Public submissions have begun for Tauranga City's Long-term Plan but they're being done a little differently to previous years.
Instead of every submission being heard in the council chambers, today they were heard on Te Whetū o Te Rangi marae in Welcome Bay.
"We've tried to be as accessible as we possibly can," said Commission Chair Anne Tolley.
"We encouraged tangata whenua to make submissions, to come and talk with us, so it seemed appropriate that we come out here to a marae so that people who might not be comfortable coming into a council meeting, and you know it's quite a formal, intimidating environment.
"We do have a couple in the council rooms because some people expect that but we've got one here on a marae and we've got one over in the Mount. We're trying to mix it up a bit and make sure as many people as possible can get access to come and talk to us."
The commissioners are hoping the change will produce open and honest conversations.
"Hopefully they don't read their submissions because we've done all that," said Tolley.
"What we want is for them to talk, preferably from the heart, about what it is they object to, or what are their solutions for the issues the people in Tauranga are facing. And they can do it in a way they're a bit more relaxed."
For those taking part today, it was a welcome change.
"Submitting here was a lot more relaxed and welcoming," said Lakes resident Steven Lasslett. "I've presented in the chambers before and it can be a bit intimidating and off-putting but it was great."
Tauranga resident Chris Nepia agreed.
"It's a more comfortable setting to come out to a marae because it's in a place they're familiar with, whereas council chambers are often places they're not used to. Anywhere where you're going into the community, into spaces that they're familiar and comfortable with, you'll get more people involved in the process."
Matire Duncan, chairwoman of Te Rangapū Mana Whenua o Tauranga Moana, said it was a good opportunity for tangata whenua to present their submissions in a more informal environment.
"Not many Māori people would actually go to a formal council chamber where they're normally held and they find it quite alienating."
The commissioners will hear submissions all week before making some very important decisions for the city.
"Back in the heart of the council, people are writing reports," said Tolley. "We've said we want every issue that has been raised, addressed. Then we have a whole week going through those reports making the decisions.
"We've got to have the final decision made by the 31st of July. That's the very last date in order to bring in a new rating system, otherwise we have to rate on last year's rates."
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