My Chair’s report for December 2022 – the Board’s goals, Council finances and the Arts
What the local board wants to achieve this term
The following is the text from my speech to the inaugural meeting setting out what we want achieve this term:
“Three years ago, I set out eleven different areas I wanted the Board to work on and I thought I would do the same this term.
The list is mostly the same although with some changes.
Our fight against Covid was mostly successful but was achieved at a huge price. We may have a cumulative death rate that is only one eighth of that of the United States or the United Kingdom but the stresses of our lockdowns and of the mandates clearly has caused some unravelling of our community’s coherence. This is why I want us to make a feature of community events and celebrations, to restore to full health the community coherence that the west is famous for. We need to celebrate our diversity and be welcoming to new westies.
And we need to make all aspects of Council more accessible. Whether it is access to elected members or access to parks and facilities Council needs to be more relevant and more immediate in people’s lives.
Climate change continues to pose an existential threat to our way of live. We want to make good progress this term with completion of our Greenways Plan to offer safe and pleasant alternatives to car use. And every decision we make should have a climate change filter applied to it. And the work not only has to address greenhouse gas emissions but also to improve community resilience as the effects of climate change become pronounced.
Last term I was pleased that Laingholm Beach and Titirangi Beach were taken off the no swim list. But we need to continue with our emphasis in improving our marine environment and in particular protection of Maui’s dolphin’s habitat. Our streams and lagoons should be clean, and our beaches should always be swimmable. In particular in the near future Wood Bay should be remediated.
We wish to continue to build on our relationships with Te Kawarau a Maki and with Mātāwaka. We will be cheerleading and supporting Te Kawarau a Maki as they progress their project of establishing a Marae at Te Henga. And we will support them in their quest to have the deed anticipated by the Waitākere Ranges Heritage Area Act advanced. And we will continue to work with Te Whanau au Hoani Waititi Marae and the important mahi they perform.
Transport will continue to be a major issue. We want to continue with work to provide public transport services to the remoter parts of the west and to prepare for the opening of the City Rail link which will be transformative.
Which is why planned improvements for Glen Eden need to be accelerated. Already the growth and intensification that is occurring is stretching local resources. Intensification needs to happen in such a way that the quality of the area is enhanced, not degraded. We understand the budgetary pressures that caused the delay of our Glen Eden renewal project, but this was but the latest of many proposed plans that have not been implemented because of budget pressures over a lengthy period of time. The sooner that renewal happens the better.
Our efforts to provide meaningful tree protection must continue. It is absurd that we can have rules about what colour a house can be painted but not have general rules protecting trees. Proposed changes to the RMA this term provide us with a unique opportunity to highlight this issue.
Our focus on weeds and pests will continue. We pour huge resources in trying to hold this problem at bay. Our work in dealing with weeds on the edge of the Regional Park is important but should be funded centrally not locally. We are only just holding on. We can and need to do better.
We will also continue with our support for Arts and Culture. It is not coincidental that the home of Colin McCahon and Maurice Shadbolt and Len Castle and Ann Robinson and John Edgar is out west. It is a feature of artistic talent that they are attracted to engage in their art in an area of natural beauty. Our local board area is blessed with as divine art as can be imagined and we will continue to support our artists. And institutions such as Te Uru provide a focus for artistic nurturing and development. Last term the board worked hard to secure Shadbolt House as a writer’s residence. This term we hope to have this project advanced.
Alongside our Henderson Massey and Whau colleagues and local councillors we need to present a united front and make sure that the West’s interests are protected and enhanced. Knowing how parochial locally elected members are, I am sure this will not be difficult.
And most importantly we will continue with our oversight role of the Waitākere Ranges Heritage Area. The Heritage area faces many pressures, weeds, Kauri dieback, visitor management, and the stresses of development. It is the home of many groups who are passionate about its protection and enhancement and who deserve our support. We will continue to work with them to preserve and enhance what is a unique area.”
Engagement with the public and local community groups
The local board has spent some time discussing the issue of how to effectively engage with the public. We have specific goals that we want to achieve but we also wish to improve the quality of our engagement with the local community.
Although this is to be decided on at this meeting it is proposed that Local Board meetings continue to be held at 4 pm every third Thursday of the month.
The reasons for the proposal to retain the status quo are varied but include a desire not to overtax staff as well as strengthen staff engagement, feedback from other local boards which suggests that a later start time does not necessarily result in greater public participation, and a desire to ensure that meetings do not end too late. We are also aware that evening meetings do not work for everyone especially those with young children or those who work in the evening. We do want to find the best option given all the considerations.
To maximize the ability to engage with the public there are four suggested changes we are considering:
1. Rearranging the agenda so that public forum starts at 6 pm and there is flexibility on the timing of deputations.
2. Proactive emailing of agenda items to allow local R&R groups to identify items of interest.
3. The holding of regular community forums.
4. The holding of regular town hall meetings.
The intent is to increase opportunities for engagement and we are aware of the limitations that open forum at formal meetings provides for community engagement.
The purpose is to engage with community organisations (formal and informal) in dialogue, workshop style, with 20 to 30 minute items that are pre-booked.
Each forum could be based on chosen topics covering social, environmental, economic, cultural, and recreational groups, and scheduled to maximise timely input into items coming to the Board and input into planning processes.
They would be fully open to public and other groups and the intent is to support community dialogue.
Town Hall Meetings
The purpose is to engage with neighbourhoods and would involve formal meetings in our various neighbourhoods.
There would be a set agenda with time for Board presentation, Ratepayer organisation presentation, agreed topics, and an open forum.
These meetings would also be open to the public and other groups. An agenda would be published ahead of time on Council and community social media.
We are currently seeking feedback from local R&R groups and if the proposal receives support I anticipate having a trial of the meetings from next year.
