Nelson's city amenity bylaw passed, banning sleeping rough in CBD

MARTIN DE RUYTER/stuff

Nelson City Council's City Amenity bylaw will make it illegal for people to sleep on the streets of central Nelson

Rough sleeping overnight on footpaths and roads in the Nelson CBD will soon be banned. 

The council has passed its controversial city amenity bylaw, which stemmed from issues related to long-time Trafalgar St "occupier" Lewis Stanton.

A requirement for permits to protest has been removed, but a ban on rough sleeping has remained.

People like Peter Wilkie, left,  will no longer be able to sleep rough overnight in the Nelson CBD.
MARTIN DE RUYTER

People like Peter Wilkie, left, will no longer be able to sleep rough overnight in the Nelson CBD.

The Nelson City Council adopted the bylaw, 11 votes in favour, one against, and one absence, and it will take effect on September 11. 

READ MORE:
Councillors to make call on controversial bylaw
Bylaw debate causes council chaos
Bylaw to ban overnight sleeping in city
Protest to highlight freedom of speech threats
Council drafts bylaw to deal with Stanton

Councillor Kate Fulton voted against as she didn't support a ban on rough sleeping. Cr Matt Lawrey was absent from the vote as he'd left to take part in a general election debate.

The council deliberated in front of a nearly full public gallery on Wednesday after receiving more than 300 submissions through the consultation process. 

The "permit to protest" issue

The council removed the 'permits for protests' clause. Instead, people will be encourage to "notify" council staff if they're planning a protest that could interfere with traffic or require road closure.

Group Manager of Strategy and Environment Clare Barton said if protests were held without notifying council, the council staff's response would be to have a "conversation" with the organiser. 

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The change was in part due to a large amount of feedback on the issue, but was also informed by the Wellington City Council.

Nelson City Council staff initially understood Wellington had a permit process, based on information on the Wellington City Council website; however upon clarifying with Wellington City Council staff they learned that information was out of date.

The rough sleeping debate

The ban on rough sleeping is defined, "no person shall sleep or otherwise occupy a footpath or road in the city centres ... during the hours of darkness..." 

Council staff clarified the footpath and road definitions included any structures attached to them, such as a bench or seat in the city centre.

A new recommendation by council staff said where a person is rough sleeping, the first response by the council will be to work with social agencies to try and assist the person in getting support. This was recommended as a way to reflect concerns from community members about an overly punitive approach.

Fulton asked that this approach be noted within the bylaw, not just as a generally accepted approach, so it was not lost during any future reviews of the bylaw. It was added as an explanatory note.

Mayor Rachel Reese and acting Chief Executive David Hammond also announced a "mayoral summit" with stakeholders would be held in Nelson to address homelessness.

Hammond said he'd met with agencies including the Ministry of Social Development, Nelson Marlborough District Health Board, Salvation Army and police, and they understood there were around 100 people homeless in Nelson. 

"Broadly we are going to continue to meet as a collective and scope [issues related to homelessness] further, particularly looking at some of the very successful models around New Zealand that are working quite well," Hammond said. 

He said they would also establish a "social investment board" to look at wrap-around services and early intervention for families in need.

"We recognise as a city that it's in nobody's best interest for their heath, safety or well-being to be living on the street whether that be by choice or by circumstance," Hammond said.

What councillors said

Cr Kate Fulton was the only councillor to speak against the bylaw. She said while it had been drafted with the "best of intentions", she was concerned about the rough sleeping restrictions which she felt weren't in agreement with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

"[People] have a basic right to be able to be on the street at night if they need to," Fulton said.

She was also concerned about an element of the bylaw also allowed for possessions left on the street to be seized.

"We're looking at a group of people where those things might be all they have left in their lives." 

However other councillors spoke in favour of the bylaw as an appropriate middle ground.

Cr Mel Courtney said he was "absolutely shattered" to learn there were 100 homeless in Nelson and he felt the bylaw was a good way to address issues and also provide support for those who need it.

Cr Brian McGurk said it struck a good balance between people's intrinsic rights, and the needs of wider society.

He said the bylaw dealt with "inconsiderate occupation of spaces" and he didn't think the threat of litigation should be a reason to do nothing.

"I'm heartened that we're actually dealing with issues that are deeper and wider and affect a lot of people in a more constructive way than just legislating it..." McGurk said.

Mayor Rachel Reese said she liked Nelson to be "a bit quirky" and "embracing of difference", and through the bylaw the council was helping create a caring community.

She said out of an inherited set of challenges, the current council had reached a positive outcome.

"It is pleasing, it is empowering, it is the right step forward," Reese said.

 - Stuff

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