The synthetic cannabis issue

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The Glen Eden Residents Association and the Glen Eden Community Patrol held a public meeting recently to discuss local issues with Synthetic Cannabis.

The drug is a scourge.  I have represented young people in Court for many years and I know how problematic and destructive the drug can be for them.

The issue was highlighted recently when I discovered BID Manager Jennifer Conlon and local coordinator of the Glen Eden Community Patrol Penny Hinchelwood following a young person who had just smoked some synthetic weed in the Glen Eden township.  The young man was really the worse for wear and was really struggling.  The description “zombie drug” is really apt.

The meeting was very well organised and the presentations were superb.  Heather Tanguay, Michelle Clayton, Penny Hinchelwood and the other members of the associations should be praised for their work in organising the meeting.

The issue is a difficult one.  It can invoke demands for full throttled tough on crime solutions but my experience is that these do not work.  Throughout the world there is trend to treat the issue of drug use and drug dependancy as a health one.  Users who develop problems should receive help and education rather than prosecution.

Sargent Michael Wickman from New Lynn Police gave a really good presentation about what action the Police are taking.  The suppliers and manufacturers of synthetic cannabis are being targeted with some recent success.  Over 120 arrests for supplying and manufacturing have recently occurred.< He also emphasized the importance of treatment.  Those consuming the drug are being offered help by the police not prosecution.  I believe that the police have the approached about right. Scott Mesarich, who runs the Wicked Habits shop in Glen Eden, was an unlikely star of the meeting.  The shop previously, and legally, sold permitted synthetic cannabis and from what I saw Scott had a very successful business.  Following the change in the law he has adjusted his business model.  His current business model relies significantly on the sale of vaping products which are better for us than cigarettes.

He has also regulated the sale of herbs that are currently being used in the production of synthetic cannabis.  All strength to him.  We need more businessmen like Scott who are looking for a sustainable business model but one that does not cause harm.

Others spoke about what we should do to help those struggling from the effect of the drug.  Treatment and rehabilitation are not simple.  And too many young people are experimenting with the drug.  Education for both young people and for their parents is absolutely essential.

So congratulations to the Glen Eden Residents Association and the Glen Eden Community Patrol for organising the meeting and for taking an active approach to dealing with this very important issue.  Communities work better when local groups and the arms of the state, whether they be Police, Health or Local Government, work together.

Chair’s report September 2017 – Rimutaka Walkway, Kauri dieback and China

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Rimutaka Walkway

Neil Henderson has been heavily involved in the design and construction of the Rimutaka Walkway and deserves praise for his work. The walkway is now essentially complete and a formal opening is to be held soon. The walkway will help in linking the Woodlands Park community to the Landing Road walkway and improve pedestrian access in the area. The surrounding area is remarkably beautiful and if you need either exercise or soul cleansing immersion in nature or both this is one walk you will want to take.

The Board’s draft Greenways Plan is being readied for release for consultation. The intent is that this will drive the creation of further walkways like the Rimutaka walkway. The benefits are immense for both congestion and health, more people walking makes for a healthier and more sustainable community.

Kauri Dieback report

Following the release of the Auckland Council report on Kauri Dieback in the Waitakere Ranges thought is now being given to what to do.

As I noted previously the news is dire. The Waitakere Ranges has by far the greatest concentration of the disease. Over half of the areas in the Regional Park have trees showing signs of the condition and the rate of infection appears to have doubled since the previous survey was completed five years ago.

And it is clear that infection is concentrated around tracks and bait lines. The latter may be the result of infections caused before the use of trigene and hygienic boot cleaning methods. Everyone that I know who are involved in bait lines are really keen to preserve the Ranges the way they are. And it may be that bait line infections are due to lower hygiene standards from years ago rather than recent infections. But the statistics for use of the trigene stations on the tracks are deeply concerning with most people not using the brushes and trigene disinfectant to clean their boots.

The following table shows how clear the relationship between infection and the tracks is.

Council is to urgently upgrade all cleaning stations with better equipment so that the cleaning process is easier and better. But everyone has to do their part. If you are walking in the Ranges on one of the tracks please make sure you clean your shoes properly.

Drastic measures are being contemplated. I believe that we have to consider the possibility of track closures. A Rahui over the Waitakere Ranges has been proposed by Te Kawerau A Maki and may be necessary so that we can at least stabilize things until we understand more fully what is happening and work out a long term containment plan.

But clearly this will not be popular. I have received an expression of concern from the organiser of the Lactic Turkey event who is worried about what may happen. And I have seen a report suggesting that the hygiene methods used by the organisers of the race are pristine. So this is not going to be a straight forward process.

In the medium term an upgrade of the tracks with boardwalks or with proper drainage will be required to preserve existing Kauri. There will be a significant cost. Central Government funding may be needed. But if we want to make sure that the King of the Forest remains we will need to do whatever is required to stop the spread of this most destructive of diseases.

The Board considered the report at its last meeting. We passed resolutions noting that the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park is now the most heavily kauri dieback infected area currently recorded in New Zealand and that the recorded distribution of kauri dieback in a kauri area has essentially doubled in the past five years. The highest risk vector for Kauri dieback movement into new areas is soil disturbance associated with human activity. We also noted that compliance with hygiene requirements is very low and must increase if we are to prevent kauri dieback spread.

Our resolution urged Council to urgently upgrade Phytosanitary stations to the most effective models available so that the spray bottle and brush station are superseded, to seek more funding from Central Government because of the national significance of kauri, and because both local and central government are obligated to uphold the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area Act 2008. We requested adequate funding to increase maintenance and improve drainage on tracks, and upgrade selected tracks to reduce possibility of infection.