I should acknowledge in particular Mark Allen for his work in formulating these proposals.
This term could be an interesting term if recent news about Council finances are anything to go by.
Recent Mayoral press releases confirm that there is a $270 million hole in Council’s finances and recent increases in interest rates by the Reserve Bank has provided further pressure. The cause is not difficult to ascertain. Inflation is running at 7.2% per annum and the last Construction Inflation estimate figure I saw was 7.7% per annum.
Although these figures are scary context is important.
Total operating funding for Auckland Council is $5.046 billion. Rates revenue accounts for $2.281 billion of this and fees and charges a further $1.477 billion.
The currently programmed rates increase is 3.5%, well below the rate of inflation. If this was bumped up to 7%, slightly below the rate of inflation, then a further $80 million would be raised. A similar sized tweak to fees and charges would see an extra $66 million raised.
If the deficit is to be addressed purely through budget cuts then the figures are scary. A 5.3% cut across all budgets will be required. The problem is that many council budgets are pretty well set and the cuts will hit the more “discretionary” areas of spending. Local events, the Arts, grants to local community groups and new projects would most likely be hit. There would also undoubtedly be a squeeze on maintenance and renewals which although work in the short term tend to cost more in the long term.
And at a time of rapid change and the need to address climate change now is not the time to be reducing budgets on projects designed to make us more sustainable.
How this develops will be an interesting test of this new Council.
I will keep you posted.
The Local Board’s Draft Climate Action Plan
The last local board wanted to prepare a Waitākere Ranges Climate Action Plan as our contribution to improving sustainability. Although action at a National and Regional level is vital, action at a local and personal level is just as, if not arguably more, vital to reduce the emission of green house gasses so that the worst predictions relating to climate change do not occur.
Thanks to all of the feedback we have received so far on this topic. A draft is in preparation and we intend to release it for further consultation with the community in the near future.
Comments at any time are welcome. Climate change is such an existential threat that good ideas should always be welcomed.
Waitākere Ranges Heritage Area 5 yearly report
Council is in the process of preparing the draft report and as part of this process has invited public feedback on what the report should concentrate on. There have been a number of welcome submissions made.
Part of the feedback came from the Oratia community. The Oratia Ratepayers and in particular Carolynne Stone organised a well attended public meeting. Approximately 40 people were in attendance.
The submission noted that there was strong support for the protection and enhancement of the Waitākere Ranges Heritage Area. People love living and enjoying the recreational activities the parkland and beaches provide. The natural environment is valued and people take pride in fostering native planting and controlling weeds and pests.
Strong concern was expressed about the effects of weeds and pests, the threat posed by intensive development just on the other side of the heritage area boundary, the effects of visitors and the threats posed by fireworks, and how the area will cope from the effects of climate change.
A very strong theme was that current funding is inadequate, and that increased funding is required to ensure the protection and enhancement of this area and that any increase needs to take account of the intrinsic value of this unique rainforest and surrounding area.
Can I thank everyone who made suggestions to Council about the report. The comments made are very helpful and will improve the quality of the report.
The drafting and completion of the report is a very important discipline to make sure that we are doing what we can to preserve and enhance the Heritage Area.
Visit to Hoani Waititi Marae
Together with the Henderson Massey and Whau local boards the Waitākere Ranges Board were welcomed onto Hoani Waititi Marae as a symbolic and important start to the political term.
The intent of the event was to introduce newly elected local board members to the Marae’s trustees and to re-establish relationships with returning members with the Marae’s leadership.
Thanks to Novi Marikena for organising this very important hui at short notice. There are plans under way to use the Marae for citizenship ceremonies and I hope this plan is finalised in the near future.
I attended the opening of Matuku Link’s accessible bridge and walkway. Minister and former westie Poto Williams was the guest of honour and noted accessibility activist and ratepayer from Swanson Shaz Davis gave the bridge and walkway a tick of approval.
The event highlighted the work that Matuku Link and its trustees, which include well known westies such as John Staniland, John Sumich and Annalily van den Broeke, have performed.
Matuku Link’s goal is to regenerate the 37 hectare block of land that it owns and to provide a vital connection between Ark in the Park, Habitat Te Henga and the Forest & Bird reserve Matuku.
So far it has performed an outstanding job.
The local board does what we can to support them and it is important that we continue to help them in their aim of restoring their part of the Waitākere River valley.
After a prolonged gap in proceedings these are now more or less back to normal. During the covid lockdowns there was an understandable hiatus. More recently there were the online virtual ceremonies but these lacked the intimacy of the face to face version.
The last couple that I have attended are mega affairs, with up to 300 candidates and supporters present.
What is really interesting is that more and more new kiwis are choosing to take their oaths of allegiance in Te Reo.
These are by far the most joyous civic occasion you can imagine. I strongly recommend them to all elected members.
Portage Ceramics Awards
After a Covid induced hiatus over the past couple of years the Portage Ceramics Awards has returned.
It appears that the hiatus has caused artistic abilities to have been bottled up and then released in a surge because the quality of the entries was outstanding. The Judge said that it was the most difficult contest he has ever had to judge and I can see why.
It was great to catch up with various members of the artistic community. Clearly people are wanting to get back to a more networked and more socially active life.
The event, as well as our inaugural reason, repeated my admiration of Te Uru Gallery. It really is an outstanding gallery and as intended it is nurturing and helping to drive artistic talent out west.
Open Studio weekend
Speaking about artistic talent out West the Open Studio Weekend event has again occurred. This year there were contributing artists than before and also there is now an online gallery where artist’s pieces can be purchased.
I recommend that you check it out and westie artists will be grateful for any and all purchases.
The local board have been proud supporters and funders of the event since 2016. I am sure that we will want to continue to support what is an important part of the local artistic calendar.