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SWDC: Can’t get no satisfaction

A damning perception survey shows just 9 per cent of South Wairarapa residents were happy with council decisions and actions last year.

The bombshell report was presented as extraordinary business at yesterday’s South Wairarapa District Council meeting.

Satisfaction dropped in 49 of 50 overall measures compared with the previous year’s survey.

The one overall measure that improved was “public swimming pools” in which there was a 2 per cent increase in satisfaction.

The five lowest measures were satisfaction with financial management [7 per cent], the way council involves the public in the decisions it makes [8 per cent], council decisions and actions [9 per cent], mayor and councillors giving a fair hearing to the residents’ views [10 per cent], and trust [11 per cent].

The five highest measures were satisfaction with: libraries in general [85 per cent]; library providing relevant and up-to-date books and services [82 per cent]; overall quality of your life [81 per cent], library opening hours [80 per cent]; and parks, reserves, and open spaces [79 per cent].

The report was produced in July last year but was only recently circulated to elected members, one of whom only received the report within 24 hours of yesterday’s meeting.

The Annual Report, in which the results are usually made public, has been delayed due to Audit NZ being under-resourced.

The data collected relates to the 2021-2022 year.

The period covered by the survey included a 29 per cent rates rise, negative publicity regarding the council not communicating the full impact of the previous year’s rates holiday on the 2021/22 rates increase, severe weather resulting in flooding and damage to residents’ properties, and covid-19 impacts.
A new council was elected in October last year, with seven new members out of 10.

At yesterday’s meeting, Mayor Martin Connelly – who was among the new intake – said the previous council’s “decision not to publish [the survey earlier] and not get on with addressing the issues is an error in judgement and a wasted opportunity”.

“When the survey was taken, the community thought the council’s leadership was poor, the council communicated badly, they thought the council was not listening, they rated the council’s decision-making at very poorly, and only a minority thought the community boards advocated effectively for their communities,” Connelly said.

“Only 12 per cent of the province is satisfied with the council’s reputation, and in Featherston that figure was as low as 6 per cent.

“We see Featherston residents rate the image of their town poorly, and people in Martinborough are vastly less satisfied with the image of their town than they were a year ago.

“It seems the only happy people in our district come from Greytown.”

Connelly told councillors it is now “up to us to repair this damage”.

“We have to show leadership … we have to rebuild the trust … we need to show people that we are listening and we are taking their views seriously.”

In a press release following yesterday’s meeting, Connelly said people answering the survey did not think they were being listened to seriously.

“We have taken steps to make ourselves much more accessible.

“This includes setting up regular opportunities for people to meet the mayor and councillors.”

A council spokesperson said some groups of residents expressed more unhappiness than most with the council’s performance, particularly Maori and people living in the Featherston Ward.

“The council recognises it has considerable work to do to strengthen its relationship with Maori.

“It is taking steps to improve through clarifying and strengthening the role of the Maori Standing Committee.

“It has appointed a Principal Advisor Maori /Pou Maori, and will be conducting a representation review to make sure Maori can express their views on how they wish to be represented on council.”

The spokesperson said the council also recognises Featherston has had its “fair share of issues”, including Featherston wastewater not delivering as originally planned, a lack of stormwater control, and the state of the town centre.

“The council appreciates the effort people took to provide honest feedback.”

All documents can be found on the council’s website www.swdc.govt.nz/reports.


Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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