On the issue of track closures the Board wants Council to give this consideration although in consultation with the Board and external stakeholders. The Board also wants public education to be increased. Current use of the hygiene stations is far too hit and miss and we need to do better.

Unitary Plan appeals

I became involved in local government primarily to support meaningful protection for the Waitakere Ranges and one of the areas I was most proud to be involved in was the development and passage of the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area Act 2008. Ever since its passage I have had a keen interest to monitor its performance and to see if it is achieving what it was intended to achieve.

The Board has taken very keen interest in the development of the Unitary Plan and made submissions to the Panel when hearings were conducted.

Our preference was that the intent of the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area Act be followed and existing District Plan provisions retained.

One area where this is important is the ability to subdivide. Through much of the ranges subdivision down to a certain size was permitted but any subdivision below those sizes was prohibited. The intent was that a certain amount of intensification would happen but after that the level of development would be capped.

So it was of concern when the Hearings Panel recommended that subdivision below permitted levels be classed as non complying rather than prohibited. The difference is that land owners could still apply and try and persuade the decision maker that a particular subdivision should be allowed to proceed. The almost inevitable result would be that over time the heritage area could be fundamentally changed. An individual decision to subdivide may not have had much effect and the temptation would be to let it through but the cumulative effect of a number of these decisions could have been profound. As the former Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Morgan Williams said the Ranges would suffer death by a thousand cuts. The protection offered by the Act would have been weakened considerably.

Council confirmed the decision even though it was urged not to.

The Waitakere Ranges Protection Society then appealed the decision claiming that the original recommendation was flawed in that it did not give sufficient weight to the provisions of the Act.

I am pleased to say that Auckland Council supported the appeal and that the appeal was granted.

Justice Whata said this in granting the appeal:

“In the present case, I agree with the appellant that the WRHAA articulates a number of values which are expressions of social, environmental and cultural outcomes or expectations which might properly justify prohibited activity status as an outcome. The most effective way of achieving these objectives may have been to impose prohibited activity status on subdivision. To the extent the Panel did not approach the imposition of prohibited activity status in this way, it applied the incorrect legal test, in terms of (the Court of Appeal decision in) Coromandel Watchdog.”

The appeal has been granted in a way which will allow submitters to the original provision to appeal to the Environment Court against the change.

The roadside Kauris on Paturoa Road

There has been a lot of local concern that two rather magnificent roadside Kauri on Paturoa Road may be threatened by works being conducted on the site. The litigation relating to the work has resulted in the landowner deciding to surrender the consents so for now the roadside Kauri are safe. There are live issues however about what if any development around these trees should be allowed as the original analysis about the trees drip lines relied on by the consent may not have been optimal.

Through the Unitary Plan process the significant ecological area zone for this property was removed. This included the part of the zone that was on the road reserve.

Various people have raised concerns with me that this means the roadside Kauri are no longer protected.

I have raised this with Council staff and I have been advised that although they do not see an urgent need to reinstate the significant ecological zone for the area as a matter of urgency this could occur as part of a review over the next five years. In the meantime the trees are protected in that their removal would require a resource consent as well as Council consent. I have advised the staff that the Local Board regard this as a significant issue and any application that may affect the trees should be brought to the local board’s attention.


The liaison group is meeting regularly and I have been able to attend two of the meetings. Agreement has been reached concerning an ecological survey and who and how it will be completed by. Clearly we are getting close to design decisions being made.

One aspect which I believe will be contentious is Watercare’s desire to place two large reservoirs on the Exhibition Drive side of Woodlands Park Road. If the design is not sensitive there is the prospect of a prominent group of Kauri being affected. Along with any incursion into the Clark’s Bush Walk area this particular aspect possibly represents the most significant threat to the local environment.


Finally a few comments on my recent trip to China. I spent time in Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai. These are big cities, Hong Kong has 7.4 million people, Beijing has 22 million, and Shanghai has 24 million.

I had expected to go to cities that were hopelessly gridlocked with air pollution that was out of control, similar to the photo below which was taken in 2014.

But the cities’ skies were remarkably clear.

It may be because I was in China at a good time. It could be that China’s aggressive phasing out of coal fired power plants is having an effect.

But the rate of growth of its underground rail in its major cities in the past 30 years has been phenomenal. Shanghai has more than doubled its underground rail from 260 kilometers to 640 kilometers since 2008. Beijing has nearly tripled its underground rail going from 200 kilometers to 570 kilometers.

By comparison the city rail link is 3.5 kilometers and it will take a similar time to complete.

The frequency is every three minutes. There literally is no waiting. And the price is phenomenal. For the equivalent of 60c I was able to travel half way across each city at a speed that the local taxi drivers could often not match.

And the cities, particularly Beijing really look after their walkers and cyclists with dedicated cycle lanes being very prominent and hire bikes being easy to locate and use.

And the effect on congestion? Shanghai for instance is geographically six times the size of Auckland but has nearly 20 times the population. And the congestion is no worse than Auckland’s.

It is clear to me that we are not going to be able to road build our way out of our current congestion problem. Fast reliable public transport is the only way to address congestion. Light rail on the North Western motorway, on the Isthmus and to the airport should be a priority. And if we want to do something about climate change then it needs to be electricity powered.

August Chair’s report – Kauri Dieback is getting worse

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Through the vagaries of timing and the loss of a meeting I did not present a Chair’s report during July.

