Chair’s report May 2017 – what Watercare should do, Anzac Day and a celebration for Piha

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One of the most satisfying parts of my job is the writing of the Chair’s report each month.

This makes me focus on what we want to achieve this term and on what has happened so far.

This month, like all of the other months, has been full of events and matters of interest and interaction with people wanting to have a say about how our area can be made better.

Submission on Auckland Council’s annual budget

The local board recently made a submission to the Auckland Council on the draft annual budget.

The Mayor is committed to capping the rates increase for the coming year to no more than 2.5%. The local board discussed this and reached the view that we should advocate for the rates increase to be that anticipated in Council’s long term plan which is 3.5%. The basic reason for this is that the city is growing extraordinarily quickly. In the year to June 2015 it grew by 2.9% and in the year to June 2016 it grew by 2.8%. A 2.5% increase means that per head of population Council’s spend is going backward. I accept that some things can be done more efficiently but the infrastructure cost of growth is huge and this makes the head of population spend even worse.

This has an effect on all areas of council activities. An example is libraries where our local libraries have had a reduction in staff resources of 10% following a restructure despite early indications to the contrary. Another example is in the environmental area where already stretched budgets are being further stretched. Rampant weed and pest problems are a consequence.

In other parts of our submission we supported the maintenance of the current split between residential and business ratepayers, did not support a targeted rate on accommodation providers in the local area for tourism promotion, supported a living wage being paid to council staff and contractors, and supported greater contribution to the cost of new infrastructure by developers.

Watercare

This issue continues to dominate our time and our email inboxes. Over the past few weeks I have received many, many emails from people concerned at the proposal that Watercare will build a new water treatment plant either in Oratia or in Woodlands Park. The number is in the thousands. I have spent a lot of time reading emails and replying to them.

There have been some especially memorable examples. Like this email from a young woman who is 12 years old and lives in the red zone. I have removed identifying details:

My name is ** I am 12 years old and I live ** in the red zone.

I am writing this by myself to give a child’s perspective on things and attempt to explain the magic of Oritia community.

Me and my family moved to Oritia on March 2015. I remember the first day of living in Oritia, the day we moved. Driving down the twisting road called Parker Road I knew that this was right, that this was my home.

The way down the road we were greeted with waves and smiles that to this day make me smile.

I am lucky enough to live down a shared driveway with neighbors who have turned into our family.

We have formed many relationships with our community and we are not willing to be separated.

I said we have made friends who have turned into family but really the whole of Oritia is one big family who look out for each other and ALWAYS have each others back.

I first heard about WTP in Oritia about a month ago while on my way to school. I carpool with my friends who live down my driveway as we go to the same school when I was told that a water treatment plant may be built in Oritia.

Through the next few days I learnt a bit more on what was going on but then a few days later I woke up to see my dad very stressed and worried as he scrolled through his phone.

He told me that our house and many others may be destroyed for this giant water plant.

We were in shock as were many other families in Parker Road.

Since then Oritia has been fighting and fighting for our homes.

I cant even begin to imagine living anywhere else but here. It would take away our community family.

One of the best things about Oritia is the feeling of freedom away from everything outside our little corner of the world.

Around the driveway there is a lot of bush where me and my friends can run and play in the bush whenever we want, thats what will be taken away.

I can walk over to any of my neighbours houses and be welcome, thats what will be taken away.

I intend to live in Oritia as long as I possibly can, that will be taken away.

The soul and heritage of Oritia is the heart of our community, that will be taken away. Our community has grown strong this past month and it makes me so proud to say, I live in Oritia and we are not going anywhere and we will never stop fighting!

I hope this has helped you understand Oritia a bit better and show you what will be taken away and that lives will be ruined. My family’s life’s will be ruined.

Or this example from another young Oratia resident:

dear watercare

please dont bild on my house
this is where my hut is where my frend *** and me play

and my pets live here

thankyou

There is also this video created by Oratia children. I challenge you to watch it and not be affected.

The Oratia resistance started early and has been very well organised. I have been involved in a number of citizen based protest movements over the years and the Oratia effort is one of the best I have witnessed.

The residents of Woodlands Park have also become active however. Like Oratia they fear the devastation of their environment and the disruption that the construction of a large industrial plant would cause their area.

They are worried not only about the destruction of high quality bush and the felling of significant trees but also about the chaos that the construction of a large plant will cause to their neighbourhood.

The number of emails from the Woodlands Park community is in numeric terms lower than the number received from Oratia but in terms of passion and content are just as impressive.

There has been a huge expectation that local democratic power should have significant control over what is happening. The basic problem is there is a deficit of democratic control. When a Council controlled organisation is making a decision that will have a significant effect on a local community the consultation should be spectacular. Watercare’s consultation is, in my personal view, only what is required to meet RMA requirements and for democratic representative purposes it should be better.

I believe that Watercare should go back to the drawing board and engage in a real consultation with local communities. Rather than one huge plant we should have a discussion about two or more smaller plants. We should have a discussion about a plant situated in an industrial area and what the energy implications are. We should also talk about options like modern technology filter plants at the dam sites and what that would mean. We should also see if the existing plant can be retrofitted to give it further life or if parts of it such as the settlement tanks can be retained for ongoing use.

But the problem is that we are being asked to agree to huge industrial water filter plant options, one in Oratia that will displace many families from their land and one in Woodlands Park that will result in the clearance of pristine bush. There has to be a better option that will avoid both of these consequences.

Piha

Recent events at Piha have caused a lot of consternation. A number of fires have occurred, most involving bush but the iconic cafe Adey’s Place also suffered from fire. The fires are suspected to be because of arson and an arrest has occurred. There should be no further comment about this aspect of what has happened until the justice system has finalised its treatment of the allegations.

