Auckland Council is investigating online voting

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Auckland Council wishes to conduct a trial of online voting at next year’s local government elections and the local boards are being asked to comment.

People that know me will be aware that I am a somewhat self confessed technophile. I have owned a computer for 30 years now and my MacBook Pro is rarely not by my side.

But I must admit having misgivings about the proposal to test run electronic voting and wonder if this will be too soon.

The report that the Waitakere Ranges Local Board is to consider this week says this:

The internet has become an integral part of everyday life. Many of the transactions that used to be carried out by post have long been replaced by online options, to the extent that people expect online facilities for their day-to-day activities. Online voting is therefore a natural progression and constitutes an opportunity to modernise the operation of local democracy in New Zealand.

The current postal voting method relies entirely on New Zealand Post providing an effective and reliable service. It is a reality that the postal service is declining. Fewer New Zealanders choose to communicate via post, particularly first time and younger voters, many of whom have never posted a letter. The frequency of delivery is decreasing and the cost of sending mail is surging. The postal cost for the 2019 Auckland local elections will increase by an estimated 77 per cent compared with 2016, because of a postage price increase of almost 60 per cent and an increase in the number of electors of approximately 70,000.

It will become increasingly difficult to deliver postal voting effectively and affordably. Therefore, it is crucial to have a viable alternative to postal voting in place, and online voting is the obvious choice.

While complaints about the mail system are appropriate this should not of itself be a reason to change systems.  And there is a cost in making democracy function properly.  If you want an example of a local election with problems the recent election for the Auckland Consumer Energy Trust is a prime example with turnout less than 13%.  It did not help that the independent electoral officer was banned from promoting the election.

After the recent US elections and the multitude of complaints arising from the conduct of different elections particularly in Texas, Georgia and Florida I believe that some caution is warranted.

The complaints from those elections are numerous, voting machines that preferred Cruz to Beto even though voters had selected the all Democrat option, voting machines locked away, voters purged from voting lists because of slightly mismatched signatures, one candidate for Governor also being the chief electoral officer, and voting resources favouring wealthy over poor areas.

And the Internet does not have a good reputation when it comes to the enforcement of democratic norms, as shown by the various complaints over Facebook, the spread of fake news and possible Russian interference in the US election show. It has even been shown that there is a sustainable business model involving the spread of fake news, and it seems the faker the news the more profitable the spread.

I appreciate that many of these examples are not relevant for the proposed electronic voting model but they can show what happens when things get skewered.

Stanford Computer Professor David Dill has provided these reasons for not trusting computers with online voting:

  • There’s no way with any reasonable amount of resources that you can guarantee that the software and hardware are bug-free and that they haven’t been maliciously attacked.
  • There exists the opportunity for phishing emails being answered for the unwary and for those credentials to then be used to vote in a way contrary to the intent of the voter. Although given the size and scale of local elections the prospects would appear to be remote there is still the possibility that this could occur.
  • The benefit of a paper based voting system is that there is a fully reviewable chain of evidence that can be checked to make sure that the intent of the electorate has been properly ascertained.
  • The perception of election trustworthiness is important. A result needs to be generally accepted as being accurate and credible.  And breach of security around internet voting could irretrievably taint an election result.

And he said this about the use of paper ballots:

Paper has some fundamental properties as a technology that make it the right thing to use for voting. You have more-or-less indelible marks on the thing. You have physical objects you can control. And everyone understands it. If you’re in a polling place and somebody disappears with a ballot box into a locked room and emerges with a smirk, maybe you know that there is a problem. We’ve had a long time to work out the procedures with paper ballots and need to think twice before we try to throw a new technology at the problem. People take paper ballots for granted and don’t understand how carefully thought through they are.

Auckland Council’s proposal is for there to be a variety of voting techniques and I agree this is important.  Having digital to the exclusion of others would discriminate against those for who the internet is a somewhat foreign place, including the elderly and the poor.

The report itself says this about security:

No information technology (IT) or voting system is 100 per cent secure, but the Online Voting Working Party is committed to developing an online voting solution that will guarantee a similar or higher level of security than currently offered by postal voting.

I am not sure this will be enough.  Reputation wise any breach of an electronic system could be disastrous.

I am interested in feedback on this issue.  Hit me with your thoughts.

Auckland Transport’s reorganisation – no walking and cycling unit?

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One aspect of corporate life that I have never understood is the random and occasional destruction of office morale by a good old staff restructure.  Whole departments are consigned to oblivion and individuals face the terrifying prospect of sudden unemployment at the signing of a pen.

Of course there is always a consultation, and the need to discuss the proposal, carefully consider the feedback and then make a final decision.  I have not however yet witnessed a restructure where the original proposal was changed in no more than a superficial way.

The end result is inevitably destroyed morale, and often a dumbing down of the organisation as those who are capable move elsewhere to other work places where terror will not be such a prominent feature.

To be honest I do not understand why large reorganisations have to happen.  My preference would be that there was incremental change that was respectful of the employee rather than revolutionary change that is challenging to them.

And there is always a cost.  Even if a worker manages to avoid the cut morale tanks.  And there is a hiatus before and after the reorganisation as people settle into new roles.

So I was dismayed that Auckland Transport is going through a reorganisation, and disrupting some of the most important areas of work that it is involved in.

Simon Wilson in the Herald has the details.

Auckland Transport is axing 84 positions and creating 112 new ones in an attempt to change an internal culture it says is based on “avoidance and oppositional behaviour”. The changes include disbanding the dedicated walking and cycling unit.

The move comes a year after the appointment of a new chief executive, Shane Ellison, and follows a major internal review by the council-controlled organisation.

AT spends more than half of Auckland Council’s rates income and often comes under fire for the way it manages roading projects, bus lanes, cycle ways and even, most recently, e-scooters.

Ellison told the Herald that AT has known all year that it needs to transform the way it works.

Well it did but I cant see how this was the fault of the walking and cycling unit.  If anything it is evidence that the unit should be strengthened, not disbanded.

It seems that problems with the West Lynn village upgrade were a major feature.  Again from Wilson at the Herald:

One of the best-known examples of AT dysfunction is the West Lynn shopping village, where a cycleway became hopelessly compromised by poor consultation, demands about car parking, under-road infrastructure repairs, safety issues, bus issues, landscaping and a very poorly developed sense of how to create an appealing suburban village.

