Wellingtonians to have say in Council decision-making


The Citizens’ Assembly will provide inputs for the Wellington City Council’s 2024-2034 Long-term Plan (Photo credit: WCC)

Venu Menon
Wellington, August 6,2023

Wellingtonians will have a say in how ratepayers’ money is spent in the development of their city.

For the first time, the Wellington City Council will establish a Citizens’ Assembly to help shape the Council’s budget for the next decade.

The Citizens’ Assembly will provide inputs for the WCC’s 2024-2034 Long-term Plan, giving its views about “which Council services should be prioritised over the next 10 years, balancing community benefits with the cost of delivering these services.”

The Citizens’ Assembly will meet over four sessions in September and October.

The Assembly will present its findings to the Mayor and Councillors, who will consider them while making decisions about the 2024-2034 Long-term Plan.

As a first step, letters calling for expressions of interest were sent out via post and email to around 10,000 randomly selected Wellingtonians last month.

The letters contained a link and QR code to an online survey to be completed by  those interested in participating. Participants could complete the survey over phone if they preferred. Participation was open to residents as well as New Zealand citizens residing in Wellington.

The survey included questions related to age, gender, ethnicity, education levels, home ownership and location within Wellington.

An independent research agency has been tasked to select 30-40 people who reflect Wellington’s diversity.

Community engagement on the 2024-34 Long-term Plan will take place over five phases.

The first phase opened during April and May 2023 with an online survey and a series of public workshops where over 3000 participants were asked to rank Council priorities. They included improving infrastructure and resilience, climate action and affordable housing, as well as improving city safety and upgrading suburban town centres.

The upcoming phase in late 2023 will review rating policies and look at “how the overall rates bill is divided up, that is, the proportion each property owner pays.”

In early 2024, residents will be given budgetary information and options, and invited to express their opinions on whether the rates have been used appropriately.

There will also be formal consultation in early 2024, where people are invited to make final submissions on the draft Long-term Plan for 2024-34.

In recent years, citizens’ assemblies have been in vogue overseas, notably in Ireland. The recommendations of the 2016 Irish Citizens’ Assembly led to the 2018 referendum on abortion.

They are also widely used by state and local government authorities in Australia.

In New Zealand, the Wellington City Council’s first Citizens’ Assembly will be an exercise in “deliberative democracy” that is a part of “broader efforts to improve Council engagement processes, participation rates and accessibility.”

Says Councillor Rebecca Matthews, Chair of the Long-term Plan, Finance, and Performance Committee: “While citizens assemblies are increasingly used overseas, we’ve never done one in Wellington before.”

She says the aim is to break down the barriers to participation in Council decision-making, “and reach a wide range of people, including those we don’t usually hear from.”

“It’s about creating an environment where people are supported to discuss and deliberate with other Wellingtonians with a variety of perspectives and insights. It’s also a chance for them to deepen their understanding of what the Council does, knowing the value of their time and input is recognised,” Matthews notes.

Wellington Mayor Tory Whanau says diverse community input is critical to shape the Long-term Plan. “Councils across New Zealand are facing major challenges, and Wellington City Council is no exception. We need to make some hard decisions, while protecting and supporting what Wellingtonians love most about our city. Meaningful and extensive engagement with the community will help us get it right.”

The 2024-34 Long-term Plan will be adopted by the Wellington City Council in June 2024.

Venu Menon is an Indian Newslink reporter based in Wellington

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