But the incident brought home to me what an outstanding job our volunteer fire brigades and the services perform for us all. To acknowledge them the local board intends to hold a civil event in Piha where their contribution and their commitment will be formally recognised.

Anzac Day

Anzac Day is one of the busiest yet most enjoyable of the calendar of a Local Board member. In the Waitakere Ranges Local Board area there are no less than eight ceremonies. They are all quite unique and have their own particular favour. Local Board members fan out to different events to make sure that we cover them all.

It was my privilege to attend three of them this year, the dawn ceremony at Waikumete, the morning ceremony at Titirangi and the afternoon ceremony at Piha.

The dawn ceremony is a very solemn event, the cold and the dark adding to sense of ceremony. The numbers attending this year were huge and the event went flawlessly. The staff, some of who were up at 3 in the morning preparing the area, deserve a large vote of thanks.

The event is especially memorable as dawn breaks during a very important part of the ceremony.

I then attended the Titirangi ceremony.

The Titirangi RSA under the guidance of Dave Lawrence is a very gentle happy yet solemn reminder of the importance of the day. Dave has guided the ceremony for many years and has perfected the art of doing so.

The schools have a major part to play with a number of young Primary School students singing the Anzac song. This year was especially noticeable because of a group of young women from Green Bay High School singing John Lennon’s “Imagine”. A more suited yet more radical song for an Anzac day ceremony I could not imagine.

The final ceremony was that at Piha. This is something everyone should experience. Locals walk behind a Highland Band from the RSA to Lion Rock where that most beautiful of areas is used as a backdrop. People then get to contribute to the ceremony each in their own way.

After that there is a trip back to the local RSA. To cap off a very memorial day bagpipe players compete with each other to play well known tunes that do not normally get the bagpipe treatment.

Until next month …

The possible privatisation of Ports of Auckland

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The future of Auckland’s port has become the subject of some media attention recently. Is it going to be privatised?

The conjecture started with this article by Bernard Orsman in the Herald.  It said this:

High level discussions are under way over the future of Ports of Auckland as Auckland Mayor Phil Goff wrestles with how to fund the city’s ballooning infrastructure costs.

But Goff is refusing to be drawn on whether he plans to sell the council’s ownership stake, saying only he wants to address the port’s long-term future this term.

The Herald understands an IPO, or initial public offering, of the port is being discussed in merchant banking circles. Either a sale of the operating company or a part sale of the entire entity is understood to be under discussion.

Goff would only say he has had wide-ranging discussions on Auckland’s port but no specific proposal on ownership has been presented to him.

During the last election campaign Goff talked about the future of the port.  It is a feature of developing city ports that as time goes by and the city grows the relationship of the port to the city changes.  Initially they are an important piece of infrastructure as a transport node but as time goes by and the city develops the port function becomes less and less important and the value and future use of the occupied land becomes somewhat critical.  It is an important issue for a growing city.  Maybe we should think of a future where there is no inner city port.  As an example Sydney and Melbourne ports have gone through similar changes.

Ports of Auckland is essentially owned by Auckland Council.  The port has already been a source of major frustration for progressives because of POAL’s attempt to deunionise the site.  The amount of money spent on this particular fight was obscene and unjustifiable unless the activity was necessary to facilitate its privatisation.

There is clearly a lot of central government support for the proposal.  It appears that the Government has offered $1 billion dollars worth of transport projects to Auckland Council if it proceeds with the privatisation.  From Richard Harman in Politik:

There are an extra billion dollars on the table in Wellington for Auckland transport if the city agrees to sell its port company.

The city’s Mayor, Phil Goff, has confirmed that he has received a briefing from the Ports Company proposing a privatisation.

POLITIK has learned that the Government may be willing to stump up an extra one billion dollars for transport projects if the port – or other assets – were to be sold.

Given that the company is worth approximately $1.1 billion the Government appears to be proposing a dollar for dollar subsidy.

And what is at stake …

A senior Government source last night told POLITIK that one billion dollars could be available and  projects that might be able to be brought forward could include:

  • Mills Road motorway extension.
  • The Panmure- Botany busway and other roadworks
  • The busway to the Airport
  • A busway and other work on the North Western motorway.

The offer reeks of bad faith politics.  The North Western busway is to give the Government cover because the decision not to build the north western busway over the past few years while the north western motorway has been rebuilt is stupidity of the most extreme level.  The busway to the Airport is clearly to try and dull the effect of Labour’s light rail to the airport policy.

The problem for Auckland Council and for Goff is that current Council debt levels are close to the maximum comfort level.  Debt is currently $7.6 billion and just below 270% debt to revenue ratio.  Although the Council has an urgent need of funds for the construction of new infrastructure its ability to borrow further is limited.

And the Government has turned down every request by Auckland for alternative funding streams.  A request for reinstatement of the ability to put a regional fuel tax in place has been turned down.  And Goff is having to use a targeted rate to create a tourist bed tax.

So Goff is caught in this difficult position where Auckland urgently needs further funds but the Government is refusing to allow it the new revenue streams it desperately needs.  And Goff’s analysis is that anything above a  2.5% rates rise is politically risky.  The problem is that an increase of this size would mean that the per head of population spend would decrease at a time when it needs to increase.

Labour has come out in opposition to the proposal.  Phil Twyford has said this:

Labour would strongly oppose the sell-off of the Ports of Auckland to fix a short term cash crisis caused by the Government blocking the city’s requests for new ways to fund infrastructure, says Labour’s Auckland Issues spokesperson Phil Twyford.

