In this case the Kapiti Coast District Council has riled the Waikanae community over a proposed medical centre in Te Moana Road, a major arterial street in Waikanae. The council decided that only a limited notification resource consent would be required, rather than a fully notified resource consent. This limited the need for public input to a few immediate neighbours of the subject property and eliminated the need for wider public consultation. The reason given for this approach was that this was in compliance with the Resource Management Act.
This has angered the Olde Waikanae Beach Preservation Society which has concerns about the wider future implications of the proposal.
Relevant to this decision, in addition to the Resource Management Act requirements, is the Council’s Significance and Engagement Policy, adopted under recent changes to the Local Government Act.
Under its Significance and Engagement Policy the Council commits to engaging with communities on issues of concern to them, and especially when they are directly affected by an issue, matter or proposal. But the policy also expressly excludes any engagement process that may be required under the Resource Management Act. This creates a potential conflict.
One the one hand the council can argue that as the medical centre proposal is subject to the Resource Management Act, then the commitment made in the Significance and Engagement Policy does not apply. End of story.
But hang on a minute, the community, beyond the limits set in the Resource Management Act, has expressed a concern. So how is that going to be taken into consideration?
In most cases, consultation requirements in statutes are minimum compliance standards which an organisation can exceed. In other words the Council could both comply with its Resource Management Act obligations and engage with the wider Waikanae community at the same time.
Many significant decisions will, by their very nature, involve the Resource Management Act. Having this exclusion clause in its Significance and Engagement Policy seems to run completely contrary to any reasoned desire to involve the community in public decisions. Tragically, both the council and the community lose out because all of the statements and commitments made by the council about community participation in decision-making are seen to be false by the community which misses out on an opportunity to contribute to a decision that affects them.
The Kapiti Coast District Council is not alone on using minimal legal obligations as the maximum amount of consultation it is willing to undertake. Other councils have also adopted this practice. The irony in this is that councils loudly proclaim the importance of engaging with communities but seldom follow through and walk the talk. The wider issue is that relationship building between councils and communities is undermined and mistrust of councils by communities continues to prevail. A radical change of mind-set by councils is needed to really make a difference.