Category Archives: Macandrew Bay

Power to the Pupils

Participation in local government, particularly in elections should be looked upon as one of our great shames. With only 42% of eligible New Zealand voters bothering to cast a ballot in Council elections, we only have ourselves to blame when decisions are made that we may not approve of or support. Just why we are so apathetic when it comes to voting for the people who raise our rates, dog registrations and pool fees is as mysterious as the Bermuda Triangle. Our apathy in participating in local government processes is deeply concerning given the deep reach that Council’s have into out lives and our pockets. Recently, my 19 year old student daughter was home from her flat and the topic of the national elections came up. My wife and I were horrified when she said she wasn’t enrolled and probably wouldn’t bother to vote! What kind of monster had we raised, or had our real daughter been abducted by aliens? Understandably, there were harsh words in the Pope family, accusatory finger wagging and eventually a promise to get enrolled which she did. It’s not just young people who are apathetic about government and its processes, how often have I heard people say they won’t participate because “they won’t listen anyway.” My argument to that pearl, is that it may take a few attempts, but eventually you will prevail.

I raise our apathy about local government because the City Council is now working towards the 2021-2031 Long Term Plan and Council is beginning the process of asking what are our priorities. Similarly, Community Boards are working on those priorities in their Community Plans for presentation to Council on behalf of their communities. Its too easy for the community to allow the Board to act and speak for them, when actually Board’s need vocal people to support them. If we all don’t actively participate in this process we may miss out on seeing our community needs met or worse. With participation so important it was a great pleasure to have representatives of the three Peninsula schools at our recent Community Board meeting. Their presentations were intelligent and insightful, and they focused on a great range of topics that affect them in our Peninsula community. The Board was very impressed with their ideas and they have set a standard for the rest of the community.

(Written for The Star Community Voice, 1st October 2020) 

Taking a Breather

In early May all Community Board Chairs were asked by The Star, If you could have just one thing from your board area included in the 2020-21 Annual Plan, what would it be, and why?”  In the Board’s submission to the Dunedin City Council’s 2020 Annual Plan it was clear that we needed to adjust in light of the Covid-19 pandemic and level 3&4 lock-down. Job and business losses meant that there was likely to be hardship in the community and it needed to be softened. Couple that that with the likelihood of significant power price increases due to Aurora’s management and the community were going to be placed in a very difficult financial position. As Board Chair I wrote the following reply to The Star, saying that in lieu of a 6.5% rates increase and a 3% increase in fees and charges the community needed;

A financial breathing space from rates and fee increases to soften the effects of the Covid-19 virus for our families and businesses.” 

The Otago Peninsula is now in a significantly different world, where the pandemic has irrevocably changed the business, educational and social structures of our community. The collapse of the tourism industry is devastating for the Peninsula and the Dunedin economy. As families and businesses face uncertainty over employment and viability, many face difficult decisions and tough times. It’s the Boards view that our community needs at least a 12-month period to allow people to recover mentally, financially and physically from the effects of the pandemic. This means not adding to their financial pressures, but allowing people to steadily rebuild and gain confidence in their futures. It doesn’t stop the City Council from continuing with its planned activities around infrastructure construction and maintenance, but defers some things for 12 months while we all take a breath and plan ahead.

Waitangi Day at Otakou

When you live on the Otago Peninsula you are living in a rich cultural and historical landscape that extends over the many generations whose descendants are part of our community today. The Peninsula sits on a crossroads of historical people and events that defines not only our community but gives its name Otakou to the very region we live in. I’m always reminded of this at the Waitangi Day celebrations held recently at Otakou Marae. The celebrations held every three years at Otakou are an important reminder that the Treaty document was actually signed here in June, 1840 as it was taken around the country on the naval vessel H.M.S Herald for signing by other chiefs. The history of the Treaty in New Zealand has not always been a happy one and even today we still must face up to the realities of its requirements and acknowledge its place in the way we live together. Significantly, we should be reminded that it is a foundation of partnership and a pathway to lead us forward collectively and individually.

Bharatanatyam dancers from Natyaloka School of Indian Dance at Otakou Marae

One of the things I enjoy about Waitangi Day at Otakou is that I meet old acquaintances I don’t see very often, and I meet new people I have not met before. In the warm embrace of the marae the opportunity to enjoy the company of people is a highlight for me. The cultural celebrations of the many different organisations at Otakou were a wonderful addition to this year’s event. What impressed me was that many of the participants in those groups were young people, who were proud of who they were and where they come from. There is a lesson to be learned from that and a reminder that it will be those young people who will carry the mantle of partnership into the future.

