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Annual plan, your views on how we spend your money

Updated: Oct 25, 2020

Sounds dry, but is fascinating, educating, and humbling – Annual Plan hearings. Over 3 days in the last week, our council has heard people speaking about the areas they live in, their hopes, issues, and requests of the council. The thought and effort that’s gone into the preparation work is incredible. Amazing ideas, really strong presentations and a great education for me. If you’re keen to have a listen, it’s all recorded here.

This is the time we really get to hear what people care about in terms of land, water, soil, air, transport and urban development – and what they want us to fund. Below I draw your attention to some outstanding submissions around conservation and biodiversity that are well worth a read, watch or listen, and I try to summarise by theme what went on. I am not taking an objective approach and not covering complaints and negative feedback in equivalent ways. This is simply a place for me to share the stories that resonated with me throughout this process and to try and summarise key concerns people share. Hopefully, it might get a few more people to take an interest in this important area.

The page numbers below refer to the Annual Plan all submissions document which you can grab from here.

Key themes: Climate change, environmental restoration, pest control, more sustainable transport and that old perennial; rates.

The Wise Response submission on page 302 was led Dougall McTavish with support from a university researcher and an expert. This submission has one of the best articulations about why climate change is such a complex issue for governance to deal with. The entire submission is well worth a read for its thoughtful and considered approach. It argues that the tension between economy and environment creates a need for a bottom up, community led approach. They want ORC to work with our member councils to find the money to develop an everyday carbon calculator suitable for home use. Their argument around the need for carbon calculators is that individuals won’t take effective action until they understand their own impacts. Towards this goal, they have researched and analysed currently available calculators (you can see this analysis in the submission) to develop a recommendation of one (Future Fit) that could be customised with some of the features of another (Eco Footprint) is excellent. They also ask that ORC change its climate change policy from one almost exclusively focused on adaptation to one that puts focus also on mitigation.

Rhys Millar, on behalf of the Landscape Connections Trust and then later on behalf of Predator Free Dunedin articulated the superb community work going on to restore the environment. Their submission is on page 116. While the submission is strong (pg 116 of the annual plan submissions document), I would check out their webpages to see the marvellous work they are doing around regeneration., Rhys said there is nowhere near enough money in the biosecurity operational plan budget and that $95k for the all of Dunedin program is a paltry sum that doesn’t reflect the strategy. He highlighted an issue around OSPRI pulling out of its TB control programme next June (2021). This programme controls possums to control TB and offers a great opportunity toward possum eradication in the area. But this will only happen if pest control continues from where OSPRI leaves off to finish the job. This needs more cash and a greater performance indicator.

Wai Wanaka – page 90 of the submission document. Again, thoughtful, researched, and practical. They have completed a community catchment plan with three goals: deliver environmental plans and whole catchment plans, comms with community, nuanced projects. This is well worth a read, needs our support and I think is a necessary inclusion to our plans.

Friends of Lake Hayes (page 247) are another community group working hard to restore their environment and again it seems to me that they face barriers that ORC should be able to remove. The Lake has been declining for many years apart from a small period of regeneration when a 1995 management plan had some impact. It now needs that plan reinstated and implemented – with some updates. The group also pointed out the need to strengthen the Regional Policy Statement (currently being worked on and we’ll be looking for input on this too) so that there is a better framework for protecting the Lake. The group presented to council a prioritised strategy that ORC needs to support.

The Department of Conservation submission on page 225 gives a wonderful overview of the different land types and native species in our area while encouraging action around biodiversity, biosecurity and climate change.

On behalf of Dunedin City Council, Aaron Hawkins (page 290) submissions is a detailed discussion of the relationship between the two councils. Among other things, he asked for additional environmental monitoring in the marine environment, a fix for Tomahawk wetland and advised the Council to regulate the port to limit air pollution.

Paul Pope of the Otago Peninsula Community Board reiterated the need for a concentrated effort on the Tomahawk lagoon. His community board’s detailed submission on page 233 offers the on-the-ground community knowledge, with images and discussion that is really helpful in our decisionmaking. He says work on the Tomahawk was underway at one point and then simply stopped. It needs community empowerment and resources and a commitment to see the project through. Paul said that we can’t keep relying on volunteers to clean up. He wants to see stormwater capture to keep rubbish out of the sea and a much bigger effort towards reducing pollution in all its forms. He also shared concerns about biodiversity and pest control.

