The renaming of Ceramco Park to Ōkaurirahi

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The local board recently had a formal ceremony to acknowledge the change of name for Ceramco Park.

As part of the Te Kete Rukuruku process Te Kawerau a Maki has gifted to the Local board Te Reo place names for a number of local parks.

All of the names are magnificent and I can recall clearly the excitement I felt when the names and the reason for the names were introduced to us.

The name for Ceramco Park is Ōkaurirahi.

It is a name that provides a perfect description of the area in its previous form.  It is something for us to reflect on. This is important to our community and for the local board, and as I said at the ceremony it is an honour to be playing a part in restoring mana to the land and to the community.

I believe the process is important.

Out west we have a smattering of Maori place names and Pakeha names.

To be frank the Pakeha names lack the beauty and the relevance of the Te Reo names.

The Maori names are beautiful and eloquent and descriptive. Just think of these names:

  • Titirangi – fringe of heaven
  • Karekare – rough sea
  • Piha – a reference to what we know as Lion Rock
  • Whatipu – the name of an ancient taniwha

And to this list we can add Ōkaurirahi – the place of the huge Kauri.  This is a traditional Maori name and it is great to see it being restored to this area.

This is an important process.  Te Reo Maori and Te Ao Maori are integral and unique to Aotearoa New Zealand.  They are beautiful and they need to be preserved and enhanced.

If you want official justification for this in 1986 the Waitangi Tribunal said this when it considered the Te Reo claim:

Some New Zealanders may say that the loss of Maori language is unimportant. The claimants in reply have reminded us that the Maori culture is a part of the heritage of New Zealand and that the Maori language is at the heart of that culture. If the language dies the culture will die, and something quite unique will have been lost to the world.”

https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/periodicals/TUTANG19860701.2.13

That rationale is one of the reasons I believe that making the use of Te Reo part of every day life is so important.

This is one of 19 Te Reo names that were gifted to the local board by Te Kawerau a Maki as part of tranche one of this process.  There are a further 20 names as part of tranche two.

The local board has unashamedly chosen to adopt sole Maori names for many of the parks throughout the Te Kete Rukuruku process.  We believe that proper respect to Te Ao Maori is shown by giving the Te Reo name primacy.

I took the opportunity to thank Te Kawerau a Maki again for this gift and also for their contribution out west, particularly to the protection of Te Wao Nui a Tiriwa, the great forest of Tiriwai in the Waitakere Ranges.

We share a common belief that the ranges need to be protected and enhanced and I expressed the desire that this term Council advances the Deed of Acknowledgement anticipated by the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area Act.

Submit!

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Auckland Council is currently consulting on the draft Mayoral budget.

For the Waitakere Ranges Local Board the budget if approved would have significant consequences.

Sandra Coney and I have already gone into some of the detail of what the consequences would be. The proposal is that the local board would have its budget cut by $765,000. This is well over 10% of the budget that we have control over and will cause major damage.

Our environmental spend will be devastated. The recent storms have shown the need to protect trees and deal with weeds to hold slopes together and prevent slips. At a time when we need to increase the spend on weeds and pests we will have to cut back on our current spend.

Our arts and culture spend will be severely compromised. The Arts sector in the west not only enriches the area but it is also a significant driver of economic activity and employment. It is not a nice to have. It is an essential feature of the west.

And community groups will be severely compromised. I am well aware of the multiplier effect of grants and payments that we make. Groups use this to either obtain further funding from other sources or to get locals to contribute voluntarily to improving local areas. Without this help their efforts may cease completely.

