DCC common sense

Few issues arouse public attention like parking. Most adults have access to cars, and most at some stage or another look for parking spaces.

So when the Dunedin City Council planned changes, it was foolish not to be at its most wary, careful and sensible.

Right from the start, the council and councillors seemed to be blind to the extent of what they were doing - and the devil in both the detail and the bigger picture.

All along, the council and council staff seemed out of touch. They seemed to lack that vital ingredient: common sense.

Deputy mayor Syd Brown has admitted as much. When, after months of stubborn resistance, the council accepted the parking strategy and its implementation had significant problems, he was charged with heading a review committee of councillors and community representatives to respond to complaints.

As many as 150 changes have been made as the group worked through 175 complaints, and the council has called for an independent report to discover how it got the strategy so wrong.

Cr Brown this week said he did not realise how the strategy would affect some areas and "common sense" should have been applied to the document. An example given - of the parking meters near the Speight's water tap - was but one of scores of mistakes that should not have occurred and which caused widespread aggravation.

Do not expect too much from the findings of the "independent" report. It will hardly be hard hitting if it is not about "going back and criticising" but only discovering "how we could have interacted better, so we can learn and go forward".

Generalised consultation did take place from the start, but councillors and council staff should realise that it is in the specifics and when policies actually hit home that most problems emerge.

Surely, our councillors, the people elected and ultimately responsible for the changes, could have done far better, far earlier. Surely, the blame cannot be laid at "unforeseen consequences", as Cr Michael Guest did at one stage. Anticipating the main impacts of policies is fundamental to the role of councillors and council staff.

When the council's planning and environment committee voted unanimously in favour of the plans in July 2008, parking strategy working party chairman John Bezett tried to play down a comment from transportation planning manager Don Hill that the changes were "major".

He said the 34 submitters' concerns had been dealt with well, and the $4-an-hour cost in George St (down from the original $5 under the draft strategy) was not onerous. It should also be noted that the expansion of meters was said not to be aimed at revenue gathering.

The need for a parking strategy was developed in 2006 and the council decided on a move towards "travel demand management" - limiting parking or increasing charges to make driving less attractive and promoting more sustainable transport options like public transport.

This was to deal with the negative effects of vehicles, including congestion, air pollution, and noise.

With Dunedin commuters and shoppers wedded to their cars, no wonder the wider plan, as well as the technicalities, caused consternation.

It appears common sense on council is still missing, judging by the draft bylaw on keeping animals. The draft, as it now stands, would compel some property owners to pick up after their sheep and goats.

While the policy has not reached the consultation stage, it has been through council staff and through initial councillor scrutiny. Working party chairman Cr Guest said the focus had been on concerns from beekeepers and "we assumed there were no complaints with the rest of it".

The working party was now seeking feedback from specific community groups, ahead of full or targeted public consultation, and "anomalies would be addressed".

Cr Brown this week summed up what councillors, and staff, should be doing every day: "There has to be a common sense rule of thumb put over the final detail," he said. The council and councillors too often seem to inhabit a civic-centre bubble immune from street-wise sense - and everyday financial pressures for that matter.

As Cr Brown said of the parking debacle, "I would hope the council would learn from the experience". So say all the residents and ratepayers of Dunedin.


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