Chair’s report – Corvid-19 is changing everything

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I am sure I have no need to tell you that we are living in a difficult time.

So far locally we have been shielded from the direct effects of the Covid-19 virus but throughout the world we are seeing the effects that the virus is having on health systems and communities.

And the economic effects are already being felt.

At a local board level we are also feeling the effects. Last weekend I planned to attend five different public gatherings. Four of them were cancelled.

Further cancellations have also happened. I have recently heard of the cancellation or postponement of the Titirangi Festival of Music, the Ethkick soccer tournament, the Ecofest festival and the board’s own Eats and Beats in Glen Eden. And local libraries and recreation centres have shut on an interim basis.

Social distancing is critical and the reasons for it are clear.

Because of this the local board is changing the way that we perform our functions.

We can reassure you that council remains open for business, which includes our essential services such as rubbish and recycling. This situation is unprecedented and fast moving, and changes may happen from time to time. But we will keep you informed.

Social media will be increasingly important and I intend to use our facebook page to allow for communication of ideas and Council news. If you have not done so already please like the board’s facebook page.

The way we conduct our formal meetings will be changed and will be more digital than physical. We have cancelled our next meeting.

Auckland Council is planning ahead so that the essential services we provide continue to be delivered to Aucklanders. We have a crisis management response underway looking at continuity of our essential services and to support our staff as COVID-19 develops.

Please look after yourselves and your families and your neighbours.

As our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said be strong, and be kind and we will be ok.

Water shortage

Second up in terms of major problems our area is facing …

Last month I referred to the Auckland drought and the need to preserve water.  And after writing my report and before our last meeting it rained!  I should obviously write about these issues more often.

But we are not out of the woods yet.  Although there has been rain it has been intermittent and not sufficient to resolve matters.  Dam levels are at a healthy 62% at the time of writing although this is down from about 70% a month ago.

And the reason why they are so healthy is that Watercare has been using Waikato water as much as possible.  It is estimated that if it was not for this the dams would be 25% full and then we would all be facing a crisis.

And the weather patterns are, thanks to global warming, changing.  We are going to have to find long term solutions to this problem.

Waitakere Hospital

The Henderson Massey local board chairperson Chris Carter arranged a briefing for local board members out west from senior managers at the Waitemata Health Board.  As well as a presentation on Corovirus we were told of the Board’s future plans for Waitakere Hospital.

The hospital provides some current provision of services but many more services are provided at North Shore Hospital.  The Waitemata DHB has the largest population of any DHB in the country.

The west has special requirements.  We are a poorer area and because of this health needs are more intense.  We also have areas of intense growth.

The Henderson-Massey and Waitakere Ranges combined population makes us bigger than Dunedin, Tauranga and Hamilton.  And the large geographical area makes travelling to the North Shore a long and stressful process.

The hospital needs to become a full acute hospital site capable of handling all sorts of medical issues.  This will take pressure off Auckland Hospital and North Shore Hospital.  It will also allow people to be treated locally and reduce the stress of travel for families

I understand that a decision is to be made in the near future by the Government.

The local board chairs for the west intend to advocate strongly in support of full development of the Waitakere Hospital and to make representations directly to the Minister of Health.

Watercare hearing

With Saffron Toms and Ken Turner I recently presented the local board’s submissions on the Waima Watercare application.

The evidence has now all been filed and some interesting issues have become prominent. 

The most significant is kauri dieback.  The fear has been expressed by a number of experts including Council’s expert that the earth works in an area that has Kauri dieback spores will mean that the spores are spread throughout the area.  Every time it rains spores will be washed through the valley in an area that has significant groves of magnificent Kauri.

And on this the expert evidence, from both Council and from experts briefed by the opponents, which interestingly enough includes the Department of Conservation, is terrifying.

The basic premise as I understand it is that the huge amount of earthworks will accelerate the spread of Kauri dieback.  Water trickling down broken up soil is the best way to achieve its spread.  To stop the spread would require a rather large structure resembling a moat.  And the area downstream is home to some of the most significant groves of Kauri in the region.

I wondered what a safe worksite would look like.  I suggested that Watercare would have to construct a moat around the site to gather the water and then pipe it to the Manukau which is quite a few kilometers away.

My concluding comment to the hearing was as follows:

“In assessing the merits of this application the board’s concern is that the risk of spreading kauri dieback through the valley is far too high and the potential consequences catastrophic.  The local board remains opposed to the application.  In fact based on the expert evidence our opposition is now more determined.”

The panel has recommended that the various experts caucus and present a brief to the panel indicating what is agreed to and what is disputed.

The valley immediately below the site is the home of some of the most significant and magnificent Kauri out west.  I trust the panel will take all necessary care in determining this application.

To add to this the planned mitigation is not enough.  To mitigate the clear felling of a forest would require funding for a hundred year plan.

This discovery has reinforced my view that the Local Board was correct in its opposition to the plant.  We will see in the future what the commissioners conducting the hearing think.

Waitakere Heritage Area Gateway Sign project

This has been on the Local Board’s work programme for a while and until recently progress has been slow.  But the board recently had a very welcome presentation by a new staff member Keren Alleyne and by Claire Walker, a contractor also recently involved in the project.

The board’s thinking is that some form of artwork is preferrable to signs, that a generic design with local variations would be better, and that the artwork should act as markers on the edge of the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area.  In terms of the artwork a suggestion is that for cost and durability reasons laser cut steel could be an option.

We want consultation with Te Kawarau a Maki and with local ratepayers groups including the group of residents who had worked on the proposal to occur.  We will hopefully then be in a position to work out selection of an artist to provide us with a concept for the project.

Funding will be sought from different sources as to do it properly would be beyond the means of the local board.

Annual Plan and Local Board Agreement consultation

This is now under way.  The one particular proposal that affects the  Waitakere Ranges local board area is the future of the septic tank pump out service.  This is a service paid for by residents with older style septic tanks and ensures that every three years they will have their tanks pumped out.  The way I see it there are two benefits, we get the advantage of scale and fees can be kept reasonable for everyone, and secondly all relevant tanks are pumped out.  To my way of thinking there is a significant risk to the environment if the scheme is discontinued and this is why the current scheme, with a regional subsidy, should be continued.  After all we are dealing with the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area and special care should be exercised.

We have also been talking to local communities about our three year plan and what people think should be in it.  So far there have been two drop in sessions, a meeting with the Trustees of the Glen Eden Mosque, and a meeting with the Methodist congregation.  Feedback was received during Waitangi day at Hoani Waititi Marae and on line and further meetings are planned although adjusting to Corovirus is making this problematic.

By all means let us know your views.  What do you think is important for our area in the next three years and what should the local board be doing?

Kauri Karnival

After receiving advice Council decided to proceed with the Kauri Karnival.  The risk was assessed to be low and the nature of the event, with crowds spread out and no identified people facing threats was not the sort that demanded cancellation.

Numbers were down on last year, which given the circumstances was understandable.  But the event delivered top quality music and some very interesting stalls as well as a number of activities which were child friendly and child pleasing.

Shadbolt House

This has been on the local board’s work plan for a few years.  The Going West Trust has expressed an interest in converting the house into a writer’s residence.  The house was originally purchased by Waitakere City Council with this intent.  The Colin McCahon House shows what can be done with this sort of model.

Staff are being cautious and have raised health and safety concerns.  I am confident that this can be taken care of however and that working with the trust they can be overcome.

There is a feeling that Titirangi’s art sector is more than adequate.  I am a fan of it being exceptional.

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