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 Norwegian playwright and poet Henrik Ibsen once wrote that “a community is like a ship; everyone ought to be prepared to take the helm.” In many respects it was that wish to make a difference and be part of the decision-making process that led me to stand for the Otago Peninsula Community Board. Being prepared “to take the helm” as Ibsen wrote and represent my community in the daily ebbs of flows of community life. As 2014 draws to close its a good time for me to reflect on what the year has brought for me and the community while I have been serving on the Board. Probably most importantly I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the diversity of views that I’ve heard from people in the community. Those views all have one distinct common theme and that is a real concern for the type and nature of the community that people live in on the Peninsula. Some are steeped in the needs of the landscape and conservation management while others are heavily drawn to the facilities, opportunities and needs of the people who create the Peninsula community. All are argued with the same level of passion. I’ve enjoyed my first year on the Community Board mostly because of the people I’ve met and that through that contact I’m able in some small way make a difference to the wider social and political fabric that covers the community. Whether it be bus routes, the Portobello Pontoon or the Tomahawk Lagoon each issue has importance for the community that must deal with these issues on a day-to-day basis. For me it’s not a chore, rather its a challenge that asks me to exercise all of my skill in mediation, listening, planning and problem-solving. Sometimes it’s also about using simple common-sense which I’ve found that Peninsula residents have in droves. Its been an interesting and stimulating year and I’m looking forward to 2015 with similar enthusiasm.
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.”
The Banana passion-fruit vine (Passiflora mollissima) has become a problem plant for the Otago Peninsula over recent years and has continued to occupy significant areas of roadside in Portobello and Harington Point Roads. Given its highly invasive nature and need for high light levels passion-fruit has begun to choke the life out of many areas around the Peninsula. Its prolific fruit production has also been shown to be a suitable source of food for possums and birds distributing viable seed from the gut that can germinate. The other issue is if this plant remains widespread on roadside areas it will eventually be problematic to conservation groups and agencies as well as private landowners who manage bush remnants on the Peninsula.
I have raised the issue of passion-fruit at our Community Board meetings and through The Star to highlight the need to look at a multi-agency approach to management of passion-fruit. That includes both the Dunedin City Council and Otago Regional Council. As a land manager one of the issues for the City Council is understanding the extent of the problem and how to tackle it on the roadside areas. With in mind Moira Parker and myself have completed a map of the roadside areas on the Peninsula using GPS waypoints. The extent of the spread of passion-fruit surprised me with 220 sites identified and mapped. This mapping exercise now gives the City Council some hard data to develop a programme of suitable control, but it won’t be easy. This has to be looked at as a long-term and constant project over the course of 6-7 years and discussions with the Council will be ongoing. In the mean time one of the most simplest things people on the Peninsula can do is eat more passion-fruit! By harvesting the fruit it reduces the opportunity for further seed dispersal. If you are eating the fruit or preparing it just remember to dispose of seed and vine material in your refuse, not your compost!
The map below shows the 220 sites identified predominantly on roadside areas. You can navigate around it within the frame by using your mouse. Click on one of the markers and you’ll see a photograph of the site. You can also view the map in a full screen view by clicking on the box icon on the top right corner.
On a very wet and wild night I recently attended a joint presentation on the Natural Hazards section of the City Council’s 2nd Generation District Plan. With the pot belly stove blazing away in the hall the presentation was a very useful and thought-provoking one. The preferred options for this section of the coming District Plan has been a joint approach by the Otago Regional Council and the Dunedin City Council and has covered, flooding from rivers, and the sea, storm events including tsunamis and sea level rise as well as land instability and earthquakes.
For low-lying areas on the Otago Peninsula like Ocean Grove, Harwood, Otakou and Te Rauone the risks of inundation from storm events and sea level rise are quite significant. The new District Plan may affect activities such as new construction and land use in the future. Its imperative that landowners and householders participate in the consultative process with the City Council over how this part of the District Plan may affect them. The City Council have developed an interactive mapping programme so you can see how this will affect your individual property.
The consultative programme closes on the 1st of August, so if you have questions or concerns take the opportunity to look at your options for having a say of this aspect of the District plan here.
Its been an interesting last few weeks locally as the City Council deliberates over the Annual Plan. I managed to catch a couple of submissions from Peninsula residents on the Portobello Road widening schedule. Most speakers spoke well and passionately about the road issues, but one question that was raised regularly by Councillors was whether Peninsula residents would support a targeted rate.
It’s not the first time that the financial issues around the use and development of Portobello Road have caused consternation on the Peninsula. In 1888 the Portobello Road Board instituted a toll on the low road from Waverly ostensibly to raise revenue for maintenance and development. The toll was universally disliked by local people particularly dairy farmers who took their milk to town daily. The Peninsula community felt the toll had been undertaken without consultation and in 1891 a petition was presented by residents to Prime Minister Richard Seddon who recommend the toll be reduced by half. During the 1890’s the Portobello Road became popular with cyclists who lobbied the Road Board to reduce the toll from 5 shillings to sixpence. There were a number of prosecutions of residents for evading the toll or refusing pay. The favoured method was to claim that wagons were being used to convey children to school as this use of the road was exempt from the toll. As motor cars became more common they too were banned by bylaw on the Portobello Road until nearly 1910, though they did regularly use the road and arguments over the toll continued.
Today it seems that the schedule of which areas of Portobello and Harington Point Roads are to be upgraded is a tough decision, with Peninsula residents feeling that their individual community needs should come first. That’s probably a fair assumption given that as ratepayers they already contribute financially to the project. The Peninsula Road is one of the Council’s key priorities of the Strategic Cycle Network . At no time during the development of that strategy was the notion of a targeted rate ever raised as the project is being funded by rates and subsidy funding from the NZTA. Historically, attempts by local authorities to ask Peninsula residents to pay above their normal rates contribution for roading have been unpopular. I suspect that a targeted rate to accelerate this project today would meet with the same response.