“National has blocked every request Auckland Council has made for new sources of revenue to invest in desperately needed infrastructure, including road pricing and a regional fuel tax. And now the usual cheerleaders for privatisation are telling the Council to flog off the port company to fund the infrastructure deficit.

“Of course the merchant bankers and the international investors will be salivating at the chance to sink their teeth into the port but let’s stop for a second and think about what’s good for New Zealand.

“The country needs the future of the upper North Island ports to be resolved on the basis of what’s good for the long term prosperity of New Zealand. Privatising the port now could jeopardise that process.

There are councillors such as Mike Lee and Cathy Casey who would vehemently oppose any privatisation.  This issue could present Phil Goff with his biggest headache as mayor.

Chair’s Report April 2017 – Water water everywhere …

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Text of my April 2017 Chairperson’s report to the Waitakere Ranges Local Board

The environment, particularly water, is again dominating local news.

A couple of recent storm events indicate to me very clearly that climate change is occurring and it is likely that these events will become more and more frequent. The first storm a few weeks ago caused significant flooding on Atkinson Road, Brandon Road, Glendale Road and on Great North Road in Kelston where an apartment house flooded for the second time in five years.

The flooding also caused the under mining of a couple of buildings on Great North Road in New Lynn. The damage caused to the road has thrown the local road system into chaos. I have never seen congestion in the area this bad.

Meanwhile the train system is working superbly. It recently passed another milestone when the 19th million passenger in a calendar year boarded. The annual rate of growth is 19.4% and recently an extra million passengers has been added in every four months.

The problem is that at current rates of growth the system’s capacity at is going to be fully utilized in the next few years. We may regret not having started the City Rail Link years before.

To exemplify the performance of rail I recently caught a weekday 5:30 pm train from Britomart. At about 6:10 pm I reached Glen Eden. The trip was not only a great deal quicker, it was more relaxing and I had much appreciated time to catch up on emails.

Now is a very good time to put more train services on the western line if they are available. And I am sure that once people have tried the train system they will not look back.

The second storm wobbled at the end and bypassed Auckland. But the destruction it caused to other parts of the North Island suggest that we have no reason to be complacent.

The worrying aspect is that our infrastructure is predicated on really large storms occurring rarely. With an increasing frequency of large storm events caused in rising temperatures and water sodden atmosphere we may find that existing infrastructure is inadequate.

The Watercare Treatment Plant

This issue continues to be high on the Local Board’s radar. Residents and supporters in Oratia are maintaining a well organized and in my view highly effective campaign to persuade Watercare not to site the proposed replacement water treatment plant on Parker Road.

They recently held a further well attended, well organized and passionate meeting and invited mayor Phil Goff, local councillors and the local board along. The Mayor requested that Raveen Jaduram, Watercare’s chief executive, also attend which he did.

He was treated very politely and his presence assisted greatly in my view in having a proper dialogue about the issues surrounding the proposal. Previously Watercare had declined to take part in these meetings. Raveen’s presence and the dialogue that occurred suggest strongly to me that this decision was the wrong one. One aspect that Raveen was able to clarify was that Watercare would not seek to have any Resource Consent application handled by a Board of Inquiry.

The meeting exemplified to me that ongoing dialogue is vital. And while the process is a conventional one in terms of Resource Consent Applications there is a deep disquiet that a Council Controlled Organisation should not be more accountable to the views of citizens. I am convinced that locals would prefer a more organic discussion where instead of being presented essentially with two options (Oratia or Woodlands Park) there was a discussion about options, whether smaller treatment plants could achieve the necessary goal and what sorts of smart engineering choices could be made to minimise disruption.

Residents of Woodlands Park have also started to express concerns at the possibility of a plant on the Manuka Road site. Their concerns and values are similar to those of the Oratia residents, they both cherish and are very protective of the environment they live in and they do not want to see their local environment destroyed.

Following is an indicative plan that I have received from Watercare that sets out the potential layout of a future site. If constructed in this area it would wipe out part of the Clarks Bush Track as well as the ecological corridor that extends from Laingholm into TItirangi.

If this is Watercare’s preferred site I will be advocating for a reduction in the footprint so that the high quality vegetation and the track are preserved. I do not understand why more of the existing plant area cannot be used as already it is proposed that the holding pool be retained.

The experience has shown clearly to me the need for reform of the council controlled organizations. There is a virtue in removing day to day management decisions from political influence and financial discipline is important but we currently have the situation where with little notice local communities face potential devastation because of the adoption of a large engineering solution to the city’s need for water. There have to be smarter and more environmentally sensitive ways of dealing with the city’s growth needs and the need to replace ageing infrastructure.

The trouble with the Council Controlled Organisation corporate model is that big engineering cheapest price options tend to dominate. In the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area local people deserve and expect better.

Water quality

The trifecta of news involving water is that of water quality, particularly of the West Coast lagoons.

Ecomatters Trust has completed an analysis of local septic systems. The result was that 45% of the sampled properties had systems that were either not up to scratch or failing. If this figure was extrapolated across the West Coast it means that 450 systems need improvement or replacement.

The local board had a fund of $50,000 available to locals to assist with the replacement of existing systems. Presuming the fund is applied efficiently it means that it would take 45 years to fix up existing systems. The board intends to continue to have the resources available to address the problem but we will be assessing if this is the most efficient spend of the money.

And the inner Harbour beaches are also in poor shape. Titirangi Beach and Wood Bay have had preliminary assessments completed which suggest that the sources of pollution are avarian, dog and human foecal matter. Investigations to the other beaches are ongoing. I will be urging Watercare to review its infrastructure to see if it is contributing to the problem.

I believe that we should set a goal for the water quality standards of our lagoons and inner Harbour beaches. They should be swimmable. And this should not mean that on occasions there is a one in 20 chance of contracting an illness from doing so.

