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A week in the life...

Updated: Jul 1

Pic: Luma Queenstown installation - June 2024

Last week’s council meetings were memorable because we signed off a fraught and difficult Long Term Plan committing our ratepayers to an average 16% rate rise in the first year, received fascinating science papers, and considered the expense of law changes (huge) since last October.

This blog takes you through my week and is hopefully interesting.

Monday - I left home before dawn to get to Balclutha for the Regional Transport Committee meeting and arrived in Dunedin at the end of the day.  Tuesday,  Wednesday and Thursday were similarly inside during the short daylight hours and by Thursday afternoon when I boarded the bus back to Queenstown, I was definitely short of my sun vitamins. I'm delighted to be now past winter solstice - things can only get better.


Combined Regional Transport Committee Meeting – Balclutha

The Southland and Otago Regional Transport Committees met to finalise our mid-term revision of the Land Transport Plan. The plan had to be revisited to move focus from the previous government’s policy statement and align with a new government direction.  In some ways, quite a U-turn.   Funding is stripped back, and so is the plan, but we’ve tried to maintain our strategic direction and the following priorities:

  • Providing more transport choices for people in how they move around.

  • Promoting safety, health and wellbeing for the community and the environment.

  • Enhancing maintenance and network resilience to ensure community access and connectivity.

I discuss later in this blog the frustration of changing laws and government direction. We see the impacts of this in this plan too. For example, Government's new speed policy. Places that have worked incredibly hard to reduce speeds and have spent ratepayer money on new signage and communication of new policies, may now have to go back and redo it all – at great cost to the communities involved.  And the evidence just isn't there for increasing speeds. Here’s a summary from Dr Lin Roberts who argues that increasing speeds is not all that it’s cracked up to be and lowering them doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll take you longer to get where you want to go.

On Tuesday, I started the day at the University of Otago to hear Ministry of Transport presentations to the Transport Research Network Group. This group is part of the University's Centre for Sustainability.  I am a member of the advisory committee and attended in that capacity. It was depressing. The strategic priorities the ministry is now working to are:

-          Economic growth and productivity

-          Increase maintenance and productivity

-          Safety

-          Value for money

The brightspot on this bleak horizon is that the Transport Outcomes Framework is enduring. It’s just that instead of concentrating on all 5 priorities, we are now mostly focused on just the one – economic prosperity.

 

Current government’s strategic shifts:
  • The Minister is focused on personal preferences and user pays.  So the emphasis has shifted from changing behaviour to ‘if people want to drive, we should provide for them to do so.’

  • Value capture –  Intriguing to see what is really meant by this.  Ministry staff described it as, when a road or a line is put through any given area, the rise in value of that land should be shared.  So as the land increases in value, the landowner pays tax on the uplift.  This is an idea that Queenstown Lakes District has played with for years in terms of housing – inclusionary zoning.  We’ve yet to see the results of the hearing (it’s with the Minister of Housing now) but I’m not holding my breath on the success of inclusionary zoning for housing nor value capture in transport.  

  • Delivery focus - am watching this with interest too. Certainly delivery in Queenstown and elsewhere has featured huge cost and time blowouts. Improvements here would be very welcome.

  • Financing – The Minister is interested in deal making and using equity from the superfund.

  • There’s a new interest in maintenance – pot holes – which will be helpful in many areas.


Tuesday afternoon - I raced from the uni to our council chambers - across town in Dunedin - happy to have the exercise and a brief time in the open air. The most interesting report for me was the list of legislation changes since October 2023 and the impact on our council. Law changes impact our work programmes and can be extremely expensive as in the recent changes to speed limit policy explained above. When considering rate rises, we might also look to government processes that require us to ‘give effect’ to one set of rules in one year and then 'give effect' to a reversal in the next year. We need to find a way to stop such reversals – it’s political rubbish and costs our communities a huge amount of money, time and effort.

Here’s the list of changes, as you read through imagine the costs falling on us, the councils delivering the changes, and you, the people paying.   You’ll find them and more detail from Page 55 of the agenda.

5/10/2023:

The Resource Management (Stock Exclusion) Regulations 2020 amended

3/11/2023:

Provisions in the Resource Management (National Environmental Standards (NES) for Commercial Forestry) Amendment Regulations 2023 came into force resulting in key changes to the Resource Management (NES for Plantation Forestry) Regulations 2017.

11/12/2023:

Local Electoral Act 2001 and Local Electoral Regulations 2001.

15/12/2023:

Land Transport Act 1998 and Land Transport Management Act 2003 amended to provide that Regional Councils no longer need to assist with preparing speed management plans.

