The Waitakere Ranges Local Board’s position on the Watercare Plant

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In the interests of public transparency I thought I should set out what the Local Board submitted on the resource consent application for the Waima water treatment plant. Here it is.

The submission is subject to final approval which will be considered at our board meeting on September 26.

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The Waitākere  Ranges Local Board is responsible for identifying and communicating the interests and preferences of the people in its local board area.

Following is our input to the consent application by Watercare.  This relates to the environmental, heritage and social impacts of the proposal.

We would like to be heard at the hearing

Summary

  1. We oppose the application in its current form.
  2. We note the proposed development is in the Waitākere  Ranges Heritage Area and is adjacent to regional parkland and our view is that it is inconsistent with the objectives of the Waitākere  Ranges Heritage Area Act 2008 as well as the Muddy Creek Local Area Plan.
  3. We invite Watercare to renew consultation with the Waima community to locate a site and a plant design that will satisfy local expectations.
  4. We invite Watercare to investigate repositioning of the plant to the sludge site close to the Nihotupu lake as identified in the Local Board’s letter to Watercare dated October 9, 2018 a copy of which is attached.
  5. Alternatively we invite Watercare to consider repositioning the site in an urban industrial area such as Spam Farm in Glendene which is more suitable for the location of a large industrial complex of this sort.
  6. We are concerned
    1. the plant design requires the destruction of 3.5 hectares of regenerating sub tropical rainforest that is home to many indigenous species including a previously unidentified wasp.
    1. The project will require up to 118 heavy vehicle movements a day on Titirangi’s narrow and fragile roads.
  7. We support the restoration and repurposing of the Nihotupu Filter Station which is a scheduled heritage building at the entrance to Exhibition Drive
  8. We support a significant restoration fund being established should the new plant be constructed in the Waima area.

Comment

Waitākere  Ranges Heritage Area Act considerations

We acknowledge that Watercare holds a special designation on the site and the terms of this designation have been considered by the High Court in TPG v Watercare [CIV-2017-404-2762].  We note however that the significant ecological area overlay of the Unitary Plan poses some restrictions on what can occur specifically in relation to vegetation clearance and earthworks and stream diversion and therefore overrides the designation.

The subject site is within the Waitākere  Ranges Heritage Area (WRHA), established by the WRHA Act 2008. Section 7 of the Act recognises that:

“(1) The heritage area is of national significance and the heritage features described in subsection (2), individually or collectively, contribute to its significance.

(2)   The heritage features of the heritage area are—

(a)   its terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems of prominent indigenous character that—

(i)         include large continuous areas of primary and regenerating lowland and coastal rainforest, wetland, and dune systems with intact ecological sequences:

(ii)        have intrinsic value:

(iii)       provide a diversity of habitats for indigenous flora and fauna:

(iv)       collect, store, and produce high quality water:

(v)        provide opportunities for ecological restoration:

(vi)       are of cultural, scientific, or educational interest:

(vii)      have landscape qualities of regional and national significance:

(viii)     have natural scenic beauty:

(b)   the different classes of natural landforms and landscapes within the area that contrast and connect with each other, and which collectively give the area its distinctive character: …

(e)   the quietness and darkness of the Waitākere  Ranges and the coastal parts of the area: …

(g)   the opportunities that the area provides for wilderness experiences, recreation, and relaxation in close proximity to metropolitan Auckland:

(i)         the subservience of the built environment to the area’s natural and rural landscape, which is reflected in—

(ii)        the distinctive harmony, pleasantness, and coherence of the low-density residential and urban areas that are located in regenerating (and increasingly dominant) forest settings; …

(l)    its distinctive local communities:

(m) the Waitākere  Ranges Regional Park and its importance as an accessible public place with significant natural, historical, cultural, and recreational resources:

(n) the public water catchment and supply system, the operation, maintenance, and development of which serves the people of Auckland.”