This was not a reflection that nothing was happening.  A number of important issues continue to attract the attention of the Board.

Draft local board plan

The consultation round about the Draft Local Board plan for this term has now been completed.  And as can be expected a diversity of views have been offered on a variety of topics.

There was a great deal of support for the emphasis in our draft report of the environment and protection of Waitakere Ranges.  The concept of stewardship is something that many local residents relate to.

Many submitters also supported our plans for Glen Eden and how it needs a good old fashioned spruce up.  Others talked about the importance of public transport particularly for those parts of our board area that have little or no access to public transport.  The rail system is great and will get even better when the City Rail Link is completed but it is important that we make sure that the links to the local railway stations are of good quality.

A number of submissions expressed opposition to the use by Council of glyphosate.  The Strategic Weed Plan prepared for the Local Board in 2015 emphasises best practice guidelines that the Method Of Least Disturbance should be used in all natural areas and roadsides under Auckland Council control, to protect desirable vegetation, minimise or prevent weed invasion, and ensure succession to a weed free natural habitat as quickly as possible.  There is sympathy for preventing the use of chemical sprays particularly where human exposure is high.  The issue is not a simple one however.

Some submissions thought that we were paying too much attention to the environment and that people should be higher on the list of priorities.  I respectfully disagree with them as I believe a healthy environment is the best thing we can achieve for local people.

There was criticism that the plan does not place sufficient emphasis on sport and recreation.  I can assure submitters that the area of Sport and Recreation is one of the most important areas the Board is involved in and will continue to be one of our priorities.

A number of submissions mentioned walking and cycling.  With the limited resources that we have, the Board is doing what we can to accelerate the completion of walkways throughout the area.  The Rimutaka walkway is due to be opened shortly.  The Board soon will be consulting on the draft Greenways Plan to see what are local priorities for improving the walking and cycling network.

Other submissions talked about the housing crisis.  This is an issue that is of vital importance to the Board.  With our limited budget the most effective thing we can do is to advocate for Council and Central Government to step up to the mark.  We  have already engaged with major apartment developers in Glen Eden and intend to continue to do this.

Other submissions discussed the proposed new Watercare Filter station on Woodlands Park Road.  Already this issue has engaged a lot of board time and we intend to continue to be involved and to advocate for local views so that the best results for locals and for the environment can be achieved.

One of the most interesting proposals was to physically identify all scheduled trees with a sign.  This should be an easy thing to do.  In Melbourne not only are they identified but you can also send emails to individual trees.  Maybe Auckland Council should think of some sort of register and identifying symbol so that smart phones can pick up and interact with the tree.

The submissions are now being considered and the the plan should be finalised in the next couple of months.


The public consultation committee is now up and running.  The chairperson is Paul Walbran.  He was a previous ARC Councillor and has a great deal of experience and expertise and helped oversee the completion of the Manukau sewerage.  He was also an ardent supporter of the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area Act and played a major role in its passing.

He has a cooperative style of management and I am sure that he will maximise the effectiveness of the group.

At the time of writing this report three meetings have occurred.  Watercare has agreed to an independent environmental assessment of the site.  I am confident the committee will do its best to ensure that if the new Watercare development happens at Woodland’s Park then the disruption to the environment and to locals are minimised.  In particular I hope they can come up with a solution so that Clarks Bush can be preserved and a prominent stand of Kauri on Exhibition Drive can also be preserved.

Kauri Dieback

After a frustrating delay Auckland Council has finally released the results of the latest five yearly survey of the presence of Kauri Dieback in the Waitakere Ranges.

The news is dire. The Waitakere Ranges has by far the greatest concentration of the disease in the country. Over half of the areas in the Regional Park have trees showing signs of the condition and the rate of infection appears to have doubled since the previous survey was completed five years ago.

And it is clear that infection is concentrated around tracks and bait lines. The latter may be the result of infections caused before the use of trigene and hygienic boot cleaning methods became widespread. Everyone that I know who are involved in bait lines are really keen to preserve the Ranges the way they are. But the statistics for use of the trigene stations on the tracks are dire with most people not using the brushes and trigene disinfectant to clean their boots.

Council is to urgently upgrade all cleaning stations with better equipment so that the cleaning process is easier and better. But everyone has to do their part. If you are walking in the Ranges on one of the tracks please make sure you clean your shoes properly.

Drastic measures are being contemplated. I believe that we have to consider the possibility of track closures. A Rahui over the Waitakere Ranges has been proposed by local Iwi and may be needed over at least some of the parkland so that we can at least stabilize things until we understand more fully what is happening and work out a long term containment plan.

This is a really difficult conversation to have with local people.  We all love the Ranges.  We relish use of them.  But they are being loved to death.  We need to find a sustainable way to interact with them.  Starting with how we deal with Kauri dieback.

In the medium term an upgrade of the tracks with boardwalks will be required to preserve existing Kauri. There will be a significant cost. But if we want to make sure that the King of the Forest remains we will need to do whatever is required to stop the spread of this most destructive of conditions.

I noted earlier the public trial of the use of phosphite which is injected into the trunks of affected trees.  Laboratory tests suggest that providing an appropriate dose of phosphite keeps Kauri standing and wards off the effects of the infection, at least in the short term.  If any local has an infected Kauri and want to find out more about the trial they can access further information at
Kauri Rescue: Community Control of Kauri Dieback: Tiaki Kauri …is a two year project funded by the National Science Biological Heritage Challenge which seeks to …

Just a reminder, this is a species threatening condition.  No Kauri has yet been discovered to be immune.  If nothing is done then we face the prospect of Kauri in the Waitakere Ranges becoming extinct.

