WRLB end of term report 2022 – Three years of living strangely
At the end of last term I wrote a report titled “Three years of living dangerously”.
It was a chance to review what had occurred over the previous three years and to measure success against our goals.
As I shared the Chair’s roll with Saffron Toms this term I thought that I would repeat this effort but with a slightly different title. Because the past three years have been a blur and I have never experienced a political term like it.
In writing this I reviewed my speech that I gave at the start of the term. It seems like it was given a lifetime ago. And it also made me reflect what a profound effect Covid has had on our and Council’s activities.
In that speech I outlined eleven matters that I thought the board should concentrate on. These included:
1. Climate change. Every decision we make should have a climate change filter applied to it.
2. The marine environment. Our streams and lagoons should be clean and our beaches should always be swimmable.
3. The housing crisis. We should not have working people and their kids living in cars.
4. Glen Eden renewal. We need to kick on with the Civic square project and get Glen Eden ready for intensification and for the City Rail Link.
5. Kauri dieback. Work needs to continue on this scourge of the Waitakere Ranges.
6. Tree protection. Our advocacy and activism in this area must continue.
7. Weeds and pests. Titirangi is unfortunately known as the weed capital of the country. And the rest of the Ranges is also struggling to deal with this problem.
8. Arts and Culture. This term we wish to secure Shadbolt House as a writer’s residence.
9. Public Transport. If we are going to become truly sustainable then our PT needs to be outstanding. And the claw back of public transport from the rural area needs to stop and be reversed.
10. Development of the Te Henga Marae. This term I want to make sure there are no roadblocks to completion of this very important project for Te Kawerau a Maki.
11. Oversight role of the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area. This is one of our most important jobs.
In this report I will make some comments about Covid, review the goals that I outlined and then comment on other significant events that occurred during the term.
At the start of the term none of us had any idea how Covid would emerge from nowhere and then become the defining issue of this term. It appeared locally at the end of February 2020. Shortly after that a state of emergency was put in place and our activity as a local board went virtual. The organisation coped. From the comfort of our own homes we were able to continue with council’s business.
Initially there was much trepidation. But as things developed there was also so much to be proud of. The way that Council and local communities rallied around to make sure that everyone was looked after was tremendous. People were provided with food and there were calls made to older residents to make sure that they were ok. And from afar the efforts of Pacifica local government representatives in South Auckland in getting their populations vaccinated was inspiring.
These were almost instantaneous and clearly show that although there are benefits in Council’s reliance on services income to fund general activities there are also down sides.
Council was forced to cut heavily into existing budgets as income flows diminished rapidly.
One area that was affected was the local board’s transport capital fund. In March 2020 we were advised that “there is currently $1,505,453 left in the Board’s Local Board Transport Capital Fund (LBTCF) from the previous political term. The amount allocated for 2019 – 2022 is $2,019,339. A total of $3,524,792 is available.” But this soon disappeared.
The treatment of derivatives by Auckland Council received some media attention. Originally at my suggestion the local board called for an urgent review of Council’s approach to derivative dealings on the basis, they open up Council, in my view, to unacceptably high risk.
My attention was spiked when I looked through Council’s draft emergency budget. In the tables in the financial information was a figure of $400 million in derivative assets, compared to a potential liability of $1.8 billion appearing further down the page.
My reading of Council’s more recent accounts suggests that the situation has improved significantly, helped in no small measure by increasing interest rates. But I believe that an external review of the situation is appropriate.
Turning to our goals for this term …
The disruption caused by Covid and the associated budgetary pressures meant that we were not able to advance as quickly as we could on this most of important of issues. Our Transport Capital Fund initially disappeared. It then reappeared in a reduced amount and without the savings being carried over. We have a completed Greenways Plan but have only put in place some of the infrastructure. As our contribution to climate change and the need to improve rates of walking and cycling I believe that we need to have this completed by 2030. To do this will require significant extra resources, way more than currently appears to be available.
The local board is currently formulating a local climate action plan. We have sought comment from the community and intend to present a draft to be consulted on with the community.
The state of the Marine Environment has always been of importance to this local board. In 2016 it commissioned the Big Blue Report, a review of the state of our marine environment with the intention of driving improvements in water quality. Thanks to actions by Council but also by dedicated locals such as Deirdre Merle and Zoe Hawkings there have been pronounced improvements in water quality for Titirangi Beach and Laingholm Beach and their permanently closed statuses have been lifted.
The housing crisis
My impression is that this is slowly, perhaps too slowly, improving.
A number of new properties have come onto the market and recent stalling in house sale prices and rental levels is a strong indicator that the situation is ameliorating. But there is still much to do. Substandard housing wrecks young lives.
