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.
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.
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.
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 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.”
I’m just not convinced that city councillors fully understand the freedom camping issue on the Peninsula (ODT). Undertaking “Bylaw by trial” is not what’s required here and its a poor alternative to appropriate policy based on real evidence and research. The other issue is the fallacy that “there must be a demand” because of the people using Macandrew Bay as a camping site. That’s like saying all students are drunks because of the broken glass in the street. By creating the site at Macandrew Bay the Bylaw has artificially created the demand because the Council have offered something that is free and available. If you’re a traveller why would you pay when you can have something for free? In the 20 years I’ve lived on the Peninsula, freedom camping has never been so bad since the liberalisation of the new bylaw. I also don’t buy into the notion that these types of visitors won’t use a campground anyway. There’s no freedom camping allowed by Lakes District Council in Queenstown unless you’re in a self contained vehicle, and even then sites are restricted. So where do they go? You can’t tell me that many of the visitors that turn up in Dunedin don’t visit the Queenstown area. So they must use accommodation providers when they’re there, surely.
The other big “myth” about freedom camping is its contribution to the local economy. I say it’s a myth because even tourism authorities can’t actually place a value on what it contributes to the economy. Which leads me back to my first comment that policy decisions need empirical evidence and with the bylaw trial we’re not seeing that research being done. I’m not talking about a basic count of numbers, I’m talking about actual rates of camper’s consumption of services and attractions vs. cost, understanding choice selection of services and service demand. Without that economic information the bylaw is largely a hopeful punt, which in its present form isn’t doing our community any great service.
As to the notion of a “DoC” style camping ground I’m quite dubious about this option as a real solution. Should the Council be competing with the private sector in the accommodation market? Does it actually have the funds to create such an option? Looking at the present Annual Plan I’d have to say it probably doesn’t have the capital to do so. Which leads you back to the private sector option. If the demand for a “DoC” style freedom camping site is so high as we’re led to believe, why hasn’t an investor in the private sector taken up the challenge? Quite simply I’d say because the returns on such an investment are not that economic. Which means that if the Council were to create such an area they would be creating a ratepayer subsidised camping ground. So not only would it be in direct competition with the private sector, but it would actually need to subsidise the service with ratepayers money to make it work. That’s not good economics for either the private sector or the ratepayer, especially when we have no idea what freedom camping actually contributes to the local economy. The alternative and fairer approach would be to work with private sector accommodation providers to look at a commercial option to solve the problem. The other issue though is that freedom camping is not just a problem for the Peninsula community. It’s actually an issue for the whole city, so any type of campground option needs to meet the needs of the city at a strategic level.
I don’t have all the answers, but I would say that resourcing staff in the enforcement aspect of this issue is in need of a review and that would certainly be a good start. We’ve seen that the signage and patrols at Macandrew Bay have made a difference, but is it too late? None of that enforcement action came early enough and now we’re into Autumn the visitor season is waning. One of the other issues with the Bylaw for visitors and residents is that it’s too complicated. The whole notion of “contained” and “non contained” vehicles is very misleading. You have limits on numbers and length of stay for certain sites based on vehicle type, but no ability to actually police that over the entire city. This complicated formula and lack of enforcement resources largely makes the rule redundant. The other point is that even “contained” camper vans still create problems. It’s well-known in the accommodation sector that hirers of camper vans with toilets pay a $500 bond for cleaning, but if you don’t use the toilet in the van you get part of your bond back! Figure that one out!
One of the things I am certain of, is that many Peninsula residents welcome visitors, but they’ve grown weary of people taking advantage of their region. It’s time we took control here and managed this in a better and more consistent way. We need less cheerleading and more empirical information on how to make visitors stay here, a pleasant one without damaging the lifestyles and businesses of our community and region. Below is a picture of the Okia Reserve car-park on the Peninsula, the toilet paper is a reminder that we have visitors who show little respect for our landscape and environment. Most wouldn’t do that at home so why do it in ours? Its time for change.
People are using the Peninsula countryside for toileting and this devalues our community and our environment
It’s Local Government Annual Plan season again, and regional and district councils across the country are preparing their annual plans for public consultation. Unlike Christmas the annual plan season is not something that communities count down to with anticipation of lavish celebrations or expensive gifts. In fact local government annual planning is more akin to looking at the credit card bill after Christmas. Reading through the pages of charges and sighing that buying grandma a set of pearl handled revolvers instead of a new hot-water bottle cover was probably not a great idea. So with all of the best intentions you begin planning the rest of the year paying off your extravagance. Vowing that next year Christmas will focus on “family togetherness” rather than showy tokens of fiscal love. It’s a scene celebrated far more regularly across households than the nativity.
Like your credit card bill statement, local government annual plans are an opportunity to scrutinise the financial management of your local regions and how it might affect you as a ratepayer or householder. In some respects its akin to being a shareholder in your community, with the annual plan prospectus revealing the nature and direction of the community you have a stake in. For ratepayer and householder shareholders it should be an area of major focus. This is because a Council’s financial well-being and management affects your societal and economic bottom line. From the universal charges you pay through rates for rubbish collection, water and sewerage, to the fees you may have to pay to license your dog, bury or cremate your gun-toting grandma or the cost of getting the kids to school on public transport. All of these things have an effect on your budget and lifestyle.
The ability of your local authority to provide essential and community-oriented services makes our lives a little easier and on the whole makes communities better places to live. That has a flow-on effect to our economy and our well-being. Importantly too, local government must recognise that communities are consumers of services and that some of those services are not available in a competitive market. In reality local government is the sole supplier of those services and as such the provision of those services must be fair and equitable. The annual plan is often the only real opportunity to ensure that those issues of fairness and cost effectiveness are debated by the community that uses them.
Then of course there’s those big-ticket items in annual plans, capital expenditure on new roads, sewerage systems, public buildings or sports facilities. This is where local authorities often come unstuck. It’s actually essential that Councils are finely tuned to the community’s needs as opposed to its wishes and whims. Household choices over expenditure are much the same. Dad and the kids are lobbying mum for a 50-inch flat screen TV, and grandma (who hasn’t gone home since Christmas) wants to be able to see a life-sized Ken Barlow on Coronation Street. Meanwhile, the washing machine is making strange clunking sounds and the oven is acting like a cremator on steroids.
Ultimately, household economic decisions are based on opportunity cost, choice, available capital and need. Mum might not be popular for ensuring that the washing machine is the next big purchase, but the decision is accepted based on need (that’s why we have Lotto to allow people to dream). The notion of choice and need around capital expenditure is certainly something that councils need to consider very deeply. However, it gets complicated because local government is a political institution that sways under external political or social pressure as well as internal political interest.
It appears that many people take little notice of annual plans in their area, often through cynicism of the political process, lack of understanding or even apathy. Those conclusions are certainly visible when looking at the meagre 43% of voter turnout in Dunedin’s 2013 local body elections. Which then begs the question, how do you change that and engage the public more? One answer might lie in ensuring that annual planning is an on-going process throughout the financial year making measurable results of expenditure outcomes more available to the community as they occur. Another option might be making annual plan material far more accessible and practical for people to be able look at the proposals and how they might affect the individual. Nothing galvanises people more than giving them a clear understanding as to how the annual plan might affect them at a personal level. Either way, my advice to all residents is take the opportunity to consider the current annual plan and how it affects you in your daily life. Consider whether the vision that is promoted before you is your vision too. Does it reflect what you value and desire as a place to live, work and play in? Be bold and brave and prepared to say what it is you want and what it is you need, you might be surprised to find that others feel the same way. Merry Christmas!