Water quality

The board has commissioned a report on coastal and marine water quality.  We have two significant problems.  The West Auckland lagoons are often polluted.  The primary cause is poorly functioning septic tank systems.

And on the Manukau Harbour side the beaches are in poor condition with Laingholm and Wood Bay in particularly bad shape.

The cause in the Manukau is a combination of ovarian and dog faeces and leaking infrastructure.  Dogs and birds have had some effect but human faeces and the local infrastructure has been implicated.

We are going to urge Watercare to get on top of this problem.

The report will be released soon and we intend to talk to local communities about the results and about what we do next.

Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area report

Under the Act Auckland Council is supposed to prepare a report on the current health of the Heritage Area every five years.  The report is there to highlight trends and to sound warnings.  If there are changes happening then the report should drive Council activity.

The first report was prepared in 2013 and indicated overall that the Act was working the way it was intended.

The second report is due for completion next year.

Hopefully the result will be the same.  But the report is an important one and something that the Board takes seriously.

Glen Eden

The Local Board has launched the Glen Eden Business Prospectus. The intent is to persuade prospective business owners that Glen Eden is a great place to do business in.

Clearly Glen Eden is facing dramatic change.  Currently the Ted Manson apartment blocks are being constructed, a Housing Corporation building will follow and there is a private apartment block currently in the design stage.

Intensification is occurring.  It is important that it is done correctly.

The City Rail Link is also being constructed and is due for completion in 2023.

It will be transformational.  Being able to get to the middle of town within 30 minutes will persuade many people that Glen Eden is a cool place to live in and work in.

The Local Board though the efforts of Steve Tollestrup has prepared a business prospectus to be made available to real estate agents and anyone showing an interest in setting up business here.  The prospectus highlights some of the thriving and interesting business that we have in our area.  Businesses like Fiesta Cafe run by Nikki Price and Korean Sushi are setting the standard for quality cuisine.  Right here in Glen Eden.

To handle the growth there needs to be urban transformation.  Currently our primary commercial area resembles a large car park  To make it a more attractive place for people the local board is investigating designing and funding of a town square in the centre of the commercial area.  The hope is that by improving this part of Glen Eden it will have a transformative effect and persuade current building owners of some rather tired buildings to refurbish or rebuild.

Glen Eden will have a great future.  The Local Board is doing its best to make sure that this happens.

Laurie Ross’s peace event

I was pleased to be invited to speak at Laurie Ross’s peace event at Titirangi Library.  The topic of the meeting was our nuclear free status 30 years on from the passing of the Nuclear Free legislation.  Preparing the speech made me reflect on how brave the Government was back then in saying no to the Americans and refusing to allow American Nuclear ships to visit New Zealand.  The feeling at the time was that nuclear war was almost inevitable.  Thankfully this did not happen and in our own small but significant way New Zealand made the world a safer place to be in by saying that reliance on nuclear weapons for safety was wrong.

Who can forget the Oxford Union debate when David Lange said that he could smell uranium on the breath of an over eager young man who tried to suggest that New Zealand was still snuggling up to the bomb?  Or his description of the insanity of the nuclear arms race in that all that was happening was that both sides were refining an existing capacity to make the rubble bounce and bounce.

Waitakere City has had a proud history of being a Peace area.  The Local Board intends to continue this proud heritage.

Titirangi Plastic Free Event

This was organised by the Love Titirangi group.  The goal is to persuade as many people as possible to forgo the use of plastic bags.  The reason?  Our environment is slowly suffocating from the use of plastics and every source should be avoided.  They are found in the digestive tracts of birds and large fish including whales, and plastics are forming a larger and larger area of our ocean.  There is no planet B.  We trash this planet at our peril.

The event itself was a great occasion involving the Mayor, a cast of thousands, music, bag making and the handing out of free reusable bags to the crowd.  Young people played a prominent part and the local schools are clearly onside.  Congratulations to Love Titirangi and to Ecomatters Trust for starting this program and for raising this very important issue.

ACT wants to subdivide the Waitakere Ranges (or at least the foothills)

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There was a great deal of attention on the policy announcements of the major parties this weekend.  One announcement was forward looking and a firm statement that business as usual was not working.  The other was somewhat ho hum and involved an extension to Auckland’s electrified rail network that Labour started as well as the third rail line in South Auckland.  This was the project that only a few years ago the Government wanted to bury the report for.  This should have been approved and started this year.  Hiding the report and then supporting the project shows some weird set of priorities.

The electrification of rail to Pukekohe is a good idea.  But Auckland Council recently decided to purchase hybrid trains that could service the area.  I hope there is another use for these trains.  Perhaps they could be added to the western line so that Huapai and Kumeu can be serviced properly.

And over on the edge of New Zealand politics a small nondescript party tried to attract attention by promising a gazillion new houses for Auckland.  Well maybe not a gazillion but the extraordinary figure of 600,000.

This would involve more than doubling the current number of houses in Auckland.  In 2013 there were 473,451 occupied dwellings.  So this figure would more than double the number of houses currently existing in Auckland.

There is a problem.  Under the term of this government which ACT and David Seymour are members of housing construction in Auckland is tanking, despite burgeoning need.  But this does not stop Seymour from trying to put the blame elsewhere.

From Stuff:

… Seymour promised to scrap the Rural Urban Boundary, paving the way for at least 600,000 homes to be built in Waitakere, Karaka and Clevedon.