One example of housing intensification is the Manson Foundation apartments in Glen Eden, a mixture of private and social housing.
The local board considered that integration of new residents with the local community was important. We provided support to Jade Tang Taylor and her supporters for their Haere Mai project, designed to welcome new residents, particularly the apartment house residents, to the community.
There are a number of aspects to the project, a website, a mentoring system, a goodies bag containing information about the area, local businesses and groups, and things to do.
Ideally all local major developments will receive similar treatment. I believe this is an important role for the board.
The development is the sort that our future needs. It is next to the Glen Eden train station and the buildings are energy efficient.
Housing Call to Action, which performs incredibly important work in the area of housing, continues to receive funding and support.
Glen Eden renewal
I am afraid that this is on hold because of budget pressures. Our one local initiative, which involves the creation of a town square, is on hold pending budget being located. This does not appear to be likely soon.
Various tracks were reopened during this term. The structures are significant. Some do not like them because they have changed what used to be an experience totally immersed in nature into one where this experience is reduced. I accept that this is a regrettable effect but given the threat posed by Kauri dieback to the Kauri forest one that is necessary.
The release of the recent Kauri Dieback Health Monitoring Survey Report gave some reason for cautious optimism with an enhanced survey technique now in place and with confirmation that the heart of the Waitakere Ranges appears to be dieback free at this stage. The use of phosphite to hold the disease at bay in diseased trees shows promise. But continued monitoring and care is still required.
The Local Board continued to advocate for proper tree protection and a proposal from the Board that the RMA restrictions on District Plan rules protecting trees be reversed found support from Local Government New Zealand. But in my view current tree protection rules are less than optimal.
The clearest example involved the Waima Treatment Plant.
The local board took an extensive interest in Watercare’s application for resource consent to fell four hectares of Waitakere Forest for the construction of a water treatment plant.
The application raised a number of ecological issues, on of the most significant being 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 Waima valley. Every time it rains spores will be washed through the valley in an area that has significant groves of magnificent Kauri.
At the hearing I asked what a safe for Kauri 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 kilometres 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 consent was granted although the Board expressed the view that the application was “finely balanced”.
It is currently before the Environment Court by way of appeal.
Weeds and pests
This term through various grants including that to Pest Free Waitakere the Board again applied considerable resource to this most pressing of problems.
Arts and Culture
The west and Titirangi in particular has for a long time been a haven for artists. The area that I live used to be the home of such luminaries as Len Castle, Colin McCahon and Maurice Shadbolt.
It was very pleasing that the Board’s long-term project to have Maurice Shadbolt House to be developed with the assistance of the Going West Trust as a writers residence finally realised.
As Sandra Coney has said the creations of our local artists are not just “nice to have”, but create a sense of place, enhance our appreciation of where we live by showing them through new eyes, and give us space to feed our souls.
Our semi regular catch ups with all of the local artistic groups were inspiring and showed clearly to me how important arts are to the West. And how important it is that Council support for these entities continues.
The board’s view that there should be provision of public transport to rural areas was affected by budget cuts. Hoped for services to Piha and to Huia did not eventuate. Recent Central Government announcements give some hope that funding may be found in the near future.
Development of Te Henga Marae
This term saw the formal transfer of land at Te Henga to Te Kawarau a Maki for the construction of what they describe will be an Eco Marae. The building of the new Marae within the tribe’s heartland is crucial to the social and cultural renaissance of the iwi. I look forward to the day that the Marae is opened, and I hope to be there.
Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area
There are three more recent significant developments relating to the Heritage Area.
1. The EDS report published at the end of 2020 suggests that the Act is working reasonably well but the focus of the Act needs to shift to enhancing and restoring the ecological health of the Heritage Area. It advocated for dedicated funding from Auckland Council to support restoration efforts. Most importantly an independent oversight and implementation entity is needed which would be responsible for overseeing the implementation of local area plans and Heritage Area monitoring, and to champion the area and lead restoration on behalf of the public.
2. RMA reforms pose a potential threat. On behalf of the local board I wrote earlier to the Minister emphasising the importance that any changes should not adversely affect the Heritage Area Act. The WRHA relies heavily on RMA concepts and changes to those concepts could have undesirable effects.
3. The third Monitoring Report is currently under way and will give us a longer-term view of the effects of the Act and current trends and threats.
As well as these areas there were lots of other events of interest.
The water crisis
After the wettest winter on record the water crisis has been well and truly solved, at lest for now. But we still need to change our relationship with water and with the way that we use water and get ready for the next drought.
The board has historically taken the position that unless the case is compelling land currently in Council’s ownership should be retained in Council’s ownership. Clearly budget pressures have increased the incidence and likelihood of sales.
