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Local Government conference 2022 - what was learned?

Regional tour highlights:

From Taupō to Palmerston North / Te Papaioea

- You can work together with government, iwi and a committed community to protect a great lake and change the landuse around it to do so – even knowing that it will be decades before real improvement is demonstrated. See case study below.

- That building more power stations like Rangipo will be very difficult if not impossible.

- That discussions with other councillors and staff from other parts of the country is helpful and supportive.

- That besides carrots and parsnips, awesome brussel sprouts are grown in Ohakune at Snow Country Gardens.

LGNZ conference highlights - Palmerston North/Te Papaioea:

- That the future envisaged by Local Government New Zealand centres around Iwi collaboration, and empowering young elected members - and that this is based in demographic data, Te Tiriti and being a good ancestor.

- That the future will be like nothing we have envisaged but will include everything we are envisaging and a whole lot we can’t imagine.

- That resilience is everything, communities need to be engaged, because things are getting harder, not easier.

- That Māori are taking their place in local government and Te Papaioea has amazing Kapa Haka performers. Ka Rawe!


Protecting Lake Taupō - case study

Ngā mihi mahana to Waikato Regional Councillor and Crown Appointee to the Waikato River Authority, Stu Kneebone, for an indepth and inspiring chat about the project. Ngā mihi anō to Horizons regional councillor Wiremu Te Awe Awe for sharing his long and considered perspective.

Eutrophication (when water degrades through a build up of nutrients) of Lake Taupō was identified in the 1950’s and 60’s. By the 1990s the science was compelling, but it was hard to convince the public that something was wrong when the lake looked so good.

However, Waikato Regional Council and several partners including government, local government, iwi and a local trust, worked together to understand and address the degradation of Lake Taupō. To maintain water quality, it was agreed the manageable load of nitrogen had to be reduced by 20 percent and both urban and rural sources had to be addressed. This of course led to years of debate and Environment Court challenge, but the end result was the introduction of a nitrogen 'cap and trade' scheme. As a result, stock numbers have been heavily reduced (almost all cow dairy farming around the lake has gone), new land uses have emerged including sheep dairy, eco beef farming, and geothermal powered greenhouses, and promising signs in water quality cautiously noted. Near shore effects of urban discharges are also managed. All involved know that a 60 year water age means some issues are locked in for that time so lake quality may get worse before improving. A full restoration plan is sadly, too big a stretch. Setting up the project in the late 1990s, there were two defined objectives:

  1. New policies for land use and sewage treatment,

  2. Remove 170 tonnes of nitrogen in the catchment by 2018.

Part of achieving these goals has been a precedent setting transfer of environmental monitoring to Tūwharetoa Māori Trust Board. Farming is now by consent. This was inconceivable 2 decades ago. The timeline of this project bringing together all the necessary parties, is a fascinating read.

Managing diffuse pollutions is a huge challenge anywhere in the world, but this collaborative has succeeded in using markets and landuse controls to come up with a mechanism to successfully reduce the nitrogen load. It’s taken 15 years to get where it is today – around 70 years since problems with the lake were first identified. It’s also taken more than $80m of public money – and this is only the end of the beginning of the story. There will be decades of work, collaboration and monitoring – all expensive and requiring ongoing public and private commitment. Well worth watching the video telling the story here.

Kei te ora te wai

kei te ora te whenua

kei te ora ngā tangata


The Tuaropaki Trust was established when 297 families amalgamated their land in the 1950s to drive sustainable prosperity for their whānau. An inspiring story and again we see collaboration driving real solutions to wicked problems. We visited Mokai where the Trust and Mercury Energy harness geothermal activity to power commercial green houses, the Miraka milk factory and a hydrogen plant. There's also the wonderful Ngaire George Sustainability Centre which is built around the philosophy of minimising business impact on te taiao.

Hydrogen plant at Tuaropaki

The hydrogen plant is pretty amazing, and so scalable, but also exciting are the massive windrow worm farms that process the waste from the dariy and veggie growing operations and creating compost as a by-product.


LGNZ conference:

We were greeted with a protest. And yes, there was discussion about 3 waters. And also about local government reform, co-governance, RMA reform and similar current issues. The presentations were framed in the wellbeings, some of which i'll cover below as I try to summarise some of the conversations.