In the community and inside AT, it seemed like every group was fighting every other group, with local citizens forced to watch on in horror.

“We learned an awful lot from West Lynn,” Ellison said.

The Herald asked him what they had learned.

“That walking, cycling and placemaking are inherently linked,” he said.

But didn’t the active transport unit keep telling them that?

He said they would be working more closely with the council’s Auckland Design Office and independent consultants. AT will not be attempting to do so much of its own urban design.

And there were major problems earlier in the year with AT’s draft regional land transport plan.  Again from Simon Wilson at the Herald:

How embarrassing. The board of Auckland Transport (AT) has rejected the draft of its most important planning document, prepared for it by AT staff. The reason? The recommendations in the draft ignored AT’s own policies. They also ignored the policies of Auckland Council, which AT is supposed to answer to. And they ignored the clearly stated wishes of the new government, which has a say because it co-funds so much of the city’s transport programme.

Will heads roll? Unlikely, but possible.

It started last week, when AT published, under the signature of Shane Ellison, its brand-new CEO, the draft of its new 10-year plan. Nearly half the funding for commuter rail was gone, light rail was ranked so low it would not get any funding at all, and the cycling and walking budget was slashed by 90 per cent.

Cue immediate scrambling for cover. The chair of the AT board, Lester Levy, even rang the Minister of Transport, Phil Twyford, to apologise. Twyford tweeted: “I’ve had sincere apology from AT chair Lester Levy for internal ‘budget’ document mistakenly made public. The doc certainly doesn’t reflect my conversations with @phil_goff and @AklTransport board and our shared commitment to building a modern transport system for Auckland.”

So the solution to these problems is to dumb down AT’s urban design capacity and do away with the walking and cycling unit?

It appears possible that Kathryn King, bike protagonist extraordinaire, may struggle to find a new role.  Again from Simon Wilson:

Ellison declined to discuss individual roles, but the Herald has been advised the changes include disbanding the Walking, Cycling and Road Safety unit and disestablishing the position of its manager, currently held by Kathryn King.

King is well-known to cycling advocates in Auckland as an enthusiastic spokesperson for AT’s cycling programme. Certainly none of her seniors have a public profile associated with cycling.

The lobby group Bike Auckland has called on Auckland Transport to “explain how disestablishing its walking and cycling team will enhance its focus on walking and cycling and help remedy historic underinvestment in these modes”.

Ellison told the Herald that active transport had become a priority for the whole organisation and a steering group, led by a member of the executive, would help ensure it stayed that way. But this would not be the only responsibility of that executive.

This would be a major shame.  Kathryn has been a vocal and passionate advocate for cycling.  She is just what is needed at AT.

As an indication of her passion this is a picture I took of her holding a Guinness Book of Records certificate at the conclusion of Glen Eden Intermediate’s successful attempt at a cycling world record.

Bike Auckland has expressed concern. From their press release:

Bike Auckland, the nonprofit advocacy organisation for people on bikes, is deeply concerned by reports that Auckland Transport proposes dismantling its dedicated Walking and Cycling team, at a time when the city needs world-class infrastructure for people on foot and on bicycles more than ever.

Auckland Transport advised stakeholders on November 1st that “internal structural changes” will “provide an increased focus on strategic priorities” but gave no specifics. However, reports that specialist roles for walking and cycling within the agency are being disestablished have raised concerns about a loss of key experience and expertise – risking a downsizing of capability in the very modes Auckland Transport has been instructed to invest in by Auckland Council, the NZ Transport Agency, central government and the majority of Aucklanders.

Bike Auckland calls on Auckland Transport to explain how disestablishing its walking and cycling team will enhance its focus on walking and cycling and help remedy historic underinvestment in these modes; and to clarify who will continue to champion active transport within the organisation.

Bike Auckland is especially concerned at a loss of focus and dilution of expertise at a time when Aucklanders are demonstrably embracing reliable, affordable, nimble, sustainable and congestion-free ways to get around our growing city and connect to public transport, in ever-expanding numbers.

Others with deep interest in Auckland transport issues have similar views.

I do not know how Auckland Council will respond to the proposal, presumably do nothing as it is an AT management decision. But if I was to have a say in what was happening I would say that urban design and provision for walking and cycling should be at the centre of AT’s thinking and that it needs loud dedicated advocates. And getting rid of these roles is not the way to achieve this goal.

Light rail in Auckland

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There has been some push back against the Government’s light rail proposal for Dominion Road from some unlikely sources.

Councillor Mike Lee, former NZ First candidate and public transport enthusiast Jon Reeves and others have formed a new organisation NZ Transport 2050 Incorporated to advocate for the Puhinui spur, a rail line that will link the Airport to the Southern line.  There are people involved in this group who have taken a long term interest in public transport and who have been effective advocates for change.

They recently held a public meeting and then following on from this had some media exposure.  The advert for the meeting contained this pessimistic analysisof the Government’s proposal:

NZ Transport 2050 Chair, Paul Miller, says “The Government and Auckland Council have been sold a lemon which won’t solve the massive congestion issues caused by the trending growth at Auckland Airport. It seems that officials have been hi-jacked into something which simply does not solve the congestion problem, wastes the billions we have spent on trains, will cause significant issues for those living on Dominion Road and won’t remove a single truck from the roads trying to reach the expansive airport logistics and surrounding manufacturing zones.”

Radio New Zealand had this reporton the meeting:

At a public meeting last night, the Public Transport Users Association and NZ Transport 2050 said the government had got it wrong.

In April the government and Auckland Council released the details of a $30 billion plan for transport in the city. It allocated an initial $1.8bn for a light rail network for trams connecting the city and Auckland Airport.

The Transport Agency, which is leading the development of the light rail, said the route and total cost will be released later this year.

Paul Miller of NZ Transport 2050 said the trams should be ditched in favour of trains to and from the airport.

“The airport itself is growing rapidly and by 2030 it’ll have 40 million passengers. Auckland will be the only airport of the size of it is with 40 million passengers in the world that only has a light rail connection to the airport.”

Mr Miller said Auckland desperately needed to focus on building infrastructure that would grow with a fast-growing city.

“Anyone that’s been down the south western motorway near the airport in Wiri would know that it’s pretty much all grassland between there and the actual airport itself – a distance of about six and a half kilometres.

“We’re saying that that should be a track with heavy rail tracks and linked up to the main line,” Mr Miller said.

