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Stalemate over LGNZ’s governance guidelines

85-87 West St, Greytown. PHOTO/FILE

South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] and a community board chairman are in a stalemate over their interpretations of Local Government New Zealand’s [LGNZ] guidelines for good governance.

LGNZ’s guidelines state an example of good governance is that officer reports be placed on a community board agenda before the report going to a council or standing committee

Greytown Community Board [GCB] chairwoman Ann Rainford used this to inform a motion regarding West St land-use, asking that the outcome from a district-wide consultation on the land go to the GCB before a decision was made by the council.

The motion was labelled “pointless and … rude” by Greytown ward councillor Alistair Plimmer.

Rainford disputed this in a statement to Local Democracy Reporting.

“GCB knows it has no decision-making powers but the land is in Greytown and residents are very concerned about the outcome,” she said.

“Out of respect for Greytown residents, they should know what the council proposes as the final outcome.

“The motion in no way implied that GCB had any powers to determine the outcome.”

She later withdrew the motion after a lack of support.

SWDC councillorsdecided to explore options for the future land-use of 85-87 West St through an 18-month exercise starting in July 2022.

Public consultation to determine the future use of the land would happen after a detailed analysis was done and was set to be tied in with the 2023/24 annual plan process. The council-owned site was handpicked for a multimillion-dollar hospitality venue, but is home to the Greytown Menz Shed.

Rainford, who spoke to Local Democracy Reporting in a personal capacity and not on behalf of GCB, said her withdrawn motion was “consistent with LGNZ views on community boards contributing to council decisions”.

LGNZ says good collaboration between boards and councils involves seeking advice from community boards early in the decision-making process and being invited to have input into the process as well as the decision.

“This is what democracy is about,” Rainford said.

But SWDC says the Greytown land-use decision is a South Wairarapa-wide issue, not just an issue for Greytown.

“The [LGNZ’s] Good Governance Guide is a guide to how a community board’s terms of reference should be laid out, on matters specific to their community,” a SWDC spokesperson said.

“The council considers the district as a whole and makes decisions accordingly.

“The guide is a general guide but needs to be exercised in the context of the different roles of council and community boards.”

Rainford disagreed with this stance and said a decision on Greytown land-use was “much more important to Greytown residents than the wider district, and the role of the board is to represent and act as advocates for the interests of their community”.

“Over the last three years, there has been a change in the council’s approach,” she said.

“Under the previous council, decisions on council land were focused on the town, where the land was based.

“Featherston [The Squircle], Martinborough [the old information building and council yard], and Greytown [sale of the old council buildings]. Greytown residents are now told that, as the land is owned by SWDC, all three towns must be involved in any decision-making process that could change the usage of the land and its ownership.

“But the land concerned sits here in Greytown, and arguably impacts most on the people who live here and engage with it daily.”

An SWDC spokesperson said that, in seeking district-wide input on the land, the council was following the process set by the Local Government Act to consult on all the possible options on 85-87 West St before considering selling it.

Rainford said the spectrum of Greytown views and usage options reflecting those views should be an integral part of the whole process.

“Whilst I would not advocate that all issues come first through a community board for discussion, I believe that it would be the sign of a good council working with the community it serves, to allow the final papers to pass through GCB prior to presentation at assets and services and the final decision-making at council.”

SWDC Mayor Alex Beijen said the role of community boards was “not to be an upper house of the council, critiquing decisions, but to add to the information the council has on the needs of the ward”.

He also said any stance of the community board should not be the personal opinions of the members, but definitive opinions of the community, backed by research, to avoid the risk of vocal minority groups superseding the majority view of the community.

He said the GCB had not carried out any research this term and understood some board members held differing views on the motion Rainford suggested and withdrew.

“All community boards have a place at any council or committee meeting to present views of the board, as a whole, and thus lobby the council on behalf of the ward.

“Ms Rainford’s views appear to be frustration that the GCB does not have the power or mandate to insist council change informed decisions.

“This would totally change our governance structure without consultation.”

Rainford agreed community boards were not an “upper house of council” and acknowledged they did not have decision-making powers.

Rainford said she was not asking for a change of governance structure, or the power to insist the council change its decisions. She was asking for the ability to help inform council decisions, which she saw was the responsibility of the board.

Rainford said she had faced problems in her bid to represent Greytown community by being involved in the scoping process for 85-87 West St.

“The GCB meeting of September 22 agreed that the GCB be formally included in the design and management of the council’s public consultation process.

“A letter was sent to the CEO requesting access to council officers. Access to officers became possible after a month, very late in the day.

“Prior to this access, I was told that as chair I had no authority, in this context, to engage with the CEO and officers, as under Clause 4 of SWDC’s Community Boards’ Terms of Reference,

“Powers of recommendation are limited to matters of beautification or developmental matters relating to reserves, amenities and town centre streets, they are not about the town centre”.

“My response was that the land titled 85-87 West St goes through the town centre and that, as such, is an important part of Greytown.

“Our powers did extend to this matter … it is the right of the community to have its views considered by council, and not a matter for council alone to decide.”

SWDC chief Harry Wilson said Rainford was “repeatedly offered an opportunity to discuss the matter”. – NZLDR

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