Dunedin North or South? Boundary Politics

The New Zealand Electoral Commission has announced that the Dunedin South and North electorate boundaries are to be changed. Big deal you might say, how will this affect the Otago Peninsula? The proposal is to remove all of the Otago Peninsula from Ocean Grove to Taiaroa Head from Dunedin South electorate and add it to Dunedin North.

The NZ Electoral commission are required under the Electoral Act (1993) to use a complex population formula based on our previous flawed census of 2018 to ensure electorates are spread evenly by quota. In the case of Dunedin South the Otago Peninsula’s current electorate is “6.6% below quota and must gain population. Population of 12,200 is added from Clutha-Southland including Milton, Balclutha, Kaitangata and Lawrence. Dunedin South loses population of 8,000 from the Otago Peninsula to Dunedin North.” On the face of it that seems fair and reasonable, but if you look carefully at the report it says “Dunedin North is 5.8% below quota and must gain population. Population of 8,000 is added from Dunedin South including the Otago Peninsula. Dunedin North loses population of 2,500 to Waitaki including Palmerston, Hampden and Herbert, bringing the northern boundary to the Dunedin City Council boundary.” In a nutshell the Electoral Commission are “robbing Peter to Paul” to ensure the population quota is balanced.

What is deeply concerning about these proposed changes for the Otago Peninsula is that they pay no heed to our traditional cultural, strategic, economic or social connections with our area. In December I wrote to Electoral Commission asking that these changes not proceed. They will cut us off from the areas that are traditionally part of our community. These changes are contrary to the needs and current position of the Peninsula community and will disadvantage our area quite significantly.

The Otago Peninsula is a broad area of diverse communities running from Tomahawk to Taiaroa Head. Our region has always been traditionally recognised politically, economically and socially as a unique regional entity. As Dunedin city has developed and travel has changed, our community has become more reliant on the services, economy, recreation and social connections within the Dunedin South area. Peninsula intermediate and secondary school children all mainly attend schools within the Dunedin South area and this is too is a major part of the social connection our community has in this area. It seems completely counter-intuitive to move the people who shop, bank, undertake business, play sport and educate their children in the Dunedin South electorate to one that they have no connection too.

One part of the Peninsula community particularly at risk from these proposed electorate changes is the community of Tomahawk. Tucked between the beginning of South Dunedin and the southern end of the Otago Peninsula this community has fiercely fought electorate reform before so as to continue to be considered part of the Otago Peninsula Community Board area. These electorate changes will disenfranchise this community from effective representation by placing them in an electorate that has no connection to them geographically or socially.

As the Otago Peninsula Community Board Chairman, I oppose these proposed electorate changes most strongly. We rely heavily on the Dunedin South area as our natural link with Dunedin City and more importantly as a part of that community. Common-sense must prevail here, and rather than have lines drawn on maps in Wellington genuine representatives of the community must be listened to for the good of our community.

The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round

The announcement of the review of the Dunedin City Council Book Bus service is a pertinent reminder to all Otago Peninsula residents of the importance of local services. The review should be treated as an opportunity by the community to consider modernising the services that the Book Bus can supply. These should include WiFi, online services and wider Council customer services. Submissions close on the 27th May 2017 and can be done online or on hard-copy from clicking the link here.

The book bus in the 1970’s was decorated by children from Portobello School.

Food for Thought

Hospital Protest

Photo Credit – Peter Yates

I recently attended the protest regarding the standard of food on a wet Friday afternoon outside of the Dunedin Hospital. I went because a lady from my Community Board area has been seriously ill in hospital and her family have been bringing in meals from home to help build up her strength. Her grandson plays rugby with my son so I’ve been hearing from the family about how her treatment and care has been going on the sidelines lately. To my surprise I saw her in a wheelchair wrapped in a blanket with her family at the protest. I couldn’t help but admire her for taking a stand despite the fact that she has been so dreadfully ill.

In an earlier post I wrote (The Community Compass) that one of the issues with the food problems at the hospital is that local people feel they have lost control of the decision-making process. There is a strong view in the community that the hospital is owned by the community for the community. However, In light of the removal of the SDHB Board by the current government this has become even more pronounced.