Section 8 sets out the objectives of the Legislation.  It says:

“The objectives of establishing and maintaining the heritage area are—

(a)  to protect, restore, and enhance the area and its heritage features:

(b) to ensure that impacts on the area as a whole are considered when decisions are made affecting any part of it:

(c)  to adopt the following approach when considering decisions that threaten serious or irreversible damage to a heritage feature:

(i)   carefully consider the risks and uncertainties associated with any particular course of action; and

(ii)  take into account the best information available; and

(iii) endeavour to protect the heritage feature:

(d) to recognise and avoid adverse potential, or adverse cumulative, effects of activities on the area’s environment (including its amenity) or its heritage features:

(e)  to recognise that, in protecting the heritage features, the area has little capacity to absorb further subdivision:

(f)  to ensure that any subdivision or development in the area, of itself or in respect of its cumulative effect,—

(i)   is of an appropriate character, scale, and intensity; and

(ii)  does not adversely affect the heritage features; and

(iii) does not contribute to urban sprawl:

(g)  to maintain the quality and diversity of landscapes in the area by—

(i)   protecting landscapes of local, regional, or national significance; and

(ii)  restoring and enhancing degraded landscapes; and

(iii) managing change within a landscape in an integrated way, including managing change in a rural landscape to retain a rural character:

(h) to manage aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems in the area to protect and enhance indigenous habitat values, landscape values, and amenity values:

(i)   to recognise that people live and work in the area in distinct communities, and to enable those people to provide for their social, economic, environmental, and cultural well-being:

(j)   to provide for future uses of rural land in order to retain a rural character in the area:

(k)  to protect those features of the area that relate to its water catchment and supply functions …

As can be seen most of these objectives are protective.  Only objective (k) is supportive of the construction of the treatment plant and it talks about protecting features rather than changing features.

Section 13 of the Act requires a decision making body when considering a resource consent for a discretionary or non complying application to give particular regard to the purpose and objectives of the Act.  If the application involves a controlled or restricted discretionary activity then consent authority must consider the purpose of this Act and the relevant objectives as if they were matters specified in the plan or proposed plan.

Clearly special care needs to be taken in the assessment of this application.

The currently bush covered part of the Watercare site is on a highly prominent location at the intersection of Scenic Drive and Woodlands Park Road.

Exhibition Drive is an entry point to Waitākere  Ranges Regional Park so we believe the protecting  the values of the park should be a major consideration, along with the impacts on the character of Waima and Titirangi. 

The proposed changes to the site will have significant impact on the heritage and ecological values with the removal of vegetation, the earthworks, the construction impacts and the eventual built form.

We acknowledge the importance of the area’s water supply function and the need for a growing Auckland.  A good outcome would be to balance this with the other heritage features, particularly subservience of the built environment to the natural landscape, protection, enhancement and restoration of ecosystems, and the area’s distinctive local communities.

Muddy Creeks Local Area Plan

The Waitākere  Ranges Heritage Area Act 2008 allows for the creation of local area plans.  The purpose of these plans is set out in section 25(2) of the Act as follows:

“The purpose of a LAP is to—

(a)        promote the purpose of this Act and the objectives; and

(b)       provide objectives (particularly long-term objectives) in relation to—

(i)         the future amenity, character, and environment of the local area to which the LAP applies; and

(ii)        the well-being of the local community within that area (including its economic and social wellbeing); and

(c)        inform decision-making processes that relate to the heritage area.”

The effects of a LAP are set out in sections 27 and 28 of the Act.  The provisions are somewhat complex but the board believes that the terms of any existing plan are a relevant consideration in assessing what heritage features to give effect to and how much weight should be given.

The Muddy Creeks Plan, a local area plan for Waima, Woodlands Park, Laingholm and Parau, was adopted in 2014. It contains the following passage:

Statement of existing character and amenity

Woodlands Park and Waima are visually contained on their northern and western sides within the steep forested slopes of the Regional Park and Watercare land that includes Exhibition Drive. Houses are nestled within the regenerating forest. Large trees, many of them kauri, are a prominent feature. Dissected valleys and gullies give each road a sense of intimacy and isolation while offering elevated glimpses of the Manukau Harbour. At the top of Woodlands Park Road, the Huia filter station is a prominent feature which reminds us of the history and current water supply function of the area.

