Skateboard policy rethink amid concern

David Benson-Pope.
David Benson-Pope.
The Dunedin City Council will rethink its plan to confiscate the wheels of young people caught flouting the city's skateboarding bylaw.

The move comes amid concern from Cr David Benson-Pope public consultation over the tougher stance had been ''seriously compromised''.

The concern was raised at Monday's full council meeting, when councillors had been due to adopt a revised skateboarding bylaw updating an existing ban from 2005.

The revised bylaw would add Albion Lane and George St, between Frederick and Albany Sts, to the prohibited zone, which already covers much of the central city, including the Octagon and the Esplanade at St Clair.

It would also have granted council officers the power to confiscate skateboards from those who continued to flout the rules.

The old bylaw allowed for fines of up to $100, but could not be applied to those aged under 14, frustrating police and retailers who worried about the safety of elderly shoppers.

The new bylaw would grant the ''power to seize and impound'' skateboards, and force owners to pay $50 to have them released.

However, councillors at Monday's meeting decided not to sign off on the tougher new policy after Cr Benson-Pope said it had become clear the process to update the bylaw was ''seriously compromised''.

The council had sought, and received, public submissions on the change, but it had since become apparent some people had missed out on - or misunderstood - the consultation process, he said.

That included Dunedin photographer Derek Morrison, who told a recent council public forum some residents had been unaware the city's existing skateboarding ban covered St Clair.

Signs had been installed only recently and he had urged the council to rethink its approach, saying it risked damaging the area's beach culture.

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull had also been approached directly by a delegation concerned by the changes, and, on Monday, councillors heard another plea from University of Otago professor of law Peter Skegg.

Prof Skegg, a St Clair resident, said he, too, had been unaware skateboarding was already prohibited at St Clair.

He urged councillors to grant an exemption to younger children skateboarding at St Clair, saying it offered a safer environment than the Thomas Burns St skate park.

As a result, councillors on Monday supported Cr Benson-Pope's recommendation not to approve the new bylaw, and to instead continue with the old bylaw while work to update it resumed.

The results would be presented to a later committee meeting, followed by fresh public consultation, councillors decided.

Cr Jinty MacTavish, an early opponent of the tougher stance, said she supported the move but remained wary of a ''one size fits all'' approach to skateboarding.

The council needed to think ''more broadly'' about skateboarding's place in the city, and sending the issue back to the committee would allow that to happen, she said.

''Part of the problem is we simply aren't catering for these modes of transport appropriately,'' she said.

Cr Kate Wilson agreed, saying the council's approach should follow in the footsteps of its more permissive attitude towards freedom camping.

That would mean more guidelines on how to skateboard ''in a good manner ... rather than prohibition'', she said.

However, Cr Lee Vandervis believed the revised bylaw already offered a ''restrained'' approach, after a costly process, and should be adopted.

''I'm at a slight loss to understand why it is that we are wanting to go back,'' he said.

Cr Benson-Pope said the public had made it clear the bylaw needed more work, particularly when it came to St Clair.

Bylaws looking for problems!

My congratulations to Challispoint for a pithy description of something that is far too common: "The issue with this by-law has nothing to do with consultation and everything to do with bad legislation. It is a bylaw rushing round trying to find a problem to fix." Why this headlong rush to invent new rules? How about more emphasis on applying general rules/laws regulating conduct so that cyclists are free to use footpaths where they do not do so in a way that endangers other users, where care around the weakest trumps the "rights" of anyone else to use road or footpath or cycle lane? In other words, if the way they want to walk, run, cycle, skateboard or rollerskate is such that other users cannot use that space without reasonable apprehension that they are at risk, then tough luck strong people, you'll have to moderate your activity to fit in, cease doing it, or go elsewhere.

A general rule along these lines would allow small children and cyclists who ride gently without a disproportionate sense of entitlement to share space with others. Pedestrians too would have the obligation to actively participate in the practice of civilized cooperation, by not walking 3 abreast blocking others from getting past, checking that nobody's going to be inconvenienced by suddenly stopping or changing direction - just as motorists have to check for others' safety before opening the car door. It's hard, the idea that people should have to step out of their Me-Me bubble, perhaps even take a break from blocking awareness of their surroundings. Hoodies that act like blinkers on a draft horse preventing peripheral vision, music plugged directly into ears, individuals may find they need to be selective about when and where to use them if they don't want to find themselves on the wrong side of a wide general law that concentrates on outcomes, not on specific items (scooters, boards) as if it were the hardware that causes problems, not the users.

Not a consultation issue

The issue with this by-law has nothing to do with consultation and everything to do with bad legislation. It is a bylaw rushing round trying to find a problem to fix. In their paper to the Councillors, staff promoted this change based on "health and safety" issues, despite their being no evidence of any actual issues. Even Cr Benson-Pope agreed that the Council's own footpaths caused far more injuries a year than do scooters, wheelies and skateboards.

As a result of people speaking up about this change, the Councillors are slowing becoming aware of the whole range of unintended consequences; kids can't ride their scooters to school or the park, commuters are unable to use a perfectly legal form of transport and a whole new team of council staff will be needed to confiscate the devices and fine the users.

A review of the old bylaw is needed as the problem it tried to fix in the 90s no longer exists. The best outcome of the review would be to scrap the bylaw completely, not make it even more draconian than before.

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