One of the biggest disappointments at Fridays protest was the absence of local City Councillors. This was not lost on the crowd who attended, especially when the Mayor of Invercargill, Tim Shadbolt spoke. While its true that the City Council has no control over the management of healthcare in Dunedin, hospital services impact on the well-being of the city on social, economic and community levels. These impacts are also part of the governance and leadership role of the Council in its management of the city. Take for example the impact of employment in the city through the hospital and the flow on effects of that employment on our local economy. The importance of the hospital as a teaching facility for the Medical School is another area important to the city’s economy and its prestige as an educational leader both nationally and internationally. Finally, there is the desirability of Dunedin as a place to live, work and to do business in because we have quality healthcare facilities available. All of these factors impact on the Council’s ability to manage, promote and develop Dunedin at a range of levels. Its time that the Council understood that and acted.

In my opinion, the food issue is a symptom of a much greater problem in healthcare, especially in the way that services are provided in regional centres like Dunedin. Healthcare services transcend political affiliations. All of us at some time in our lives will have whanau, friends and neighbours who will need treatment and care. This returns us back to the fact that this is an issue of how local people have lost the ability to manage the services they require in their own community.

Wind Blown Dust and Dirt

Highcliff TreeThe recent gale force winds that ripped through the city last week were a bleak reminder of just how vulnerable we all are in the face of natural storm events. With damage to infrastructure, power outages and road closures our ability to be resilient in the face of such events was sorely tested. On the Otago Peninsula the storm saw Portobello Road lashed with surging seas that caused flooding and minor slipping. The miracle was that the road was kept opened and some credit must be given to the very busy contract crews for their work.

Highcliff SlipHowever, the closure of the alternative Highcliff Rd route is of major concern as we approach winter. The isolation of the Peninsula and its vulnerability to road closures have been well recorded in recent years. By good fortune the alternative routes at Castlewood and Highcliff Roads have been well used during post storm clean ups of slips on Portobello Road. Since the June 2015 floods the Highcliff Road route has been closed and it has caused significant problems and anxiety for the community. The City Council has announced (ODT 14th March) that the Highcliff slip will be tendered shortly. While its easy to criticize Council for the length of time its taken to get to this point, last weeks gales are a poignant reminder of just how urgent this work is for the community. Let’s hope its done very soon.

Review of the Year

Its been a busy year for myself and the Peninsula Community Board with a variety of issues and projects. I never find being on the Board a chore because there’s always something interesting to be done or a new people to meet. I’ve always been a problem-solver so being on the Board is actually an enjoyable challenge. I’m looking forward to 2016 because I feel I have more to offer and do for the community. Some of those issues include;

  • The 2GP and how the final issues around hazard management and rural are resolved for regions like the Peninsula.
  • Tomahawk School and the ongoing need to ensure the community have a say in the way these Council assets are managed.
  • Tomahawk Lagoon and the way the ORC manage the water quality and levels for the welfare of the community.
  • Roading projects around the Peninsula including the re-opening of Highcliff Road.
  • Sand dune management in places like Tomahawk and Okia.
  • Supporting the Te Rauone community to complete their beach management project.
  • Reviewing how effective the new freedom camping bylaw has been.
  • Continuing to advocate for better broadband and rural internet access.

2015

Community Groups & Representation

Meeting

Community groups are dynamic and interesting

I’ve been actively involved with community groups for nearly 25 years. I’ve worked with them professionally in a range of roles and issues as well as stepping up in my own community and actively taking part in many of them. They’re an interesting dynamic, some are enthusiastic,  positive and embrace new challenges. Others, have very set goals and  objectives and seldom deviate from that path. Perhaps the biggest challenge is a community’s ability to develop effective co-ordination and communication between various agencies and local government. Often it is one of the most frustrating things for community groups who can see local government as an impediment to decision-making in the community. How many times do you see in the media, frustrations vented by community groups over what appear to be officious and unnecessary rules? It raises the question, how well does local government actually listen and engage with its community?

