When criticised about inadequate consultation on the proposed Kelt sports park, Mayor Yule hustled together a paper that described years of discussions with sports codes … beginning in 2004 regarding the disposal of Nelson Park.

Unfortunately, the paper documents a single-minded purpose and begs the real questions. Here lies the problem … HDC seems oblivious as to what consultation actually means when, ostensibly, a $60+ million social investment is at stake.

First, Council should have properly framed the question: “We’d like to adopt a strategy for meeting our region’s needs for ample high quality sports facilities and programs, and as a corollary, we’d like to achieve a number of other health and social benefits for our community. How might we best go about that?”

Of course, that wasn’t the question at the outset. The question then was simply (and mistakenly): “We’re trashing Nelson Park, in service to a retail scheme (nothing to do with sports or health). Now, who wants to play at the sports park we’re building?”

Given that limited question, HDC then committed its second mistake … it only talked to the sports codes, all of whom seem simultaneously to be representing the fastest growing, most watched, most popular, and yet, most neglected (in HB) sporting activities on the planet!

But then Sam Kelt urged Mayor Yule to think bigger. The Mayor, whose self-confessed edifice complex requires a “big project” each term, happily complied.

To justify the escalating ambition and cost of the project, other noble benefits for the park were asserted, like fighting obesity, reducing anti-social juvenile behavior, and stimulating the local economy via tourism.

The problem is, the scope of consultation never expanded with the scope of Sam’s and Lawrence’s ambition. The questions never got deeper, and the audience never got broader.

Three examples of “missing” audiences …

1. Average ratepayers — most of whom would never use the facility, but would have to foot the bill — were left out of the equation. They were “invited” only in the most obscure way to understand and engage the issues involved … by commenting on modest references in the 2006 & 2007 draft annual plans. Who reads those dry-as-March-dirt plans, let alone submits on them? A few dozen hardy citizens? Most of whom, ironically, are complaining about rates.

Meanwhile, not a single sports code has offered to contribute to footing the bill, beyond the occasional court fee or equipment rental.

2. Maori leaders, not a single one of whom is referenced in any consultation documents. And not a single one of whom has filed a submission on the proposed sports park. Yet the sales rhetoric surrounding the park is full of promises about rehabilitating key target groups having special needs with respect to improving fitness and curbing obesity, smoking, alcohol abuse, and other socially undesirable behaviors.

What does talking to the Ramblers Cycling Club or Tennis NZ have to do with these needs? Including whether building a central sports edifice is the best way to address them? Where are the Maori leaders championing the sports park as a crucial investment for meeting the needs of their community?

3. Senior citizens, the fastest growing segment in our community. They want to walk and cycle and exercise safely in their neighborhoods and in local facilities, not drive across the district to a gym or velodrome. When and with what representatives were their fitness needs and aspirations discussed?

The Council initially, followed later by clueless Kelt Capital compounding the error, has been grossly negligent in omitting consultations with these three sectors of the community (and others as well).

Kelt Capital has shown us what they know about engaging the public … nothing! Why should they know … they’re a private merchant bank, not a democratically-accountable public body! Here’s what I understand to be Sam’s style of consultation: “This is what I’m going to do … Get with the program!”

No matter how embellished the concept has become, the consultation has been all about selling the park and accommodating some sport codes … fitting in four courts here and three more fields there. Maybe add a swimming pool for good measure … we can swim in red ink! What, no curling?

Only during the final submissions at the midnight hour have other parts of the community been heard from. But the Council champions of the park don’t like what they are finally hearing. They’d rather tune it out. “It’s too late,” they say.

Well it’s not too late. And it would be a shame if the Mayor and Council proceed hell-bent despite the community-wide voices and constituencies that have arisen in opposition to the sports complex. For if they do, they will be squandering social capital, not building it.

Tom

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