The 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.
However, 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.
The Tomahawk Community have expressed long-term concerns over the removal of sand from the beach. In 2015 I met with the Otago Regional Council to discuss those issues and to ask them to provide more information on the issue. One of the things they have agreed is to make their monitoring reports available to me at the Board and the community. For the benefit of the community I have provided the relevant documents here for people to view and disseminate. I’m not going to comment publicly on the issue, but would be interested to hear from the community further on the issue. One further thing, is that in order for the contractor to enter the beach they must cross a section of reserve, hence the City Council must issue a lease document.
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.
I’ve never liked seeing things go to waste. Especially when those things can be used again by someone else or redesigned for another purpose. It’s probably why I have a garage full of “junk” or as I like to call it “things that might come in handy one day.“ Now I’m just talking about small stuff, nuts, bolts, door latches and bits of timber, but lately I’ve seen a much bigger issue of waste that has been frustrating Tomahawk for more than three years.
in 2012 the Dunedin City Council purchased the Tomahawk School site from the Ngai Tahu for $300,000. The school had been closed by the Ministry of Education in 2010 and the property sold by the Crown. The 2012 purchase by the Council was made as part of the Coastal Dune Reserves Management Plan process, creating a required level of protection for adjacent dunes. However, it appears that coastal protection was not the only reason for the purchase by the Council. It would be fair to say that those reasons have become considerably muddled. On one hand there is the thought that the land and school are a community asset. While on the other there was a view within Council that it was essential to buy the property to stop subdivision and consequent residential development on coastal land into 15 properties with 15 houses.
During the last 3 years and the years leading up to the purchase, the community have expressed an interest in using the school building for a community centre and possibly restoring the old pool. The pool building is now a wreck with repeated vandalism and damage to the roof by high winds. However, despite attempts, including from the Community Board to get this process underway there have been constant delays and effectively little or no further dialogue on the matter. Meanwhile, the buildings have been boarded over and the community locked out of them.
I took the opportunity to visit the Tomahawk School site recently to satisfy my own curiosity and while I was there I met with a member of the community. The buildings are boarded up, however one of the side doors was open and with a pocket torch I took the opportunity to have a look inside. The main area of the school was warm and dry and I was surprised at the good condition of this area of the building and its carpeting. The eastern side of toilets and administration rooms has a flat roof and there is water damage in this area that has left the floor wet and the pinex ceilings collapsed in places. What struck me about the school site is what a great facility it is for the community and what a positive contribution it and its grounds make in the area.
It puzzles me that the City Council would purchase a property for $300,000 in 2012 and not ensure that a major capital asset is weather-tight. It also puzzles me that the City Council never thought to ensure an adequate budget for maintenance of the building. Frankly, it’s a shameful waste of capital that will place significant financial strain on both the Council and the Community if the roof issues are not resolved quickly. It is my understanding that the City Council have been aware of the condition of the water-tightness since late 2012 and early 2013. The question I’d ask here is why nothing has been to done to secure the building properly in that time? Perhaps, the muddled thinking between coastal conservation and community needs are a clue. I would hate to think that this is a case of “demolition by neglect.”
At the time of purchase it was quoted in the Otago Daily Times that “the property was a community asset, one residents were most positive about” and that it “means a lot to the local Tomahawk community.” Both quotes from that report are quite right but given the delays and the degradation of the buildings the City Council are letting the community down badly. Its worse when you consider the wasteful use of ratepayers money and the likelihood that the community may not have the resources to bring it back from the brink. This is why I hate waste, because it’s so unnecessary, inefficient and it robs our community of opportunity in places like Tomahawk and other community’s. Just when will the City Council protect its $300,00 ratepayer investment is something that needs answering.
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?
Its 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.
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.
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.
The District Plan is an extremely important document for Dunedin. It outlines the future direction of the city in regards to development, business, housing and the environment. The Resource Management Act 1991 requires a district plan to have;
Objectives for the district
Policies to implement the objectives
Rules to implement the policies.
It’s a crucial document to the city, but it’s also one that people need to take notice of and understand how its rules, policies and objectives might affect them. It may change what you can do on your property or the activities that you can undertake. With this in mind its imperative that everyone takes notice of the district plan and participates in the submission process. if there is something that you don’t like about the plan and you don’t submit on that issue, that section could become operative and its much harder to change.
I urge everyone to look at the proposed 2GP and at the least look at the maps to ascertain any changes to your property or community. The community only has until Tuesday, November 24 2015 to finalise their submissions.
Roading issues occupy a significant part of your time when living on the Otago Peninsula. The slip at Turnbull’s Bay has been a long period of inconvenience that the community have been very patient with as the repairs near their end. This photograph from the Peninsula Museum illustrates just how much has changed over 100 years since it was taken.