A local example shows how sales can be short sighted.
A nearby example at 265 West Coast Road provides a classic history of how privatisation can work out.
The land was sold originally by the Crown in the 1990s for less than $150,000 and then leased to Council. Near the end of the lease’s term a few years ago the yearly rental paid was the same as the amount gained from the sale. The QV of the land is now $1.775 million. And instead of the section being the centre of Glen Eden’s future development there is a gas station on it.
I drafted local board feedback on this issue. The following is the essence of the submission:
“We acknowledge that there is an affordable housing crisis in Auckland that needs to be addressed urgently. We also support in general the construction of Kiwibuild homes to address a clear shortfall in the housing market.
However we do not consider that use of the fast track consenting process is appropriate in the circumstances and submit that it would be more appropriate for the project, or part of the project, to go through the standard consenting or designation process under the Resource Management Act 1991 (see section 23(5)(b) of the COVID-19 Recovery (Fast-track Consenting) Act 2020.
The reasons for this are generally set out in Council’s planning advice but include the following:
1. The land is zoned Residential Single House Zone under the Auckland Unitary Plan. This generally provides for development to “be of a height, bulk and form that maintains and is in keeping with the character and amenity values of the established residential neighbourhood”. This development would be of a unique scale for the area.
2. We note Council’s preliminary view that the application should be dealt with on a notified basis. The fast track process should not be used to facilitate an application that should otherwise receive the benefit of public input.
3. We have mixed views about parking requirements. Some of us are concerned that insufficient consideration has been given to carparks, particularly for visitors as well as the lack of provision for laundry services.
4. There is some support for the community hub concept in the proposal.
5. We are concerned about protecting provision of open space in the area, particularly for children. The development is opposite Parrs Park but this park is already heavily utilised. Also West Coast Road is busy and would pose a danger to young children trying to cross.
The application was granted, and the houses are being constructed at some speed.
Glen Eden safety project
This was one of the more testing projects this term. The rationale for the project was clear. All you needed to do is see the map showing fatal and serious injury accidents and the placement of the safety measures became clear.
The works caused a lot of disruption at the time but things have since settled down. Traffic through the township is now slower. More work will be required in the future. In particular the interaction of traffic and the rail lines on Glenview Road will only get worse with increasing rail frequency and undergrounding will need to be considered at some stage.
Captain Scott cycleway
This also attracted a lot of attention and some local dissent. The intent was to join up an existing cycleway that runs through Ceramco Park and the back of Glen Eden through to the village and also to make this road safer.
Some residents were concerned with the removal of parking spaces, others with the amenity of the project.
It was discontinued after it was clear there was no funding for a permanent solution and no funding to continue with the trial.
Throughout the city cycleways have been opposed. But if the Transport Emissions Reduction Plan goals are to be met they will be an important contributor.
Opening of Rangatu Playground
This occurred recently and went very well with well over a hundred children including my granddaughter enjoying the playground. It made me reflect on how important playgrounds are, especially to young families and in intensified areas. With current levels of intensification planned the provision of playgrounds is going to be more important than ever.
Finally, no review of this term could occur without mention of Titirangi’s chickens.
As covid surged internationally a local story attracted international attention. It was strange but for a short period of time I suspect that I was receiving more international media attention than Jacinda Ardern …
The story was about Titirangi’s chickens numbers increasing.
Just after the first lockdown finished Seven Sharp ran a light-hearted piece in which I featured about the re-emergence of chickens in Titirangi post Covid. Then the Guardian ran with the issue and I was interviewed and provided some comments.
The author Stephen King (yes the real Stephen King) tweeted the link to the Guardian’s article which had the headline “‘Like a Stephen King movie’: feral chickens return to plague New Zealand village”. The reference to him was from a comment made by a local.
The Guardian article trended for quite a while and was among its most popular articles.
Canadian media also picked up on the issue. Media requests came thick and fast.
The stories were all quite funny and had the theme that since New Zealand can beat Covid 19 why can’t we beat a bunch of feral chickens? I was happy to be the subject of some levity given what the rest of the world was going through. I really preferred living in Titirangi over the past few years despite the roosters.
The recent resurgence in numbers attracted further media attention and I was then interviewed on morning TV by Duncan Garner. That morning was very quiet and still. We did the sound checks and everything was working fine. Just as we crossed live a nearby rooster chose to spark up and crow loudly through the duration of the interview, perfectly highlighting the nature of the problem …
The chicken situation is improved although I still get complaints from sleep deprived locals. And it seems clear to me that recent additions to the flock have been dropped off in the area. Council is continuing to take action from time to time as the numbers escalate.
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