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.

What can be done about Auckland’s housing crisis

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I have done a lot of door knocking and meeting and greeting people during the current election campaign.  The one issue that people have wanted to discuss more than any other is the housing crisis.

The features of the crisis are clear, there are over 40,000 New Zealanders with non existing or severely compromised housing arrangements.  There are people with jobs and kids sleeping in their cars because there are no affordable houses to rent, and young people with good jobs such as secondary school teachers do not have a hope of owning a home in Auckland unless there is significant change.  Home ownership rates are at a 60 year low.  We have prided ourselves as an egalitarian home owning society but that status is disappearing quickly.

The causes are also clear.  Immigration levels are at a record high and New Zealand is seen as a safe haven far away from terrorism and war.  An investment in property here provides an option should instability occur in an owner’s homeland.  And with climate change starting to accelerate New Zealand is seen as perhaps uniquely able to ride out the changes that will happen.  And Auckland is a wonderful city.

Auckland’s virtues are summed up in this Guardian article:

The jobs are there. It’s New Zealand’s most “global” city. If you want to get ahead in your career, at some point you’ll probably consider moving to Auckland, or won’t want to move out because you have managed to secure work.

It’s also a beautiful city. Situated on Waitemata harbour, bordered by golden beaches on either side, with a sub-tropical climate and 2,003 sunshine hours a year.

Auckland also attracts New Zealanders wanting to experience a little of the glamour of an international city without having to relocate to Sydney, London or Singapore.

For minority ethnic groups, Auckland is big enough to have a vibrant and diverse dining, arts and culture scene. It is also the largest Pacific city in the world, and home to the most Māori in the country.

Immigration to New Zealand is also at record highs (69,000 in the year to July) meaning more homes are needed – fast.

The symptoms and the causes are clear.  But what are the solutions?

This is not a uniquely New Zealand issue.  As reported in this Guardian article Vancouver in Canada and the Australian cities are also experiencing a similar phenomenon.  From the article:

There is a city which is suffering a worse property bubble than Sydney, whose residents are more priced-out than Londoners, and where there is a greater divide between the housing haves and have-nots than even San Francisco.

That city is Vancouver, and in response to these mounting challenges, the west-coast Canadian metropolis recently imposed an extraordinary new tax on foreign buyers – whose impact is now being watched closely by other cities grappling with bloated property markets.

On 2 August, Vancouver introduced a tax on anyone from outside Canada wanting to buy a home in its super-heated market. In future, city authorities said, if you weren’t Canadian, you would have to pay an extra 15% on the purchase price.

The impact has, by some measures, been more startling than campaigners could have hoped for. The price of the average detached home reportedly slumped by an astonishing 16.7% in August alone to C$1.47m (£856,000), according to the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver. Some agents are reporting that the market has gone from red hot to stone cold in a matter of weeks.

The article details the steps taken in different jurisdictions.  Vancouver’s sales tax has been matched by Australian cities imposing stamp duty of between 3 and 7 % for foreign buyers.  In New Zealand the government imposed from October 2015 a two year bright line test for a capital gains tax as well as requiring the provision of local and foreign IRD numbers to the authorities in some circumstances.  These appear to have had a temporary effect but since January this year the market has again taken off and currently there is a significant shortage of housing for sale.

The changes in Vancouver have not been met with universal acclaim and one local realtor had this to say:

“Virtually everything being built in West Vancouver is being built for a Chinese buyer. Vancouver has no industry apart from tourism and construction. So what do we do? Decide to insult the Chinese. You may not just blight the property market, but bankrupt the construction industry, too.”

Debelle predicts stalemate in Vancouver’s market as sellers refuse to drop prices. And he fears for Canada’s global reputation: “In my view, the Chinese see this as a racist-motivated tax. It’s a dark moment in Canadian political history.

“It’s the wrong tax too,” he adds, “as it won’t help the people at the bottom wanting to get into the market. It has not changed the pricing of their homes one bit. There are better ways to help, such as increasing supply.”