Richard Bowman (page 284) is an expert in pest management and worked with Southland Regional Council for decades. He has huge concerns around pest control and biosecurity. He presented a detailed submission plus a management model. His submission is well worth a read by anyone interested in this subject – which should be all of us! Worryingly, he calls the wallaby the new rabbit, but even harder to control. He told us that ORC needs to support the landowners and communities who are willing to help themselves. He also made the clear point that it will never be cheaper than now to control pests, particularly wallabies. His submission was one of many pointing out that our pest control strategy is not working. We have a new plan and a new operations plan – sadly I’m not sure that this is going to do what its meant to.

Andy Barratt representing Dunedin Rural Development (page 242) told us there was not enough emphasis on soil management. By concentrating mainly on water, we are focusing only on the end point when soil management will result in better water management. His organisation sees carbon sequestration in soils as an answer to climate change and believes that much more could be done in this area. They also want to see farm environmental plans and suggest ORC should again become a member of the Willows and Poplar research trust to study impacts of trees on farms and waterways and that it should ensure the retention of high quality soils for primary production by preventing building development on those soils.

Colin Campbell-Hunt from Orokonui (page 139) talked about the work being done there. Like other community based conservation groups, Orokonui needs more support. It already has strong partnerships with other groups and is central to biodiversity recovery in Otago and beyond. Colin told us that conservationists are not interested in small centres of conservation where gene pools slowly get smaller, he said we need to think bigger and a key step for Orokonui is to extend beyond its fence into the greater Dunedin region. Orokonui provides a safe home base for species to grow before spilling out into the surrounding ‘halo’ area. They can support the entire range of programmes required for biodiversity restoration. Orokonui is largely self funded, but it needs help with significant financial demands coming up. Colin also pointed out that bigger places than Orokonui are needed to support sustainable populations (eg, for Kaka this would be a population of 500 – too many to be supported in the small area that is Orokonui) so he supports the idea of larger regional parks. But the immediate need is for capital funding to fix their predator preventing fence – a stoat or two can wipe out a generation of saddlebacks – they need around $350k to do that.

Dick Hubbard from the Wakatipu Wilding Conifer Group (page 269) told us that there are large areas where the wilding trees are getting away on them even though they’re spending 2m a year on removing them. He says we will slowly lose this battle if we don’t step up our involvement. The big concern in the Wakatipu is Douglas Fir covering large areas, the seeds can travel up to 40kms in seeding periods when the wind is strong. The tussock lands are under threat from this seed spread. The seeds are also heading into the Wanaka area and down into the Pisa Range. This is not just a Wakatipu problem. $500k a year from QLDC plus secretarial and financial reporting services. The decision has also been made to prematurely harvest (10 years early) the Coronet Forest. ORC contributes $100k per year plus an extra $30k as part of the Ecofund for a specific project. There is an argument for ORC to greatly increase its funding.

The story from the Central Otago Wilding Conifer Control Group (pg 83) was similar, but they had some stern advice for the council. “Community-led initiatives can collectively achieve far more than council led directives, however the council must be prepared to play its role as the regulator. This means supporting catchment groups, and having strong rules in place surrounding freshwater, based on science, with the health of the ecosystem at the forefront of our objectives.” This group also pointed out the huge water consumption of wilding conifers saying that getting these undercontrol would make more water available in the Otago catchments.

There is a huge amount of work done by many community groups towards much improved environmental management. Many many individuals submitted on better, more effective work around environmental and climate change issues. My view is similar to that expressed by many – our success will be in ensuring local groups are empowered and supported – that we don’t put barriers in front of them or impede their work in any way. These people know how to connect bottom up community effort to the available science. Our challenge is how we provide support – funds, expertise, science, feet-on-ground.


Transport (excluding Wakatipu Ferry consultation)

Transport is a big concern to many people, most of the submissions were about Public Transport and support for tracks and trails. Sarah Davie-Nitis (page 275) is putting together a trails trust for Dunedin that has an ambitious goal of connecting Dunedin North to Oamaru to meet the Alps to Ocean Trail, West to Waihola to connect with the inland trails and into the South towards the Catlins. Her group sees these trails as both a driver of a better form of tourism and also as a way of connecting the many small communities of the region.

