This week, elected representatives of the Hastings, Napier and Regional Councils will meet to select their preferred growth scenario for the Heretaunga Plains, as well as determine the materials and process they will use to seek official public consultation.
The scenario ultimately chosen as the Heretaunga Plains Urban Growth Strategy, and then embedded in District Plans (or possibly one comprehensive plan for the Hastings and Napier areas), is intended to guide land use decisions in much of the region for the thirty years extending from 2015-2045.
Given the significance of this scenario decision, how the public is consulted will be of paramount importance.
When the Councillors settle upon their consultation plan and the supporting materials the public will see, it is crucial that the issues are framed in a way the average resident can comprehend and respond to meaningfully … and that means NOT in the typical style of consultants and planners!
Here is what the public needs to easily see in any HPUDS consultation brochures, documents or web content …
1. How far-reaching is the recommended scenario geographically? People hearing “Heretaunga Plains” might not be aware that this plan will have significance for areas like Bayview, Te Awanga/Haumoana, Ocean Beach and Waimarama. Given the depth of controversy over Ocean Beach development, for example, many people might be expected to take a keen interest in what the preferred scenario says about that area. Same for Haumoana.
2. Precisely what parts of the Heretaunga Plains are to be protected from urban encroachment? Our politicians have emphasized HPUDS as an exercise to “protect the versatile soils of the Heretaunga Plains.” Therefore, in the consultation materials, it should clear beyond doubt to any Joe Blog — perhaps through a plain map with big bold red lines on it — exactly what land is to be protected and what is not.
3. Exactly what parts of our community will growth come from … and how will the needs of those segments be handled in the recommended scenario? Indeed, the latest population growth estimates from Statistics NZ reported in HB Today last Friday say the region’s population will decline after 2026. So what growth are we planning for, after all?!
Less dramatic than growth in absolute numbers will be the changing composition of HB’s population … with much larger percentages of Maori and seniors over age 65. People in those groups in particular will want to know specifically how their unique housing and lifestyle needs will be met by the recommended scenario. In fact, that might be all they care about in this entire exercise. Also, what does the preferred scenario offer to the 30% of the Bay’s population who live in the region’s most deprived areas (deciles 9 & 10), and what is the role of state housing?
4. Similarly, each of us will want to know … how will the recommended scenario affect my own present neighborhood (and any future choices I might contemplate)? What if I live in Clive or Meeanee or Napier Hill or Bridge Pa?
5. Finally, how do the Councils actually expect to accomplish the land use and settlement goals expressed in their recommended scenario? Housing choices are the reflection of thousands of individual private decisions based upon lifestyle, financial means, and personal taste and values. And developers do their best to accurately read the market and invest accordingly.
Given that market-driven context, what tools and incentives might we expect our Councils to use to “steer” the community toward the settlement (and industrial location) outcomes the planners say are most sensible? If the public says “YES” to one or another scenario, how will that outcome be achieved?
I think these are the kinds of concerns average citizens will have about HPUDS. If the Councils can present their information in a way that frames and responds to these questions, the public consultation process will stand a chance of being meaningful. The Councils will have done their part … and it will be up to the rest of us to engage as if we cared.