Participation in local government, particularly in elections should be looked upon as one of our great shames. With only 42% of eligible New Zealand voters bothering to cast a ballot in Council elections, we only have ourselves to blame when decisions are made that we may not approve of or support. Just why we are so apathetic when it comes to voting for the people who raise our rates, dog registrations and pool fees is as mysterious as the Bermuda Triangle. Our apathy in participating in local government processes is deeply concerning given the deep reach that Council’s have into out lives and our pockets. Recently, my 19 year old student daughter was home from her flat and the topic of the national elections came up. My wife and I were horrified when she said she wasn’t enrolled and probably wouldn’t bother to vote! What kind of monster had we raised, or had our real daughter been abducted by aliens? Understandably, there were harsh words in the Pope family, accusatory finger wagging and eventually a promise to get enrolled which she did. It’s not just young people who are apathetic about government and its processes, how often have I heard people say they won’t participate because “they won’t listen anyway.” My argument to that pearl, is that it may take a few attempts, but eventually you will prevail.
I raise our apathy about local government because the City Council is now working towards the 2021-2031 Long Term Plan and Council is beginning the process of asking what are our priorities. Similarly, Community Boards are working on those priorities in their Community Plans for presentation to Council on behalf of their communities. Its too easy for the community to allow the Board to act and speak for them, when actually Board’s need vocal people to support them. If we all don’t actively participate in this process we may miss out on seeing our community needs met or worse. With participation so important it was a great pleasure to have representatives of the three Peninsula schools at our recent Community Board meeting. Their presentations were intelligent and insightful, and they focused on a great range of topics that affect them in our Peninsula community. The Board was very impressed with their ideas and they have set a standard for the rest of the community.
(Written for The Star Community Voice, 1st October 2020)
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.
The District Plan is an extremely important document for Dunedin. It outlines the future direction of the city in regards to development, business, housing and the environment. The Resource Management Act 1991 requires a district plan to have;
Objectives for the district
Policies to implement the objectives
Rules to implement the policies.
It’s a crucial document to the city, but it’s also one that people need to take notice of and understand how its rules, policies and objectives might affect them. It may change what you can do on your property or the activities that you can undertake. With this in mind its imperative that everyone takes notice of the district plan and participates in the submission process. if there is something that you don’t like about the plan and you don’t submit on that issue, that section could become operative and its much harder to change.
I urge everyone to look at the proposed 2GP and at the least look at the maps to ascertain any changes to your property or community. The community only has until Tuesday, November 24 2015 to finalise their submissions.
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 flooding of South Dunedin and damage to roads and other infrastructure have been a timely reminder of the vulnerability of community’s to such events. Now that the city is in “recovery” mode and people dry out their homes it’s also a time to take stock of how well the community responded and coped during trying circumstances. On the Otago Peninsula the biggest issue is the fragility of the road network in adverse weather. This is exacerbated by the unstable structure of the landscape, and the area was closed off at various stages during the flooding period. Largely, homes and buildings were unaffected other than in a few places and when compared to the desperate plight of people in the South Dunedin area our residents probably got off quite lightly. Not all were so lucky like the Yellow Penguin Trust nursery that suffered a major loss through flood waters push through the site. By far the biggest thing on the Peninsula and the City was that fortunately there was no loss of life.
During such events its critical for the community to rally together, helping families, friends and neighbours in any way we can. Communication and information is key to making the right decisions in difficult times, when circumstances may bring you into a situation that is unique and often dangerous. The Peninsula is very fortunate that we have good networks of communication that keep people updated and informed. As a Community Board member I see that as one of my primary roles during such events and I utilise any method of communication I can to do this. However, sometimes a good old-fashioned trudge in the mud to your neighbour’s house is just as important.
Being prepared around the home for any event is also important and like many I’ve been looking at my preparedness for food, water, heat and communication. It’s never too late to take stock and think about how you might cope in situations of adversity. The Peninsula road network probably came through the flooding as well as it could do in the circumstances. Slips and road damage will certainly be trying for residents over coming months and the City Council will have quite a large job on their hands to remedy some areas. It will require patience and care from the community for things to get back to normal.
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
I’ve been a little tardy at utilising my blog to discuss the issues that I meet in a weekly basis in my role as Deputy Chairman of the Otago Peninsula Community Board. I could blame distractions like family or work but largely its been a lapse in literary concentration. So with new resolve I’m going to make a better effort to write more about my observations of life on the Otago Peninsula.
Freedom camping has been the hot topic in the Macandrew Bay community and the Peninsula with the initiation of a two-year trial accompanying the change in the Dunedin City Council’s Bylaw. The trial site at Macandrew Bay with its limitation of 5 vehicles has clearly been oversubscribed and placed considerable pressure on parking, toilet facilities, accessibility and community use of the playground. Other deeper issues have arisen including anxiety about the safety of children, the consultation process for the Bylaw, public health, inappropriate behaviour and negative effects on lifestyle including the alienation of the community in their own neighbourhood. Those feelings were evident at the public meeting I attended on March 2nd at the Macandrew Bay Hall where 42 people out of an audience of around 100 residents spoke eloquently and passionately about the issue.
My own collection of data from Macandrew Bay over the last 21 days has revealed 274 vehicles have used the site and only on 3 occasions has the limit of 5 vehicles contained within the Bylaw been achieved. If you consider that most camping vehicles have at least 2 people aboard that’s 548 people who have used this area and clearly that places a strain on existing facilities and infrastructure.
In general people on the Peninsula welcome visitors, but there is a growing frustration in the community that the effects of freedom camping may actually outweigh the benefits. Importantly too, the community must feel that there is the support of the City Council to enforce and educate visitors on the bylaw to ensure that residents are able to retain their lifestyle and values in a community that they love, but are willing to share.
I took the time to summarise the views of all of the speakers at the public meeting into some key categories and this is presented in the graph below. The meeting gave me a very clear direction from the community as to the problems and issues the community were facing. One of the lower ranking issues, but one of considerable concern was the facilitating of the illegal trade in flora and fauna through opening up of the Peninsula through freedom camping. In 2011-2012 wildlife smugglers used campervans as bases for the poaching of Jewelled Gecko’s from sites on Otago and Bank’s Peninsula.
I was pleased to see a number of speakers and residents also attend the Board’s last meeting and speak at the public forum. The Board resolved to ask the Council to abandon the trial by Easter this year and seek alternative sites. However, its my personal view that the entire Bylaw and the current legislation the Freedom Camping Act 2011 needs significant review and change. I’d like to see the Dunedin City Council and other local authorities lobby the government to improve the legislation around regulation and management for the benefit of communities. While its been suggested that “DoC” style freedom camping area be developed on the Otago Peninsula, I think a more strategic view is required here that deals with the effects of freedom camping on a city-wide basis within all of the community’s affected by this activity. That also requires a greater level of research and information that can be used to determine better regulatory and economic outcomes for the community. I look forward to hearing from the community on this issue so that those outcomes can be achieved.