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Final decision looms over public coastal land

Final decision looms over fate of public coastal land on Wellington's South Coast

Tena Koutou,
Last Thursday 22 September 2005 (in the absence of the local Councillors who represent South Wellington), Wellington City Council's Strategy and Policy Committee pushed through extremely controversial staff recommendations to sell part of the publicly owned coastal land which was purchased from the Milburn quarry company in 2000 to private developers.

Thursday's Council Committee also rubber-stamped a package of recommendations, including the building of a "kiosk with toilets" (which some have described as a "glorified bus shelter") - an idea which has never gone out for public consultation.

The Committee refused requests from the public at the meeting for full and specific public consultation of the kind which WCC does for other reserve areas around the City such as Shorland Park.

However, the whole issue is being voted on finally on TUESDAY NIGHT (27 September) at the full Council meeting at the Council Chambers in the old Town Hall building, beginning at 6 p.m. As one of the Southern Councillors who represents the area (Bryan Pepperell) has just arrived back from overseas to discover what has been done in his absence, we are expecting that there will be a very lively debate at the meeting on Tuesday. We hope that reason will finally prevail, and sweetness and light will descend.

However, unfortunately the local Green Councillor (Celia Wade Brown) will still be overseas when Tuesday's meeting takes place, so there is one less vote for the local community.

The Southern Environmental Association (SEA), Island Bay Residents' Association, South Coast Progressive Association and other locals are fighting to save this key public coastal land from sale, and are urging the Council to consult the public further on proposals for the future of the site. SEA led the fight to save the land in the 1990s.

Some reasons why we believe the Council must not sell any of the public land at the Owhiro Bay coastal reserve at the end of Owhiro Bay Parade:

1. The original intent for the community in asking the Council to purchase this land from the Milburn quarry company in 2000 was to place ALL of the land in a permanent wonderful coastal reserve for the benefit of the public of Wellington and New Zealand, to rehabilitate the land, and make it available for permanent public use. The sale proposal goes right against the original intent of the community's successful campaign for the acquisition of the land. For some reason the Council has delayed the formalisation of reserve status for the land, and this has led to the current opportunistic move to sell part of the area to private developers.

2. If this land is sold to private developers and built on, it can never be brought back into public ownership. If necessary, visitor facilities could be delayed until future years when funds might be found, but the land could never be got back into public hands.

3. The Council already acknowledges that the community is generally against this land being sold. (The Council's own staff state in their report that: "There is local community opposition to Council selling the two vacant sections.") SEA believes that the Council should listen to and respect the community because WCC owns the land on behalf of the community.

4. SEA believes that the Council must be consistent. Earlier this year, the Council rejected someone's suggestion that some road reserve land in Island Bay could be sold off to help fund enhancements at Shorland Park and surrounding reserve land, because most people in the community were opposed to the idea. In view of the community opposition here, the Council must be consistent and throw out the idea of selling part of the land at Owhiro Bay to fund enhancements.

5. Some months ago, the Council advised a local landowner that no sale of this land would take place if the community was opposed to the sale. The Council must keep its word.

6. The Council's main argument for selling the land (namely, that the sale is needed to "fund" the development of the reserve entrance) is nonsense. Visitor facilities at Council reserves in other parts of Wellington (e.g. Karori, Khandallah) are not being funded by selling off parts of those reserves. It is not acceptable for Councillors from outside the Southern Ward to insist that visitor facilities at the Owhiro Bay coastal reserve on the South Coast must be funded by selling part of the land.

7. The land is definitely not "surplus" as Council staff have asserted. The land is definitely needed for the future requirements of the coastal reserve, and it would be very short-sighted to get rid of the land.

8. Taking into account the landscaping/planting to be done, and the ongoing erosion of the reclaimed area by the sea, the sale of the land would restrict the whole entrance area to the new coastal reserve. This is crazy and would be a travesty of the community's vision when we campaigned all those years ago for "a wonderful new coastal reserve for Wellington".

