regarding the “highly supportive” response from submitters, of course most Wellingtonians want former Town Belt land returned to legal Town Belt status. The vague question on legislation in the council’s tick-the-box submission form was framed to get a maximum agreement. A more honest question would have been: “Should the council be given more power over the Town Belt?”

    The council officers’ line that giving them more power will better protect the Town Belt, is a bit like saying Variation 17 & Variation 11 would have better protected open space on the waterfront. You refer to the National Government’s subversion of justice, and many people would agree with you. But what about the subversion of the Town Belt’s heritage, status and protection.

     
  13. Michael Gibson, 8. June 2013, 14:30

    It is misleading for Cr Ritchie to say that “Minutes of the Town Belt Management Plan Hearings Subcommittee, adopted 30 May show……. the following amendment ….. ‘Alexandra Road should not be used as an alternative vehicular to/from Hataitai Park access except for utility vehicles'” while she keeps quiet about the actual proposal which is to set up an Advisory Group to develop a plan which might or might not decide to do any such thing,
    In any event, the words “should not be used” are soft-soaped flannel & are not mandatory. Why is this & the setting-up of an Advisory Group being glossed over?
    My experience of this dangerous Sub-Committee is that this sort of non-performing wish-listing is too commonly used as a excuse for failure in actual performance.

     
  14. andy foster, 9. June 2013, 12:26

    Michael – for what it is worth the minutes of the TBMPHS can’t have been adopted yet as there have been no subsequent meetings to adopt them.

    More substantively because the document is long and detailed, I undertook to send minor amendments to officers and the subcommittee chair. They were almost entirely minor or for clarification in nature. I don’t yet know if they have all been included but the relevant one in this case was (Page 344 8.8.4.1 last bullet point Alexandra Road ‘will not’ rather than ‘should not’ be used as an alternative for vehicular access) That should (will undoubtedly !) address your concerns on this matter.

    Final comment. I don’t think that it is remotely reasonable to label the subcommittee as ‘dangerous’. You’ve attended on a few occasions, mostly very briefly, so it I would have thought it difficult to make a judgement on that basis.

    Crs Ritchie, Pannett, myself and sometimes Cr Morrison have taken a lot of time to listen to about 80 submitters, go through approximately 270 submissions, wrestle with some important issues, and make smaller amendments of detail. There have been a very large number of really good changes in response to submissions. The entire ecology chapter has been rewritten in concert with a number of submitters with expertise in this area. I should here say a very big thank you to all the submitters.

    There are definitely areas where different members of the public will have different views – and it is therefore obviously impossible that everyone will be happy. However I think it will be a worthy successor to the original 1995 Management Plan, and reflects well the importance of the Town Belt. As councillors we are very conscious that the Town Belt has special status, it’s not Council owned land but held in trust, and that we as current councillors are merely the current trustees on the collective behalf of Wellingtonians.

    In terms of the drafting instructions for legislation which was David Lee’s focus in the original article: that has a long way to go. There will be a draft bill which Council will then debate and consult on before it goes to the Parliamentary process. I am confident, especially following the various discussions we had (in open committee attended by the Friends of the Town Belt and Civic Trust), that will be done thoroughly and taking on board any reasonable concerns people have. We have particularly asked questions about the replacement of the Reserves Act, and about the legislation being in keeping with the 1873 Deed, and also with the original 1840 intent.

    Kind Regards, and again thank you to all the people who took time to make submissions.

    Andy Foster
    Councillor

     
  15. SJ Watt, 9. June 2013, 15:39

    My submission opposed any further legislation on the Town Belt. One reason is that in the event of Wellington region becoming a ‘supercity’, a move the Wellington City Council supports, councillors would have broadly flexible powers and most would have little or no regard for the intent of the original Deed that it be a public recreation ground for the inhabitants of the City of Wellington..
    In addition, the Town Belt Deed of 1873 conveyed the the land to “The Mayor Councillors and Citizens of the City of Wellington”. This clearly does not include Councillors representing people in Kapiti Coast, Upper Hutt etc. and they should not have any powers regarding the Town Belt.