He said he would also push the Government to abolish the Resource Management Act and replace it with laws that required councils to free up land as populations increased.

“These areas are not treasured natural landscapes. They are grassy fields with the occasional barn or horse.

“Allowing housing in these areas should be a bare minimum for any Government.”

The party would fund the infrastructure to service the new homes by sharing the GST on construction with councils, he said.

ACT’s plan does not have the support of the Waitakere Ranges Protection Society.

“He’s dreaming,” said president John Edgar of the policy.

Edgar said the foothills are a buffer zone between suburban sprawl and the Waitakere Ranges.”Sub-divisions would impact the ecology of the ranges.”

Edgar said there would have to be a very good reason to change the boundary. “Our fear would be if the boundary changed for one property it would open the flood gate and the boundary would get smaller and smaller,” he said.

Here is the ACT’s map.  The blue is the current urban form and the yellow is where it wants to allow subdivision to occur.

And here is the unitary plan map for the area.  Essentially Seymour is proposing that the land zoned Waitakere Foothills zone is subdivided.  All of it.

And here is the googlemap of the area. Note that significant parts of it are covered in bush and native forest, not the grassy field with the occasional barn that Seymour talked about.

To be frank the proposal is bonkers. There are major impediments to any proposal to change current zoning for the foothills. Roads are narrow and unsuited for large numbers. There is no reticulated sewerage through vast parts of the foothills. Much of the area is steep and prone to slips.

And good old mother nature and the Ranges perform some pretty important jobs for us humans.

  • They provide us with rural beauty, with artistic inspiration, and with a sense of serenity.
  • They control and manage rainfall and without the forest urban flooding would be much more problematic.
  • They provide us with fresh drinking water.
  • They provide a buffer to help preserve the health of the ranges.

The method that Seymour is using, the removal of the rural urban boundary will also have unintended consequences.  If there is no boundary for Auckland’s growh then why shouldn’t there be increased subdivision at Piha and Karekare and Bethells Te Henga …

I have not seen the details.  You have to spend good money on doing this and I have an aversion to funding anti environmental proposals.

Most advanced nations realise that urban sprawl has a very bad downside, with increased reliance on cars, a plethora of motorways and environmental destruction being inevitable consequences.  ACT’s proposal will only lock Auckland into the type of growth it has been spending many years trying to avoid.

Submit, submit …

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The Waitakere Ranges Local Board is currently seeking local input on our draft three year plan.

The plan’s purpose is to reflect the priorities and preferences of our communities with regards to the level and nature of local activities to be provided by Auckland Council over the next three years.

To help us complete the plan we need to hear from local people about their interests and preferences and what they want us to do.

The document will have a major effect on what we do and will affect Council’s long term plan.

Our draft plan suggests that we want to achieve these things for our area:

  • We want to make sure the Waitākere Ranges Heritage Area and our unique natural habitats are protected and enhanced.
  • We want local communities feel good about where they live and to celebrate their distinct identities and live, work and play together.
  • We want residents to experience local arts and culture.
  • We intend that our urban centres are enjoyable places to be.  In particular we want to continue to work to upgrade Glen Eden.
  • And we want our community spaces and recreation facilities to meet local needs and be attractive places for people to come together.

If you share these ideals please let us know.  If you think there are other areas we should be concentrating on please let us know. In particular if there are pressing local issues you wish to bring attention to please drop us a line.

The Draft Plan can be read here. Submissions can be made online here.

If you have any questions then email me.

Please note submissions close Friday June 30 at 4 pm.

Nuclear Free peacemaking policy over 35 years

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I was asked to speak last week at the West Auckland Peace Group’s meeting to celebrate 30 years of our nuclear free legislation organised by the legendary Laurie Ross.  The event started with the quality music of Heartstrings and then Laurie and I both spoke to a small but very informed crowd.

It gave me the chance to reflect on something that had been really important to me over much of my life.  And because of close family ties with David Lange I felt that I was able to

I was born in 1961 during the heights of the cold war and a year before the Cuban Missile crisis in 1962.  And I can recall my father telling me at that time how he had left work and gone home to be with my mother my sister and me such with the fear that nuclear war was about to start.

And for most of my life the threat of nuclear war has been this big threat hanging over me.

I am in a reasonably unique position to comment on the nuclear legislation.  David Lange was a family friend for many years.

My family have been long time Labour supporters.  My father has two gold badges, one from the Engineers Union and one from the Labour Party for services to the movement.  He has been a long time activist in Mangere.

My father has a somewhat pivotal position in New Zealand politics.  He was one of six selectors of the next Labour candidate for Mangere in 1977 after Colin Moyle resigned following an attack by Robert Muldoon on him which questioned his heterosexuality.  It was an issue in those days …

The head office preference was for Mike Moore to be selected.  There were 11 candidates however and the selection meeting went well into the night.

The last speaker was a youngish very overweight lawyer called David Lange.  And he delivered a speech which blew away the crowd.

The committee was split between Lange supporters and Moore supporters.  My father decided to change his support to Lange and the selection was completed.

Given the way that New Zealand history went his decision that night clearly had a significant effect.

Labour’s view on nuclear policies

Labour always had a deep interest in nuclear policies.

It was at the forefront of efforts to create the United Nations so that disputes between states could be handled peaceably.

In the 1970s the third Labour Government sent two frigates, one with Cabinet Minister Fraser Coleman on it, to the test area where the French were conducting atmospheric tests of nuclear bombs.  The French subsequently decided to conduct underground tests before finally stopping tests in 1996.

