Unanimous vote sends Town Belt Bill to next stage

3 October 2014

Comment from Councillor Helene Ritchie – Wellington City Council’s Natural Environment Portfolio Leader.

Wellington City Council this week unanimously made an historic decision to advance the detailed Wellington Town Belt Bill for consideration by Parliament.

The Bill aims to give higher protection to the Town Belt, guard it special status, and give far greater say to the public.

If passed by members of Parliament the Act would impose on the Council responsibilities and give it powers to protect, manage and enhance the Town Belt as a public recreation ground for the people of Wellington.

I am confident that if the Bill remains as it is once enacted, the Town Belt will have far greater protection and enhancement and access as a public recreation ground for future generations.

In the words of the Queen’s Counsel who provided legal opinion: “The  Bill better expresses in a complete way the basis upon which the Town Belt is to be made available and managed, better defines the Council’s powers and provides for improved transparency in its decisionmaking.”

The Town Belt is that extensive crescent shaped landscape of trees and tracks that clothes our Capital City and is the green backdrop to our harbour.

It is the lungs of our city. It fosters growth, health, public recreation and the natural heritage in the coolest little capital in the world.

Since 1873 the Town Belt Deed (along with the more recent 1977 Reserves Act) has been the tool of governance. It is written in archaic language - in one sentence over two pages. During this period, the result has been significant loss of land from the Town Belt, and the construction of multiple buildings that are in various states of repair. They have a variety of sizes, uses, and architectural styles and are randomly scattered through the Town Belt.

A significant amount of land had been removed from the Town Belt. In 1841 some 624 hectares were reserved for the Town Belt by the early settlers from the UK. By 1995 one third of the land had been taken by the Crown, or ‘lost’, leaving just 424.5 hectares. Today, through the Bill we will have clawed back and defined the extent of the Town Belt as 520 hectares. In future the Council will have the ability to add more land.

Significant gains for the people of Wellington and their Town Belt have been fought for and achieved in the Bill .

In summary:

  • Greater protection of the integrity of the Town Belt
  • Clear and legal definition of the extent of the Town Belt
  • The ability to add land to the Town Belt in future
  • Clear and legal protection (and definition) of the Town Belt as a public recreation ground for the inhabitants of Wellington
  • Clear expression of the entitlement of ‘inhabitants’ to freedom of entry and access to the Town Belt
  • Significant restriction and controls on any new building(s)
  • Greater and clear powers for the ‘inhabitants’ to be consulted regarding any/if any new building/structures
  • Greater powers for the ‘inhabitants’ of the city, regarding eg. any new building or structure, if any
  • Greater powers for the inhabitants to have standing (in the Courts) to object if any compulsory acquisition of land by the Crown were ever  to be again proposed
  • A clear statement in the Bill that the Council ‘has no power to sell, exchange or use as security any part of the Wellington Town Belt’
  • A clear process for the Council to be able to fight for the appropriate level of compensation, including a grant in land, should the Crown over the next hundred years (or so) ever again use its powers of compulsory acquisition to take land from the inhabitants of Wellington and from their Wellington Town Belt
  • Significant clawing back on the amount of Town Belt land allowed to be leased at any one time, to 8 hectares (NOTE: Without the Bill, the 1873 Deed alone says “it shall be lawful for the Corporation to demise or lease all or any part of the lands”… (of the Town Belt), and 1908 legislation allowed 40 hectares to be leased)
  • The retention of  two large and critical pieces of the Town Belt which were nearly ‘lost/exempted’ during this process - the Exhibition grounds (John Street) and the Canal Reserve (from the Basin Reserve along Kent and Cambridge Terrace)
  • A sound, transparent management regime through a Management Plan reviewed every 10 years and requiring extensive public consultation
  • Clarification and differentiation of the roles of  governors  and of officers.

This is the culmination of four and half years’ work, and a great public contribution from hundreds of constructive, passionate Wellingtonians. As Portfolio Leader leading the process, I have endeavoured to ensure meticulously word by word that through this Bill/Act, the Town Belt is and will be protected to the highest possible level for current and future generations. It has been one of the most rewarding, and sometimes challenging, roles in my time on the City Council. 

The Wellington Town Belt Bill will now be forwarded to Parliament to be introduced by Grant Robertson, the local Member of Parliament, as a local Bill.

The Council’s work will continue as submitters to the Select Committee.

I repeat, I am confident that if the Bill remains in its current wording, as an Act, that the Wellington Town Belt will have far greater protection and enhancement and access as a significant public recreation ground in the Capital City  for future generations.

We look forward to the day the Act receives the Royal assent.

Helene Ritchie

Wellington City Councillor

Natural Environment Portfolio Leader