Statement of future character and amenity

In Laingholm, Woodlands Park and Waima the delicate balance between houses and vegetation along the slopes will be maintained. Footpaths designed in sympathy with the area will line the main roads, and a network of walkways will join pockets of settlements, schools, halls and shops, Laingholm Beach and South Titirangi. Ecological corridors within the area will provide safe, healthy and connected ecosystems and terrestrial habitats.

Site selection process and requirement to look at alternatives

The replacement of the Huia Water Treatment Plant has been a contentious subject in the area. There was strong opposition to locating the plant in Oratia, and there is strong local opposition to the current proposal.

The following aspects of the proposal are, in no particular order, the matters of most concern:

  1. Environment destruction including the clearing of over 3 hectares of forest close to significant stands of Kauri.
  2. Amenity destruction, particularly for Manuka Road residents who would especially be affected by the proposal.
  3. Disruption to the local community caused by construction and truck movements.

The local board has always taken a keen interest in issues relating to tree protection.  In a world where forests in Alaska, Siberia, Brazil and Africa are burning and where the planting of sufficient trees may be the world’s best chance to prevent runaway global warming the thought of 3.5 hectares of Waitākere  forest and bush being cleared fills us with dread.

The plant is a large industrial style plant and is totally out of place in Waima, in a sensitive ecological area. 

The board had previously proposed to Watercare that it should construct the plant on another site.  A copy of our letter is attached.  Watercare has rejected this proposal.

We note the proposal would have these benefits:

  • Low quality vegetation would be cleared
  • Watercare would have to remediate a site which is currently a dumping area for treated carbon which is a by product of the treatment process
  • The affect on amenity would be limited as the site is on the far site of a ridge away from houses.

We accept however that the proposal would increase the disruption caused by truck trips to a greater area.

This sort of activity should take place in an industrial area, not in an area of environmental sensitivity.  We would urge Watercare to go back to the drawing board on this application and reconsider placing the treatment plant in a suitably designated industrial area.

Design

The size of the plant is of concern.  The technology being used, settlement tanks, requires this size plant.  We would urge Watercare to consider alternatives such as filtration so that if a treatment plant is located in Waima then much smaller bush clearance is required.

In relation to the current proposal we are pleased to see that the final revised proposal decreased the amount of vegetation to be cleared by having two separate reservoirs.  Also the intensity of the construction was reduced by having the second reservoir constructed after the first one was finished.

With regards to design, we consider that the proposed design is sprawling and that there has been no opportunity taken to reduce footprints of actual infrastructure.  Is there not a more effective process that could require smaller more dispersed responses?  Were other sites explored for partial filtration?  With a distributed filtration system (including smaller plants at different parts of the network) raw water could be piped to different parts of the network and then filtered and cleaned.

Construction

The effects on the local community will be considerable.  Amongst other things there will be a number of daily truck movements and it has been estimated there could be up to 118 per day.

Roads in the area are steep and narrow and windy.  There are realistically only two roads that trucks could take into the area.  One is through Titirangi village using Titirangi Road and the other is on Atkinson Road.  The first will cause considerable disruption to the village.  The second will take trucks past two primary and one intermediate school in a one kilometre stretch of road.

Mitigation proposals

We support the proposed mitigation package however have concerns that the construction will put pressure on the catchment which is wider than the Waima catchment and the mitigation package should address this.

We recommend the catchment be extended to include Parau to the west, and parts of South Titirangi to the east.

Heritage

We note that Sandra Coney and Bob Harvey have submitted on the future of the Nihotupu Filter Station.  We support the restoration and repurposing of the Station that is proposed.

We do question if works affecting the Nihotupu and Huia Filter Stations, which have heritage status, can be achieved by use of the Outline Plan of Works process.  We believe that consideration of the treatment of these buildings should be part of the public hearing process.