Labour proposed the nuclear free policy in 1984.

In fact Richard Prebble introduced a Nuclear Free bill in June 1984 and National MP Marilyn Waring supported it.  This was possibly the last good thing that Prebble did during his time as a politician but good on him for doing this.

This actually appears to have been the trigger for Muldoon going to the polls early.  He only had a majority of 1 MP and could not face the disaster that a lost vote would cause.
The policy was popular.  In an opinion poll conducted just before the 1984 election 30 per cent of New Zealanders supported visits by US nuclear warships with a clear majority of 58 per cent opposed, and over 66 per cent of the population lived in locally declared nuclear free zones.

Labour won that election.

The US standoff

Then the stand off with the US started as did a big world wide debate on the nuclear arms race.
The US was fearful that a nuclear weapons ban could spread throughout the world and they were right in that was the intent no matter what Labour MPs were saying publicly at the time.

Lange relished the debate.

Who can forget the Oxford Union debate when he said that he could smell uranium on the breath of an over eager conservative.

And Lange had a fearful intellect and an ability with the English language that was second to none.

One phrase that still sticks with me that perfectly describes the insanity of the arms race is his comment about refining an existing capacity to make the rubble bounce and bounce.

I understand that behind the scene pressure on Labour not to proceed with the policy after it was elected was intense.  There was an early show down where the US ship the Buchanan was proposed for a visit.

After a certain amount of wavering Lange said no.

The right in Labour’s caucus wanted the visit.

The rumour is that his then girlfriend Margaret Pope steeled him up and he said no.

After that relations with the US cooled off considerably.

But the problem for the US was that the policy was that goddamed popular.

A 1986 opinion poll confirmed that 92 per cent now opposed nuclear weapons in New Zealand and 69 per cent opposed warship visits; 92 per cent wanted New Zealand to promote nuclear disarmament through the UN, while 88 per cent supported the promotion of nuclear free zones.

The Nuclear free legislation

Then the nuclear free legislation was introduced and passed in on June 8, 1987.
It prohibited the acquisition by, or the testing or siting of nuclear weapons in New Zealand.

It prohibited the use of biological weapons.

It also prevented ships using nuclear propulsion from visiting.

And to address the US’s neither confirm nor deny policy it allowed the Prime Minister to make a call on whether or not he believed there to be weapons on board.  Only if he was satisfied that a foreign warship had no weapons on it was he authorised to allow it to visit.

The US responded by suspending ANZUS.  Ordinary kiwis were totally indifferent to its actions.

My impression of David Lange at the time is that he was relishing the debate and he was proud to stand up lead an independent foreign policy.

Meanwhile Rogernomics was playing out and to be frank the fourth Labour Government shredded its moral mandate to lead.

But I believe that Lange still remained popular because at least he was doing something progressive.

National then gained power in 1990.  Despite being in power for 18 of the last 27 years it has not touched the legislation despite what must be an overwhelming temptation to do so.

In 2004 Don Brash was reported as telling American officials that the legislation would be “gone by lunchtime” if National won power next year.

And during the 2005 campaign he did not rule out the repeal of the legislation.

This probably contributed to Labour’s win that year because the legislation is still incredibly popular.

Then John Key said that changing the legislation was not an option and so it has remained.

There was one attempt to weaken the legislation.

In 2005 ACT MP Ken Shirley introduced a private member’s bill seeking to allow nuclear propelled ships to again visit New Zealand.  The bill was voted down 9 to 107 with even National voting against it.


To conclude in my view the Act has had an important role in forming and moulding public opinion on the issue.

Being nuclear free is something that pretty well all of us agree with and cherish.
The policy is utterly rational.

How irrational is it to have a weapons system with a capacity to make the rubble bounce and bounce.

And arguably the Act had an international influence and caused more and more nations to question the insanity of the nuclear arms race.

The prospects of a global nuclear war appear to be limited although Donald Trump’s election has set the doomsday clock hands moving.

And I regret that I would not be surprised if for instance America and North Korea engage in a limited exchange of nuclear weapons.

So the disarmament movement has to continue.

There is a safe number of nuclear weapons to be stationed on our planet.

That number is zero.

Chair’s report – Woodlands Park responds to Watercare, a world record and the Cistine Chapel of Glen Eden

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Following is my chair’s report for June 2017.


The Watercare board has decided that the site of the new water treatment plant will be in Woodlands Park and Oratia has been excluded from further consideration.

I attended the board meeting where the decision was made.  Watercare’s chair person Margaret Devlin added three riders to the draft resolutions considered by the Board.  Watercare is to seek to minimise environmental damage, it is to lodge the application for a resource consent through Council so that the opportunity for local people to have a say is maximised and there is to be enhanced consultation with the local community.

These concessions in my view are helpful and an improvement on the original resolutions.  If the plant does proceed then the minimisation of environmental impacts and the involvement of local views is vital.

The local Woodlands Park community is very energised about the proposal and I would not expect anything less.  A recent meeting that I spoke at where there were 250 people present is a testimony to this.

Like the Oratia community they are passionate about the place they live in and they want to protect it.  The thought of a large industrial complex being built in their neighbourhood is an anathema to them.  And they are worried not only for the environment but how Titirangi’s fragile streets are going to handle large trucks and construction crews.

The way I see it there are two possible outcomes:

  1. Construction of the new site in the designated location with efforts put into minimising adverse effects.
  2. Watercare going back to the drawing board and starting the process again.