Local Events

Finally a couple of photos from recent events to celebrate the strength of community out west. The first is from the recent Holi Festival put on by the Waitakere Indian Association. I have never seen such a happy completely sober group of people in my life!

And finally from the Board’s Kauri Karnival also held recently and which was very successful.

The water treatment plant, Watercare, Parker Road and Exhibition Drive

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The past month has been dominated by news that Watercare is considering two sites for a new water treatment plant and that Exhibition Drive in Titirangi may be under threat.  The old plant in Woodlands Park is reaching the end of its natural life and will need replacement fairly soon.  And this has caused Watercare to review its land holdings in the area.

Auckland’s water supply is not as secure as it could be.  Rampant population growth is putting huge pressure on existing infrastructure.  And as I type this Aucklanders are being asked to preserve water because the Ardmore Station is struggling to handle heavily silted water caused by some rather extreme weather events over the past week.

Doing nothing is clearly not an option.  And taking the current plant off line and then rebuilding does not appear to be feasible.  Auckland would be another severe weather event away from water rationing unless more Waikato water can be accessed.  And I am not sure this can occur.

But the options that have been provided by Watercare pose all sorts of problems.

There are essentially two sites, one in Parker Road, Oratia and the second in and around the existing treatment plant site.  I do not believe that rebuilding completely on the current site will work although it should be used as much as possible.

Oratia

Choosing the Oratia site would cause huge damage not only to a very pleasant and beautiful valley but also to a local community with a very proud history deeply associated with the land.  I have received a number of emails from local residents which talk about this history, their family’s links to the area and the social devastation that would be caused if they were uprooted from their land.  Their nervousness and potential sense of loss is palpable.  And you only have to drive round Oratia or have attended one of the very well attended and managed local meetings to recognise the local passionate opposition that has resulted from the announcement of the possibility of the plant.

A large water treatment plant would be totally out place if built in the proposed area.  The disruption that would be caused by its construction and operation is barely fathomable.  There has to be a better alternative.

Woodlands Park

The other option is to build on the site immediately adjacent to the current site.  The site is bush clad although much of the bush is regenerating.  There is some significant bush in the area however including that around Clark’s Bush Walk.  There is a magnificent Kauri which may be 1,000 years old although from what I have been able to ascertain it is thankfully well away from the Watercare land.

There is some local opposition to the idea of clearing the bush but I believe that as long as the plant is sited sensitively and high quality vegetation and trees are avoided then this site can be made to work.  There will need to be a full ecological assessment completed however so that the site can be properly understood.

There is also the Nihutopu Filter Station at the start of Exhibition Drive which could be renovated and used as well as large parts of the existing site and plant.  Watercare’s engineers are clever people.  I am confident that they can design a new plant that will be sympathetic to significant trees and the local ecology and based on my current understanding this would be the best result.

Map showing quality of vegetation on the Woodlands Park site – Green very low – blue low – orange medium – purple high

A third alternative is for Watercare to back the truck up a bit and to consult with local communities and the local board about the issue and explore all options.  I am not a fan of large scale engineering solutions.  Often small solutions can provide superior results.  Being presented with the plant has to be this big and we will not talk about anything else is deeply annoying to local people.

Exhibition Drive

A closely related issue is the future of Exhibition Drive.

This is a very well used and cherished walkway in Titirangi that is frequented by locals.  It connects Titirangi with the Arataki Visitor’s centre and can be said to be the real start of the Hillary Trail.

Watercare considers the land to be surplus to requirements and suitable for divestment.  It is currently negotiating with Auckland Council for the sale of the land to Council to then be held as a reserve.

The land was as far as I can tell acquired under the Public Works Act.  This means that if land is considered to be no longer required it is offered to other government or council departments, then generally to the previous owner or their successors, and then there is the possibility of sale on the open market.

Of course Watercare does not have to go through with this and can decide to keep the land if discussions with Council do not work out.  But this is the problem.  Watercare is required by law to keep the price of water as low as possible and it is not able to pay a dividend to its owner, which is Auckland Council.  If it starts the formal divestment process then it may have to follow it through to completion.  Holding onto land it no longer needs would appear to be in breach of its requirement to act in an economically prudent manner.  And in my experience Watercare is overly fixated on its commercial responsibilities.

On Auckland Council’s side the strained budgets that everyone operates under and the fact that this is not an area of high growth causes me concern.  The money may not be available.  It is also frankly bizarre that land that was transferred to Watercare at no cost cannot be transferred back to Council at the same price.

And the land has huge social value but limited economic value as pretty well all of it is zoned conservation.

There is a requirement that Watercare and other Council Controlled Organisations “exhibit a sense of social and environmental responsibility by having regard to the interests of the community in which it operates and by endeavouring to accommodate or encourage these when able to do so”.  Preserving Exhibition Drive should be regarded by Watercare as being part of its duty as a good corporate citizen.

Watercare has assured the local Councillors and myself that the land will not be privatised.  I believe that it is important that this issue is resolved for once and for all so that a future sale is not a possibility.

Chair’s report – February 2017 – Kauri dieback, the polluted Manukau and Waitangi day

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The text of my Chair’s report for February 2017.

Happy belated new year to everyone.

The year has started off to a somewhat hectic pace.

The first matter that arose just before Christmas was the completion of latest monitoring report concerning the presence of Kauri dieback. The news is not good.

Kauri dieback is a scourge of the Waitakere Ranges. The disease is widespread throughout the west, particularly in Titirangi.

The heritage area now has the unfortunate characteristic of being the most infected area in the country. By comparison, on Great Barrier Island, where the disease has been present for decades, the spread appears to be more limited. This may be due to a lower population and a drier climate.

