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.
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.
Many households and businesses have frustrations over the availability and quality of broadband in New Zealand. It seems to be taking forever for the fibre network and rural broadband initiatives to become available for many. The Otago Peninsula is no different and given its importance to the local economy as a tourism destination the need for better broadband coverage is becoming more apparent. At a broader level, business, education and community opportunities are being impeded by not having a reliable and accessible service.
No matter what scale business is, the opportunities that broadband provides are immense to improve productivity, the way people work and the way they promote their business. I was asked by the Peninsula Community Board to put together a submission to the Governments Digital Enablement Plan. The submission will be part of the Dunedin city Council’s citywide submission on broadband for Dunedin. I would have liked to have placed the direction of the submission from inquiry from the wider community, but time did not allow that. I’ve tried to provide a balance between business and community needs over the broadband issue so that everyone gets a fair degree of representation. I’m still very open to people contacting me if they have any thoughts or queries about the submission.
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 debate over the District Health Board’s proposal to use Auckland based food supply company Compass for hospital meals in Dunedin and Invercargill has caused significant anguish in the community. The proposal will see frozen meals only heated in Dunedin with the loss of about 20% of kitchen jobs run by the SDHB. The anguish the proposal has created in the community has centred around, food quality, loss of local supply, redundancies, and the 15 year contract period. While the SDHB has claimed that the proposal will provide $7 million of savings the community feels that those savings may not eventuate, and there is strong concern over the financial management of Compass.
What has become clear in the argument is the feeling that the community has lost control of the decision-making process and management of their own hospital resources, which will be controlled by a large multi-national company. There is a strong view in the community that the hospital is owned by the community for the community. At the recent Octagon protest many placards revealed “our hospital and “our kitchen” which shows just how strongly people identify with the resource in the city. The other point is the loss of jobs and supply contracts from local people, which has dismayed many, as region’s like Dunedin fight so hard to retain employment in their area.
Community’s and their citizens have very strong social and familial loyalties to where they come from and where they live. Those loyalties may embody other values including strength, commitment and positive parochial feelings of care or stewardship for the community and its institutions. Such characteristics should be maintained and nurtured to ensure a cohesive community that will care for its citizens and have citizens that care for one another. However, it seems that such values have become secondary to the financial gains that may accrue. As regional areas in New Zealand continue to struggle in the present climate, it’s all the more reason that we have faith in local people and local resources in our community.
The American Unionist Cesar Chavez once said “Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sake and for our own.” With the Dunedin City Council undertaking its “Draft Significance and Engagement Policy“ we might well consider just how we decide and disseminate our individual and collective aspirations. For any community that means having the ability to voice both its opinions and values in the local government environment so that they are heard and understood. Deciding what is a big or small issue is fraught with questions and problems. Competing interests within the community may have a wide range of views that are equally valid, but they may not necessarily align into a consensus. What is significant to you may not be important to someone else. Which is why being able to present your views is an important part of ensuring that community aspirations can be achieved or developed to meet its needs. The City Council’s draft strategy is an important process for Dunedin residents and one that everyone should look closely at. All residents should feel that such a policy will assist them in being heard, listened too and ultimately that decisions over issues large or small are transparent and fair. Feedback on this policy closes on Monday 10th November, so “don’t snooze and lose.”