The Queenstown Lakes District Council clearly does not subscribe to this premise. On one hand its significance and engagement policy says that “we want to have the right conversations with the right people about the right issues before making significant decisions”, while on the other its senior managers are clearly unwilling to consult unless there is a legal requirement to do so.
An example of this is are reported concerns within the Wakatipu community about a lack of consultation over proposed Special Housing Areas. The Queenstown Lakes District Council says there is “no obligation to consult with anyone” and this is emphasised by a reported comment made by the council’s planning and development general manager who stated “There is no obligation under the Housing Accords and Special Housing Areas Act for the council to consult with anyone.”
Since 1 December 2014, changes to the Local Government Act require councils to have a significance and engagement policy. The purpose of such a policy is to enable the council and its communities to determine the degree of significance attached to particular issues, assets or other matters; to provide clarity about how and when communities can expect to be engaged in decisions; and to inform the council from the beginning of a decision-making process about the extent, form and type of engagement required.
The Queenstown Lakes District Council has a significance and engagement policy which sets out thresholds and criteria for determining significance. These are:
- Importance to the Queenstown Lakes District – the extent to which the matters impact on the environment, culture and people of the District (e.g. significant capital projects).
- Community Interest – the extent to which individuals, organisations, groups and sectors in the community are affected by the Council’s decisions.
- Inconsistency with existing policy and strategy – the extent of inconsistency and the likely impact.
- The impact on the Council’s capability and capacity – the impact on the objectives set out in the Financial Strategy, Ten Year Plan and Annual Plan.
By ignoring the wishes of the community and acting with apparent disregard to its own policy, the council seriously undermines its relationship with its own community and creates an unnecessary controversy that will consume council resources dealing with community fallout. All of this could be avoided by council complying with its own significance and engagement policy and implementing a good practice community engagement process.