"It's well over 100 years since any specific legislation and agreement between the Council and the people of Wellington was made."
"It's a civic union between the Council and the people of Wellington," says Cr Ritchie - the Council's Environment Portfolio Leader.
"The Town Belt is held in trust by the City Council on behalf of the people of Wellington. It marks a pivotal point of difference in the world for a capital city as it ensures that Wellington is unusually and accessibly green. Our landform, the sea and harbour and the vegetation of the Town Belt combine to create the landscape and special character of Wellington. Its visual, recreational, biodiversity, cultural and heritage qualities are central to who we are, as a city and a people.
"We are taking an historic step to further protect and enhance our Town Belt, with a new management plan, 85 hectares of land formally added back into the Town Belt, and with new clarifying legislation later to be championed by Grant Robertson MP. This will enable the Council to work in partnership with mana whenua and the community, and make possible the addition of land in the future.
"We are instructing that the 1873 Deed, which set out how the council was to manage the land, be retained despite the fact that it is written in quaint but archaic language and grammar. We are also instructing that the original intent of the 1841 Town Belt be acknowledged in the new legislation."
Originally in 1841 the Wakefield settlement set aside 625 hectares of Crown-held land "reserved for the enjoyment of the public and not to be built upon," because they believed that public green space was good for citizens' health and wellbeing. Unfortunately one third of the land was lost for other community purposes including our hospital, government house, university and schools. In 1871 the remaining 429 hectares were conveyed to "the Mayor, Councillors and burgesses of Wellington and their successors", on trust to be forever used as a "public recreation ground for the inhabitants of the City of Wellington".
Mayor Celia Wade-Brown says a key strategic focus is how Wellington strikes the right balance between organised and informal recreation in the Town Belt.
"The Town Belt is an example of brilliant town planning and excellent foresight in setting urban limits while providing great opportunities for recreation.
"It an asset that generations of Wellingtonians have celebrated for its biodiversity, recreational and cultural qualities, and it has significant importance to Maori and the city's heritage. It's attractive to look at, walk in, cycle in, and even just sit in.
"So it's important we get it right, and maintain the special qualities of Wellington's Town Belt for now and for future generations," she says.
Cr Ritchie says the draft management plan and the drafting instructions for the Bill were approved at this week's Council meeting and will go out for public consultation for two months on 16 October. People will have until 10 December to have their say.
She says both the management plan and proposed Bill aim to promote the protection and enhancement of the natural environment for all to enjoy.
Cr Ritchie adds: "There will always be contentious issues such as buildings - none, more, fewer, spread out or in hubs - criteria and rules for permitted, managed and prohibited uses, criteria for commercial uses, the amount of land allowed to be leased - at present proposed to be 40 hectares - and any relevant additional land which at present does not have Town Belt protection."