The Local Board’s recent have your say event attracted a number of submitters, way more than usual. I will not mention presenters by name but there was real passion as well as reason in all of the submissions and points they made were very cogent. They included:

  • Good governance of the city takes a long term view and the current proposal is a very short term view. 
  • Some of the developments at the edge of the city will incur massive expense and make the city less sustainable. We are better off intensifying.
  • First world cities have cost. The City Rail Link even now is still a much needed and transformative project.
  • Events provide tremendous social and economic and business benefits. To cut them is retrograde.
  • A larger rates increase would be equitable. The recent storm events provide social licence to do that.
  • A number of environmental groups emphasised the thousands of hours of voluntary work modest support to them achieves. They also pointed out that weed and pest control is a continuing effort, and if efforts were stopped even for a short time then the environment would quickly deteriorate and the work of many years would be wasted.
  • Citizen Advise Bureau received considerable comment. For a relatively modest amount they have hundreds of thousands of interactions with Aucklanders in need. This will be lost if funding is cut.

The suggestion that community leases should be increased to raise revenue received some attention. It was pointed out that the presumption of increased income was illusory. If rates are increased R&R groups would have as one of the major roles the raising of funds for Council. Many would not and would hand their hall back to Council. This would *increase* expenses for Council as the voluntary work of locals would have to be replaced by paid work from Council employees or contractors. Rather than using their efforts to contribute to community their efforts would be to enrich Council. Instead of Council being a giver it would become a taker. And in the meantime Community would be weakened.

The overwhelming message was the multiplier effect that local board and Council funding has. And what would be lost if this funding is cut.

What sort of city do you want to live in? If you do not wish to live in a city that is going backwards environmentally, artistically and socially then please submit.

Submissions close at 11 pm 28 March. You can make a submission online at akhaveyoursay.nz/budget.

Sandra Coney – The Mayor’s Budget 2023/24

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“Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!” *

The Auckland Council is currently consulting on the proposed Mayor’s Budget 2023/24 which makes enormous cuts in funding for community, the arts and environment.

This proposal is now out for consultation. It is critical that individuals, groups and community make their voices heard through this process.

You have until 11 pm 28 March to make a submission at akhaveyoursay.nz/budget. You can fill in a form or write your submission any way you like.

There is also the opportunity on Thursday 16 March to talk to the Waitakere Ranges Local Board in person.

This paper is an attempt to show succinctly what the Mayor’s Budget means for the Waitakere Ranges Local Board area. It has been enormously difficult to extract concrete information from Council, so this is not as complete as I had hoped. I have been unable, for instance, to find out detail about what the cuts mean for regional Environmental Services, which is key for this area.

The Council’s budget has two parts: regional spending governed by the Governing Body (the elected councillors), and Local Board budgets, for local activities. There are also sums that go to CCOs such as Auckland Transport and Watercare. These come out of regional budgets.

The Mayor’s proposed budget will increase the rates by 4.66% – or 5.66% if an additional $20 million is added for future response to storms. This is less that the rate of inflation which is 7.2% (as of 11 March 2023).

I’m going to concentrate in this paper on the environment, but will cover some information about community and the arts.

The Mayor’s Budget and weather catastrophes

Although it has not been adequately explained, Auckland Council is in deep financial trouble. The Mayor blames decisions made before he came along and stresses it is not of his making.

The Mayor says there is a shortfall of $295 million for the coming financial year. He proposes to make substantial cuts in administration and services, increase borrowing, and sell assets, even income-earning ones such as airport shares.

This comes hard on the heels of extensive flooding in some parts of Auckland, and catastrophic damage to many areas from Cyclone Gabrielle. The Mayor has not revisited his budget in the light of this tragedy to see what funds are needed to repair damage to public assets such as parks and to support community action to rebuild. The damage to the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park, for instance, will run into millions and only built infrastructure is covered by insurance.

Instead, the Mayor proposes a possible budget increase of $20 million to address future storms, but this sum seems as if it was plucked out of the air, rather than quantified. Essentially, the Mayor’s budget predates these weather events.

What is worse, it comes at the very time we need all our volunteer environmental groups and NGOs to throw themselves into the repair and restoration. If there’s one thing the events of the past months have shown us, it’s that we need to have healthy waterways and natural areas to cope with climatic events and we will look to our community groups to help with that work.

But that is exactly who will bear the brunt of the Mayor’s cuts. Support to environmental groups, such as regional grants for coordination, have been cut entirely. Then the Mayor has taken his knife to local boards where much of the funding for community and environmental action comes from.

