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.”
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.
People often ask me what the Community Board actually does. In some regards it acts as a conduit between the City Council and other agencies and the community. Given that Board members come from the community they are able to have a good understanding of what some of the issues and provide “local knowledge” about problems, plans or ways to improve issues for local residents. Perhaps the main role of the Board is in consultation and acting as a sounding Board for residents in dealing with their issues or even those great ideas that people have in the community. Below is my take on what the Community Board’s role should be. Click on the cartoon to see the cartoon in a viewer.
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.