Government bill aimed at removing community consultation

According to internet reports, the Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill has been just tabled by the government, and it holds major changes for the input that local communities can have into the council’s Long Term Council Community Plans. The report states:

Much of the bill is technical and shifts legal obligations around long-term community plans to one place. But it is also aimed at “remov[ing] unnecessary consultation” and “leveling the playing field to better enable the private sector to deliver local authority services”. The former limits the community’s say in that long-term community plan – basically, we will no longer be allowed to have an annual say in what our councils will do.

If correct, this is a very disturbing development. The Local Government Act requires that each council (in our case the Wellington City Council and the Greater Wellington Regional Council) produce a long term plan that explains what the Council intends to do over the coming decade. It’s an important document for the Council and local residents alike, and the Mt Victoria Residents Association has made regular submissions on the appropriate LTCCPs to help shape the plans in ways that are important to our neighbourhood.

And irrespective of the ideological position of the current Minister of Local Government, it’s simply not acceptable to remove the input of local residents into the plans of their Councils. As the recent conference of residents associations at Parliament showed, there is already considerable concern about the degree to which community involvement is pushed aside in Council decisions. Removing so-called “unnecessary consultation” is hardly the way to improve matters.

The Bill is at an early stage of the parliamentary process, so there is hope that a more sensible approach will prevail. After all, this draconian and anti-democratic approach is not even hinted at in the ACT Party policy on local government, and it would be very disappointing to discover that the current Minister was attempting to disenfranchise local communities by stealth.

Changes proposed for Pirie St bus tunnel

Following the hit-and-run incident involving Earl Krauskopf in the Pirie St bus tunnel last year, the Wellington City Council has proposed some wide-ranging changes intended to make the tunnel safer – but like many of these things, there are pros and cons for local residents.

In a well-researched paper from the Council’s Paul Barker and Steve Spence (attached below), a number of options have been explored to make the tunnel safer. These include:

    • Doing nothing, and simply accepting the fact that more crashes will occur;
    • Improving enforcement for illegal tunnel users by changing the designation of the tunnel;
    • Installing barrier arms to block after-hours access;
    • Installing bollards that only operate for buses, thus blocking all other vehicles.

    All of these options have different costs and benefits, with the most expensive being the installation of barrier arms and/or bollards. Much of the expense would come from retrofitting buses with the equipment necessary to trigger automatic bollards, and there are some significant ongoing costs for ratepayers in maintaining and running the equipment.

    The Council’s preferred option is to change the designation of the tunnel to a bus-only lane, which would allow the Council (rather than the Police) to enforce a fine against car drivers who use the tunnel illegally. And according to Council surveys, there are around 70 cars a day who fall into this category – a much higher number than local residents had estimated. So enforcing a bus-only designation would be both practical and profitable.

    However the downside is that a Council bus-only designation would allow non-Go Wellington buses (such as tour buses) and out-of-service buses to use the tunnel, significantly increasing congestion in Pirie Street and adding to the traffic and pollution load in the neighbourhood. So there is a very real prospect that cars would no longer use the tunnel (thanks to better enforcement), but an even greater number of buses would come thundering down narrow Mt Victoria streets.

    And like some other parts of the city, the sheer number of buses is already causing congestion around the tunnel, as this photo of a recent weekday morning shows:

    So there are pros and cons with the Council’s approach. The next step is that the proposed traffic resolutions will be put out for public consultation, and local residents can have their say about how best to balance the needs of the neighbourhood with the smooth functioning of the city’s transport network.

Do fences matter?

Recently a local resident raised concerns about the style of fencing that had been added to one of the traditional villas in the neighbourhood:

One thing that has been dismaying me recently is the rash of horizontal-batten, untreated wooden fences being constructed around historic Mt Vic houses …. a recent house has been built to mirror existing heritage structures. Well and good – but it’s now fronted by one of these horizontal-batten, untreated wooden fences. These are terribly fashionable, I know, and feature in all the trendy design magazines. They are completely wrong, however, for character-style houses, whether old or new – it looks like a venerable old lady is being crammed into skin-tight, modern jeans.

What’s the point of buying a heritage house if you desecrate it like this? There’s nothing wrong with careful, thoughtful additions – these have always been made, and always will be – but these horizontal-batten, untreated wooden fences are grotesquely inappropriate for Mt Vic’s gracious old housing stock.

As it turns out, the design of your fence is almost completely unregulated – you can build a fence of less than 1.8m in height on your own property as a matter of right, without the need for a building permit or resource consent. As a result, almost every conceivable style of fence can be seen around the neighbourhood, from wrought iron to pickets to 1980s trellis and uber-trendy horizontal batten.

And there seem to be a number of different points of view. In some cases, people think that the front fence is an integral part of the character of the home and the local streetscape, while others see fences as more akin to a fashionable coffee table – a changeable and almost ephemeral design decision that can be altered easily as fashion dictates.

What do you think? Do fences matter to the character of the neighbourhood, or are they merely a design flourish? Leave your thoughts in the comments!