Cuts to Local Boards

Some $16 million of total savings are proposed to come through 5% cuts to Local Boards.

The Waitakere Ranges Local Board is one of the hardest hit boards by this proposal and the way it has been calculated. The actual cut in the WRLB area is more like 10%. The chair of the WRLB, Greg Presland, points out that:

”[T]he means of calculating the loss means that the cuts are not evenly spread throughout the region. Per head of population this local board’s cuts are in the vicinity of $13.70 per year. In Howick and Kaipatiki (both $7.21) and in Orakei ($7.29) things are not nearly as bad.”

The claim of 5% cuts also hides that the cuts are not top-sliced off all budget lines. The total sum must come out of the operational budgets that fund community action, grants and environment and for operating our built assets such as libraries and halls.

There are two budget lines the cuts will have to come from: LDI and ABS. LDI stands for Local Discretionary Initiatives; ABS is Asset Based Services. LDI is where most of the WRLB environmental spending and support for community comes. The total LDI operational budget for WRLB is $1,332,400.

ABS is the operational funding for running Council-owned assets such as parks, libraries and community houses. The Board’s total operational ABS is $10,233,000.

The big items in the Board’s ABS are parks’ maintenance at $3,300,000, the running of Te Uru at $719,000, which is a major arts facility which brings a great deal of benefit to Titirangi and more widely, and libraries at $980,000 – the two libraries at Glen Eden and Titirangi with contributions to community-run libraries at Waiatarua and Piha.

The Board cannot make savings out of the parks’ maintenance. That’s because head office has decided that savings from cuts in these budgets are being taken regionally. Instead, the Local Boards are being directed to take all the savings out of the remainder of ABS and LDI and these are the ones the community depends on.

Generally, the WRLB does not have a lot of Council-owned assets from which to extract cuts. The WRLB is mainly made up of natural areas, including the largest area of indigenous forest in Auckland, mostly the 17,000 hectare regional park but also surrounding privately owned forest. Much of the Board budget goes towards keeping these surrounding areas healthy and controlling pest plants on private land. Amounts in the regional budgets carry out work such as possum and pest plant control in the parks themselves, including funding which comes from the NETR (see below).

The NETR and WQTR

Back in 2018, the Council instituted two regional targeted rates, the Natural Environment Targetted Rate or NETR and the Water Quality Targetted Rate or WQTR. A targeted rate means that it cannot be used for any other purpose than that for which it was collected. You’ll find these rates listed separately on your rates demand.  The implementation of these rates followed extensive consultation with the Auckland public who supported the idea.

These rates were to beef up spending in the environment. There is still a base amount that is spent on the environment that comes out of the general rate. The NETR and WQTR were put in place to expand and speed up work on the environment and water quality.

I’m going to focus here on the NETR because this was very important to Waitakere. $33 million was to be collected each year. This was to be spent on 48% protecting our regional parks; 36% kauri dieback; 9% expand community and school action; and small amounts to regional biosecurity, marine ecology, region-wide biodiversity etc.

The Mayor proposes to cut both these rates by two-thirds for 2023/24 or probably future years. This is intended to help keep the overall rate increase down. To offset these cuts, the Mayor proposes that “reserves” of these funds will be used to top them up. In his words: ”But don’t worry, the activity under NETR and WQTR won’t stop. We have reserves in those targeted rate funds to carry on the planned activity for the 2023/2024 year.”

It turns out that in each year since they were instituted, not all the NETR and WQTR was spent on the purposes for which it was collected. In each year about $6-11 million of the amount collected was not spent and stayed in the bank which would have helped balance regional budgets. The reasons given for not spending all the NETR and WQTR are Covid, lack of staff and contractor capacity. In other words, spending on the environment and water quality was short-changed for four years.

The total amount of the NETR reserve is $20 million. The Council environment department planned to spend these reserves in the current year – $6.3 million – and future years, on top of the $33 million collected each year.