The article lists what some other jurisdictions are doing.  These include:

  • In Switzerland some areas have designated areas where foreigners can purchase land and other areas where they are prohibited from doing so.
  • In China only qualifying foreigners are able to purchase land and the number of properties that can be purchased is limited in some areas.
  • In Fiji properties in towns can only be owned by Fijian nationals and currently foreign owned properties can only be sold to Fijians.  Foreigners who already own land but have not built a house must do so within two years or face a fine of 10% of the property’s value every six months.
  • In parts of the United States cash buyers have to provide full identification of themselves.

The problem is too big for Auckland Council to solve by itself although there are some things it could be doing immediately.  A start would be for Auckland Council and the Government to sit down and analyse each option that has been tried in other jurisdictions to see what may work.

No matter what we have to acknowledge that we are in the middle of a crisis.  And our young people and our homeless people deserve us finding a solution.

The great Mayoral candidate social media face-off

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We are now into the final two weeks of what been a very interesting local government campaign.  The voting papers have been delivered and are being returned at a reasonable rate.  Currently the rate of return is well ahead of where it was at the same time during the last election campaign.  If this continues then the poll should result in over 40% of people voting, well above last elections 35%.

I have performed some analysis of the performance in the Waitakere Ranges Local Board.  The top performing suburb is Huia with 17% of electors having returned their voting papers.  Other bushy areas are also performing well with Piha and Cornwallis having a healthy rate of return.  The lowest rate of return was for the Parrs Cross area where the return rate is similar to the overall Henderson Massey Local Board area which is relatively low.  But all areas are showing a healthy increase in the rate of return compared to last time.

As yet I have not been able to interpret the data to offer reasons why things should have improved although the Mayoral campaign is more interesting this time.  Phil Goff is an energetic campaigner who is everywhere.  Also Chole Swarbrick is performing outstandingly well and despite having pretty well no budget she is putting better resourced candidates to shame.  She could conceivably end up in the top three and if she achieves this it will be an outstanding result.

Her campaign may help explain the increased turnout in that she is determined to persuade young voters that they have a lot at stake in this election, arguably more than any other age group.  After all they will feel the negative effects of bad decisions for a lot longer than those of us on the wrong side of fifty.

And she shows a canny ability with social media.  In the great Facebook race off between the mayoral candidates in terms of likes she is ahead of the others, even Phil Goff.  And in the past week her Facebook likes have surged 62%.

She is making an important point.  The turnout last election was terribly low and signifies a democratically disengaged society.  This is so wrong because politics is vitally important and will have a fundamental effect on what sort of city we live in.  And our city could definitely benefit from young people being at the table when decisions are made.

There are a number of interesting match ups for Council seats through the region.  I believe that people understand now that while the mayor has huge powers the final decision making power lies at council level.  And there is a disquiet with what has been happening at Council level and this may translate into a mood for change.  Time will tell.

Of course I hope that you vote for every Labour, Green, Future West, City Vision, Roskill Community Voice or any other progressive local flavour that there may be.  But can I urge you just to vote.  Go to the meetings.  Talk to the candidates.  Read their blurbs and think about the issues.  But vote.  Chloe is right. The future of your city depends on it.

Oil drilling in Maui’s dolphins habitat up for consultation again.

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The yearly block offer for areas the oil industry may want to drill in is again open for consulation.

The process has become a yearly flash point for opposition to off shore oil drilling.  The offered area includes part of the Tasman Sea about 25 kilometres off the west Coast of the Waitakere Ranges.  Theoretically we could have oil rigs visible from the Piha shore.

It is an issue I have taken an interest in since 2013.  Essentially my position is that the West Coast is too precious to risk contamination, and in any event if humanity is to actually do something about climate change, then undiscovered oil deposits need to be left in the ground.  And what better oil to leave than the really expensive sort where if an accident did occur our West Coast beaches would be devastated?

As said by Bill McKibben, the co-founder of 350.org:

One lesson of this work is unmistakably obvious: when you’re in a hole, stop digging … [t]hese numbers show that unconventional and ‘extreme’ fossil fuel – Canada’s tar sands, for instance – simply have to stay in the ground.

Given these numbers, it makes literally no sense for the industry to go hunting for more fossil fuel. We’ve binged to the edge of our own destruction. The last thing we need now is to find a few more liquor stores to loot.”