Dunedin Mayor Aaron Hawkins is still clearly frustrated about the bus service in Dunedin. He wants flat fares – $2 – and is still considering taking Dunedin Public Transport into the DCC remit rather than ORC. I’m open on this, but would like to think we can run transport regionally towards inter-regional transport as well as ensuring consistency across the region. He’s keen for us to get going on regional public transport plan. Aaron made the point that Dunedin needs options for increasing housing development – that means increasing either density or spread. He thinks the city should be increasing density around the public transport hubs, but this is tricky when you don’t control the network.

Alasdair Morrison, Chairman, Waikouaiti Coast Community Board (pg 272) wants investment in the bus service between Palmerston and Dunedin including running the service along the coast road. Currently the service is inadequate in connecting the residential communities of Waikouaiti, Karitane, Seacliff and Warrington. This is not the first time this has come to our attention and it needs fixing.

Peter Dowden, (page 22) representing bus users groups as well as the tramways union, pointed out failures in the current Public Transport plan (no gradual improvement of the Palmerston to Dunedin service as articulated in the 2014 plan) and pointed out many discrepancies in the bus concession systems. He wants to see fairer, cheaper fares and access to those fares for poorer people. For example, a $10 minimum top up is a disincentive for people who can’t afford $10 so they don’t have the access they should have to a cheaper fare.

Chris Ford of the Disabled Persons Assembly (DPA) (page 251) joined Peter Dowden in his call for bus drivers to be paid a living wage as a minimum. Chris also recommended that ORC and DCC work together to get the proposed Central City Bus Loop in place and also to prioritise a single flat, low fare such as Queenstown’s $2 fare. The DPA also called for a ‘flattening of the curve’ on climate change.

Wakatipu Transport Management (TMA) (Pg 223) is a group that sees a role in supporting business, residents and visitors in transitioning to an increased range of transport options. This includes a wide range of activities that would have benefits from land use improvement through to congestion and pollution reduction. They’re asking for a $120k to employ a business manager to get started on this work which they see as fitting between existing structures such as Wakatipu Way 2 Go and the main agencies involved in transport planning. It’s a ground up approach that likely needs empowering in the same way, and for the same reasons that we empower environmental groups. At one level, this is an environmental group.


Wakatipu Ferry Trial

There was a lot of discussion around whether or not the trial should continue given the COVID-19 outcome of very few tourists. There was discussion about whether it would be appropriate to get the ferry happening, and remove the bus service which is not well used. Overall, I think there was support to get the trial underway even though it will only be serving local residents. The discussion in the submissions did raise a problematic issue for a group of Queenstown Bay operators and this needs to be sorted out. Basically, several operators (Kjet, HydroAttack, Million Dollar Cruise where the ones who talked to us) can’t renew their wharf leases because the QLDC wants to reserve the wharf spaces for more community, or passive recreation use. This includes a ferry service. The argument from these operators is that their operations are a major contribution to the vibrancy of the Bay and they do need a home in the Bay. This one will of course need to be worked out by the QLDC who has apparently offered short term lease extensions, but that’s not ok for those who need to finance their businesses and need long leases to do so. As always, every decision has impacts.


Rates, increases and targeted rates

On page 269, there is an extraordinary story of pre European history of flooding at West Taieri through to recent hapu loss of kaika, urupa and mahinga kai sites which were taken from them by various flood protection and drainage schemes. This story was presented by Ian Henare Bryant who said the schemes on the Taieri took place with no consultation with tangata whenua or the representing hapu. He made clear the unfairness of the targeted rating scheme in this area.

Many many people were concerned about rate increases. How do we keep rates low and do the work that needs to be done? I would suggest we need more focus on the future value of a restored environment rather than what it costs to get there given it will never be cheaper than it is now. For me it’s about spending where there are environmental gains to be had, while taking a good hard look at any other expenditure. Austerity is not a way forward. We will need to continue to invest, but we need to invest where the later value is greatest. For me that is in areas that support environmental regeneration and community restoration. I think zero rates is an easy thing to talk about… but how do we pay for what people are asking for without raising rates?

Lots of people felt that we needed to fully reexamine the plan in the light of COVID-19. And of course we are, however the plan was notified prior to COVID-19 impacts and so the reevaluation and reexamination is happening through this consultation process. Our investment may not be rate funded – we may need ways to leverage our balance sheet to get where we want to go – but to do that, we need to deliver real value for the future residents of the area.

Thank you to all those who took the time to write and to those who made the extra effort to speak to their submissions.

ORC youtube channel. You can watch meetings in real time or later at this link.

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