23/12/2023:

The Employment Relations Act 2000 was amended to allow employers with 20 or more employees to include a 90-day trial period in a new employment agreement. 23/12/2023: Repeal of the Spatial Planning Act 2023 (SPA) resulting in the changes to the Local Government Act 2002.

23/12/2023:

Repeal of the Natural and Built Environment Act 2023 (NBEA) resulting in the reversal of most of the changes made to the Resource Management Act 1991. Despite this, the fast-track consenting process in the NBEA is treated as continuing in force.

23/12/2023 Following the repeal of the NBEA - penalty changes.

1/01/2024: Climate Change Response Act 2002 and Climate Change (Unit Register) Regulations 2008.

1/02/2024: The requirements for Freshwater Farm Plans in Part 9A of the Resource Management Act 1991 now apply to specified areas in the Otago and West Coast regions.

17/02/2024: Repeal of the Three Waters reform, and with it, the requirement to exclude water services content from Long-Term Planning (LTP) or to modify LTP content or process during the establishment period for water services entities.

17/02/2024: Stormwater Environmental Performance Standards (SWEPS): Grounds for resource consents, as well as applications were expanded to include conditions and requirements directly connected to a SWEPS. [As at 17/02/2024, there are no SWEPS]

17/02/2024: The definition of water-related infrastructure in the Urban Development Act 2020 was amended to infrastructure associated with, or necessary for three waters services, the supply of water through water races, and/or drainage and rivers clearance.

Wednesday was a big day in one seat at the council chambers. The main piece of work was to sign off the Long Term Plan and all the changes made from the document that was consulted.  Suffice to say we got there. Some of us marked the occasion over a few drinks and pizza - at our own expense given some raruraru (disagreement) over the ratepayer paying for our meals.  The Plan was a huge piece of work that has required intense focus from Councillors and intense work by staff. I’m very glad to see the back of it and think we got to the right place.   

The CEO report in the agenda gives a great overview of the work that’s going on and where everything’s at.  You can see what’s on track, what’s behind and the sheer scale of the work that’s underway.

The next massive piece of work to finalise is the Land and Water Plan  which now needs to be notified by October 31 this year. This will be contentious…




We also considered representation for the 2025 election.  The option outined for consultation will see 4 councillors for the Dunstan Ward, up from 3, and a corresponding reduction in Dunedin from 6 to 5. 

This is a result of growth in Queenstown, Wānaka, and Cromwell while the Dunedin population is growing much more slowly.  The other wards remain the same.  This graphic on the left outlines the proposal and shows the variation from the quota.







As always, this committee received some fascinating (and some worrying) reports. https://www.orc.govt.nz/media/17173/2024-06-27-esp-agenda.pdf

We started with a briefing on Air Quality Science.  Then into the meeting proper, the Airshed report. Most areas are improving with Arrowtown showing the greatest annual improvement, Dunedin, Clyde and Mosgiel are also improving.  Continuing to degrade are Alexandra and Balclutha.  While improvements are good, all areas except Central Dunedin are on occasion exceeding the National Environment Standard for Air Quality.  There will be a heap more to do to improve all areas, particularly the future limits for PM2.5 which are currently not acted on.

We also need to start thinking about air pollution caused by vehicle emissions.  These aren’t measured with our current equipment, but we know that there is much to be concerned about.  There is some NO2 measured in the particulate measurement – PM2.5 – but we haven’t actually measured NO2 since the late 1990s.  It’s overdue. The HAPINZ report shows just how important this is. The full council report from this agenda is also well worth a read.

Annual Water Quality report – as always water quality is best in the headwaters and more degraded as water moves towards the coast.

We measure water quality in terms of the nationally applied bands – A to D/E with D/E being poorest. We measure 105 river sites and 8 Lakes.

Poor Lake Hayes falls below the national bottom lines for Dissolved Oxygen and phytoplankton.

This document

This document (from page 57) summarises the report, names and maps all the testing sites with their current band. It also offers an  overview description of each band. It’s an easy read and very helpful if you have any interest in the health of waterways.


I do worry that issues we know exist in our Great Lakes aren’t yet picked up in this monitoring system.  These lakes are still in such good condition that the rising chlorophyll A measuring photosynthesis, a known forerunner of water problems, doesn’t dent the national bottom lines.  I worry that people aren’t taking the early warning signals seriously enough because of the A rating these lakes have. This image shows greasy water near the Kawarau Bridge. The three great lakes fall into the B grade for submerged plants. This is cause for concern. Only Lake Hayes fails the national bottom line for dissolved oxygen.

Regional Conservation Statuses

This report looks at biodiversity. The third report into various species, this one specifically considers Indigenous Vascular Plants and Otago’s Amphibians for the first time.   Read about what a vascular plant is and more about the panel of plant experts who did this work here.