Simon Wilson analysed the claims in this articlepublished last Friday.

The Puhinui advocates have preferred to stress that their proposal offers the quickest route from downtown to the airport and would also be good for freight haulage. Both those points have merit.

But the advocates also say we should build the spur instead of running trams from the inner city through Mt Roskill to Mangere. That does seem to miss the point about trams.

Forget for the moment the air travellers. Think instead of modern transit vehicles, each with a capacity 10 times greater than a bus. Running down the middle of the road every five minutes in both directions. Going slow in the inner city and on Dominion Rd but fast once they get to the motorway at Onehunga.

They’ll go all the way to the airport so, yes, they will offer an airport transport option. But that’s the least of their roles.

They will provide everyone living on their route with a frequent and reliable commuter transport service, which will take both buses and private vehicles off the roads, easing the mounting traffic crisis on Dominion Rd. Other benefits: fewer cars means less air pollution at ground level and fewer greenhouse gases; fewer cars means safer streets.

Those trams will replace many of the buses that currently choke up Symonds St, Britomart and Victoria St East, thus freeing up capacity to allow more buses into the CBD from elsewhere in the city.

This is one of the most-overlooked benefits of the new tram lines: they will help build public transport capacity not just along their own routes, but everywhere it’s most needed.

And at Greater AucklandMatt L agrees with Wilson’s reasoning.

[I]f you compare a Puhinui spur with light rail, you get a bit of a win for people travelling between the city centre and the Airport, but at a huge loss for everyone else. Instead of helping to fix many of Auckland’s most significant transport and housing problems, you get a line that’s probably going to be mainly used by international tourists and business travellers. That doesn’t make any sense to us, which is why we much prefer what’s outlined in ATAP and our Congestion Free Network: a light-rail link from the north and a bus rapid transit connection from the east.

I also agree with Wilson.  The light rail proposal is much more than just dealing with airport requirements.  It will improve public transport to a significant part of Auckland.

And eventually, once the construction disruption has ceased, Dominion Road will be a far superior place, able to be accessed with ease and devoid of the current car congestion that is a blight on the area.

Twyford’s proposal is brave and will no doubt cause considerable local opposition.  But if we want to fix our city and convert it into a properly functioning 21st century city then this is the sort of project that will have to be proceeded with.

Reprinted from the Standard.

RIP Penny Bright

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There was some sad news overnight. Auckland political activist Penny Bright finally succumbed to ovarian cancer and died overnight.

Penny was one of Auckland’s unique political activists. She was a regular attendee at protests and had that endearing characteristic of saying exactly, precisely what she thought.  Without fear.

She railed against what she said was corruption at Auckland Council and urged there to be greater transparency.

She engaged in a rates strike, refusing to pay rates on her home until transparency was improved.

This led to claims and counterclaims and High Court action. Simpson Grierson’s legal bill to Auckland Council was over $100,000. Rates arrears at the time were $33,000.

She offered to settle the defamation suit by being given an apology and $10,000. Council turned down this very economically rational offer.

The crazy thing in relation to the rates arrears is that Council could have sat back and not spent a thing and made more money. Arrears attract a 10% penalty per annum and Bright did not have a mortgage, preventing Council from seeking that the mortgagee pay the arrears.

And the defamation suit was I thought overblown.  People say awful things about Council all the time.  Thicker skins should have prevailed.

The stress of the court action clearly had an effect on her. I recommend people never go to court unless there is absolutely no alternative. Life is too short for that sort of stress.

She also stood for public office. She was almost elected as a Councillor in the early 2000s in a by election. Imagine what would have happened if she had won …

She also stood in each of the Auckland super city Mayoralty elections. She achieved 2,700 votes in 2010, nearly 12,000 in 2013 and over 7,000 in 2016.

She has been unwell for a while. It is a sign of her fortitude and strength of will that she survived as long as she did.

And one of the most touching things I have read for a while was this description by Bernard Orsman in the Herald of her meeting with former nemesis John Banks.

John Banks took the frail hand of his old foe Penny Bright at her bedside in Auckland Hospital today and held it for a good 15 minutes.

“I haven’t met anyone with more fight than you,” said Banks, who knew he was in her good books when she telephoned and referred to him simply as “John”.

“Whenever you referred to me as John Banks I knew I was in trouble,” said the former mayor of Auckland City Council.

On a Wednesday night in 2002, Banks stared down a group of protesters at the Auckland Town Hall and said he was not going to tolerate “boorish and childish behaviour by a small minority of Aucklanders hell-bent on disrupting the council”.

He ruled the protesters could not bring placards into the council meeting. That was followed by chaotic scenes with 20 security guards and several police officers dragging protesters outside and making 17 arrests. Bright was in the thick of the action.

Banks accepted Bright’s invitation to visit her in hospital today, turning up in a Ralph Lauren puffer jacket carrying a large bunch of red lilies and a friendly smile.

He had barely pulled up a chair and wrapped his right hand into hers when Bright launched into a tirade against the injustices of Auckland Council in pursuing her for not paying rates and trying to sell the Kingsland house she had called home since 1990.

“It’s a bit of a dag while I’m busy fighting for my life that I’m fighting to expose Auckland Council for what they have done to me … there needs to be a full-blown forensic inquiry,” said Bright, gravely ill in hospital with a life-threatening diabetic condition, ovarian cancer and a perforated bowel.

That last comment summed up Penny perfectly. She always fought and she never gave up.

I did not necessarily agree with what Penny said but I could never fault her passion or bravery.

Rest in peace Penny.

Reprinted from the Standard.

Glen Eden gets three Pataka Kai

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I have been heavily involved in the Glen Eden community since 1988 when I set up my law practice here. I have always liked the place. It is full of good people and has a strong and proud community. And it is a generous community. You just have to see the multitude of groups and organisations that exist here to realise that many people give freely of their time.

The latest example of this is the establishment of three free road side pantries in Glen Eden. A number of people have been involved but Heather Tanguay, Joy Bennett, Lisa Sherwood, Ecomatters Trust, Levelled up Builders, the Glen Eden Residents Association and many others should be praised and thanked.

The idea of the pantries is simple. Locals with plenty can deposit food into the pantries so that locals who are struggling can receive free food. From each according to their ability and to each according to their need. Micky Savage would have been proud.

Even the large businesses have been involved with Fresh Choice Glen Eden making a significant donation.

