Does the Council ever listen? Why yes, yes it does.

Commentary: A comment that often seems to be made in relation to public engagement with the Christchurch City Council is “what’s the point?”. Here are three examples illustrating the benefits of getting involved and giving feedback.

1. Public feedback shapes major roading project

Earlier this year I described the evolution of aspects of the works downstream of the Christchurch Northern Corridor (CNC). Three rounds of public consultation led to substantial changes to traffic calming, slower speed zones, and more. See my previous article for details.

2. Tactical changes mid-project to address a new concern

More recently, contractors prepared to implement CNC downstream works at the intersection of Hills and Edgeware Roads – part of the thrice-consulted plan discussed above. The owner of Miss Feaver Florist was alarmed by the design, expressing in the media a concern that the removal of car parks at the intersection would ‘kill her business’.

The Hills/Edgeware intersection works as had been planned, with pedestrian crossing refuge and removal of parking on the north side of Edgeware Road

What could be done? Would the Council listen, and if so, would anything change? Yes and yes. Once aware of the concern, both local elected members and Council staff met with the business, and a revised design was developed, including:

  • No pedestrian refuge island to be installed at the intersection
  • All existing parking to remain
  • Kerb buildouts to improve pedestrian crossing safety in the absence of the refuge island
  • P10 parking restrictions on both sides of Edgeware Road within the vicinity of the business (south side subject to consultation with affected residents)

Construction was also rescheduled so as to avoid impacting daffodil season – a peak trading period for the business.

The Council’s revised design for the Hills/Edgeware intersection, with parking retained and a kerb build0ut to assist with pedestrian crossing safety.

3. Residents’ dissatisfaction prompts a new way of listening

The Council has announced plans for a Residents’ Forum – an initiative of Councillor Sara Templeton to “help identify barriers to engagement and guide the Council in its engagement with residents over issues of city-wide importance”. The response on social media to this news could be characterised as generally negative (“why bother?”), which ironically helps illustrate the need for this work to be done.

The initiative is a direct result of the community having their say to Council during the recent Annual Plan process, and also through a residents’ satisfaction survey. “There appears to be increased cynicism and loss of trust in the process”, writes Councillor Templeton in her proposal.

Councillor Templeton’s proposed approach includes both an online People’s Panel and then a Forum of 30-50 people representing the demographics of the city. Conclusions and recommendations from the Forum would be fed back to the Council to inform future engagement with residents, and the group could continue to support & guide the Council’s engagement processes. A decision on the proposal is due at the 24 September meeting of the Council’s Sustainability and Community Resilience Committee.

“…there are demographics/whole communities who are largely silent in our engagement processes”

Councillor Sara Templeton

Question for readers

What’s your experience in engaging with your local Council? What public engagement processes would you keep, stop, or start?