Waterfront consultation process flawed

Damage dwharves in the upper harbour are something the public want repaired. PHOTO: HILARY CALVERT
Damage dwharves in the upper harbour are something the public want repaired. PHOTO: HILARY CALVERT

Decisions based on fake consultation are dangerous and costly.

Take our harbourside.

In late 2017 the ODT published an article recommending that those wanting to redevelop the waterfront may do well to study the history of the idea. This article reminded us that just over a decade earlier there had been a proposal to redevelop the harbourside, described as a visionary plan. It included areas for tourism and residential activity, public wharves, an ‘‘Amsterdam style’’ canal, and an international hotel.

As we know, the idea did not eventuate.

Roll on to the current situation.

The DCC is unrelentingly pushing the new proposal.

The DCC website somewhat disingenuously says that we have been working on plans to revitalise the waterfront for some time. Under the title Dunedin Waterfront Vision is a photo of the proposed cycleway bridge superimposed on our gothic city. The video behind the photo includes an animated version of a fabulous (with the meaning of mythical, legendary, and having no basis in reality) vision of a glistening white winged village.

This website has as its opening line ‘‘Let’s make it happen’’. It goes on to say ‘‘let us know what you think by completing a survey’’, then follows with in bold: ‘‘Show your support — complete the survey’’.

The description of the vision talks about funding from the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF), and ‘‘the DCC and other partners working with potential developers and stakeholders on implementing the other projects’’.

And it goes on to say that Beca Ltd and Colliers International assessed the engineering and commercial viability and confirmed the vision can be built.

The vision continues to be peddled about the city as a cockleshell protrusion from the Steamer Basin, inspired it would seem by the idea of a southern Sydney Opera House type collection of buildings.

Worryingly, Mayor Dave Cull suggests the support provided by the DCC poll results are a ‘‘mandate to continue’’.

But what is it that is supported?

The reality is that the city has asked the Provincial Growth Fund for an eye-watering $100 million, apparently to fix the wharves and make the area able to be developed.

The balance of the project — all of the project if you consider the visual of the cockleshell structures are the project — is not likely to be something we have any control of.

Port Otago will not answer questions about the land, because it is not subject to the Official Information Act.

The DCC will not answer questions about the project, even to give us the report which the PGF funded earlier. It will not even answer questions about why it says the vision can be commercially viable.

Nor who would build any of the parts of the cockleshell, so we cannot ask whether whoever it may be even intends to build anything, let alone the buildings in the vision.

The DCC will not give out any information about what it has applied to the PGF for. The application was approved in secret by councillors, who may have had little more information than us as to what the (rumoured to be) $100 million is for, and how it fits under the PGF in any case.

The clear implication on the website is that this project is reasonably advanced now. But we have no idea what has been happening behind closed doors to advance the project, either by the DCC or by any other mysterious ‘‘stakeholders’’.

It appears Ian Taylor is in on the secrets, since he seems to have seen the application and can therefore comment on it.

As for the rest of us, all we know for sure is that we have squandered a huge opportunity to ask the Government for $100 million, buoyed up by fake consultation asking for support for a vision that we know nothing about apart from a graphic of buildings that we have no intention of building and without any idea as to whether anyone else has such an intention.

There is no talk about waterfront sea-level rise. It appears that like King Canute, the DCC seems to believe it can stop the tide coming in on this vision while telling us South Dunedin is in imminent danger of being flooded.

Britain is in all sorts of bother as a result of asking people for their views on a plan without giving people any details of the costs or benefits.

When asked, whether or not useful, or in fact any, information is supplied to make an informed decision, people will give an opinion.

That does not make it right to ask without providing such information.

We should not be spending precious resources on any project ‘‘supported’’ in such a flawed fashion.

Having said that, the idea of an Amsterdam style canal from the previous vision sounds fun.

Surely I could get some fake consultation to show the overwhelming support this would have.      — hcalvert@xtra.co.nz

Hilary Calvert is a former lawyer, politician and city councillor

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