Kaikoura District in danger of implosion


Kaikoura District is struggling to stay afloat. As the new decade begins, New Zealand smallest district in terms of rate payer base is facing rate increases of up to 50% in the current council term, or about 16-17% per annum.

This problem is not new, and nor are the calls for amalgamating with Marlborough District Council. In October 2019 a report came out that said if Kaikoura District Council maintained its current funding model it would run the real risk of imploding within a matter of years.

It is true that Kaikoura District Council has some huge – and largely unresolvable – matters not necessarily of its making. The earthquake of 14 November 2016 caused $2 billion in damage around the district, most of it being to State Highway 1, the railway line, council infrastructure such as the water supply, community amenities. There was also widespread damage to private premises.

The natural effects of such a large earthquake also made themselves known. the harbour and South Bay marina were effectively left high and dry within a couple of minutes as hundreds of square kilometres of sea floor was uplifted from Cloudy Bay near Blenheim as far south as Oaro. Paua beds were left high and dry as well, causing a large amount of paua to go to waste.

And there were the inevitable economic effects. On top of the repair bill, which the then Government said it would foot since it involved infrastructure of national importance, there was several billion dollars in lost revenue. The closure of the road and railway by a combination of rock falls, displacement by rupturing faults and uplift virtually crippled Kaikoura. Even when the road and railway reopened, constant closures have afflicted them both. Ongoing repairs are likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Also affected was Kaikoura’s world famous Whale Watch operation, which takes tourists out on boats to see sperm whales taking advantage of a deep sea canyon that comes in to within a few kilometres of the coast.

As Kaikoura has struggled back to its feet its District Council has faced some tough economic decisions. It cannot afford to just lump rate rise upon rate rise simply because it suits. Aside from locals having limited finances, the population in a District that extends from Oaro to Kekerengu in the north and is dominated by Kaikoura with little communities dotted along the coast, is a tiny 4,030.

Faced with these huge hurdles, no one should be too surprised that there are suggestions it should amalgamate with the Marlborough District Council. Historically this is a logical suggestion as the coastal communities north of the Clarence River typically identify with, Marlborough rather than Canterbury. They might have amalgamated earlier with Hurunui District Council, to the south, but for the rejection of the proposal by the Local Government Authority in 2009.

Rather than saddle Kaikoura with rate rises that might push the local rate payer base into an untenable position, I support investigating whether K.D.C. can actually change its funding model. If it cannot, the Council should approach the L.G.A. and ask for permission to hold a referendum on merging. At the end of the day, things are coming to a financial head that no one really wants, but the risk of implosion if the Council cannot change is very real.

How well do we understand local government planning in New Zealand?


Over the course of my Planning Theory paper I had 12 core readings (one a week) and on average two additional readings. Some were dry, Northern hemisphere papersĀ  written in the context of post World War 2 Europe. One or two – in the words of another student – “just about broke my brain”. And there were others that were rather dark, such as that by Kamete (2012), which talks about how planning law was used to aid Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe’s Operation Murabatsvina, which cleared out large slum areas of Harare in 2005.

And then there were a couple that resonated with me. One came from Australia and the other one was from New Zealand. The Australian one (Lane, 2005), examined an idea I have committed to memory because it is where I think some councils are failing badly. Sherry Arnstein (1969), who was an American social worker noticed how out of tune authorities seemed to be on social matters. Arnstein developed the “Ladder of Participation”, which I want to explore a bit.

Lane drew upon Arnstein’s idea and explored it further. Lane suggested that planning fell into three schools – blueprint; synoptic and pluralist. The blueprint type which most western countries abandoned from about the late 1960’s, was basically about developing new settlement forms with question or interference. This triggered some interesting discussions among the students on the course. One said that her parents live in Poland and have no concept of civil planning. They have only ever known “blueprint” type and synoptic and pluralist planning ideas that western countries have gravitated towards were completely foreign to them.

The Harvard paper by Beckert (2016) looks at “Fictional expectations and the crisis of contemporary capitalism”. Beckert argues that capitalism is about expecting to be bettered by a competitor and therefore trying to continuously come with new ideas, products or services. What one is trying to develop has to be of greater value than what was invested so that a return can be made on it. But Beckert noted a potential crisis of confidence caused by the growing disparities that undermine the motivation to partcipate, which might hinder long term market development.

Which brings me to Menzies (2018), where the subject is “A partial history of futures thinking in New Zealand”. The paper examines how New Zealand is struggling to build a futures research capacity which can be found in other countries, but notes people significant in New Zealand’s early history certainly had ideas about the future. People such as the explorer Kupe who one imagines thought about coming to an entirely new land; the Treasurer Julius Vogel correctly imagined people being able to fly (in airships as opposed to aircraft)and made the not yet fulfilled guess that America might have had a female president by 2000.

