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No consultation process for 2017-18 Annual Plan

March 7th, 2017
[Opinion by David Armstrong]

Tasman residents will have to wait another year before they can make any formal submissions to TDC's annual planning process, with next year's Annual Plan having been decided without consultation.

Council said in a press release yesterday that the 2017-18 Annual Plan, which starts in July this year, has already been set, based on the policies set by the previous council before last year's local body elections.

The last time submissions from the public were heard by Council regarding future planning was two years ago, and the next review will likely take place about this time next year, for the 2018-2028 Long Term Plan.

This means that although about one-half of the present council were newly elected last year, their ideas and particularly the policies they were elected on will not even be up for debate until about half way through their time at the table.

Until that time (the months leading up to July 2018), they must adhere to the policies of the previous council members.

The present senior councillors and TDC staff are determined to continue along a path of austerity and reducing debt and rates, even after a period when debt levels reduced far faster than expected. Advancing any projects is clearly off the table.

As a local example of the effect of having no significant changes to the previous plan, all three Motueka Ward councillors spoke passionately during the election run-up about bringing forward the timetable for a desperately needed new Motueka Library.

However they will be unable to argue the case for this until the final year of their tenure, meaning one policy they were voted in on cannot be implemented.

The Local Govt. Act 2002 sections on Planning uses the phrase "effective public participation" for public consultation on Annual Plans. It is highly arguable whether there has been any of this for the 2017-18 Annual Plan for Tasman.

How "effective" are informal one-on-one chats where we are told what will happen, regardless of what we think? How can that be interpreted as ratepayer "participation" in the planning process?

In December 2016 TDC said in a press release on the 2017-18 planning process that "A community engagement process will occur in early 2017, where councillors and Council staff will travel throughout the District and attend events in order to talk to residents and ratepayers about the details of the plan and gather informal feedback from the community. The process will not involve formal submissions and hearings."

Such feedback sessions, if any have taken place at all, have not been advertised. The only official comment made since then was a press release yesterday saying the process has been completed and the 2017-18 plan is now set.

The Christchurch City Council yesterday changed its mind on formal hearings for its 2017-18 plan, responding to "criticisms from community groups and residents who complained their rights had been eroded", the Christchurch Press reports. It will now go through a submission process.

A concern being raised in Motueka is that maybe next year, when the 2018-28 Long Term Plan is created, submissions to that may not be formal. That would truly be a huge erosion of democracy.

An annual planning process that hears submissions only every three years, and which ties a newly elected council to policies of a previous council for much of their tenure, is a watered-down version of local democracy.

Comment by Philip Grimmett:
[Posted 26 March 2017]

Thank you David for your efforts in defending the common good, which is unfortunately becoming increasingly uncommon. It is good to see that investigative journalism is still occurring in New Zealand! Motueka has it all! If people were paying attention they would see a diminution of their democratic and human rights. But they are not paying attention. Keep up the good work. We are not alone and are increasing in numbers.

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