To be honest I do not think that option 2 is likely although the design work currently being conducted could show that the site is much more problematic than originally envisaged.  If there is a potential cost blow out then rebuilding the original plant may be financially feasible.

Much as I would like Watercare to find some smart solutions that will result in no bush clearance happening I do not think this will happen.  Clearly Auckland’s population growth and the ageing nature of the plant mean that a replacement plant is almost inevitable and needed soon.  Watercare will want to go ahead with the current proposal.  The optimal result for the local community may be to attempt to affect the design to minimise environmental damage and disruption.

The local community will need to make a call on if this is what it wants to achieve and if so what is the optimal approach.

And what of the proposal?  Preliminary designs suggest that the plant could occupy much of the new site and two planned reservoirs will require bush near to Exhibition Drive to be cleared.

There is cleared area and bush of low quality that I have no difficulty with being built on.  But the good quality bush which forms part of Clark’s bush walk and provides a buffer to neighbouring houses should in my mind be avoided at all costs as should the forest near Exhibition Drive where one of the reservoir tanks is currently planned to be.

This can be achieved by smart design.  As much of the existing site should be recycled.  For instance the settlement ponds could be retained and replaced on the existing site if this sort of technology is going to be continued with.  Staged development will allow the existing plant to continue to function, the new plant built, then replacement of existing settlement ponds by new ponds constructed in the spare land that will become available on the existing site.

What do I think personally about the proposal?  My starting point is that the Waitakere Ranges Heritage area is a special place and should be protected at all costs.  I live near Woodlands Park and I walk on Exhibition Drive regularly.  The high quality native bush and trees make the area a special place to live in.  Any clearance should be avoided at all costs.

Besides environmental considerations there are very practical reasons for the bush to be preserved.  Most of Titirangi is stability sensitive.  We cut trees and clear bush at our peril.  And the roads are fragile.

My view of the role of the local board is that we need to advocate and express the views of our communities to Auckland Council and the Council controlled organisations.  This means that we need to make clear to Watercare the views of the Woodlands Park community.

I have acted as something of a go between between local residents and Watercare.  My preference is that the dialogue continues.  The campaign run by the Oratia community shows how a smart well targeted campaign can achieve good things.


I recently met with Ted Manson who is behind the organisation that is constructing the two tower apartment blocks in Glen Eden.

Ted is a rarity in these times.  He is clearly a successful businessman.  But he wants to achieve good and I am convinced that he is motivated by the best of intentions in seeking to build these apartment houses.  His description of the project shows there is a great deal of charity involved in the proposal.

We do need every dwelling we can get.  The housing crisis is a scourge on Auckland.  Having kids whose families have jobs with no choice but to live in cars is not the sort of New Zealand I want us to have.  And the effect of the crisis is wide.  Families living in crowded sub standard conditions blights the future potential of our young ones.  Paying exorbitant amounts in rent means that many basics which should be guaranteed are not happening.  And having a society where teachers struggle to pay the rent but can never dream of owning their own property is just wrong.

So Ted’s project is important.  We do however have to make sure that these developments have a positive effect on the surrounding area.  A compact urban form is a good thing as long as it is a good quality urban form.

And there is a virtue in building around our transport nodes.  Developments such as these mean that we can avoid the pressure to build into the foothills of the Waitakeres.  And they make our city more carbon neutral in that they lessen the need to drive private cars.

The details of the project are that it will comprise 169 units about 60% of which will be community housing.  There will be a building manager and Compass has been engaged to provide social services for those in the buildings that need them.  The building will also use modern security techniques.

The practical details of the construction are that it will start in about a month’s time and should be finished in April 2019.  Demolition of the existing buildings is already occurring.  There will be a peak workforce of 150 people.  I urged Ted to make sure that there was parking provided so that the effects on the surrounding area were minimised and he said that he would do this.

The local board also met recently with Housing Corp who is planning a six story building on Wilson Road.  The plan is that the building will house older adults.

These buildings will mean a great deal of change will happen to Glen Eden.  The Board will work to make sure that Glen Eden is ready for this change.

Consultation – Waitakere Ranges Local Board Plan

The board has released for consultation its draft Local Board Plan.  The intent of the finalised plan is to set out publicly what we hope to achieve over the next three years.

Six areas are set out in the draft.  We wish to actively protect the Waitakere Ranges Heritage area, to protect and enhance our unique natural habitats, we want our communities to celebrate their distinct identities, we want local people to experience local arts and culture and recognise our heritage, and we intend that our urban centres are enjoyable places to be and that community spaces and recreational facilities meet local needs and are easy to get to.

Local feedback is really important to us.  We want to see if residents agree with the priorities and to identify anything that we may have missed.

Feedback can be provided via the Shape Auckland website (

Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area 5 yearly report

The preparation of a monitoring report of the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area every 5 years 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.

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 their health remains viable.

I believe the Act has has a profound effect on the people living out west.  Locals are very proud to live in the heritage area.

The second monitoring report is now in the process of being prepared.  It is a very significant report.  The first report 5 years ago presented a snapshot of the state of the Ranges.  This report will show if things are improving or getting worse.

An initial community meeting for feedback has been held.  The report is expected to be completed by April next year which will also mark the 10th anniversary of the passing of the Act.

World Record!

One of the more fun duties I have had recently was to be the official witness of an attempt by local primary schools to create a new Guinness World record for the most people forming the shape of a bicycle.  I am glad to say that the attempt succeeded and the previous record was smashed with the new record now standing at 1,799.