Another paper that struck me as possibly being useful was one by Joe Painter (2006) called “Prosaic Geographies of Stateness”. A striking paper this one because it sought to understand the impact of the everyday bureaucrat – whether a planner, an enforcement officer or gathering/collating data – and their actions. It drew on literature from Britain, but I am going to put this in a New Zealand context.

We have the Resource Management Act. The planner, that some of you refer to as bureaucrats has a testing job. Juggling the obligations of the Act is not as easy as it looks, and friends who have processed resource consents have told me it is a never ending conveyor belt. Speed it up then, some of you say. Okay, but are you prepared to see more ratepayer dollars spent on staff you call bureaucrats? No, stuff it some of you will say. The planner in the middle then finds themselves struggling to meet R.M.A. imposed deadlines. In carrying out the mundane actions Painter describes, we see how the ordinary job of the planner and the mundane decisions they make actually wield power in our lives. A planner finding a developer wants to build inside a set riparian margin can send the developer away to reset their boundary, or the developer may ask for a plan change. If the applicant does not supply sufficient info the planner can exercise S.92 which requests more information under the R.M.A.

Before anyone grumbles about processing times, I understand 90-95% get issued. But it might pay to check the quality of the decision. This is one reason why we get so many inane council decisions that seem to be half cooked. Another is because city/district/regional councils hire people who have a narrow planning background. As a result New skills are not being brought to the fore. But also a staff that do not have time for due diligence, are going to be the first to make a mistake.

As we look towards next decade it is worthwhile asking yourself and ourselves collectively, what a planner is – what do we expect of them and their profession; do they need to be more visible and what kind of planning frame work do we want?

References:

  • Beckert J., “Fictional expectations and the crisis of contemporary capitalism”, 2016
  • Kamete A., “Interrogating planning’s power in an African city: Time for a reorientation?”, 2012
  • Lane M., “Public participation in planning: An intellectual history”, 2005
  • Menzies M., “A partial history of futures thinking in New Zealand”, 2018
  • Painter J., “Prosaic geographies of Stateness”, 2006

Democracy the real loser in 2019 Local Government elections


So, the elections of 2019 are over. The new District, City and Regional Councils as well as the new District Health Boards have been decided. Many of the Councils have had their first meeting’s – formal or otherwise and photos of the elected bodies have been posted to Facebook.

As with all elections there are winners and losers. In 2019 though the real losers were not actually the defeated board members/councillors/mayors – although they certainly lost – but the democratic principle which lies at the heart of New Zealand politics. When a country has an average voter turnout of only , that is not democracy IN ACTION, but as a headline on the Sunday Star Times said, “Democracy INACTION”*.

And I have been left wondering what it will take to make more New Zealanders vote in these elections. Will it take compulsory civics in school to learn about how the system works and why, say in Year 12 place of one of the five optional subject slots students can take? Will it require more places to cast ballots – I thought that for one weekend at some point in the campaign period perhaps the locations that are used for General Election voting could be opened for casting ballots. Others have suggested using online voting systems to get people to vote, something has been used in the United States with controversial results.

We cannot make them come to the ballot box, but one thing that could be done is automatically enrolling all citizens upon their 18th birthday. That would ensure that the thousands not on the roll are put on it and are not subject to fines. It would also give the Electoral Commission a better idea of who lives where and make sure that appropriate election resources are applied to that ward/seat.

I wonder what it will take for small electorates to have more than one person standing in some wards. Kaikoura District for example the entire council was re-elected unopposed simply because a district with only a tiny rate payer base almost completely in Kaikoura township was simply not enough to squeeze out any more candidates. Same goes for districts across much of the northern South Island and parts of rural North Island.

Fortunately one certainty still seems to exist irrespective of voter turnout: say or do anything really stupid during the campaign or ones term and you will probably be toast. Just ask Siggi Henry in Hamilton, who wore an anti-vaccination t-shirt to a function and deliberately parked in a disabled carpark. She lost her job on Saturday. Just ask John Tamihere, the former Labour cabinet minister opposing Phil Goff in Auckland, who made the mistake of saying “Sieg Heil”, which is closely linked to Nazism. His election bid to be Auckland Mayor failed handsomely. Just ask former Christchurch City Councillor Deon Swiggs who sent inappropriate text messages to a 15 year old, getting him banned by his boss from council functions for youth and ultimately losing his seat on Saturday.

But all in all, this is not how New Zealand elections should be going in terms of voter turnout and the negative commentary about this sorry state is justified.

*Emphasis is mine

Winners and Losers: The 2019 Local Government elections


Congratulations to all ward representatives, Councillors and Mayors elected. It has been fascinating watching the results coming in from around the country. Commiserations to those who lost their races and now return to regular day time work.

Particularly interesting for me in Canterbury has been the election of our first democratic council since the Commissioners took over the 2007-2010 council in March 2010. They leave behind a province struggling with fresh water issues, transport and land use. They leave behind a council whose permanent staff has not only drastically changed, but also missing a lot of local knowledge particularly in the planning and policy sections. Four of the 6 councillors that stood in 2016 have been returned. The other 10 are newcomers.

