QLDC demands three-hour drive for three-minute talk by community spokesperson
The Queenstown Lakes District Council has declined a request by a spokesperson for a residents group in the Upper Clutha to present to councillors today via a computer screen.
Cherilyn Walthew, the acting chair for the Hāwea Community Association, wants to speak in the public forum of today's full council meeting, but has been told she will need to turn up in person to the Gorge Road Council Chambers, where the meeting is being held, to do so.
She is desperate to talk councillors on behalf of her community before they are charged with making a decision on whether to change planning rules to allow more houses on smaller sections in the lakeside township - and that is a whole other story in itself.
Her allocated speaking slot, like anyone else's, would be three minutes.
Ms Walthew says travelling to Queenstown would involve a three-hour return trip, as well as the loss of earnings and additional petrol and parking costs it would entail.
She penned an email to councillors yesterday, in lieu of presenting to at this afternoon's meeting.
In it, she says she is "extremely disappointed" with the decision by the council's governance team.
"I know the video link technology is available as it’s been used in other forums. Neither can I see anything in the Standing Orders that would prevent this from happening.
"I am very surprised at this stance given the current debate of the accessibility of council and elected members for Upper Clutha ratepayers to have meaningful interactions."
More than 10 percent of voters in the Wānaka-Upper Clutha Ward have signed a petition calling for a split from the QLDC, arguing the council remains too Queenstown-focused, a claim strongly disputed by the council's chief executive.
Wānaka-Upper Clutha councillor Cody Tucker, also a resident of Hāwea, says he is "scratching his head" about the call, as it hasn't been made obvious to him the reason for it.
"The council spent years exclusively on Zoom and regularly attend workshops via Zoom if need be. We even had a large portion of Annual Plan submissions via Zoom and it worked fine. We could play three-minute recordings if people felt nervous about speaking publicly too.
"We have to meet people halfway and need to have a good reason why if we can’t, so being told no without a fair explanation is not acceptable. I hope that staff involved can clarify further so we have the full story.
Queenstown-Whakatipu councillor Niki Gladding lives in Glenorchy - it's not as far out as Hāwea but an outlier township still.
In her view, demanding Ms Walthew present in person is unfair, unreasonable, undemocratic and, "frankly, ridiculously".
She says she is happy to reconsider this opinion if council staff can provide a good explanation for the decision, but so far none has been offered up.
Crux has approached the QLDC governance team for comment.
The district is big, and Ms Gladding says technology can help ensure equitable access for all.
"We need to make sure everybody can participate from wherever they are - Kingston, Glenorchy. In winter, you've got icy roads, you've got snow."
This week's decision is not a good look for the council, as it grapples with momentum from over the hill for a breakaway council.
Ms Gladding says, "I think we need to take it back to the petition...It's really important, that's their thing: 'We don't get a say, council's not listening'."
In his letter to the Local Government Commission questioning the merits of the breakaway petition, QLDC chief executive says the council aims to have every third meeting in the Wānaka-Upper Clutha.
"Well, we haven't," Ms Gladding says.
Ms Walthew wished to talk to councillors regarding a move to add Hāwea South to the district plan variation for intensification, item six on today's meeting agenda.
She says the proposal is problematic in the context of a "very lengthy mediation process" the community group has just come out the other side of, which has secured some hard-fought planning wins for the township.
"Perhaps at least for a couple of decades, let us enjoy the town we have actually agreed to develop rather than put us at risk of further 300-square-metre sections and 12-metre high buildings," she writes to councillors.
"On behalf of the Hawea Community Association, I ask you to vote against adding Hāwea South to the plan change variation for intensification."
Main image: Hāwea to Queenstown is a three-hour return drive, so is it fair for a community representative to be forced to travel to present at a council meeting in person, when the technology exists to allow remote access to elected members?