Community board forum consumed by conspiracy theories

3:42 pm on 22 August 2023
Motueka Public Library.

Last week's community board meeting at the Motueka Public Library had most of its public forum consumed by conspiracy theories. Photo: Jason Mann/JTB Architects

Concerns around the installation of Motueka cycleways have resulted in conspiracy theories consuming much of the community board's public forum time.

Two presentations at last week's community board meeting rallied against the smart, 15-minute city ideal - which strives to create urban communities where all necessities and amenities can be reached within a 15-minute walk - alleging they are methods for corporations and government to exert control over populations.

A third presentation raised concerns about the intricacies of New Zealand's land ownership laws.

Board chairperson and Tasman District councillor Brent Maru questioned the presentations' relevance.

"The role of the Motueka Community Board is to represent the views and advocate for the residents of the Motueka Ward," he said. "That opens the conversation to the wider beliefs of some in terms of a bigger agenda."

He explained that the presentations had stemmed from the council's attempt to install cycleways on the town's High Street.

The project, which was funded through Waka Kotahi's Transport Choices programme, was eventually deferred following community pushback and so Maru acknowledged they had a degree of relevance to the board.

"Do we have an interest in walking and cycling? Absolutely… But beyond that I struggle," he said. "Do I have any control over the 40 most powerful mayors in the world? No. Do I have any control over the 17 sustainability goals of the World Economic Forum? No."

Community board chair Brent Maru.

Community board chair Brent Maru says he struggles with high-level presentations that aren’t immediately relevant to Motueka Photo: Supplied / LDR

Maru thought part of the problem lies in the rules for the community board's public forum.

The board's standing orders limit speakers to five minutes, including questions, and there was no ability for a presentation by a group representative to have 10-minute presentations like in a council meeting's public forum.

"A five-minute talk on anything doesn't achieve a lot if you can't get the time to relate it to Motueka issues and to be engaged in some questions from the board."

These issues were exacerbated by the 30-minute limit on the community board's public forum.

The three presentations took 20 minutes and, after a further five presentations, meant that two registered speakers did not have time to present.

Maru believed if like-minded residents formed a group which could then give a 10-minute presentation to the board on their concerns, then the extended time for the presentation and questions would allow the board to get to the crux of the issue.

"There's absolutely the right for people to engage in local democracy and input, that's great," he said. "But also have respect in terms of there are other people who might also want to have a say. The wider community is a bigger voice than just different interest groups."

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air