Mayor admits faults in consultation process

The Ombudsman has censured Tasman District Council for not consulting with the surrounding community before moving the historic Maitai Lodge, on the Hope Recreation Reserve, to its current site.

But the man behind the official complaint, neighbour Murray Kerr, is not happy and wants to meet with the council before deciding his next move.

He said the council had acted in favour of other users of the reserve and ignored residents' sentiments.

In May 2010 the council employed a contractor to consult with the community and shift the hall from the reserve's northwest corner to the opposite side to make way for new tennis courts.

But the first thing residents knew of the shift was when the hall loomed over their backyards, blocking out sun and mountain views.

Ombudsman David McGee said, in a decision on Mr Kerr's complaint released last month, that it appeared the council did not give the contractor, Adrian Christensen, of North West Design, clear instructions on the consultation required.

"It is also unsatisfactory that the council purported to delegate this function to a contractor," Mr McGee said.

He questioned whether it was competent for a council to delegate consultation to a contractor.

"The council does not appear to have taken any steps itself to comply with its obligation to discharge its consultation duty. It merely left things to the contractor."

Mr McGee upheld Mr Kerr's complaint.

Mr Kerr said the Ombudsman had also covered the council continuing to work on the relocation when residents had asked it to stop.

"The council could have spoken to us when the building was on the truck, but it continued working. We had to get a 2500-signature petition before they would have a chat."

Mr Kerr said the process had been "dodgy all the way".

"I want to have a meeting with the council before deciding what avenue I should take. Ratepayers are aware that consultation is fair and right and the law in some cases," he said.

After the hall was relocated the council held a public open day and carried out a district-wide submission process that saw 161 out of 238 people ask for the building to stay put. However, of 74 submitters from Hope, 49 wanted the lodge relocated from its new site.

The council's acting community services manager, Susan Edwards, told councillors at yesterday's community services meeting that the Ombudsman asked the council to consider if requesting a contractor to undertake consultation was good practice.

She said the Ombudsman made no formal request for action.

Richmond councillor Kit Maling said the issue was the reason he had got involved in council.

"There is a lesson to be learned from this and that is that we do not do this again."

If the council had carried out the initial consultation the situation would not have arisen. He said the Hope community was still divided over the situation today.

Richmond councillor Zane Mirfin said the process had been long and messy.

Tasman mayor Richard Kempthorne said the ombudsman's findings were a "very fair assessment" and the council, staff, or committee should have consulted with the residents.

The Richmond councillors and Mr Kempthorne were planning to meet with Mr Kerr in the near future.

"There are particularly three residents by the historic building - they are the ones that are most affected by it. I can understand their feeling that they just didn't want the building there and probably still don't."

He said if the council could start the process again it would have done things differently.

"That's what the ombudsman's reported highlighted. He looked at the fact that we had not consulted adequately and as a result of that we had already re-run a very comprehensive consultation with the community . . . and he acknowledged that.

"The lack was that we didn't do that to start with."

The Nelson Mail