9. To sell the land would not make allowances for the inevitable future growth in demand for visitor use of the site (including parking) arising from:

- Ongoing population growth in Wellington over the next 100 years (not addressed in Council officers' recommendations); and

- The projected general increase in tourism to the South Coast over future years (not addressed in the officer recommendations); and

- Additional visitors who will be drawn to the area once the Marine Reserve (offshore from the Owhiro Bay coastal reserve) becomes a reality (another factor not addressed in the Council officers' recommendations); and

- Additional recreational visitors arising from the development of walking tracks in the coastal reserve in future years (e.g. up Hape Stream) (again, this has been ignored in the Council offficers' recommendations).
(Note: the Council officers' report states that the area is "increasingly used for leisure and recreation activities". The officers' report also states that "Maximising car parking opportunities is essential in this area" then goes on to propose reducing the area available for parking!)

10. Most of the flat land at the end of Owhiro Bay Parade is actually reclaimed land, which is gradually being eroded and washed away by the sea. This is a problem which will get worse, not better, as global warming and climate change continue. There is apparently nothing in the Council's budget to stop this land being eroded. The piece of land that Council staff want to sell is not reclaimed, but is solid original ground further away from the sea, so it must be retained. The Council officers even acknowledge that the reclaimed area is being eroded away by the sea! Even over the 5 years since the quarrying was stopped, the erosion is quite noticeable. One can only imagine what will be left of the reclaimed area after another 20, 50 or 100 years - when present City Councillors are long forgotten. This problem makes it complete madness to sell off a significant piece of the solid ground at the entrance to the new reserve.

11. If the land is sold, the area available for parking will be so tight that the Council probably won't be able to provide enough planted areas and landscaping and seating to do justice to this wonderful site (in fact, this is apparent from the "preliminary concept plan" prepared by Council staff, which shows very little landscaping or planting except for a "picnic area" where the current building is).

12. With million dollar homes likely to be built on this land right inside the reserve entrance, there will probably be major conflict between the residents of the new homes and with visitors/ users of the reserve (e.g. in evenings during the summer when the public wants to enjoy the park as they watch the sun go down, but the new residents overlooking the car park and reserve want their peace and quiet).

13. Housing development inside the quarry gates will greatly detract from the open space values at the entrance to the new reserve.

14. Getting this land into public ownership was the result of a long, very difficult, hard-fought community campaign by Wellington environmental and residents' organisations. The land was bought for the public, so the Council should listen to the public now, and the Council should not glibly sell part of this land in the face of public opinion.

15. Selling public coastal open space land to private developers is something that increasingly goes against the grain for most New Zealanders.

16. If this public land is sold to private developers, there is nothing to stop the developers from on-selling the land at a huge profit. (The Council controversially sold its car parking buildings recently, they were almost immediately onsold at a massive profit.)

17. Some in the Council have argued that it does not make sense to keep Council land which might only be used for visitor car parking for the coastal reserve, when it could be sold for housing development for between $700,000 and $800,000. But this argument could equally be used to sell off the car parks at reserves all over Wellington City. So why are they only wanting to do this at Owhiro Bay, which has traditionally been badly treated by the Council (e.g. for rubbish dumps, sewage outfalls, dumping of sewage sludge, and a smelly compost plant)?

18. Note: even if the land were to be sold, the sale proceeds would go into the Council's general funds, and would not be spent directly on visitor facilities. Those funds have to be agreed separately by the Council in a future year's budget.

19. The Council already has an annual budget for landscaping and various visitor facilities for reserves around the City, projected over each year into the future. So there is no need or reason to sell off land at the Owhiro Bay site to fund landscaping and visitor facilities.

20. The Council has always owned the reclaimed land in front of the old quarry building. The land which is now proposed for sale constitutes a large proportion of the flat land that WCC purchased when it bought the quarry in 2000.


Some reasons why the Council must put the Council staff's package of recommendations regarding visitor facilities out for public consultation:

(A) The community legitimately expected to be consulted each step of the way in establishing the "big picture" plan for the entrance to the South Coast reserve at Owhiro Bay BEFORE decisions were made. After all, there would be no reserve if the community had not campaigned for it. It would be a breach of faith to make final decisions without further consultation.

(B) The quarry was operating for about 100 years. The Council has owned the land for 5 years. Things have taken time to happen. There is no need to rush in making decisions about visitor facilities at the site. It's better for the Council to take some time and make sure the public is on side. The decisions made will be a lot better as a result.