But this is not what is intended by the Mayor. A two-thirds cut, means the NETR collected in 2023/24 would be about $11 million instead of $33 million. To reach the budgeted $33 million, all the reserves would be used in one year and then still be short by about $2 million. Cumulatively, this amounts to short-changing the NETR spend by $22 million.

The NETR reserves should be spent on the environment and there should be 100% collection of the NETR for 2023/24.

Other environmental cuts

Information about cuts to base regional environmental budgets has not been forthcoming. The Mayor’s proposal says broadly there will be “reductions in regional environmental services”, but these are not specified nor their dollar value given. It seems that not all environmental programmes would be funded, the planned expansion of the pest plant programme would not occur, other programmes and services would be “paused”. It is also likely that there will be cuts in regional parks spending, which is where almost all the Council-owned natural areas are located.

 The Mayor’s proposal does specify the following will be cut, although the wording is once again very vague:

  • Services at Arataki Visitor Centre in Scenic Drive – it is not clear how deep these cuts are and there are suggestions Arataki may close
  • School programmes on environmental issues
  • Regional community and education programmes
  • Outdoor experiences for young people
  • Regional climate action grants
  • Regional environmental, natural heritage and historic heritage grants.

This last item includes the Regional Environment and Natural Heritage Fund which many environmental groups depend on. On top of this, the Local Board is unlikely to have funds for grants. This means that collectively, with reduced NETR spending, reduced WQTR spending, unknown cuts in environmental budgets, regional environmental grants cut, and Local Board grants cut, there is next to nothing available for community environmental action.

The cumulative loss to environmental action will be immense and hard to recover from. Groups that lose a coordinator, will be hard-pressed to get back to this stage again. In the meantime, the possums and rats will reproduce, the weeds will multiple and environmental restoration will go backwards.

Airport shares

The Mayor proposes to sell all the Council’s 18% shareholding in Auckland Airport. These shares were inherited from legacy Councils at amalgamation. Arguments against this are that once sold, they can never be retrieved, and that most cities maintain an interest in such a strategic asset. The Mayor makes much of the lack of dividends for the last three years during Covid, but ignores the capital gain of the shares, earlier dividends and projected future dividends.

Writing in the Herald, Kushlan Sugathapala showed that while the Council did not receive the expected airport dividends during Covid, the value of the shares has more than tripled from 2011 to 2018, from $632 million to $1.8 billion, a capital gain of $1.2 billion in 7 years. With dividends and a share buyback, a total gain to Council of $1.7 billion in eight years from 2011 to 2019. The airport is estimated to pay Council a dividend of around $30 million this year.[i]

Alternatives

The Council does have other options which briefly are:

  • An increase in rates – the current proposal is less than inflation
  • Greater borrowing, the Council’s assets and credit rating would allow this. The Mayor proposes $75 million borrowing but even using Council’s very conservative approach it could safely be up to $140 million.
  • Cuts in administration greater than those proposed and less use of costly out-sourced contractors. Generally this is a hidden area as far as constituents are concerned.
  • Bringing more services in-house rather than out-sourcing.

Points to make in your submission

The WRLB Local Board Chair Greg Presland has suggested people making submissions might want to make these points:

  1. Rates should increase to the current rate of inflation (7.2%). Anything less than this is a net cut at a time when the repair job for Auckland is of utmost importance.
  2. You oppose cuts to local board funding. If there are to be cuts to local board funding these cuts should be shared equally between all local boards.
  3. You oppose cuts to environmental services. If there is one thing that recent events has shown it is how threatened our environment is and how much we rely on it. Now is the time to enhance environmental protection, not degrade it.
  4. You oppose cuts to community groups. These groups perform a great deal of good and cutting their funding at a time where community resilience is at a premium is a retrograde step to take.
  5. You oppose cuts to the Arts Sector. Out west the Arts are a major contributor to our quality of life as well as a huge benefit to the local economy. Council’s investment in this area has direct tangible social and economic effects. We cut support at our peril.
  6. As far as possible debt should be used to fund all activities where there is a long term benefit.
  7. You oppose the sale of Airport Shares. These will start paying dividends again later this year and are appreciating in value. Selling them now will cost us in the long term.