Our first experiences of the environment and biodiversity usually come from our early explorations as children in our backyard and local community. It’s the beginning of our awareness of the natural world and an important step into our understanding of the world around us. The Dunedin City Council has recently presented Te Ao Turoa – The Natural World as a draft environmental strategy for the City. The proposed strategy lo sets out themes, objectives and priorities for the management of the Dunedin Environment.
I was asked to write a submission on the proposed strategy on behalf of the Otago Peninsula Community Board. Strategy documents like this one are highly aspirational, they aspire to high level objectives and priorities. There’s nothing wrong with this as it’s designed to give some direction in a very complicated issue, but the real test of these kinds of documents lies in how they are going to be implemented and funded. The other part of that test is whether the organisation that develops the strategy can ensure that it becomes part of the broader corporate culture of that organisation at all levels. This is a particularly critical aspect for its success.
My submission on behalf of the Community Board dealt specifically with the effects of the strategy on the Otago Peninsula. Implementation, communication and the ability of the strategy to be assimilated into the contractual, legal and policy landscape were major themes of that submission. The other aspect of the submission was the acknowledgement of community, business and human resources in the management and conservation of the environment needs deeper consideration. This is directly relevant to the Peninsula as our landscape and environment is so highly reliant on people who act as guardians and stewards of this unique place. It’s always difficult to synthesize such a daunting topic as the environment in a few succinct pages of a submission. The scale of the topic and its complexities means that you always feel as though there’s something you’ve missed out. I imagine that the strategy process will be an evolutionary one as submissions come in from a wide range of people around the city with widely different views.
The recent Representation Review undertaken by the Dunedin City Council will see major changes to Community Boards across the city. For the Otago Peninsula that means we have lost the Tomahawk area from the Otago Peninsula and next year may lose two of the Board’s members. This appears to be part of a longer term plan by the City Council to abolish Community Boards all together. For me its deeply disappointing to lose part of our community from what has been a traditional part of the Peninsula for more than 150 years. I’ve heard arguments from urban people who areas with Community Boards essentially get two types of representation. To some degree that’s true, but when I look around the city there’s actually a good argument for having more board’s to represent people in urban areas. Take South Dunedin for example, what might an active Community Board have done for this suburb? Perhaps it might not still be waiting after many years for a library to be built.
The other aspect of the Representation Review that I’ve found concerning is the question of value to the community from having a board. 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. The trouble with this option is how can the community or the Council actually know whether any one group actually represent the views of any given community? Communities are funny things, often its the squeaky wheel or the loudest voice that is heard first. Sometimes, that’s not always fair and there are examples of local groups claiming to represent the views of the community when they have no such mandate. This is where Community Boards come to the fore, because they are elected bodies with rules around conflicts of interest and representation. They are not serving their own interest, but the collective interest of their communities.
The loss of Community Boards has serious consequences for governance and representational democracy in Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula. More importantly it is breaking up the traditional areas and communities of our city.
The flooding of South Dunedin and damage to roads and other infrastructure have been a timely reminder of the vulnerability of community’s to such events. Now that the city is in “recovery” mode and people dry out their homes it’s also a time to take stock of how well the community responded and coped during trying circumstances. On the Otago Peninsula the biggest issue is the fragility of the road network in adverse weather. This is exacerbated by the unstable structure of the landscape, and the area was closed off at various stages during the flooding period. Largely, homes and buildings were unaffected other than in a few places and when compared to the desperate plight of people in the South Dunedin area our residents probably got off quite lightly. Not all were so lucky like the Yellow Penguin Trust nursery that suffered a major loss through flood waters push through the site. By far the biggest thing on the Peninsula and the City was that fortunately there was no loss of life.
During such events its critical for the community to rally together, helping families, friends and neighbours in any way we can. Communication and information is key to making the right decisions in difficult times, when circumstances may bring you into a situation that is unique and often dangerous. The Peninsula is very fortunate that we have good networks of communication that keep people updated and informed. As a Community Board member I see that as one of my primary roles during such events and I utilise any method of communication I can to do this. However, sometimes a good old-fashioned trudge in the mud to your neighbour’s house is just as important.
Being prepared around the home for any event is also important and like many I’ve been looking at my preparedness for food, water, heat and communication. It’s never too late to take stock and think about how you might cope in situations of adversity. The Peninsula road network probably came through the flooding as well as it could do in the circumstances. Slips and road damage will certainly be trying for residents over coming months and the City Council will have quite a large job on their hands to remedy some areas. It will require patience and care from the community for things to get back to normal.