I am not sure where the proposal came from although Heather Tanguay was the first person I heard raise the idea. She then floated it on facebook and the idea took off. Clearly a number of generously minded local people also thought it was a really good idea.

If only social media worked more often like this!

This is a local example of the Pataka Kai movement, the translation of which is Food Pantry. The movement is a resident led, grassroots, crowd sourced solution to helping locals that are in need.

At the same time it builds and strengthens community.

Donation is totally discretionary. Those in need can take what they need with the only expectation that they leave enough for others.

This is not a new idea. Historically it has always been a feature of our community that we look after each other. It is only in these more recent dog eat dog days that this generous community spirit has been reduced.

Congratulations again. If you do drive past one of these Pataka Kai and you have more than enough think about leaving something for those in our community who struggle more than we do.

Trixie Harvey acknowledgment

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Text of my acknowledgment made to Trixie Harvey at the last Board meeting.

Trixie Harvey, half of the prodigious BruceandTrixie Harvey died recently.

I have known Trixie for 25 years. I met her and Bruce on election night in 1993. They were stalwart members of the Titirangi Labour Party and I had become active in the party again after a Rogernomics caused hiatus. Suzanne Sinclair was elected MP of the seat in an upset and we had a really enjoyable night toasting her success and working out how to right all that was wrong with the world.

And after that night I slowly become quite active in the party and the more active I became the more time I spent with Bruce and Trixie.

Our engagement with each other increased considerably after I became part of the team that saw David Cunliffe elected to Parliament to represent the local area in 1999. This election night party was another occasion to celebrate and to reflect.

Then when I became active in local body politics in 2000 I began seeing them very often. Because they were so active. It seemed that every time there was an environmental issue or a community issue Bruce and Trixie were there.

I was amazed at how much they were involved in. How could two nominally retired people achieve so much?

Their commitment to protection of the Waitakere Ranges was legendary. They were both staunch supporters of the Waitakere Ranges Protection Society and of the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area. They were instrumental in the production of the Waitakere Ranges book “Ranges of Inspiration”. In their forward they said this:

“We hope the book will be a reference and an inspiration for Aucklanders for many years., To do justice to the noble Waitakere Ranges and the great forest of Tirana would require several books, but we hope this volume will give a strong appreciation of one of New Zealand’s greatest environmental assets.”

Their typically understated forward does not do justice to the outstanding manuscript they produced.

Other groups also benefitted from Bruce and Trixie’s passion and dedication. In no particular order these included friends of Whatipu, Forest and Bird, Waitakere Conservation Network, pretty well any group you could imagine.

But Trixie was not only an energetic dedicated activist. She was highly intelligent and contributed significantly to New Zealand’s understanding of and reliance on kiwifruit. She was the mother of Lindy, Mark and Hannah. In a lifetime she packed in so much, achieved great things and touched so many.

Her funeral was a touching, uplifting event, a real celebration of her life.

It left us all in awe that she had achieved so much and with such style.

Commiserations to Bruce and the Harvey whanau. Trixie will remain in our thoughts and memories.

The future of Glen Eden

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I have had a rather strong link to Glen Eden for over 30 years. Back in 1988 I decided to open a law office. The premises at 208 West Coast Road were central, comfortable, available and cheap and I rented a room.  Since then through gradual growth I have taken over the other rooms and now occupy the floor.

The neighbourhood was and still is really good. The immediate vicinity was surrounded by other businesses owned by people trying to make a living. There were no chain stores and nothing flash but many in the business area we’re getting by and doing ok.

The suburb was full of good old sorts. Ordinary families who had set up home in Glen Eden many years ago and then worked to build a community. There were the churches, the Glenora Rugby League club, the Playhouse. The sense of community was very strong.

Since that time there has been gradual change. The railway station has been improved and the old station moved into place many years ago.  A new library and community hub were constructed. The 3 Guys supermarket was closed and replaced by the buildings to the rear of the shopping centre.

But the pace of change has quickened recently.  It is clear however that more recently major change is happening and more is just around the corner.

Public transport usage is surging.  The double tracking and electrification of the rail have caused significant change.  Last year there were over 650,000 train boardings and alightings through the station. In 2014 there were 427,000.

And Auckland City is growing quickly. It is predicted that by 2031 the current population of just over 1.6 million will have increased to 2.2 million.

Auckland has two options, grow out or consolidate. Growing out creates all sorts of problems, such as taking up our fertile areas and the Waitakere Ranges as well as increasing congestion and the expense of running the city. Sprawling cities are inefficient and unsustainable cities. The cost of infrastructure is higher and because everyone has to drive further congestion is a feature.

This is why Council has decided, and I agree with the decision, that Auckland should consolidate with up to 70% of future growth in the forseeable future occurring within existing boundaries.  To make this work the intensification has to be concentrated in those areas where there is the greatest potential for improved transport network performance. And this is on the public transport routes, particularly on the train lines.

This is not some academic theory. Big cities overseas such as London, New York, Beijing, Shanghai and Tokyo have shown how growth can be handled. And Los Angeles shows why over reliance on the car for transport does not work.

China and in particular Shanghai has shown what is possible.  In order to address out of control air pollution and congestion China has been on an underground metro binge since the early 1990s.  Shanghai is at the forefront of these efforts and now has 640 kilometers of underground rail after opening up its first metro rail line in 1993.  To put this into perspective Auckland’s city rail link currently being constructed is 3.4 kilometers long.

It is clear to me that to handle growth you have to put in place quality public transport, preferably train, that can move large numbers of people quickly and efficiently.  Which is why the city rail link is so important.

Glen Eden is one of the areas the city rail link will benefit the most. When it is finished train trips to the centre of the city will take only 35 minutes and the train frequency will be every 6 minutes.  I can’t imagine many people wanting to do this trip by car when the link is in place.

And already development in anticipation of growth is happening.  The Ted Manson Foundation towers are being built right now and are expected to be completed by June next year.  And Housing Corp is intending to start the construction of another apartment block in Glen Eden in early 2019.

This is why I believe Auckland Transport’s current plan to upgrade and slow down traffic through Glen Eden is a welcome and important step to take.  The area is too car dominated.  Making the area  more people friendly and safer is an imperative.

Following are some photos showing what is being consulted on.

This is the West Coast Road Captain Scott Road intersection.

This is further down the road showing Glenview Road.

And this is the Glendale Road intersection.