In 2013 the block offer consultation occurred shortly after the election and Auckland Council did not seek the Waitakere Ranges Local Board’s views despite us having a special interest in what happens offshore of the Waitakere Ranges.  The proposal at that time was to allow exploration to within 6 nautical miles of the shore.

Although we did not have input into the Council submission we did write directly to the Minister in charge , stating “[w]e ask you not to risk the catastrophe that an oil spill would create by issuing exploration permits. Auckland has invested too much in protecting this coast to see it put at risk by petroleum drilling.”

We also helped organise a protest on Piha Beach where the message was to leave the West Coast alone.

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In February 2015 the board opposed the exploration plans and urged Council to do the same.

Saffron Toms and I went to Council to present our submission on the matter.  We emphasised that the area was the habitat of Maui’s dolphin, a critically endangered species and that the seismic testing used by the Oil Industry would potentially cause much harm to them.  We pointed out that the country’s oil spill response equipment was totally incapable of dealing with an off shore disaster.

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We urged Council to oppose the allocation of petroleum exploration permits in the West Coast area.

Cathy Casey moved this as an amendment to the resolution and the voting went down to the wire.  It required the casting vote of George Wood to note the amendment down.

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My opponent Linda Cooper voted against Auckland Council expressing opposition to oil drilling off the West Coast.  She has since explained that she voted against the proposal because she believed there were better ways of expressing opposition to the drilling.  She also berated those of us who drive cars to Piha and then oppose oil drilling.

Call me old fashioned but I always thought the best way to oppose something was to say so.   I am not advocating that we all stop driving immediately.  Just that we start making changes.

The 2017 Block Offer proposal is now open and submissions close on November 18, 2016.  Hopefully  this time there will be a progressive majority on Council willing to tell the Government that in order to protect very endangered species and preserve an area of immense beauty (while helping to prevent the planet from cooking itself), the West Coast of the Waitakere Ranges should be left alone.

The Unitary Plan is heading to the High Court

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Auckland Council has passed the Unitary Plan.  But now the appeal and review processes kick in.  As at the end of the statutory mandated timeline there were 105 appeals or applications for review filed.

One of them has been filed by the Waitakere Ranges Protection Society.  It relates to the decision of the Hearings Panel to remove prohibited activity status from subdivision in most of the Ranges Heritage area.

There is a bit of history and some technical background to the matter.

When I was elected to the Waitakere City Council as part of the Team West ticket we had a goal of providing meaningful protection for the Waitakere Ranges.  There were a number of policy areas but the basic problems were that subdivision increased urban sprawl and under existing policy settings there would be a gradual but inevitable subdivision process throughout the foothills.

So we wanted to stop further subdivision.  Existing rights could be exercised but if land owners wanted to go below existing rights then this should be stopped.

That is the reason why prohibited activity status had to be applied.  Otherwise the risk was that property by property, section by section, subdivision of the Foothills and Ranges would occur.

Prohibited activity status was meant to be a hard line.  After existing rights were exercised there would be no more urbanisation.  That way Morgan Williams’ “death by a thousand cuts” would not occur.

Prohibited activity status means applications that do not qualify cannot be considered.  Non complying status, which the Hearings Panel chose and which the Auckland Council confirmed, means that applications can be entertained.  The problem is that individually an application may cause minor environmental damage and may get through.  But if a number of similar applications in a localised area are granted then over time the nature of the area can be significantly changed.

The Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area Act 2008 was meant to act as a back stop to prevent changes that would loosen up environmental protection from occurring.  Section 11 required Council when reviewing the district plan that affects the heritage area to give effect to the purpose of this Act and the objectives.  The objectives include one that required Council to recognise and avoid adverse cumulative effects of activities on the area’s environment (including its amenity) or its heritage features.  Another required Council to recognise that, in protecting the heritage features, the area has little capacity to absorb further subdivision.

The grounds relied on by the Society are contained in this notice of appeal.  Essentially they are saying that the clear test set out in the Heritage Area Act have not been complied with and that the Court should review the decision with a view of reimposing prohibited activity status.

The case will be interesting and will provide an indication on how strong the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area Act 2008 is.  And how the balance between its goal of protecting, restoring, and enhance the area and its heritage features and allowing land owners to deal with their land is set.