The rate of infection in discrete areas has increased from 7.9% 5 years ago to 19%. And the highest risk vector has been identified as soil disturbance associated with human activity.

The report also noted that the use of trigene cleaning stations is declining even though knowledge of the importance of cleaning is high. I am not surprised that the increase of infected areas has occurred at the same time that trigene use has reduced. 83% of people trekking through the Waitakeres are ignoring the hygiene requirements.

Kauri protection zones are not working as intended. Track counts show that even tracks that have been closed are experiencing foot traffic despite their status.

The Waitakere Ranges Local Board has declared protection of Kauri as one of our major priorities this term. It was also one last term and we went as far as employing a Kauri dieback coordinator to raise awareness of the disease and what people have to do to try and prevent its spread.

Sandra Coney and I urgently met with the Mayor and Councillors Penny Hulse and Linda Cooper and others just before the release of the findings from the report. I am pleased that everyone accepts the importance of dealing with Kauri dieback and more resources are being put into education and prevention as an urgent priority.

The news is not all bad. The experiment with Phosphite treatment has shown good results and recently an enhanced trial, Kauri Rescue was announced. The proposal is to engage with local land owners to treat diseased trees with Phosphite and to monitor the result.

From the website (http://www.kaurirescue.org.nz/about.html):

“This exciting new project Kauri RescueTM otherwise known as Community Control of Kauri Dieback: Tiaki Kauri seeks to engage the public in refining a new citizen science tool for the treatment of Kauri Dieback Disease, which is decimating kauri forests in northern New Zealand.

The project team comprises of scientists, social scientists, iwi and community groups and is funded for two-years from the Government’s Biological Heritage National Science Challenge.

The team will recruit private landowners to work alongside scientists to treat their own trees with a chemical called Phosphite which has shown great promise in Kauri Dieback Programme-funded scientific trials, by enabling kauri to fight back against the Phytophthora agathidicida pathogen that causes the disease. The initial pilot study will involve a small number of private landowners to test and refine the methodology before expanding this to a larger group in the second stage of the project.

The project will also encourage landowners to test other treatment techniques, encouraging both western science and mātauranga Māori methods, rigorously monitoring results and collecting data on all treatments so that their efficacy can be determined.”

If you live in Titirangi and have diseased trees on your property you may wish to consider taking part in the trial.

The developments and Ian Horner’s research are very promising but it must be remembered that the treatment is not a cure. It just keeps the trees standing in the meantime. The sanitary requirements will continue to be very important.

Why is this so important? Because the disease is a species threatening one. No cure has been discovered, nor have any Kauri immune to the disease been identified. These trees are the kings of the forest. Without them not only will the forest lose some of its majesty but the forest’s backbone will disappear. It would be more susceptible to wind damage and weeds will flourish.

The Waitakere Ranges are a special place. Without Kauri they would be that much less special. This is why we need to do all that we can to ensure that this disease is arrested and Kauri are preserved.

The second major topical issue is the state of the Manukau Harbour and the West Coast lagoons. A recent article (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11786380) in the Herald highlighted how bad the water quality throughout Auckland is.

Things are that bad that swimming at Laingholm and Wood Bay is now banned. And levels of contamination at nearby Green Bay are off the chart with faecal bacteria count measured on November 16, 2016 being an amazing 173 times the maximum safe level.

This is wrong. Our beaches should be swimmable.

Work is required to identify the exact cause of the pollution but ancient infrastructure as well as dog waste is implicated. And I was astounded to read that the Mangere treatment plant is also implicated with it being reported that Watercare data showed that the plant reached capacity and some wastewater and stormwater had to “bypass” full treatment after heavy rain on average 20 to 22 times a year since the plant was upgraded.

The upgrade occurred only 15 years ago. If it is already not up to scratch this is really concerning.

The West Coast lagoons present their own distinct issues. The Piha and Bethells Lagoons suffer from local septic systems that are not up to scratch.

The local board set up a fund of $50,000 which allowed individual grants of $5,000 to applicants who are upgrading their antiquated septic systems. The idea is to incentivise the replacement of the old systems. The fund has now been fully subscribed. The Retrofit Your Home scheme has also been altered so that residents can borrow from Council up to $35,000 to upgrade their septic systems.

Hopefully once the new systems are in place water quality will improve dramatically. If not then other regulatory approaches will need to be considered.

waitangi-day-2017-1

The third event I wish to refer to is the very successful Waitangi Day celebration recently held at Hoani Waititi Marae.

The event was a mix of the traditional and the modern with the day started with a traditional Powhiri.

Henderson Massey Board member Will Flavell did a great job for us in providing a respectful reply during the speeches and unlike last year Board members were spared the sound of my singing solo!

The organisers did a superb job organising the event. Turnout was huge and on a hot fine day everyone enjoyed the music and food that was on display. My personal favourite was the Mussell fritters.

Waitangi day has been, at least according to the media, a day of dispute and contention. This certainly is not the case on Hoani Waititi Marae on any Waitangi day that I have attended.

The day should be a celebration of our status as a country as well as a day for us to reflect on the injustices meted out to Maori and the forgiveness they have shown for these injustices and the trustees of the Hoani Waititi marae perform this role tremendously.

The event also highlighted what I hope is a strengthening relationship between the board and the trustees of the Marae. The members of the Marae achieve great things and a partnership based on respect and shared values I believe will be very helpful for our community.

Kauri Dieback needs urgent attention

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kauri-dieback

Kauri dieback is a scourge of the Waitakere Ranges.  The disease is widespread throughout the west, particularly in Titirangi.

Council has been identifying where it is located and has just completed the second intensive monitoring exercise.  The first was conducted five years ago.