To these I would add:

  • You oppose 2/3 cuts in NETR and WQTR
  • You oppose the use NETR and WQTR reserves to partly plug the gap

The Local Board’s LDI and ABS where cuts are expected to be made

To just to give you an idea of what those budgets include, its things like the list below:

Environment

  • South Titirangi Restoration LDI $15,000
  • Pest Free Waitakere Ranges Alliance Coordinator LDI $75,000
  • Climate Action Programme LDI $40,000
  • Ecomatters native plant nursery LDI $11,550
  • Ecomatters Ecofest Festival LDI $11,600
  • Ecomatters centre LDI $40,500
  • Ecomatters Love Your Neighbourhood LDI $11,600
  • Love Your Place Environment Awards LDI $5,800
  • War on Weeds LDI $26,600
  • Eco-volunteers in parks LDI $45,000
  • West Coast Animal Management Team LDI $35,000
  • Community Weed Bins LDI $96,056
  • Bufferzone Weed Project (working with private land owners next to regional parks) ABS $50,000
  • Our Backyard – plant pest control in Waitakeres, attracts extra regional fund LDI $100,000
  • Surveying West Coast shorebirds LDI $7000
  • WRHA Welcome Pack LDI $13,500
  • Project Twin Streams maintenance ABS $246,000

Community

  • Community grants LDI $75,000
  • Anzac Services LDI $5,000
  • Libraries ABS $981.292
  • Living wage – top up for workers at Community Houses LDI $25,000
  • Community halls – grants to communities who own or run halls LDI $42,000
  • Civil Defence emergency resilience LDI $25,000
  • Pasifika youth programme LDI $15,000
  • Youth Connections LDI $25,000
  • Youth programme LDI $20,000
  • Hoani Waititi Marae ABS $75,000
  • Glen Eden and Titirangi Community Houses ABS $88,000
  • Free community booking GE library LDI $3500
  • Community Waitakere LDI $32,000
  • Maori broker/engagement LDI $35,000
  • Neighbours Day grants LDI $6,000

Arts

  • Lopdell Precinct ABS $153,166
  • Te Uru operational grant ABS $684,536
  • McCahon House ABS $23,053
  • West Coast Gallery ABS $15,962
  • Upstairs Gallery ABS $51,589
  • Shadbolt House ABS $10,373
  • Glen Eden Playhouse ABS $18,520
  • Open Studios ABS LDI $33,000
  • Community Arts Programme $19,000
  • Going West Festival LDI $60,000
  • Heritage Conference LDI $22,000

*This has been written in my personal capacity and is not a Board document + Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Ozymandias

Sandra Coney QSO – Member of the Waitakere Ranges Local Board


[i] NZH 6 March 2023, p A23

Council’s proposed budget is unfair to Waitakere Ranges

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Auckland Council is currently consulting on the Mayor’s proposed budget.

One of the headlines is that the Mayor is asking local boards to find 5% savings of our total budget.

Of itself this does not sound so bad. But unfortunately when you dig into the detail, as I have done, the consequences are somewhat dire for the Waitakere Ranges.

First up the means of calculating the loss means that the cuts are not evenly spread throughout the region. Per head of population this local board’s cuts are in the vicinity of $13.70 per year. in Howick and Kaipatiki (both $7.21) and in Orakei ($7.29) things are not nearly as bad.

We are not the worst in the region. In Mangere-Otahuhu which is an area of deprivation the loss is $14.19 per head. And in Aotea, which has little infrastructure and depends heavily on its local board, the figure is an eye watering $330 per head.

The unfair treatment of the local board is not the only matter of concern.

Climate change mitigation and adaption should be Tamaki Makaurau Auckland’s top priority, but the proposed cuts in the 2023/2024 Annual Budget proposal have the potential to undermine that priority.

