The Love the Bay process is suddenly back in the news this week. After a long period of relative calm, mostly due to council staff being diverted away from the process onto earthquake recovery, Wednesday's Dominion Post reported that Island Bay residents want final say on controversial cycleway to be 90pc theirs. The Dom Post explains that "at 2017's first meeting of the [Island Bay] residents association (IBRA) on Monday night, chairwoman Vicki Greco, who is also a syndicate member, said a proposal had been put to the syndicate - known as Love the Bay - to give residents a weighted 90 per cent of the vote, with 10 per cent going to other Wellington City Council constituents". Vicki Greco is also quoted as saying most members want to see The Parade returned to its pre-cycleway layout with full implementation by September. Deputy Mayor Paul Eagle, who was at the IBRA meeting, says he supports residents getting the bulk of the vote on the cycleway's final layout.
Will Island Bay's kids get to vote on the cycleway?
As it turns out IBRA actually presented a list of concerns and requirements/expectations to Wellington City Council's Chief Planner David Chick in a meeting on Feb 1. The list includes the items reported by The Dominion Post but also goes much further. The list was discussed at the first Love the Bay syndicate meeting of the year on Feb 15 and is attached to the minutes of that meeting as an appendix.
Reading the syndicate minutes and IBRA's list there's definitely some cause for concern about what the residents association are doing and asking here.
First, the IBRA syndicate members seem to be having some difficulty managing the obvious conflict of interest between their roles as IBRA committee members and Love the Bay syndicate members (as noted in the syndicate meeting minutes). It was inappropriate, and a breach of the syndicate's Terms of Reference, to have a syndicate member (Vicki Greco) briefing the membership of IBRA on matters that had not yet been fully discussed by the syndicate, and clearly expressing an opinion on what the outcome of the discussion should be. Not only does this raise expectations among IBRA's membership that might not be met, but it creates obvious equity and fairness issues for the vast majority of Island Bay residents who are not IBRA members.
By approaching the council directly with their concerns IBRA have also created the impression that they are trying to by-pass, or maybe even abandon, the Love the Bay process. That would be incredibly disappointing when IBRA members have two of the four seats on the Love the Bay syndicate reserved for community stakeholders (Cycle Aware Wellington have the other two) and have been involved in the design and governance of the process from the very start. If they have concerns about Love the Bay why didn't they take them directly to the syndicate? And going public with their requirements/expectations also makes it look like IBRA are trying to pressure the syndicate into making the decisions they want. It's hard not to conclude that IBRA are trying to have an influence over the outcome of Love the Bay that goes far beyond being the neutral "custodians of the engagement process" described in the syndicate terms of reference, and despite the fact that they represent only a tiny fraction of Island Bay residents.
The substance of IBRA's requirements/expectations is also concerning. In short, they are demanding that:
Again, it looks like IBRA want to abandon the Love the Bay process and go straight to a popular vote. Apart from the fact that attempting some kind of local referendum would be logistically difficult, expensive and set a terrible precedent it would also completely undermine the whole point of having a participatory planning process like Love the Bay. In fact, the Participatory Village Planning Strategy on which Love the Bay is based explicitly states: "residents need to take the approach that this is not a process to choose one option over another, but rather an opportunity for everyone who wishes to participate to design a solution that as many people as possible are as happy as possible with". At best, IBRA members don't seem to understand (or have forgotten) what they signed up for. A more cynical view is that they do understand but just don't like where Love the Bay seems to be heading. You can't ask people to invest their time and energy in participating in workshops and then throw the decision back to the vast majority of the community who haven't. I estimate that around 200-250 individual people have participated in the workshops at most, and it could actually be fewer than that (it would be great if WCC could confirm). There are nearly 7,000 people living in Island Bay so that's a participation rate of around 4%. If you really want to talk about voting then I think its reasonable to argue that Island Bay has already voted with its feet, and the vast majority of residents (~95%) just don't care.
Personally, I've found the Love the Bay process to be extremely well planned, advertised and run. I think the council staff and contractors involved have done a great job under difficult circumstances. There's been a full range of views expressed during the workshops but overall they've been very constructive and I'm looking forward to participating in Workshop 5 - Designing The Parade.
Another concern raised by IBRA is that "Wellington City Council [are] now publicly pulling back on any commitment to funding the community’s decision about what changes are required". This relates to a statement made by David Chick on Jan 10 that "money would be a factor in the final decision and needed to be carefully considered because it was uncosted and had no budget allowance". Cost is a factor, of course, and David Chick is just being a responsible public servant by pointing that out. Whether we like it or not council budgets are finite and as an Island Bay resident who bikes to the CBD and back every day I also have an interest in knowing that council funding for cycling is being fairly allocated to places other than Island Bay. In fact, funding is another very good reason why decisions around the Island Bay cycleway can't be made exclusively by Island Bay residents. I'd even like to see the design options for Island Bay costed at a high level so that everybody can factor that into their thinking. It's one thing to say "get rid of the cycleway", but what if you know the next best option will cost $3m?
The nicest thing I can think of to say about the rest of IBRA's concern's are that they are very... interesting. I'll just leave them here without comment:
Finally, I had the opportunity to speak with Mayor Justin Lester on the phone on Wednesday night about all this. He assured me that the council remains committed to the Love the Bay process. That's good to hear but the proof of the pudding is in the eating. I guess we will all await the outcome of Tuesday's Love the Bay syndicate meeting with interest.