There are few aspects of the proposal that have already attracted comment.

One question that has been asked is where are the cycleways and I agree.  There may be a case for the local board to supplement the spend with some of our own transport capital project funds to make sure that cycleways are installed now although clearly my preference is that Auckland Transport pays for this.  The local board’s draft greenways plan should be incorporated into the design work.

Safe pedestrian crossing over Glenview Road from Waikumete Road is important.  Currently people take their hands in their lives when they cross this area.  Safety improvements in this particular area are vital.

People are worried about parking.  My understanding is there will be limited loss of parking further up by the Wilson Road intersection and this project will not cause other parking spaces to be lost.  I should acknowledge that in the longer term the loss of car parks inevitable.  Land will become too valuable to be the preserve of a single car for extended periods of time.

I am sure there will be other concerns and other proposals for improvement.

The consultation ends on September 9, 2018.  Feedback can be provided online here.

Chair’s report June 2018 – Water quality, Ranges protection and Christine Rose

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The Big Blue Report and Water quality

The Waitakere Ranges Local Board has commissioned a report into water quality in the Manukau Harbour and the West Coast. The report, titled Big Blue Waitakere, has now been released for public comment.

To be frank our local water quality is appalling. This local board area has half of the region’s trouble spots. Wood Bay and Laingholm Beach in particular are shut too often. And the Piha and Te Henga lagoons have unsafe contamination levels occurring far too frequently.

Aucklanders know that our water quality is not up to scratch and that it will cost to fix the problem. Colmar Brunton conducted a recent poll that showed that 61% of Aucklanders supported and 33% opposed the proposed Water quality targeted rate recently passed by Council. And in the Waitakere Ranges Local Board area the support figure was 77% with 18% opposed. It is almost unheard of for a proposed increase in rates to be so popular. But locals clearly want our waterways to be swimmable without the need to check on a website to make sure that this is so and are willing to pay for this.

Swimmability is only one aspect of what is a complex problem.  Fish stock and in particular protection of Maui’s dolphin along with contamination by plastics are other major issues that need to be addressed although improving water quality will help with these other issues.

The intent is that the report should start a discussion with local communities about the state of our beaches and lagoons and what should we do to improve them. We want to prompt a wide-ranging local conversation about our marine and coastal environment, how we interact with it and how we work together to protect and restore it.

The report itself is complex and identifies a number of threats and areas for concern. From the Executive Summary:

“Some of the greatest threats to the diversity and resilience of marine and coastal habitats are global issues such as greenhouse gas emissions and associated climate change, ocean acidification and sea level rise. Several management actions identified relate to how the local board can advocate for local scale contributions to carbon emissions that contribute to these global issues.

The key pressures affecting the marine and coastal habitats within the WRLB area include; urban development and discharge of contaminants; fishing pressure and methods; habitat destruction; wastewater pollution; rubbish, plastics and marine debris; invasive species; and potential risks associated with petroleum and sand exploration and mining.

While improvements have been made to local and regional management approaches, 90% of our native seabirds and more than a quarter of our native marine mammals are threatened with or are at risk of extinction. The rapid expansion of urbanised Auckland has resulted in coastal marine habitats and ecosystems becoming degraded. Chemical contaminants, high levels of nutrients and discharged sediments from waterways will continue to result in negative impacts. Even with the implementation of best practice management, it is unknown how irreversible these ecosystem-level changes may be.

The report sets out eight management objectives designed to focus the debate in what can and should happen in discrete areas.  These include a focus on water quality, habitat diversity and natural character, natural coastal processes, sustainable fisheries, threatened species which includes the critically endangered Māui’s dolphin, the offshore environment, recreational value and safety and the accumulation of knowledge and research by local communities.”

The board held a public meeting recently where the report was formally launched.  The meeting was well attended with more than 50 people in attendance.

If you wish to provide us with your comments on the report then feel free to contact me or any local board member.

Election of Ken Turner

Congratulations to the election of Ken Turner to the board to replace the late Denise Yates.

Ken has been very energetic and involved and is clearly keen to learn what is and can be a very complex job.

One of the earlier events that he attended was a Powhiri at Hoani Waititi Marae.  The local board has an important relationship with the Marae which is one of the most impressive as well as important community institutions in Waitakere.  The essence of the local board’s relationship with the Marae is that of partnership.

The powhiri itself was especially poignant because five months earlier Denise Yates’ Tangi was held at the Marae.

Ken has been keen to involve himself in all board events and discussions.  He is flexible in his approach while he is also keen to question the efficiency of Council operations.

Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area monitoring report

I mentioned the report in my last report.

The report was formally launched at an event in Waiatarua.  The event was both to present the report to the public but also to celebrate \the 10th year of the passing of the Act.

First a mea culpa on the part of the board.  Our invitation system was not pristine and something happened to the invites former Mayor Bob Harvey and former Councillor Janet Clews.  This was not intended.  Bob in particular was so instrumental in the passing of the Act.  We had every intention that he be there as part of a celebration of what was an important occasion and Bob was a big part of that.

The monitoring report is a statutory requirement under the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area Act 2008.

Under section 34 Council is required to monitor the state of the environment in the heritage area, the progress made towards achieving the objectives, and the funding impact arising from activities to be taken to give effect to the Act.

This is an important discipline.

It is a chance for us all to take a breather and to work out if there is something we need to do for our beloved Waitakere Ranges to make sure her health remains viable.

And I feel a certain amount of paternal affinity for the legislation.

I can recall as a newly elected Waitakere City councillor in 2002 attending a meeting called by Jonathan Hunt.  Chris Carter and David Cunliffe were there as was Bob Harvey, Penny Hulse, Denise Yates, John Edgar and others.

Jonathan suggested that the Council should come up with a local bill for meaningful protection of the Waitakere Ranges.

He had previously tried to do the same in 1975 but a change of Government had thwarted the attempt.

And we all went away with that as a goal.

The Waitakere Ranges Protection Project was formed from that meeting and after a long, long, long process and extensive consultation with the communities the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area Bill became law on April 8, 2008.

Looking back nearly 10 years ago something unusual has happened.

Erstwhile opponents of the Act have now come to accept that it was not going to take away all rights but it was actually well balanced.

Communities like Oratia who were originally generally opposed to the Act now respect its intention and told Watercare all about the Act after plans for a large industrial scale water treatment plant was announced.

