Parliament unanimously passes the Wellington Town Belt Bill

When I stood on the stage at the IAP2 (Australasia) conference 2014 in Sydney to talk about the Wellington City Council’s Town Belt Project, only 2 of the project’s 3 stages were complete – and yet the questions from the floor were mainly about stage 3: creating new legislation.

I want to use this post to close the loop and, at a time when the Council is being lambasted for it cycleway engagement, to say that there is, within the Council, knowledge that could improve its engagement practice.

So how did stage 3 go?

I’m pleased to report that in April 2016, the New Zealand Parliament unanimously passed new legislation for the Town Belt, a large, horseshoe-shaped reserve set aside in 1840 to enclose the inner city. Parliament’s complete support is a testament to 7 years of quality public engagement and I would like to congratulate the many people who helped create the new twenty-first century governance framework. The Wellington City Council’s engagement can be top class and innovative.

With the passage of time, the project’s public engagement could be remembered as entirely conventional. Yes, there were submission-based consultation phases and these were well done but that’s not why the Town Belt project was highly commended in the IAP2 (Australasia) Core Values Awards 2014 for Project of the Year (Environment).

To give one example of its innovative practice, deliberative workshops in 2010 provided a space during stage 1 for members of the public, including representatives from groups with defined interests, to explore different perspectives and to attempt to find common ground in terms of goals and decision-making principles for the Town Belt. Those workshops laid the foundation for the productive working relationships alluded to in the final Parliamentary debate and for a set of goals and principles to be agreed. These remained largely intact through stages 2 and 3, and are now enshrined in legislation – passed unanimously! How often does that happen?

The Town Belt was my first project as an engagement specialist at the Wellington City Council and I am thrilled with its success. Although I no longer work there, I have attempted to document key aspects of the engagement process in a separate post as a way of sharing what was done. I believe similar processes could be used in Wellington and elsewhere for working through other complex and contested issues.

This PEPtalk was first published on 21 July 2016. You’ll see from the website and from more recent blog posts that PEP’s thinking has moved on since then!