I am afraid that the news is not good.

The rate of infection in discrete Kauri areas has increased from 7.9% to 19%.  And the highest risk vector has been identified as soil disturbance associated with human activity.

To make matters worse it appears that the use of trigene cleaning stations is declining.  I am not surprised that the increase of infected areas has occurred at the same time that trigene use has reduced.  It appears that knowledge of the treatment is high but actual use is declining.  83% of people trekking through the Waitakere’s are ignoring the hygiene requirements.

And Kauri protection zones are not working.  Track counts show that even tracks that have been closed are experiencing foot traffic despite their status.

The Waitakere Ranges Local Board has declared protection of Kauri as one of our major priorities this term.  It was also one last term and we went as far as employing a Kauri dieback coordinator to raise awareness of the disease and what people have to do to try and prevent its spread.

I am pleased that the Council has realised the importance of this role and more resources are being put into education and prevention as an urgent priority.

The news is not all doom and gloom.  The experiment with Phosphite treatment has shown good results and is is close to being rolled out in an enhanced trial.  It does not cure the disease but application of phosphite appears to give trees sufficient resilience to the disease to make them viable.

Mayor Phil Goff has taken special interest and wants urgent action to be taken.

Before Christmas there will be action to improve the trigene stations and ambassadors at the stations reminding people to clean their shoes.

Next year a more complete look at the issue will be conducted to see what we as a community can do.  Already many in our community contribute a great deal but clearly more is required.

And there will be ongoing thought given on how to mainstream the phosphite treatment.

The spread has been particularly rampant in the Waitakere Ranges.  This heritage area now has the unfortunate feature of being the most infected area in the country.  By comparison, on Great Barrier Island, where the disease has been present for decades, the spread appears to be more limited.  This may be due to a lower population and a drier climate.

Why is this so important?  Because the disease is a species threatening one.  No cure has been discovered, nor have that have immunity to Kauri Dieback been identified.  These trees are the kings of the forest.  Without them not only will the forest lose some of its majesty but the forest’s backbone will disappear.  It would be more susceptible to wind and weeds will flourish.

The Waitakere Ranges are a special place.  Without Kauri they would be that much less special.  This is why we need to do all that we can to ensure that this disease is arrested and Kauri are preserved.

What the Waitakere Ranges Local Board wish to accomplish this term

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I have had the privilege of being elected as chair of the Waitakere Ranges Local Board this term and my colleague Saffron Toms will be deputy chair.  Following is the text of my speech that I have to the Board’s inaugural meeting.

E ngā mana, e ngā reo, e rau rangatira mā

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa

Can I first thank Mana Whenua for starting our meeting and our term in a most appropriate way.

Can I thank everyone for attending this the inaugural meeting of the third Waitakere Ranges Local Board.

Special thanks to Senior Manager and proud westie Penny Pirrett and also to our local manager Glenn Boyd who is a calm thoughtful and dedicated servant of the Council.  I should also thank Tua Viliamu who is our always cheerful always helpful assistant and Shaz who has visibly aged trying to keep us organised and on point.

To Metiria Turei tēnā koe.  We all admire and share with you your desire to protect and enhance the environment.

A very special thanks to our family and friends who put a huge effort into getting us elected and had to put up with the stress and tension and drama of an election campaign.  On behalf of each of us can I acknowledge you and thank you for everything that you did for us.

And can I acknowledge on behalf of all politicians here that we all, and I repeat all, go a bit crazy during election campaigns.  May we all return to sanity so that we can all work for the benefit of our community.

To outgoing Chair Sandra Coney can I express my personal acknowledgement of the tremendous job you did as chair during the past three years.  It was your decision to not seek reelection so that you would have more time for other matters.  But for your decision I am very confident that you would have been re-elected as chair.  And can I thank you for years of sterling work for the west as a Regional Councillor and as a super city councillor as well as your time as chair of the local board.

This is the third such meeting that I have had the privilege of attending as an elected representative.

Denise, Neil and I were members of the inaugural Waitakere Ranges Local Board along with Janet Clews, Judy Lawley and Mark Brickell.  The board and the super city were absolutely brand new and I think it is fair to say that none of us knew what we were letting ourselves in for.

The first year was frankly turmoil as the organisation was completely redesigned from the ground up and the officers and the elected representatives grappled with what our job actually entailed.

It took us a while to get the hang of things but gradually our means of doing the work and relating to our communities improved and by the end of the term I thought that we were making a difference.

The second term I have felt has been more effective.  Roles and expectations have settled down.  Thanks to the change to the board from the election of Sandra Coney, Saffron Toms and Steve Tollestrup our desire to speak out on issues that we considered important increased and we were often heard.  Whether it was the fate of an ancient Kauri tree, oil drilling off the West Coast or Taylor Swift and protection of Te Henga dotterels it seemed that controversy was never far away from us but we were happy to say loudly what we thought should happen.

This is the fourth time that I have been elected to Public Office and each time has made me realise the importance of the democratic process. Our mandate is to listen and reflect the views of our communities while at the same time provide leadership and make our own minds up about issues and keep everyone happy. Occasionally these may contradict. Good luck to whoever can achieve this balance …

This area has been my home for 29 years. I have learned during that time that there is a deep fondness for the area and a deep desire to protect the ranges, the foothills, our west coast beaches and the abundant vegetation around us. I believe that this board’s environmentally protective beliefs accord with the dominant social values out West.

This term in making our part of paradise better one decision at a time there are seven areas the Board wishes to pay particular attention to.