And people are very proud to live in a heritage area.

One of the major drivers of the legislation was the need to hold subdivision.  The intent was to preserve existing abilities to subdivide but to stop the further loosening up of rules so that the gradual and almost inevitable loosening up of the rules would stop.  Ten years on and the Act is doing what was intended.

The report is intended to highlight ongoing threats to the Ranges.

The biggest current threat is Kauri dieback.  If we do not get on top of this problem then we face the prospect of losing all Kauri within the next few decades.

Such a result would be a catastrophe.

The Act has had a very important spiritual effect on the area.

It reminds us that we live in a very special, very fragile area.

And we need to look after after it.

Hopefully the next report due in 5 years time will show that we are getting on top of Kauri dieback.

And that the Ranges are still magnificent, rugged and protected.

The Glen Eden apartments

A couple of weeks ago I attended a meeting organised by the West Auckland group Housing Call to Action.  A representative from Compass, the organisation that has the job of  managing the social housing in the Glen Eden apartments was invited to set out how Compass was going to manage what could be a tricky job.

The meeting was very well attended.  People from a variety of backgrounds, including social services, business, political and community were present.

Steve Tollestrup asked a very pertinent question.  People wanted to know if the Apartments will work.  The very laudable goal by Ted Manson is to provide people with a chance and a roof over their heads.  There is no greater disruption to the prospects of a citizen, especially a young citizen, than substandard housing. And there is a keen desire to make the apartments work.

Michelle Clayton has suggested that there should be a community liaison committee to help introduce the new residents to the local community and I think this is a great idea.

There has been some preliminary talk about what shape the committee could take, but it could involve people from the local community, social providers, Central Government and the local board and offer assistance to Compass to make sure that the completion of the building and the introduction of the new residents to the local area goes as smoothly as possible.

If this is done well it could be an exemplar for how intensification in Auckland should be achieved.  And it will mean that local people currently homeless or living in sub standard housing and their kids will have a proper place to stay.

It is vital that we, all of us, make this work.  Auckland is intensifying, there is no avoiding this.  And we have a housing crisis.  And a transport crisis.  Building upward and around public transport hubs is the only way to ensure our sustainability as a city.

Piha meeting about Emergency Response

The local board organised a public meeting at Piha for residents to ask questions about the emergency response to the recent storm and to discuss what needs to be done better the next time we have an emergency.

This was the second meeting of its sort in Piha.  The first was for people identified as having a major role in emergency management and provided the board with very helpful feedback from them.  The latest meeting was to allow all of Piha to have input into what the board is doing to improve responses to emergency management.

Piha has had its fair share of problems with a fire, two floods and a severe storm event all happening within the past couple of years.

The meeting was well attended and the members of the panel should be thanked for their contribution.  These included representatives from the Fire Service, Police, Emergency Management, Red Cross, Council, and perhaps most importantly Vector.

Their contributions were very helpful and the job that the local board has assumed, the preparation of a draft Emergency Management Plan for Piha for consideration by the community can continue.  And clearly the problems posed by flooding in the Glenesk Vally need particular attention.

Special thanks to Steve Tollestrup, Sandra Coney and Claire Liousse who all have put a huge amount of work into this.

Watercare and the Waima water treatment plant

The meetings of the community liaison group continue.  Watercare is going through the process of preparing preliminary designs for the new water treatment plant.

The litigation over the meaning of Watercare’s designation has now been completed.  The Titirangi Protection group have identified, rightfully in my view, issues with the existing Unitary Plan designation that Watercare is relying on.  Both the Environmental and High Court recognised those deficiencies but concluded that the designation does allow Watercare to proceed.

The ecological assessments have been completed but it is not clear how they will affect any design.

And the effects on landscape, local heritage features and the community have not been properly ascertained.

I had previously expressed the hope that through smart design the effects on the local community and on the environment could be kept to an absolute minimum.  I am less confident that such an outcome will happen.

The process needs some sort of inspirational input from outside, a cutting edge plan that will minimise the environmental effect and make everyone satisfied if not happy.

Time will tell if this happens.

Christine Rose

The Board’s Kauri Dieback Community Coordinator and one and only directly funded employee (contractor) Christine Rose is sadly leaving us.  She has held the job of Dieback community coordinator for the past three years and has worked tirelessly educating and talking to people, communities and schools about the danger of Kauri dieback and what we have to do to preserve this taonga of the Waitakere Ranges.  She was offered a job for World Animal Protection doing what she loves and has decided to take this position.

Christine has had a long standing relationship with the west.  She was formerly an Auckland Regional Councillor and was deputy chair when the ARC decided to support the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area Act.  She has been and continues to be a passionate defender of Maui’s dolphin.

All the best for your future Christine.

Kakano Youth Arts Collective and Arataki Visitor’s Centre

Finally a big thanks to Mandy Patmore and the young artists of the Kakano Youth Arts Centre and in particular a young talented artist Kyro for their contribution of outstanding art with the theme of keep Kauri standing to the Arataki Visitor’s centre.  It was my pleasure to attend a ceremony to launch the artwork.

The big blue Waitakere report and fixing our water quality

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The Waitakere Ranges Local Board has commissioned a report into water quality on the Manukau Harbour and the West Coast. The report, titled Big Blue Waitakere, has now been released for public comment.

To be frank the water quality is appalling. This local board area has half of the region’s trouble spots. Wood Bay and Laingholm Beach in particular are shut too often. And the Piha and Te Henga lagoons have unsafe contamination levels occurring far too frequently.

Aucklanders know that our water quality is not up to scratch. Colmar Brunton conducted a recent poll that showed that 61% of Aucklanders supported and 33% opposed the proposed Water quality targeted rate recently passed by Council. And in the Waitakere Ranges Local Board area the support figure was 77% support with 18% opposed. It is almost unheard of for a proposed increase in rates to be so popular. But locals clearly want our waterways to be swimmable without the need to check on a website to make sure that this is so and are willing to pay for this.

The intent is that the report should start a discussion with local communities about water quality in our beaches and lagoons and what should we do to improve their quality. We want to prompt a wide-ranging local conversation about our marine and coastal environment, how we interact with it and how we work together to protect and restore it. We intend that there is the start of a conversation with local communities to work out what the objectives should be and what we need to do to achieve those objectives.

