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.
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.
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?
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 that “access 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?
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.
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.
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.