Restoration

We consider that the effects are that significant that an increase in the proposed funding to support sustainable on-going ecological change is appropriate.

We also consider there should also be investment in social mitigation similar to that provided to the Waterview community following the NZTA tunnel project that occurred there.

We recommend that the Waima Biodiversity Trust include a representative of the Waitākere  Ranges Local Board along with an Auckland Council staff representative in its make up. We ask that the Trust Deed be changed accordingly.  While the trust will be operating independently there is a need for it to be aware of what council is doing and for council to be aware of what the trust is doing. Having a technical representative from Auckland Council along with an elected representative would help with this. The local board oversees council’s local environmental activities, including the support of volunteer groups doing ecological restoration.

We also consider there should be an emphasis on supporting the efforts of locally based environmental groups.

Waima Biodiversity Management Plan

We recommend that the Management Plan include support of the full range of community led actions in the Muddy Creeks Local Area Plan to deliver on the objectives for “Ecology and Ecosytems” as outlined in Appendix 1 of the plan. The biodiversity plan should support environmental education programmes to foster environmental stewardship in the area beyond the proposed 10 year life of the trust and its funding.

My submissions on the Zero Carbon bill

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I presented today on the Government’s Zero Carbon bill to the Parliamentary Select Committee. This is what I said …

I am the chair of Waitakere Ranges Local Board and I am proud to represent the most beautiful part of Auckland. I was previously a Waitakere City Councillor. For 4 years I was a director of Land Transport NZ

I have taken a keen interest in climate change for all of that time from a local government and central government perspective.

The overwhelming feeling I have from that period is that the world and New Zealand has drifted at a time when concerted action to address climate change was required.

It took focussed action by Pacific Island nations a couple of years ago to steel resolve for us and for others.

We are now in a crisis. Unless there is dramatic action taken then our fragile world is going to be damaged perhaps irreparably.

The local board has taken an active interest in the issue.

Climate change and sustainability are central considerations in our local board plan.

We recently declared by a majority a climate emergency for the local board area and urged Auckland Council to do the same.

I am pleased they did so unanimously.

I do not sense the need to address how important it is that we keep total global temperature increases to less than 1.5 degrees or how if we breach 2 degrees how we are in unchartered territories.

All I can say is that the Arctic is on fire and Greenland’s ice sheets are melting. This is what has been predicted will be some of the effects of climate change. And it is happening now.

By majority the board was generally fully support the aims and intention of the bill.

In relation to the proposal for a Climate Change Commission I supported Auckland Council’s requirement that commission members have extensive understanding of climate mitigation and adaption.

In relation to the proposed targets we support the non methane target. I am pleased the figure is so stark. It will focus all of our minds on what is required.

In relation to the methane I target support Auckland Council’s enhanced interim target. Methane because it is relatively short lived means that short term reductions in methane levels can give us headroom in addressing CO2 levels should that extra headroom be required.

We also support local carbon offsets. Extensive reforestation could make a significant difference. The Government’s billion tree project and the Mayor’s million tree project are examples of what can be achieved when politicians put their mind to it.

Our preference is for indigenous trees to be planted.

There are some suggestions that the targets should be legally enforceable. My 35 years as a lawyer suggests that this would pose all sorts of issues in terms of enforcement.

We support the creation of emission budgets. Society is exquisitely able to measure the fiscal performance of the country. We should be able to similarly measure the state of our environment and remind ourselves regularly what state it is in.

In relation to adaption we support amendment of the Resource Management Act and Building Act to include consideration of climate change. We agree that It is essential that climate change mitigation and adaptation are reflected and embedded throughout all acts consistently and not overlooked.

With enough trees …

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There was this fascinating recent article in the Guardian which laid out in very plain terms what we know already.  The best way to start addressing climate change and to start to absorb carbon dioxide while we work out how we are going to wean ourselves off petroleum and air travel is to plant trees, lots and lots and lots of trees.