If confirmed by Council the Waitakere Ranges Local Board’s budget will be cut $765,786, nearly 10 percent of our budget for community delivery.

Local environmental projects, the arts and community support will bear the brunt of these anticipated cuts.

The board is faced with having to severely curtail its weeds and predator control programmes as well as support for community environmental action. The recent flood related slips clearly show that weed infested slopes are unstable and we urgently need to improve stability. And cuts will mean that we will have to curtail action on climate change at a time when such action has never been more necessary.

Arts programs and facilities that contribute greatly to the area will have to be cut. In particular, funding for Te Uru Gallery may be compromised, even though the gallery has transformed Titirangi since its opening and has improved business conditions in the village dramatically.

Community organisations that perform important work very efficiently will be drastically affected.

Local Board funding is not the only area where cuts are proposed. The Mayoral budget also proposes a $20 million reduction in general rates funding of regional services such as community and education programmes, regional events, economic development and other social activities as well as $8 million in regional contestable grants.

If you want to make a submission the website is here.

You may want to make the following points:

  1. Rates should increase to the current rate of inflation (7.2%). Anything less than this is a net cut at a time when the repair job for Auckland is of utmost importance.
  2. You oppose cuts to local board funding. If there are to be cuts to local board funding these cuts should be shared equally between all local boards.
  3. You oppose cuts to environmental services. If there is one thing that recent events has shown it is how threatened our environment is and how much we rely on it. Now is the time to enhance environmental protection, not degrade it.
  4. You oppose cuts to community groups. These groups perform a great deal of good and cutting their funding at a time where community resilience is at a premium is a retrograde step to take.
  5. You oppose cuts to the Arts Sector. Out west the Arts are a major contributor to our quality of life as well as a huge benefit to the local economy. Council’s investment in this area has direct tangible social and economic effects. We cut support at our peril.
  6. As far as possible debt should be used to fund all activities where there is a long term benefit.
  7. You oppose the sale of Airport Shares. These will start paying dividends again later this year and are appreciating in value. Selling them now will cost us in the long term.

Consultation closes on March 28, 2023. Be sure to have your say.

What to do if your land has a slip

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I went to Paturoa yesterday morning on a quiet and still day and took this photo.

It was serene, but the cliffs bore the scars of some significant slips, parts of the foreshore was washed away and there is still a car deposited on the edge of the cliff as a reminder of the fury of the previous storm.

These are some personal suggestions if you have a slip on your property.

The first thing to do is report it. Council is a complex entity. There can be multiple references to an individual event but without a reference number you will not be able to adequately converse with the entity in the future.

The second thing to do is work out is the location of the slip. There are generally three possibilities:

  1. It is on your land.
  2. It is on road reserve.
  3. It is on Council reserve.

You can check out Auckland Council’s Geomaps and turn on Aerial Basemap to give you a reasonably good aerial view showing the location of your property’s boundary.

The response will be somewhat complex. If it is on your land and potentially affects the road then Auckland Transport have indicated they will talk to you. No promises but if work is required to maintain the road then I suspect they will be willing to discuss proposals.

You should talk to your insurance company and lodge a claim if you have not already done so. You should also make sure that a claim with EQC has been made.

Often your insurance company will take care of this. Please EQC does not cover all damage to land.

And looking forward to the future there are a few things I believe have to happen.

  1. It is clear to me that a number of the slips happened on weed infected sites. Property by property we need to deal to weeds and replace them with more deep rooted native plants.
  2. Council has a role to play in this. The local board spends a reasonably significant amount of money on supporting communities deal with weeds. This sum has to increase dramatically and we need to do what we can to assist.
  3. We need to protect trees. They hold banks together and soak up water and slow down water flows. We cut them at our peril.
  4. Stormwater infrastructure needs to be reviewed and improved. And Council needs to be more nimble. At the first sign of a large storm there needs to be the ability to inspect and clear all drains.
  5. Perhaps most importantly local communities need to be supported and nurtured. I encountered many instances where locals grouped together and supported each other.