The report itself is complex and identifies a number of threats and areas for concern. From the Executive Summary:

Some of the greatest threats to the diversity and resilience of marine and coastal habitats are global issues such as green- house gas emissions and associated climate change, ocean acidification and sea level rise. Several management actions identified relate to how the local board can advocate for local scale contributions to carbon emissions that contribute to these global issues.

The key pressures affecting the marine and coastal habitats within the WRLB area include; urban development and dis- charge of contaminants; fishing pressure and methods; habitat destruction; wastewater pollution; rubbish, plastics and marine debris; invasive species; and potential risks associated with petroleum and sand exploration and mining.

While improvements have been made to local and regional management approaches, 90% of our native seabirds and more than a quarter of our native marine mammals are threat- ened with or are at risk of extinction. The rapid expansion of urbanised Auckland has resulted in coastal marine habitats and ecosystems becoming degraded. Chemical contaminants, high levels of nutrients and discharged sediments from waterways will continue to result in negative impacts. Even with the implementation of best practice management, it is unknown how irreversible these ecosystem-level changes may be.

The report sets out eight management objectives designed to focus the debate in what can and should happen in discrete areas.  These include a focus on water quality, habitat diversity and natural character, natural coastal processes,
sustainable fisheries, threatened species which includes the critically endangered Māui’s dolphin, the offshore environment, recreational value and safety and the accumulation of knowledge and research by local communities.

The work is mandated by the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area Act 2008.

Heritage features include the area’s terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems of prominent indigenous character that include wetland, and dune systems that provide a diversity of habitats for indigenous flora and fauna that have natural scenic beauty with a specific reference to the the coastal areas which have a natural and dynamic character, and contribute to the area’s vistas.

The heritage objectives include protecting, restoring, and enhancing the area and its heritage features.

A community hui is planned for June 20 at 6 pm at the Glen Eden Recreational Hall.  Details of the event are here.

If you are unable to make the event but wish to let me have your thoughts email me at my Council email.

Chair’s report May 2018 – the Power of Community

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Civil Defence and Piha

Recent events at Piha have provided a good opportunity for Council to review its preparedness for emergencies. A major storm caused power outages for extended periods of time and then localised heavy rainfall caused flooding in Glenesk Road. Flooding had also occurred there in January after another localised downpour. A more recent heavy rain event caused already nervous residents to fear a repeat although thankfully a third flood did not eventuate.

With the effects of climate change becoming more pronounced I regret to say that these sorts of events are going to become more regular.

During these emergencies some things worked well.

The community response was magnificent. Local fire brigades did what they could to make sure that locals had somewhere to go to for basics such as a wash or a toilet stop. The surf club rescued stranded residents using their boats. Local community groups and individuals volunteered the use of the resources that they had.

Council officers volunteered their time to go door to door in some areas to check that each household was ok.

The local community facebook pages performed a good job in disseminating information. Bethells Te Henga’s Bukino Faso quality communications infrastructure needs a rethink because in times of crisis reliable communications channels are vital.

Overall there was an outstanding community response and many examples of kindness and dedication.

Social media assumed an importance I have not seen before. During the near flood event at Piha I was able to receive messages and comments via facebook about the height of the Glenesk River as it rose and then send this onto Civil Defence while attending a meeting concerning Weeds and Pests.

Other aspects did not go so well. I have real concerns about the stability and resilience of the power supply to the west particularly to the coastal area. Although the storm was not in the most severe of categories (it was a category two storm with four being the maximum strength) widespread disruption to the west’s power supply occurred.

And the interaction between Civil Defence, the emergency services and the community also needs to be checked to make sure that it is optimal.

Now that things are settling down it is time to review what happened and what needs to be done to lessen the disruption that will be caused by the next significant storm event.

So what do we do so that we are better prepared next time?

There has to be a big question as to the resilience of the power network. In my home suburb of Titirangi houses were without power for days on end. I appreciate that the coastal villages posed extra difficulty but Titirangi should not have been that difficult to fix.

Undergrounding of power supply has to be a priority. But there does not appear to be the resources to do this. And there appears to be large gaps in Vector’s ability to pinpoint power outages.

For the coastal villages such as Piha localised power should be given serious consideration. With enough solar panels and a wind turbine or two combined with an intelligent localised network it could become self sufficient in power and show the rest of the country how it is done. Aotea Great Barrier Island relies on solar power and generators. Maybe Piha should think about doing the same.

To kick off the discussion the local board invited some Piha and Karekare locals who were heavily involved in the response to a gathering where we asked three simple questions, what worked well, what was the greatest challenge and what can be improved on. These included the Fire Service, the Surf Club, local social media coordinators, the RSA and many others.

The meeting was an opportunity for us to listen to and talk with locals. I suspect that the event was cathartic for many and allowed them to process what was a very traumatic event for them, particularly those living in the Glenesk area.

It is clear that there are some early practical things that can be achieved. Ensuring that the Piha Surf Club has an emergency power supply is one of them.

The community has asked that we collate their responses, incorporate these into the draft emergency response plan that is in existence and then put this out for consultation. This work is under way.

I intend to report on progress in relation to this in the near furture.

Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area 5 yearly Monitoring Report

Council last week formally adopted the 2018 Waitakere Ranges monitoring report. This is the second monitoring report and was dedicated to Denise Yates who had a great deal to do with the formation of the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area Act as well as the preparation of the first report when she was chair of the Board.

The Act was an attempt to provide for meaningful protection of the Ranges and to protect against the cumulative degradation and subdivision of the Ranges through conventional RMA processes.

At the time it was controversial, caused considerable debate in the community but 10 years on things have settled down and erstwhile opponents are now at peace with the heritage area concept.

And people are proud to live in a statutority recognised heritage area.

The report is important. It is meant to assess how well the Act is performing, how well Council is going in its statutory obligation to protect and enhance the area, and what threats the area is facing.

The document itself is a complex and impressive collation of lots of information.

The original focus, subdivision, is working out in my view as intended. Existing subdivision rights are being exercised but growth predictions suggest that once these rights have been exercised there should be no more.

Kauri dieback features heavily, thank Council for taking the strong action required to protect this taonga.

Te Kawarau A Maki who have provided critical commentary which is included in the report. The Act anticipates that Council will enter into a deed of acknowledgement with Ngati Whatua and Te Kawarau A Maki. Work on this should be a priority and could address TKAM’s concerns.

The report is not meant to be a PR exercise. It is to show is what is going right and what needs to be done to make sure that this precious area remains protected.