From the article:

Planting billions of trees across the world is by far the biggest and cheapest way to tackle the climate crisis, according to scientists, who have made the first calculation of how many more trees could be planted without encroaching on crop land or urban areas.

As trees grow, they absorb and store the carbon dioxide emissions that are driving global heating. New research estimates that a worldwide planting programme could remove two-thirds of all the emissions that have been pumped into the atmosphere by human activities, a figure the scientists describe as “mind-blowing”.

The analysis found there are 1.7bn hectares of treeless land on which 1.2tn native tree saplings would naturally grow. That area is about 11% of all land and equivalent to the size of the US and China combined. Tropical areas could have 100% tree cover, while others would be more sparsely covered, meaning that on average about half the area would be under tree canopy.

The scientists specifically excluded all fields used to grow crops and urban areas from their analysis. But they did include grazing land, on which the researchers say a few trees can also benefit sheep and cattle.

“This new quantitative evaluation shows [forest] restoration isn’t just one of our climate change solutions, it is overwhelmingly the top one,” said Prof Tom Crowther at the Swiss university ETH Zürich, who led the research. “What blows my mind is the scale. I thought restoration would be in the top 10, but it is overwhelmingly more powerful than all of the other climate change solutions proposed.”

A trillion trees, it sounds like a lot.

We have had Phil Goff’s million trees project for Auckland Council and Shane Jones’ billion tree project for the Government.

Both are positive.  Jones’s proposal is not so great because it is mostly planting Pine for harvesting in the not too distant future.  To really make a dent in our carbon budget deficit we need to have long term sustainable forests grow, and Kauri are especially good at carbon sequestration.

But a billion trees is about 200 per kiwi.  A trillion trees is about 125 per person on the planet.

Of course the proposal needs to address the supply side of the equation as well as the demand side.  We need to urgently reduce the amount of CO2 we are pumping into the atmosphere as well as increasing the amount of CO2 we are sequestering.  And sorry meat lovers but we need to cut back on red meat consumption.

And we need to stop cutting down existing trees, particularly the large ones that have sequestered lots of carbon.  And there needs to be strong disincentives to dissuade Indonesia and Brazil from clearfelling their forests.

And this particular solution will take years to start having an effect.

But the message is clear.  Time to start planting.

An interview with Bob Harvey

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I had the privilege of interviewing Bob Harvey recently on Red Alert Radio on Planet FM.

Bob has had a huge effect on New Zealand politics. Using his prodigious skills in advertising he was behind some of the most successful political campaign advertisements ever conducted. He then decided to enter into local politics and became Mayor of Waitakere City, a position he held for eighteen years. And he was also a dedicated member of the Labour Party and became Party President at the time that the fifth Labour Government won power.

Due to programming requirements we only had 30 minutes which was a shame as we could have talked for hours.

I started off by asking him about the Labour campaign in 1972 which featured the “Its time” campaign slogan in both New Zealand and Australia. The campaigns were hugely successful with progressive governments being elected on both sides of the Tasman at least in part because of the desire for change that the campaigns engendered.

Bob pointed out how the slogan was perfectly scaleable and stood for many things as it was time for better education, better wages, a clean environment …

We then talked about the agony of the death of Norm Kirk and how it shocked the country. Bob talked about a particularly odious person who managed to ring through to Kirk’s hospital room to repeatedly ask him if he was dead yet in the days leading up to his eventual demise.

After Kirk’s death things went south for Labour. Rob Muldoon emerged and National’s infamous Dancing Cossack advertisements were played. Labour’s campaign in 1972 was uplifting and tucked at the heart strings. By contrast National’s was based on fear. It is funny how so often these different stances reflect the campaigns of the left and of the right.

If you have not seen it this is the ad in question.

There was also this particularly odious racist example that would not survive nowadays.

We then talked about the 1980s. Bob had vivid memories of David Lange and talked in some detail about his stomach stapling operation, and how a slimmer more dynamic David appeared after that and how he then captured the heart of the country.