The report offers regional threat classifications and a standardised system of gauging the threats and supports programmes looking to preserve biodiversity or increase biosecurity.

There were 3 amphibious species in Otago, one has gone extinct and the other two are regionally introduced from Australia but are naturalised here.  There are hopes to relocate native frogs/pepeketua in the area but hasn’t happened yet. 

Out of 1242 indigenous vascular plants, 227 were assessed as regionally threatened, 275 as regionally at risk (218 of these on the national list – data deficient), only about half are regionally not threatened. Of 36 endemic species, 28 at risk.

The report is important because Otago has possibly the greatest biodiversity in NZ but it’s not all mapped or known. Way more information and maps designed to help guide restoration projects and generally increase knowledge is here https://www.orc.govt.nz/managing-our-environment/biodiversity.


 Meanwhile, on my daily wander, I spotted these gorgeous Velvet Foot mushrooms. Edible apparently, but I left them there, the fruiting part of this particular mycelium.


Land & Soil Monitoring

This soil health monitoring programme is focused on developing maps and datasets to use for nutient modelling, catchment management, policy development, economics and farm scale mitigations.

Soil health is generally good but there are emerging issues – compaction, depletion, nutrient imbalance.  Soil maps are being established and will be at 36% coverage of Otago by 2025 – this includes 98% of our most productive soils. Healthy soils are critical for all sorts of reasons from primary production to flood mitigation, carbon storage and biodiversity.  A 2023 study estimates that soil is home to 59% of all life.  So yes, pretty important. The programme, started in 2021, is designed to monitor long-term trends in soil health. In these maps, you can see where the samples come from, what landuse is covered and what new sites are to be added as the programme expands. It’s a fascinating read (from page 261 of the agenda) and shows the many ways there are to mitigate or limit soil damage by doing the right things in the right places. For example, Pallic soils are often in places where there is summer drought and are often waterlogged in winter so highly subject to pugging in winter and wind erosion in summer (depending on their group type) so not great for overwintering cows for example.

Water quality – contact recreation 2024 report card

This monitors 20 freshwater and 16 coastal sites in Otago to assess risks during summer bathing. It measures E.Coli and toxic cyanobacteria. 93% of the 560 samples taken showed water quality suitable for swimming at the time of sampling. 3% unsuitable and 4% caution advised.


Apart from council papers, I’ve been reading and thinking about the following:

There’s a bit about methane here, I do wish those who’d call me woke would wake up. We are ignoring the science, causing scientists to resign and there’s some awful defensive polarising around governance tables.

Meanwhile, the Nordic countries respond.  Denmark is to tax each cow for its methane output.

This starts in 2030 – less than 6 years away.  It’s bad enough that we won’t respond to the science in NZ, preferring the economy, but to not figure out a way to reconcile our methane emissions is so shortsighted, not just environmentally, but also because our economy will soon suffer as our trade agreements with Europe take the hit.  We have successfully resisted paying for mitigation here in NZ, but we will have to pay as the costs get added as tariffs.

Apart from environmental consequences that our next generations will pay for, NZ risks:

1.      Trade Agreement Compliance: The EU has stringent environmental and climate policies. If New Zealand does not implement a methane tax, it could be seen as non-compliant with these standards.

2.      Market Access: The EU could impose tariffs or other trade barriers on New Zealand products, especially agricultural goods, if they are perceived as contributing significantly to methane emissions.

3.      Reputation and Market Preference: European consumers are increasingly concerned about the environmental impact of the products they purchase.

4.      Sustainability Standards: The EU may require New Zealand to meet specific sustainability and environmental standards as part of any trade agreement.

5.      Competitive Disadvantage: New Zealand's failure to implement a methane tax could make its products less competitive compared to those from countries that comply with the EU's environmental expectations.

6.      Diplomatic Relations: Environmental issues are often a significant part of diplomatic relations. New Zealand's reluctance to tax methane could strain its diplomatic relationship with the EU.

7.      Future Trade Negotiations: New Zealand's stance on methane emissions could influence future trade negotiations.


I know the farmers are suffering in NZ.  We have a farming crisis. But kicking can down road is not the answer.  Narratives need to change- "We produce more cleanly than anyone else", "if we don't do it someone else will do it worse''. "‘Our dairy feeds the world’'. ‘'Without farmers what will you eat?’' '‘Farmers know best how to look after the environment’'.  These all just close down arguments and opportunities to do better and they exclude other sectors from the discussion. Other views have to be allowed into the discussion. 


Finally on my reading list, yet another superb output from the prolific Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.  Goodness that Simon Upton is made from remarkable stuff.


And then there was Friday – Matariki in Arrowtown was a joy! Mānawatia a Matariki! Am loving this holiday.



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