Greenways plan

Consultation on this important document is nearing an end.

It is our draft list of possible future projects to create walking and cycling tracks throughout the local board area.

It is in part a collection of maps showing existing paths and plans that may have existed for many years. They have been collected together in graphical form so that we can have a look at them from a bird’s eye view.

This helps us work out where the gaps are and also what the priorities should be.

Walkways and cycleways are important because they improve communities, help with health and traffic congestion and they make villages and urban areas better places to be.

There are a couple of caveats in relation to the plan. Not all of the supported projects will be built in the near future.

There are about 60 different projects in the document.

Nine are identified as possible priorities but this will need to be worked through.

To give you an idea of what is possible the local board has in the past 6 years built four substantial walkways, the Landing Road stairs, the Rimutaka Walkway, the Henderson Valley walkway and the cycleway from Oratia to Parrs Park. The total cost of these four projects is in the vicinity of $2 to $3 million.

And to put this into perspective we currently receive $.5 million per year for capital projects in the road corridor although there is hope that this will be nearly doubled in the near future.

The new government has indicated that because of safety and health considerations it will place much greater emphasis on walking and cycling projects and we are hopeful that there will be a lot more central funding so that more of these projects can be built.

The second caveat is kauri dieback and the closure of the forest. These plans were completed in August last year and were formally passed in December. We were happy to release these for consultation but certainly tracks through bush areas were going to be much more carefully scrutinised and this is especially so after the forest was closed.

The public response has been really good. I was invited to a meeting in Oratia and was slightly bemused not to mention worried that there were a hundred people wanting to talk about the draft. An old walkway through pristine bush that I was happy to rule out was one of the causes. There was also a preference that any infrastructure in the area is sympathetic to the local area. One problem with the Oratia cycleway is that it is white concrete and I agree that better design and more sympathetic infrastructure should be a priority.

Carolynne Stone came up with the great idea of getting the community to design new walkways starting with Parker Road. The theory is that they do not need a concrete path along the full strength of the road, rather there are sections that need work and other areas, for instance flat grassed areas which function perfectly well as a walkway.

I look forward to receiving their feedback and proposals. This sort of approach could mean walkways that are not only practical and more respectful of the local area but also cheaper.

Auckland Council’s long term plan consultation

The consultation has now concluded and Auckland Council is to shortly make decisions on its budget for the next ten years.

The Board’s One Local Initiative is a plan to enhance Glen Eden township.

The plan has a number of aspects to it but the primary advocacy area is the development of a town square using predominately local board resources and the creation of a laneway to join the town square to West Coast Road.

This will be augmented by Auckland Transport work to slow down traffic through the village and improve street amenity.

The need is because the area is facing fundamental change.

Glen Eden is forecast to grow dramatically.

Already the train station is a significant driver of activity.

The use of Glen Eden Train Station has increased by 40 percent over the past three years, with around 650,000 trips annually.

The station is right within the town centre and we want to work with AT to improve the amenity around the train station.

The local board has strong support for Central Rail Link delivery in 2024.

This is a transformative project. People will be able to get from Glen Eden to the middle of town in about 25 minutes by rail.

There is already significant growth because of the existing system and in anticipation of what will happen in the future.

The Ted Manson Foundation is currently building two ten story apartment houses within 100 metres of the train station.

Housing Corp has a five story apartment house being planned and there are plans for a further apartment house within Glen Eden although I understand plans have stalled.

Change is clearly coming.

Glen Eden is going to transform from a sleepy pleasant area to a significant transport node with medium and high density housing being common place.

This is why the local board believes that our One Local Initiative is so important, so that we can get Glen Eden ready for the future.

Glen Eden has been tagged for future development many times and there have been a number of plans prepared in the past.

The local board has done what we can with limited resources to try and advance development.

For instance we put money from the transport capital fund into design work for AT’s park and ride opened a couple of years ago.

The park and ride was important and is very popular. Already there are complaints that it is full.

We have also spent $160,000 on design work in anticipation that the Town Square project will proceed.

We have tagged the sum of $2.5 million from our own funds to aspects of this project.

The response from the consultation suggests that locals are supportive of this project. 81% of respondents fully or partially supported the proposal being a priority and only 18% did not think it was a priority.

The board’s feedback to Council on the other matters consulted on were as follows:

* We support the proposed regional fuel tax with the caveat that we are concerned about effect on low socio economic groups. Locally 59% of respondents supported the tax with 34% opposing it. The Regional figures were 46% for and 48% opposed.
* We support the proposed water quality targeted rate. Locally 77% of respondents supported the tax with 18% opposing it. The Regional figures were 61% for and 33% opposed.
* We support “option B plus” plus in relation to the environmental special rate. This would result in a $66 per annual rate increase for the average ratepayer. We supported the enhanced rate so that the regional pest management strategy can be fully funded. The Regional figures were no support for an increased rate 25%, option A ($21 pa) 26%, option B ($47 pa) 29% and other (generally option B plus) 20%. The local equivalent figures were were no support for an increased rate 18%, option A ($21 pa) 18%, option B ($47 pa) 37% and other (generally option B plus) 28%.
* In relation to the proposed Rates increase we are concerned that 2.5% may not be enough, particularly given our position regarding the proper funding of the weed and pest strategy.

Our other advocacy items are:

* Continuing advocacy to seek a return to historic levels of funding to be made available for Waitākere Ranges Heritage Area programmes under the local board’s decision-making control.
* Funding to deliver aspects of Waitākere Ranges ‘greenways’ plan’ which is intended in part to improve access to public transport.
* Funding to progress the now closed Te Henga Quarry to become either a regional or local park. Funding was collected for this purpose by Waitakere City but has disappeared in the amalgamation and we would like it returned.

Laingholm Star Wars celebration and photography project

Steve, Saffron and I had the pleasure of attending Laingholm Primary School for its annual Star Wars day which was combined with a very special occasion. Former Mayor Bob Harvey and World renowned photographer and philantropist and philanthropist Ashok Kochhar used the occasion to launch Ashok’s project to give film cameras to some school kids to take photos of their world.

The intent is that the children have two months to photograph their world and then return the cameras to their teachers and then the best photographs are sent back to the school for an exhibition. It’s a simple but stunning idea to get children involved in analysing the environment around them and recording it.

The work is to be collated and published. I look forward to seeing the result.