I was at the working bee held at the Portobello Domain, developing the skate park with a great bunch of people and their kids recently. Peninsula communities are so good at getting together and pitching in when there is something that needs to be done, especially when it comes to providing facilities for their kids. It was very pleasing to see so many of the local children take an interest and actively participate in helping the park get up and running. While my days of skate-boarding or scootering are well past there will always be a new generation of kids ready to give riding on wheels a try. Read the full story and view the pictures at the Portobello Community website.
On a rather gloomy damp day that was thick with mist staying in bed seemed like a very good option, but the Pope whanau from Portobello had other ideas. My wife Lyn and I have always encouraged our kids to be good citizens and do things for their community selflessly. We want them to take an interest in their community and care for their region like we do. Keep New Zealand Beautiful Week is always an opportunity to do something positive for your community and its a family tradition in our house to get involved in our area. 2014 was especially important because the challenge went out to all of the Community Boards across Dunedin and as a Peninsula Community Board member I’m very happy to accept. Our family covered the 6 kilometre road section from Portobello township to the Golf Course on Harington Point Road. It was amazing what we picked up and our haul included; 6 bags of general rubbish, a sackful of glass bottles, a sackful of aluminium cans, two car tyres, two dumped microwaves and various car parts. I’d also like to mention Portobello local Melissa Bulger who collected rubbish over part of this area while she was training for the Cadbury Half Marathon, great effort! I know also that many other residents around the Peninsula will take part in the Keep New Zealand Beautiful initiative, so my thanks to them also. I’m really proud of my kids for their efforts today and I know that with Lyn and I providing an example for them we can create great future citizens for our community.
One of the great things about living on the Otago Peninsula and having children at a local school is you get to do some of the cool things that they do as well. I was one of two parents who took a group of children from Portobello School to Okia Reserve for “World Ranger Day” with the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust. Getting children out of the classroom and providing a genuine ranger experience was a great concept, but having pupils from the three Peninsula schools was pure genius. Like it or not there is a need for conservation groups to be prepared to pass on the mantle of stewardship onto a younger generation, and the earlier we do this the better. Peninsula kids are very fortunate that they grow up in a landscape inhabited by iconic wildlife species. We can only hope that this experience and their own inquiry will develop either empathetic citizens or active conservationists.
What I really enjoyed about the ranger day was the hands on activities that provided a genuine wildlife management experience. From exercises in measuring and identifying birds, to pest control and habitat creation, each activity was designed to show what really needs to be done in wildlife conservation. So much of what actually goes on in the field is unknown to the public, and to be able to provide that experience for our school children was a great experience. I’m sure many of the pupils will share their experience with their parents and family.
After events like this there’s always time to pause and reflect on some of the things that you take away from them. One of the big issues that stands out for me is how much the Peninsula relies on voluntary organisations and citizen conservationists to protect and advocate for our wildlife and landscape. The voluntary hours, fundraising and hard work put into places like Okia is quite staggering, and that is both comforting and concerning at the same time. It also highlights my view that the Peninsula Community Board has an important role to act as advocates and supporters for conservation groups in our district. That means using policy, planning and financial forums to ensure this critical work can continue on the Peninsula. After my experience at Okia it’s not difficult to understand just how important that role is and how rewarding it can be for our children today and in the future.
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.
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.
(Picture Courtesy of Vintage Everyday)
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!