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Policy on use of Museum frontage considered by Community Board

September 16th, 2010
By David Armstrong

The issue of TDC's controversial policy for the use by religious and political groups was mulled by the Motueka Community Board on Tuesday at its final meeting before the local body elections.

Several Christian residents and some board members spoke of their concerns about the latest draft policy put forward by the council which says that religious and political people and groups would not be allowed to use the space at all unless it was clearly for community or charitable purposes.

News of this change in policy surfaced at the board's August meeting, and publication in a local paper resulted in the opening of a very active and strongly expressed discussion forum thread on Motueka Online, which you can read here.

At the open forum of this week's meeting, prior to the board making its own consideration, a spokesman for the Christian group, Jason Daniel, pleaded that terms in the policy that explicitly forbid use by religions and political groups be removed. The only uses that should be not be allowed should be commercial vendors. He based his argument on several points, including that it is space paid for by ratepayers and so is public, banning free speech is against the Human Rights Act, and that "God doesn't approve of this policy".

He said that bylaws already exist to stop offensive or excessively loud behaviour by users, so there should not be any special rules to deal with particular types of groups. He also expressed concern that at present there did not seem to be any avenue for anyone denied permission to appeal the decision. This had happened to his group in the past.

The other aspect discussed was who would give or deny permission, a job currently performed by the Museum curator. The board, along with the residents at the forum, said they would much prefer the Council to be the arbitrators, with an appeal process to move on to the community board if necessary.

Subsequently at the board's meeting it was decided to recommend to the TDC department concerned that the policy be amended to remove all references to religious and political uses being forbidden, and that the council staff be given responsibility for approving or denying use.

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Tracing back the history, the issue of who could use the area for stalls, speeches, events and other public gatherings surfaced early this year over a small disagreement about its use by a commercial vendor. The Museum frontage space is owned and controlled by Tasman District Council.

At the time, those concerned were aware that council was reviewing its policy about who could use the space, for what purposes, and under whose authority, as part of a conventional one-year review. Nothing more was said, apart from a few people wondering when the updated policy would be published.

Early in August a disagreement took place in the area when board member Tara Forde set up a stall encouraging people to enrol for the local body elections. She was told to move, but was allowed to use the adjacent piece of land owned by Parklands School for pupil access. Tara's concern about this apparent attempt to limit free speech was voiced several days later at the board's August meeting, when she asked precisely what the policy was and why it should be used to stop activity related to politics.

At the meeting Motueka & Golden Bay News reporter Anna Pearson picked up on this discomfort, researched the background, and reported on it in the following week's edition of the paper, which we summarised on this page. Then came letters to Motueka Online which resulted in our discussion forum thread.




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