by Helene Ritchie
Wellington our city is the capital of Aotearoa/New Zealand. It is the seat of government and our democracy. But the city council is about to deny the public a fundamental democratic right.

Council staff recommend that councilors vote to prevent the public from appealing the statutory district plan to the environmental tribunal.

This is completely unacceptable, even as a point of discussion within the Council. Every citizen has the right of access to the Court. No board should even consider banning it. But that’s what our board will be voting on tomorrow.

It’s absurd. It’s discourteous. It is wrong. It has profound implications for democracy and for the city.

If the plan is passed on the basis of misleading advice from staff, it will do nothing to ensure “affordable” homes are built. The law (the RMA enabling law) passed in haste last year, requires that aspects related to densification follow a streamlined process.

“Where the plan is linked to…. scaling up, it has to go through the streamlined process. The remaining content must progress separately”.

Staff are wrong to say in their report, as they do, that adding the “remaining content” of the district plan under a streamlined process “will allow for more housing”. This will not be the case. It will deny appeal rights on “remaining content”. He will simply deny public access to the Court. He will deny justice.

Staff also mislead advisors when they say “The proposed district plan (PDP) replaces the city’s existing operational district plan.” It’s not. The statutory plan once adopted will be. Perhaps the Council has already decided to ignore all present and future submissions and intends to adopt the proposed district plan as is? It looks a lot like it.

Also, it’s infuriating for the staff to say “this extensive community involvement to date is incorporated into the district plan to be notified”. Is it? Only they would know. We were not informed.

The Wellington Civic Trust made a good faith submission on the draft Short Term District Plan on what is now referred to as ‘the remaining content’. It was the ‘remaining content’ that the Trust tackled, knowing that the escalation had been well covered by others and by Parliament.

The ‘remaining content’ is the waterfront, Te Ngakau/Civic Center and the city belt – the crown jewels of Wellington and the port area.

Additionally, we advocated for a commitment to green spaces for CBD. But this is not explained in the staff report.

Our submission expressed strong concerns (and shortcomings), some of which were:

The waterfront :
• Authorized proliferation of new small buildings on public open space,
• Authorized extensions to buildings,
• Authorized hotels
• Public transport and public transport infrastructure are authorized there,
• Authorized industrial activities;
• No public notification for new buildings,
• Existing public open spaces gone (filled with small buildings and extensions?)
• Mapping of Frank Kitts Park which does not reflect the Council’s Central City Greenspace Policy which identifies all of Frank Kitts Park as a “destination park”, the highest classification (along with Waitangi) of all parks.

civic center
• Given that there is no particular value as a neighborhood and heritage district (which is the case in the current district plan),
• Only two buildings – Town Hall and Town Art Gallery listed as heritage buildings (excluding the library although Heritage NZ has listed it as a Category 1. Historic Place,
• Excluding MOB, CAB, City to Sea Bridge as contributing buildings
• Demolition authorized in the civic center which should be the subject of a request for authorization of notified resources.

“This is of great concern to the Trust, given the very significant cultural, social and functional significance of the Te Ngakau compound to the city…it is a serious omission for a place of such importance In the Operational Plan, the Civic Center is identified as a heritage district and as one of the unique neighborhoods and neighborhoods crucial to the cultural heritage and sense of place of the core area:

The Town Belt area (among others)
• Authorize, without constraint, any parking and vehicle access to this place, as well as the construction, modification and addition of trails, tracks and new buildings.

Green space and trees
• In search of this network of downtown green spaces
be integrated into the district plan and designated areas in order to achieve it.
• Seek that existing vegetation and trees be retained in suburban areas

It is often said that the mayor has only one vote. But the mayor has a lot more power than that – most exercised behind closed doors. In this case, he has the power to withdraw the staff report. It should never have seen the light of day.

And if it’s not removed, in the interests of democracy in our city, it should be thrown out.

Helene Ritchie is a former deputy mayor. She chairs the Wellington Civic Trust.