2 June 2011

Submission on the WCC draft annual plan 2011/12


Introduction

1. The Trust commends the Council for the presentation of the plan – the language is plain and direct and issues for comment have been highlighted to facilitate public involvement. The areas of ‘focus approach’ is particularly useful.
2. We accept the strategy on which the plan is based, as explained in the opening comments from both the Mayor and the Chief Executive. Rates affordability is a key issue. The city has to continue to invest in core infrastructure and if acceptable living standards are to be maintained, so must essential services. A number of service charges are being increased. This is no doubt inevitable because the ratepayer should not have to bear the full burden of unavoidable increased in costs. It would, however, be a shame if service charges forced an increasing number of our citizens to be priced out of services previously within their reach. That would amount to a partial loss of citizenship.

Deep water pool feasibility study (Overview, page 19)

1. The proposal to spend $650,000 on a feasibility study for the construction of a deep water pool at the Wellington Regional Aquatic Centre does not seem to be in tune with a plan where the general emphasis is on financial prudence in the face of rising costs.
2. We are told that this proposal has been discussed for some years. It seems strange to move on it at a time which is the least propitious. The wish to equip the city with facilities that can attract major national and international events is understandable, but the pace of development has to be measured – measured against the financial commitments which it is prudent to undertake in a very uncertain environment. Those concerned that the city does not financially over commit itself are still calming their nerves following the the $45m sports centre at Kilbirnie.
3. Unfortunately the deep water pool proposal, coupled with the waterfront Kumumtoto toilet project (see later in our submission), will become symbolic of a council strategy of financial restraint not matched by its subsequent decision-making.

Climate change (2.5, page 45)

4. The year 2011/12 will take us closer to the target years set by the Council by which time the city’s emissions of green house gases will have been dramatically reduced (by 2020 a reduction of 30% and by 2050 a reduction of 80%). Given that the majority of councillors still seem keen on making life easier for the private motorist, with major public infrastructure being devoted to roads, we see little evidence that the Council is preparing the city for a low carbon future. Last year the Council adopted an additional target of a 3% reduction on 2001 levels to be achieved by the end of 2012/13.

This annual plan should have indicated where we now are in respect of that target and have listed new initiatives in an effort to achieve it.

Urban planning – 2040 Central City Framework (6.1 page 80)

7 The Trust notes that in 2011/12 the Wellington 2040 Central City Framework will be finalised. The success of that process will be at least partly dependent on effective engagement with the public. As long ago as the end of 2009 the Trust made a submission in response to the 2040 discussion document. Last August a closed councillors workshop discussed the issue. There has been no feedback from the Council in terms of our submission. On 4 April there was a strange news item in the Dominion Post regarding the 2040 related Space Syntax study, which suggested that it had proposed a waterfront promenade! Exercises which gaze into the distant future are vulnerable to comments from those of a cynical frame of mind. If the public is to be effectively engaged it has to be kept informed and closed workshops and inexplicable press items do not help. We await the promised framework with interest and the provisions it will make for effective public involvement in what we, uncynically, believe is a very important project.

District plan (6.3, page 85)

8 The District Plan is a readily accessible document through the Council’s website. Unfortunately it is also a misleading document, as the Trust found in its research on the decisions relating to the airport company’s success in getting a non-notified resource consent to erect a sign 12 times larger than the maximum stated in the plan. We had hoped that there might be a reference in the annual plan to a review of the presentation of that document, so that the ordinary citizen could read and understand it without the need for a professional interpreter.

Earthquake Risk Mitigation (6.4, page 87)

9 The Trust is pleased that the Council is reviewing its earthquake risk assessment programme and the time allowed for strengthening work. We fully appreciate the very hard decisions that have to be made in this policy area. As an organisation which places a high priority on heritage values, we would be concerned about the consequences of any policy which forced the demolition of character buildings. But the Council has a responsibility to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of its citizens and visitors. What concerns us is that a significant number of older buildings (estimated from 600 to 3,800) do not even meet the statutory requirement of at least 34% strength of the building code required for new buildings. Whether or not that statutory requirement should be reviewed is also a matter which should be addressed by the Council, with a view to making representations to ministers.

Waterfront (6.5, pages 88 and 164)

10 It is noted that discussions are continuing with interested developers for site 10 in the Kumutoto section of the waterfront. The Trust strongly supports an appropriate development of that site conforming to the standards set out in Variation 11. The Council and the waterfront company have repeatedly said that developers for sites needed to know what the district plan requirements for a site were before developing and submitting their proposals. We are therefore surprised that the Council has not pressed for a hearing of the appeals submitted against the commissioners’ approval of the variation. While the Trust considered that the variation approach was a mistaken path, we do not think that a halt in the process without explanation is appropriate. The Trust is aware that unless the company can get revenue from this site the outlook for paying back the Council loan (which could rise to $20m) is bleak.

11 The draft waterfront Development Plan for 2011/12 states that master planning for Queens Wharf has been completed and the results presented to the Council early in 2011. The company “is not recommending that it be progressed in its totality, rather that it be reviewed for viability in 2 or 3 years” (p171). However, it is investigating some development of the southern arm of the Outer-T for the operations of the helicopter company. Presumably the public will be given an opportunity to comment on this proposal for a partial development of this iconic site. But it is also time that the public was privy to the master plan. That is a prerequisite for evaluating the appropriateness of the Outer-T project. Queens Wharf is at the heart of the waterfront project and public engagement and transparency are principles at the heart of the waterfront project process.

12 The Trust notes that the Kumutoto toilets project is not listed in works scheduled for 2011/12. It was on the list for 2010/11. According to the second quarter report to the Council Controlled Organisations Committee construction was expected to begin in the third quarter. That quarter has come and gone but there is no sign of construction. We are, of course hopeful that this means that the company is not proceeding with a project which in current circumstances should have a very low priority.

Parking fees (7.3, page 97)

13 The proposal to increase parking fees by $1 is reasonable in current circumstances. We are concerned about the implications of extending, for some areas, the time when charges apply in the evening. While a $1 increase in the fee is unlikely to alter parking habits, an extension of the charging period will. It could have an adverse effect on bars, cafes and restaurants. We assume that during weekdays (apart from Fridays) parks in the central city are not heavily used. It is not therefore a case of rationing the supply. We would have thought it would have been more prudent to increase the charging period by one hour only and monitor its impact.

Sharmian Firth

Chair

Leave a Reply