(C) The Council officers' recommended package of proposals for visitor facilities at the Owhiro Bay coastal reserve only emerged on Monday 19 September 2005, and was not widely publicised until the Committee meeting on Thursday 22 September 2005, which rubber-stamped the proposals (while both local Councillors were overseas!). The package of proposals has never been put out for public consultation. One of the ideas in the package (the "kiosk") is completely new. So we believe that public consultation is essential.

(D) The Council must be consistent in how it is dealing with public consultation for reserve areas around the South Coast. In regard to Island Bay's Shorland Park and surrounding area:

- The Council has given the community the opportunity to give feedback on each step of the process of developing ideas.

- Draf concept plans have been specifically consulted on before decisions have been made on those plans.

- The Council has deferred making final decisions on any ideas which have not had specific public consultation.

We believe that the community is entitled to expect and receive a consistent approach from the Council for the new Owhiro Bay coastal reserve. Therefore the Council must not approve recommendations (including concept plans) which have not gone out for specific public consultation.

(E) There is intense public interest in the future of the Owhiro Bay coastal reserve. For any reserve with this level of public interest, full consultation on the Council officers' recommendations re visitor facilities is essential BEFORE decisions are made.

(F) The Council does not seem to be following the new Local Government Act. This requires the Council to "make itself aware of, and ... have regard to, the views of all of its communities" (section 14). In this case, the Council has not even tried to make itself aware of the views of the community regarding the kiosk proposal, which is the Council officers' answer to
the visitors'/information centre promoted by the community in the campaign to create a reserve at the site.

(G) We believe that the Council needs to obtain full agreement not only from the community but also from other public agencies which have an interest in the coast (including DOC, Regional Council, and fisheries compliance officers) over the type of facilities that should be provided at this site - which the Council itself describes as "one of Wellington's most popular reserve areas". Such an agreement will definitely not be achieved if the Council rushes through a decision on its officers' package of proposals.


Comment on some statements recently made by some in the City Council:

(i) One part of the Council officers' report states that the cost of their proposals would be $368,000 (with a breakdown, including only $30,500 to demolish the old building and then landscape the building site), but at another place in the report the cost is asserted to be $700,000 (without a breakdown). Which figure is the correct one?

(ii) The Council officers' report states: "Members of the local community believe that it is unacceptable for Council to sell public land to private ownership" . This statement misrepresents the community's view, and incorrectly paints the community as being opposed to any and all sales of Council land. In actual fact, members of the local community told the Council that they are opposed to selling this piece of prime public coastal land which was purchased to create a wonderful coastal reserve.

(iii) It has been suggested that a visitors' centre at the Owhiro Bay coastal reserve would duplicate the proposed Marine Education Centre (from Council officers' report). Wrong. A Visitors' Centre was publicly proposed for the new coastal reserve at Owhiro Bay 5 years before the new marine education centre concept was initiated. There is no overlap or duplication between the two ideas.

(iv) One councillor has argued: "If we don't sell this land we will add $700,000 to the Council's debt". Wrong.

(v) Some Councillors have argued: "If we ask for further public feedback before making a decision on the Council officers' recommendations, the old quarry building will be retained forever" or "nothing will happen for years". Obviously illogical and wrong. Public consultation can be carried out within 2 or 3 months, and then a decision can be made.

(vi) "The whole area is a disaster area" (statement from Kerry Prendergast). Wrong and irrelevant. Actually the site is looking a lot better than in the past when the quarry was operating. And even if it does look like a disaster area to Kerry, this would not justify selling off part of the land or overriding normal public consultation.

(vii) "This is the final chapter in the Council's purchase of the Owhiro Bay Quarry" (statement in Council press statement on 22/09/05). Wrong. The Council has still not finished rehabilitating Hape Stream.

(viii) "The [old quarry] building is the only remaining quarry infrastructure" (statement in council officers' report). Wrong. Despite ongoing requests from SEA, the Council has still not removed the illegal concrete ford and illegal dam from Hape Stream which were both part of the "quarry infrastructure".


SEA is hopeful for a positive outcome on Tuesday night, so that the community and the Council can again work in partnership on this issue into the future.

ENDS
26 September 2005

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