As befits a talented adman Bob was impressed by David’s inspirational speech to the Oxford Union about nuclear weapons. He also confirmed details that David’s initial position was complex and that he worked to see if a compromise allowing the visit of a nuclear powered but not armed ship could occur.

We then talked about Bob’s decision to seek the mayoralty of Waitakere City. His motivation was a very simple one, he wanted to protect the Waitakere Ranges. He had spent much of his life either living or surfing or visiting the area and wanted it to be protected.

Bob did an extraordinary job in blending together two ideas, that Westies should be proud to be Westies and that they should be proud of our extraordinary environment. He cultured the concept of an eco city and made it central to the way that the city worked.

The film industry, which was fostered by Bob, was a major example of this, showing that high paid high tech jobs could be created at the same time as the environment was being nurtured. The film industry has poured huge amounts of money into the west and has been an outstanding success.

Bob said that there were two new projects coming out west which he could not mention. I wonder if this was one of them?

We talked about the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area Act and how contentious it was at the time. People have moved on and the Act now represents the protective desires and aspirations that people have for the area.

We talked about the super city and how the concept of eco city was being lost. Bob was particularly scathing about incursions into the Waitemata Harbour and described the luxury cruise ship industry as being “bully boys”.

Bob thought that housing and transport were two pressing problems that the city was facing and that to run a city this size needs enormous imagination a clear commitment to spend. He was also concerned that the current council was something of a a bear pit and councillors should realise they are there to do a job and just get on and do it.

Tamihere verses Goff? Bob had some respect for Tamihere and the work he has done for Waipareira. But he thought the main job of the mayor was to unite the council and expressed his support for Goff.

And what did he think was the biggest issue facing the next super city council? Climate change. And we have gone backwards from having eco city at the front of our thinking to having the environment as only one of many things to consider.

It was a pleasure to talk to Bob and a strong reminder to me of what a significant influence he has had nationally and locally over many decades.

If you want to listen to the interview the feed can be accessed from here.

What happened to one person one vote?

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It is for Local Government election year. Soon your roadsides are going to be emblazoned with billboards and your letterboxes crammed with printed material from individuals and groups wanting to be your representative.

There are two aspects of the mechanics of this year’s election which I believe will be significant issues. The first is our depleted postal system and its (in)ability to handle postal votes. Reduced frequency and concerning examples of mail not being date stamped have cast some doubt o the veracity of recent school board of trustee elections. How this will effect local government elections and their much larger scale is yet to be seen.

The other aspect that has received recent attention is the rather archaic law that allows someone with multiple interests in land multiple votes.

From Television New Zealand:

An old law that gives owners of multiple properties extra voting rights in local elections is unfair, archaic and should be ditched, election researchers say.

The ratepayer roll allows people to vote in each council district, local board area and community board area the own property in.

RNZ analysis of Auckland’s ratepayer rolls from the 2016 local elections uncovered people who were enrolled as ratepayer voters in not just one, but two, three or four different local board areas.

One man was enrolled in seven separate local board areas, in addition to the area he lived in. Although he could only vote for Auckland’s mayor and councillors once, he was eligible to elect local board members in Howick, Upper Harbour, Devonport-Takapuna, Kaipatiki, Waitemata, Henderson-Massey, Manurewa, and Hibiscus and Bays local boards.

Overall, about 12,700 ratepayer votes were cast in the 2016 elections for district, city and regional councillors, and local and community board members.

The law is a kick back to the 18th century when the franchise depended on a person, initially a male person, also being a land owner. The landed gentry was considered to be more trustworthy in their political views and limiting the franchise would produce a better result, at least as far as members of that rather exclusive club were concerned.

The numbers are small. But if anything this reinforces how archaic the provision is and why it should be changed. And you can bet that most property owning absentee ratepayers would prefer to reduce rates than to build and nourish their local community.

The concept of one person one vote is something that is at the centre of our electoral system since the 1890s. It is time we made it apply to all our voting systems.