One of the strengths of Community Boards has been the direct line of communication that they provide between governance and the community. Most importantly they have been able to filter out the differences between vested interests and regional needs through their own understanding of the dynamics of the community. It’s not a perfect system by any means, but its a model that has worked very successfully. In my previous post “Democracy Divided”  I was critical of the City Council’s decision to gradually break Community Board’s down and move away from local representation. I made the comment in that post that it appears that the long-term plan will be to disestablish boards from all communities, and have community groups act as conduits with the City Council. In essence this is a type of community privatisation, where private groups will represent the needs of their community and compete for the small amount of funding in that sector.” There are some fundamental issues with this model, notwithstanding that community groups may not actually represent the views or interests of the community they fain to represent. 

The Otago Daily Times has confirmed my view recently with the  announcement by the Dunedin City Council that it intends “encouraging the creation of more geographically-related community groups across Dunedin, and giving those groups the skills and knowledge to get the most out of the council system.”  The article goes further that the City Council wishes to  establish a system to make it easier for community groups to get results” and thataccess to advice would be particularly useful for projects such as roading and infrastructure, projects community groups had traditionally found to be difficult.”  What such a statement reveals is that the City Council is clearly failing in its own obligations to communicate projects, plans and policies to the wider community. This is significant given that the Council’s annual budget for Economic Development and City Promotion is $15 million. Clearly the question here is, what is this budget being used for and why is the communication that comes out of it failing if people are unaware of Council activities?

MeetingIts become clear that the City Council are reinventing the wheel for community engagement with the abolition of Community Boards and passing on that role to specific groups. Yet, it’s also clear that the City Council are not looking at why their engagement to date has failed outside of areas that have Community Boards. Which raises another important question, would it not be more useful and probably more successful to develop urban Community Boards to improve the Council’s representation? A final question is, in a city of 120,000 people and 14 City Councillors just how well are those Councillors providing information to their constituents, and is this a case where the so-called “super ward” doesn’t actually provide the level of representation required?

As I raised earlier community groups are an interesting dynamic that have a variety of causes, motivations and membership. With this in mind one of my biggest concerns over the City Councils plans is the question of community and representational equity. The limited and competitive funding base for community groups has shrunk over recent years and this trend does not seem to be easing. Which raises further questions about what funding model the City Council would use to implement this plan? From the newspaper article its clear that the City Council may well have to fund additional staffing to ensure the proposal works, but that doesn’t include the annual operating costs that community groups will undoubtedly have. With often stringent criteria for external funding it seems unlikely national and local funding groups are likely to want to fund community groups purely on the basis that they are privatised conduits for Council information services and representation. Importantly too, it seems doubtful that community’s will want a group whose sole focus is the dissemination of Council information and not developing individual projects that meet the community’s needs.

Community Views

The views of one group may not be the views of the community

One of the biggest issues with this proposal is transparency. Community Boards are generally not agenda driven, but driven by service to the community through an electoral process and the confines of the City’s Long Term Plan. That means that Board members are accountable to the constituents of their district in their decision-making. Community groups are not accountable in the same way. In fact they are only accountable to their membership, which may not be an inclusive representation of the district that they come from. This can be seriously divisive in the community, where people can feel disenfranchised and distanced from those who hold the information, funding and ultimately the power. Other concerns over such a model must be the relationship that the City Council has with a community group. A group who has the “ear of the Council” will be able to forward their agenda or philosophy as the “dominant” view of the community, when often the views within a community are far more complex. There’s also a real danger that groups who hold with a prevailing philosophy popular with Council, may be more likely to be successful with funding and support. That could lead to an inequitable distribution of resources that is politically driven, rather than being based on community need.

South Dunedin

Community representation should be fair, equitable and transparent

Finally, there is the question of social equity and the ability to ensure that each community within a district can manage and sustain community aspirations through their local groups. It’s clear to me that poorer community’s and ones without leadership are often the ones who miss out on funding and resources where its most needed. Socio-economic pressures and education within some districts will limit the ability of people in those areas to organise and rally their community. Well educated and well organised community’s are far more likely to be able to be proactive in the promotion of their needs. Coupled with this concern is also how the community and Council will deal with recruitment, group failures, generational change and even an unwillingness of some communities to engage with the process.  From my perspective and with my experience, there are significant failings in this scheme by the City Council. Perhaps most worrying is that the City Council seem to want to “manufacture” community groups and leadership to cope with their own failings in consultation and engagement. It simply doesn’t work that way, groups form around central issues that are affecting a community or neighbourhood. They are largely issues-based organisations that evolve into wider entities or disappear once the issue is resolved. By all means we should support and nurture groups within the community, but it must be in a transparent and equitable way.