I am not surprised Lianne Dalziel has been re-elected Mayor of Christchurch. Whilst she was not my preferred candidate, her campaign was the strongest. Runner up Daryl Park was unrealistic in having a policy platform of zero increases in rates. Mr Park also did not score as well as many others did on matters such as housing, transport and drinking water supply. Green candidate John Minto is widely considered too radical and and came third.

Around the big cities in New Zealand I see that Phil Goff has taken Auckland for a second term. Paula Southgate has won Hamilton. Ms Southgate lost the 2016 election race by a razor thin margin of just 6 votes to Andrew Turner, who she outed comfortably. A 35 year old Green Party candidate named Aaron Hawkins has taken Dunedin. It is Wellington that people are watching. One term Mayor Justin Lester is trailing Andy Foster in a race that will be decided by special votes, of which there are about 5,000 to count. That result will be a few days away. An Andy Foster victory would make Justin Lester the first one term Mayor in Wellington in decades.

The West Coast Regional Council has two female councillors joining five others around their council table. This may be a backlash for the denial of climate change that permeated the previous council. Greater Wellington Regional Council has few changes.

In terms of District Council races, I am interested to see what the composition of the Westland District Council is. After a horror three years with two big flood events, two cyclones and much criticism over the Franz Josef flood protection works and their failure to implement Plan Change 7 concerning the Alpine Fault, no doubt ratepayers will be looking forward to a more responsible council. In Canterbury the Waimakariri, Kaikoura, Timaru, Hurunui Districts all have new mayors. The Kaikoura District Council, struggling in the aftermath of the 2016 magnitude 7.8 earthquake faces a difficult three years trying to stay afloat whilst repairing the damage and conducting regular business.

To all those who have voted, in my book you retain your grumbling rights for another three years. To all those that did not, if you now get a council that uses rates in ways you did not want them to, stiff cheese.

Time for a new Mayor in Christchurch


In 2013 I supported the election of former Labour M.P. for Christchurch East, Lianne Dalziel. Ms Dalziel was the clear cut front runner in a mayoralty race after incumbent Robert (Bob) Parker decided he was not going to stand again.

At the time Christchurch was struggling back to its feet following the worst disaster in the city’s history and one of the biggest disasters in New Zealand’s peacetime history. The Christchurch City Council was a ship in disarray, off course with the senior officers bickering at the wheel. Its Chief Executive Tony Marryatt was in disgrace for his almost Nero-esque management of the City Council during the 2010 and 2011 earthquake emergencies. Secrecy at a time when the public needed open transparent decision making more than ever was rife.

When Ms Dalziel came to office, Raf Manji who had expertise in finance was given the finances portfolio. He had the messy and difficult job of accounting for finances that the council knew were going to require hefty rates increases in the near future, whilst balancing the bill for the massive damage caused by the earthquakes to city infrastructure. Mr Manji thought that Christchurch should not invest in social housing for vulnerable tenants as the cost of doing so on top of the already massive bill for earthquake repairs would cause a financial blowout. The Council instead committed to overhauling the heating and insulation in the existing stock of flats.

Until about the start of last year I thought Ms Dalziel had led the Christchurch City Council fairly well. Transparency had improved. Many of the major rebuild projects were starting to see some progress – the Town Hall restoration was underway; the construction of Te Pae was about to start, and much of the infrastructure repairs had been completed. The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority had wrapped up its work andĀ  The council treasury books, whilst still messy had a clear order to them at least now had priorities.

Yet at the same time, it was becoming obvious that the City Council had a listening issue. People were becoming frustrated by the obsession with cycle lanes around the city, especially on roads which they were not suited for. Some of the suburban revival projects were no closer to starting than the day they were announced – often several years earlier. Frivolous unnecessary expenditure was going on art works like something in the middle of the Avon River, which to this day I am convinced just collects rubbish.

I also note that New Brighton, which could be a pretty grim, run down part of town even on the best of days once again seems to be slipping under the radar. Sure its demographics have changed with the earthquakes. Sure it sits on the edge of the old civilian red zone, and in fairness I have heard that the new salt water pools are being constructed, but wasn’t there meant to be some sort of community redevelopment plan? You never hear about it if there was.

But more recently some of Ms Dalziel’s pronouncements have begun to concern me. She admitted a conflict of interest over her husbands involvement with a Chinese water bottling company, but did nothing to remove him or herself form the discourse.

With long time activist John Minto and businessman Darryll Park both vying to become Mayor, the 2019 race is looking a lot tighter than in 2016. The former wants free public transport, but has not really said much about his spending priorities. The latter wants to have zero rates increases should he win, but has never spent a day around a council table. I am not entirely sure now who I want to win, but Ms Dalziel is looking tired now as a leader and a fresh injection of ideas is needed and some knowledge of council procedures would be useful too.