Here is an aerial photograph to give you an idea of the size of the feat:

And here is Kathryn King, the Auckland Transport Manager responsible for walking and cycling who sponsored and organised the event, and some of the very happy world record holders.

Matariki Festival

Matariki is developing into an important local festival.  It is the date accepted as the Maori new year.  This is the time when the constellation known as Matariki or the Pleadies appears.  For Maori it is a time to reflect on what has happened during the previous year and to also make plans for the year ahead.

Out west we had a very successful Matariki celebration at Arataki recently.  A number of activities were coordinated.  One of them was a photography contest where residents were invited to submit photographs of the Forest, Sky or Sea.

The contest was very successful with over 700 entries being submitted.

I judged the entries in the The Forest – Te Ngahere category. It was a difficult job.  A total of six photographs had to be selected out of a total of 193 entries and there were many superb shots.  I managed to create a shortlist of 20 and then had to brutally rule out some exceedingly good photographs to reach the required number.

The winner of Te Ngahere was Piha resident Heidi Padain for this beautiful photograph of a Tui.

The other categories were the Water – Te Wai and the Sky – Te Rangi.

Overall winner was Martin Sercombe with this outstanding shot of a could formation over Whatipu.

Clearly the Waitakere Ranges provides artistic inspiration to local photographers.  Hopefully this competition will become an annual event.  And congratulations to Glenn Browne and the team at Arataki for the wonderful festival which will I am sure become a permanent part of the local events calendar.

Waitakere Ethnic Board

Steve Tollestrup, Denise Yates and I attended their recent AGM.  WEB has been in existence for a number of years and performs many important roles in relation to ethnic matters particularly in relation to new settlers.  The executive members introduced themselves to the meeting and they present a tremendous range of skills and backgrounds.  I wish them well for their work ahead and look forward to meeting with them to see how the board can assist them with their efforts.

Glen Eden’s Sistine Chapel

The Glen Eden Business Improvement District, with the assistance of a grant from the Mayoral fund, commissioned local artist Heathermeg Sampson to part a mural on the side of Paul Borich’s pharmacy in Glen Eden.  The work is outstanding and a tribute to Heathermeg’s talent.  She managed to use intricacies and features of the building and environment to beautify what was otherwise a rather dull area.  Congratulations to Heathermeg and I recommend everyone should check it out.  It is immediately adjacent to 258 West Coast Road if you want to see it.

Watercare opts for Manuka Road site over Oratia

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I attended the Watercare Board meeting today where the preferred site for the new Water Treatment Plant was going to be decided.

The event was very sombre.  Groups from both the Waima and Oratia communities were present.  It was akin to turning up to a funeral and not knowing which person was going to die.

And the decision has been made.  Watercare has decided that a new plant on the Manuka Road site is its preferred option.  The Oratia sites have been excluded.

I am very pleased for the people of Oratia that the threat of the loss of their homes and devastation of their neighbourhood will now not occur.  They have run a really effective, noisy and passionate campaign.  It is great to see people power working.

I am worried however at the threat that is now being posed to the Waima area.  Watercare needs to consult fully with locals on the proposal and any environmental damage and disruption must be minimised.  Watercare owes it to the people of Waitakere to conduct itself in such a way that the aims and objectives of the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area are adhered to and that damage to the environment and local disruption are minimised as much as possible.

The presentation before the decision was brief but highlighted the thinking that has occurred since the announcement of the short list.

It was identified that the Significant Ecological Area overlay placed on the Manuka Road site by the Unitary Plan meant that a resource consent would be required for vegetation clearance.

This triggered an obligation to consider alternatives and this is why the options were considered.

The legal advice was that under section 36 of the the Resource Management Act there was no obligation to consult.  While technically correct this statement ignores the fact that Watercare is a Council controlled Organisation and as such has a duty to “exhibit a sense of social and environmental responsibility by having regard to the interests of the community in which it operates and by endeavouring to accommodate or encourage these when able to do so”.

The presentation pointed out that costs of both leading proposals were very similar, within 1% of each other but that the costs of a third option, to reuse the existing site, would cost $141 million more to retrofit the existing site because of the need to shut the site down and advance work associated with the increase of supply of water from the Waikato River.

The officer analysis was that both sites were similar but that building on the Parker Road North site adverse effect on community cohesion and way of life, while building on Manuka Road would have an adverse environmental effect.  This is where the effect of Oratia’s campaign was probably decisive.  Their campaign of highlighting the human effects of building in Oratia clearly altered Watercare’s thinking.

The recommendation from Watercare’s officers was that the Manuka Road site be selected as Watercare’s preferred site with reservoirs constructed on Woodlands Park Road.

This recommendation was accepted by the Board but with three important riders.  The first was to add the phrase “avoiding wherever possible significant trees and adverse environmental effects” to the resolution.  The second was to confirm that the application will be made to Auckland Council for resource consent, presumably on a notified basis.  The third was that a community liaison group or similar was to be set up.

I have been impressed by the response of the Woodlands Park residents who have recently organised themselves and are mounting a campaign which will test Watercare’s decision every step of the way.  The issue is still far away from being resolved.

The battle for Oratia is now over.  But I am sure that the battle of Manuka Road is just starting.

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

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

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

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

Submission on Auckland Council’s annual budget

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or this example from another young Oratia resident:

dear watercare

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

and my pets live here


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Anzac Day

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

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

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

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

I then attended the Titirangi ceremony.

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

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

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

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

Until next month …

The possible privatisation of Ports of Auckland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And what is at stake …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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