Why the low public response to Water Strategy consultation?

Opinion: Consultation closed yesterday on the Christchurch City Council’s draft Integrated Water Strategy. This Strategy is described as setting a framework to help the Council manage water supply, wastewater, & stormwater, and also water infrastructure, waterways, and coastal waters. It’s a Strategy that relates to $10 billion in Council spending and a 100-year view.

Simon IWS comment in Tuesday Club
Coverage of the Water Strategy in the Tuesday Club newsletter

Sounds important, right? Especially when water is something that impacts every member of the community, and people will march in the street over issues like water bottling? I attended two of the Council’s drop-in information sessions on the draft Strategy (and viewed the sign-in sheet for the others), and am sad to say there was a near-zero attendance by members of the public. Most sessions have had one or two people sign in. Why are so few people turning out?

Over on Think Papanui I was promoting the Council’s consultation, and I attended a couple of the drop-in sessions. The topic has been covered in Garry Moore’s Tuesday Club newsletter over several weeks (including a comment piece from me), but sadly neither these promotional efforts nor those of the Council seem to have sparked much public interest.

I was informed by Council staff that one thing that is especially new or different about the draft Strategy is that it has a greater emphasis on public awareness and engagement. This can be found as ‘Objective 1’ on p.21 of the Strategy document, where the first suggested approach is ‘advocacy and outreach’. I really hope that Council received a good number of online submissions on the draft Strategy, but it’s had the lowest public turnout to information sessions of any consultation I’ve been involved in, so I am concerned that ironically the awareness & engagement might be severely lacking. This week’s Nor’West News reports that as of last week only ‘about 18’ submissions had been received by Council.

Low water turnout.jpg
The Water Strategy is on the front page of the 23 July edition of the Nor’West News

I’m on the front page of the Nor’West News this week, commenting on the low public engagement with the Strategy – great that the issue is getting front-page attention, although consultation has now closed.

In my submission on the draft Strategy, I supported the overall intent, but commented that the Strategy as documented is not an easy read for a layperson such as myself. Having been disappointed to see a very small turnout to the public drop-in sessions, my reflection is that running this Strategy through the same process as a proposal for a set of traffic lights or a new speed limit hasn’t worked. Given the importance of water, and therefore the Water Strategy, to the community, unless there was a late rush of online submissions, the Council might need to consider some kind of do-over if they wish to claim there’s been meaningful public engagement? Perhaps there’s a need to press pause and come back to the community with a massively simplified strategy, consultation on the component parts, and/or giving it more of a ‘what’s in it for me’ treatment?

Question for readers

Were you aware of the Council’s consultation on this draft Strategy? What are your thoughts on the lack of public response?