The first is climate change.  That most intractable of problems urgently needs not only international and national action but also local action.  This is why the board wishes to start a sustainable villages project whereby we will talk to local communities about the importance of solar power and wind power, of intelligent energy grids and fostering alternatives to car use.  Individual changes in behaviour and lifestyle multiplied across the west can make a considerable difference and we believe we have a role in achieving that change.

The second is the housing crisis.  I cannot understand how in a nation as wealthy as New Zealand we have working people and their kids living in cars.  And that our young teachers and police officers and nurses cannot afford to buy their own home in Auckland.  The causes are complex and varied but each branch of Auckland Council needs to stand up and do its part.

The third is Glen Eden renewal.  Glen Eden is a wonderful village full of great people.  And it is resilient.  It just keeps on keeping on.  It is also the centre of an area that will experience considerable growth and the railway station will be utilised more and more as the current growth in PT continues.  To get Glen Eden fit for the future it needs a major make over now.  One hopefully which will result in it being less dependant on cars and where people are happy to walk and cycle and gather.

The fourth is Kauri dieback.  I understand that we will soon hear that the spread of Kauri dieback is occurring at a terrifying rate and this most magnificent of species is facing increasing threat.  Research of the issue and education of local communities on detection and prevention must continue.

The fifth is the marine environment and in particular protection of Maui’s dolphin’s habitat.  This was one of our priorities in the last term.  In particular drilling in Maui’s dolphin’s habitat is something that should be resisted at all costs.

The sixth is weeds and pests. Titirangi is unfortunately known as the weed capital of the country.  And we are only just holding on.  We need to do better.

And finally the local board will continue with our oversight role of the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area.  The second five yearly report is due to be completed during this term.  The Act informs and guides a lot of what we do and in cases of emergency it is a useful weapon.  It creates an obligation for Auckland Council to preserve and enhance the local area and many problems can be addressed by reference to the principles and objectives of the Act.

The Local Area Plan areas formulated under the Act need resources so that the LAP objectives are recognised.  A lot of work has gone into the creation of the laps.  Now the work needs to go into achieving the objectives the communities have identified as being important.

Thank you all for attending.

E haere rā

Kia pai te haere

Hei konā mai

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa

Leave our libraries alone

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When I was on Waitakere City Council it was my pleasure to have been involved in the opening of four new libraries out west.  Admittedly the Massey library had been given the go ahead by the previous Council but the Henderson, Glen Eden and New Lynn libraries were all results of decisions that the Council that I was a member of made.

I have always believed that libraries play a very significant part in our community.  As well as being a repository of knowledge they also provide quiet safe havens for kids and perform the important socio economic role of giving everyone, no matter how poor, access to knowledge.

The purpose of libraries according to Waitakere City was summed up by this statement:

To provide open access and recreation opportunities, and to high quality information and knowledge, within a social context,  in an equitable way.”

 

In recent years libraries have morphed.  The computer terminals are now just as important as the books.  And the implementation of free wifi has given everyone access to the internet.  As they should have.  The digital divide clearly provides a block to poor kids from enjoying the same opportunities as rich kids and public authorities should do what they can to break this divide down.

In the Waitakere Ranges Local Board area there are two Council run libraries in Glen Eden and in Titirangi.  The local board is very supportive of them and in the last 12 months has authorised capital work to improve their settings.

So I was disappointed yesterday morning to read that library hours may be cut back and there is a proposal for redundancies in the library workforce.

From the Herald:

More than 50 library staff at Auckland Council could lose their jobs before Christmas in a big shake up and cost-cutting exercise.

The council is also looking at shutting 31 libraries between Christmas and New Year for the first time and making staff work at two or more libraries.

Libraries general manager Mirla Edmundson said “resetting the library service” was in the early stages, but confirmed it could affect 1100 fulltime and part-time staff. Changes are expected to be decided in December and largely implemented by February next year.

A freeze on recruiting new staff since the middle of the year could reduce the number of staff cuts, she said.

A staff information document, Fit for the Future, issued on August 15 and obtained by the Herald, said there is a need to reduce staff numbers by around 5 per cent.

Part of the reason for Fit for the Future is to make “significant savings’ as part of an organisation wide efficiency drive. The library budget is $65 million this financial year, of which staff costs make up two-thirds.

The article claims that local boards had been notified in September.  I have checked though my emails and with my fellow board members and none of us can find any sign of any such notification.

There have been far too many staff restructures in Council.  They are destructive, they harm staff morale and they have the detrimental effect of making good staff leave Council to take up other positions because their futures are far too uncertain.

The overall change in staff numbers is relatively small at 5%.  This should be able to be achieved by natural attrition and transfers, presuming that the case for change is made out.  And Christmas is the most important time for poorer communities to have access to libraries.  Unless there is an overwhelmingly strong case the proposal to close libraries at Christmas should not be proceeded with.

The reform project has the quaint sounding title “fit for the future”.  I wish the managers did not spend time designing dopey innocuous sounding titles for what essentially is cost cutting.  They should call any such proposal what it is rather than relying on a positive sounding collections of words to justify something essentially negative.

And if you want the raw data on library usage then locally library visits increased this year by 2% compared to the corresponding time last year.  This was compared to a 7% decrease that occurred city wide.  And the number of internet sessions increased by 80%, no doubt related to the provision of free wifi but nevertheless a sign of the important role libraries play.

Deborah Hill-Cone expresses it well by describing the proposal as cultural vandalism.  In her article she sets out seven reasons why libraries are all important.  Three of them really stand out like this one:

As our world becomes more frantic, faster, noisier, more virtual and more connected we need the slowness, quietness and space of a library more than ever. Great libraries, like all great buildings, change how you feel and this, in turn, changes how you think. “The only thing that you absolutely have to know is the location of the library,” Albert Einstein said.

And this one:

There is no “business class” in a library. Even for a dedicated capitalist it is civilised to have some places where no one is trying to sell you anything. As Caitlin Moran said on a cold rainy day, a library is the only sheltered public place where you are not a consumer but a citizen.

And perhaps most importantly this one:

Libraries provide support for many of the most vulnerable in society, the housebound, the lonely – sometimes the smelly, but that’s okay too. “I have had one gentleman tell me, over the counter, that he would quietly commit suicide if the library closed,” one librarian confessed. Some of the most popular topic areas are books on health and wellbeing.

Libraries play a vital role in our communities.  Any cuts to their budget need to demonstrate why the harm that will be caused is worth it.

There is something going wrong in Aotearoa

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Is it just me or is there something terribly wrong happening in Aotearoa New Zealand.

I just can’t get my head round the number of homicides that have recently occurred.  In the last week there have been two out West in Glendene and Te Atatu, one in Gisborne and one in Whangarei.  The cases are all before the court and comment should be prescribed but you get a sense that drugs and gangs are prominant features.

This does not seem to be an unfortunate random series of events but more of a trend.  There has to be a link to child poverty levels which are at crisis levels and homelessness the incidence of which has surged over the past few years.  When even families whose parents have jobs are living in cars there is something terribly wrong.

If you need further evidence there is clearly a surge in crime with burglaries and robberies increasing by 15% over the past year.  With the government conceding this week that it will have to spend $1 billion on building more prisons you know we have a problem.

And methamphetamine use is out of control.  I see the effects every day.  The drug is a scourge and is wrecking too many lives.

Even the Government is aware of the problem.  It made a big deal about a recent $15 million package addressed at methamphetamine use.  The money is coming from drug confiscation applications.  Some will be applied to Police and Customs activity.  $8.7 million will be used on health initiatives including some money for education and some grants to community groups.

The amount sounds large but is actually quite small.  Funding for the health initiatives will cost about a third of the amount spent on the Flag referendum.  As Colin James says the impression is that the Government is dribbling money around to create the impression that it is doing something about a major problem.

From his recent column in the Otago Daily Times:

A policy dribble does not of itself extinguish a hot spot’s ignition source. But it can dampen the political embers and quench qualms.

Any discomforted actual or potential National voters can take comfort that ministers are doing something.

Third terms usually generate more such discomforts than earlier terms. So get out your political umbrella. There will be more dribbles.

The problem with child poverty is that the consequences will exist for decades.  And homelessness will often result in drug dependency and/or increased crime.

A Government wanting to make a significant difference would attack these issues head on.  Not sprinkle small amounts of money around so that a press release with bullet points can be created.

The voter turnout problem

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We are down to the last few days of the 2016 local government election campaign.  By about 1 pm this Saturday we will have a good idea who the new mayor is, who the Councillors are and what the local boards will look like.

Turnout is still problematic.  It is currently at 19.9% which is ahead of where it was at the equivalent time last year but only by 2.3%.

The standout is the Great Barrier Island where turnout is a staggering 38.5%.  Having spent some time there I can understand and appreciate how passionate they are about their local democracy.  Waiheke is similar with a 32% return, no doubt fueled by the movement for the Island to have local government autonomy.

Out west the Henderson Massey local board area has the unfortunate record of having the second lowest turnout so far.  It was also low last time.  Interestingly Mangere Otahuhu and the Otara and Papatoetoe subdivisions of the Otara Papatoetoe ward are ahead of Henderson Massey although last time they also showed a strong early return and then stalled.

The result has renewed calls for online voting.  From the Herald:

Auckland electoral officer Dale Ofsoske is calling for online voting to increase participation at local body elections.

Latest figures show just 18.2 per cent of votes have been returned in the region so far.

That’s slightly higher than the last election, but down from the election in 2010.

Today, Ofsoske said online voting would be a good solution to increase the voter turnout, particularly among young people.

He said there was a push this year to re-engage with young people, whose lives revolved around technology. He favours using both online and postal voting.

Ofsoske said Auckland was ready to go with online voting at this year’s local body elections.

Eight councils put up their hand for online voting, but the initiative was canned by the Government in April because of security issues.

At the time, Associate Local Government Minister Louise Upston said: “Given real concerns about security and vote integrity, it is too early for a trial.

I believe we need to proceed to online voting as soon as possible.  I am surprised at the security concerns.  After all the vast majority of banking transactions are done digitally and huge amounts of money are moved around daily without incident.  And post is such old technology.  There are some young people who would have never posted a letter in their life.  They would be much more comfortable with digital voting.

The Labour Party used online voting for the last leadership contest.  The process was simple, send out a login and password, then collect the vote.  The security concerns were no greater and no less than posted voting forms.  In either case an individual form could be intercepted and used by a third party to case a vote the intended recipient may not have agreed to.  With enough safeguards and oversight the possibility of this occurring should be minimal.

It would also help if the Health Board vote could be separated from the Council vote.  The comment that has been made to me continuously is that the Health Board vote is complex and confusing and separating it from the Council vote may incentivise people to vote more.

And it has also been said to me that the number of “independent” candidates causes confusion.  For Council in the Waitakere Ward the United Future candidate and I are the only candidates with clear political allegiances.  Amongst my opponents is a candidate who has Don Brash as his campaign manager, three with strong National Party links or sympathies including one who has been a List MP candidate at the past two elections, one who was a previous parliamentary candidate for the ACT party, and one who thinks that we are all a bunch of lefties …

My personal view is that people should be upfront with their political allegiances.  This would make the election process much more straight forward and transparent.

Anyway don’t forget to vote.  To be safe voting forms should be sent no later than Wednesday October 5 or dropped into the voting box at libraries no later than Saturday morning.