But first, the scene setter was about the future, where Melissa Clark-Reynolds demonstrated New Zealand's demographic future - which features a coming much larger Māori population and a rapidly aging Pākehā one. That reframes things a little as we'll see.

Te Wā Heke Mai - The Future

We can’t predict the future, whatever we predict will be wrong. Imagine trying to imagine in 1960 how we live today. We would have had no reference points to think about sitting in pyjama pants with hair and makeup in place, in our living room attending meetings with people dispersed across the globe…enabled by a piece of glass and a whole lot of magic called the internet - and btw, there's a global pandemic going on.

We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims. - Buckminster Fuller


Mokopuna decisionmaking and reimagining Local Government

A key theme at the conference was the importance of Mokopuna decisionmaking. This is how the Young Elected Members (YEM) group describe and humanise the shift from short term thinking to long term. It's about making decisions first and foremost for the benefit of future generations. Environment Canterbury Cr Lan Pham said moving the focus from suppressing rates and maximising returns to making decisions that will benefit the coming generations is where it starts. The YEM urged us to change by design, not by disaster.

A presentation from Adam Lent of New Local said solutions to big problems are to be found in the community, not inside the council institution and that a cultural shift is needed to get councils outside to collaborate with and empower communities. This, he said, leads to better decisions and enhanced legitimacy of councils. In turn that creates healthier, engaged and empowered communities.

Waitaki Deputy Mayor Melanie Tavendale told us that a large percentage of Oamaru residents are Pasifika - a surprise to most in the room. She was concerned about central government's top down approach and echoed Adam Lent's comments saying that councils' were well aware of their own problems and didn't need central government to tell them what they were.

Looking towards reform, there were discussions about Māori and Pasifika businesses being locked out of the supply chain discussions - they just don't make the lists of preferred suppliers - why not?, about co-governance, what is it, how will it work? Far North District Councillor Moko Tepania (Te Rarawa and Ngāti Kahu ki Whangaroa) posed succinct questions to think about - start with self, how do you see partnership? how do you act as a partner? What do you know about the land you are on?

Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta told us she's hearing messages of 'too much, too fast' but is unapologetic saying a perfect storm of issues means we need to move fast and decisively. She was referring to the vast array of reforms this government is bringing. She talked about changing up decisionmaking and bringing much more diversity and collaboration to the table.

She too talked of 'mokopuna decisionmaking' and the need to be good ancestors. She noted the 'gentle tikanga' of the local iwi Rangitane and championed it. Speakers during this segment talked about 'more inclusive narratives', 'strength based alliances', the need for communities to see well functioning local government with high quality, well supported governors. There were conversations about putting Te Ao Māori at the centre, embedded in all work - probably not a bad idea given the demographic shifts coming up - and ensuring Te Tiriti obligations are strictly adhered to. LG needs new ways of funding, it needs to stay local but to find collaborative advantage, and to recognise that NZ has culturally unique citizens. There needs to be a rethink of systems and design to take on the massive challenges we face..

Meihana Durie presents

I listened to the speakers - they delivered inspiring messages, but I worried about the reality of the trendlines that are taking us in the other direction - away from collaborative, diverse conversations and towards a divergent, polarised and increasingly inequitable future. I know a 'strength based approach' underpins this work, but reversing this trend is more likely to need strict plans and frameworks - guess I'll need to cross my fingers until the report document comes out.


Micro mobility - in our case, e-scooters

Despite the weather, we managed an exploration of the local tracks and trails on an excellent Beam Scooter. Cr Alan Baird from Environment Southland who works with me on our combined Regional Transport committee was also up for the ride. Scooters were fun, the trails were fabulous, but cycle paths were generally lanes painted on roads which is mostly ok, until you come to roundabouts and speedy intersections, then not so good. We most certainly need to invest in mobility infrastructure - nationwide - if we are to make scootering, biking and walking safe for most ages. Otherwise, scooting about is a quick and efficient way to quickly move relatively short distances.


Environmental well being

Another conference theme:

Environment minister David Parker gave a fulsome overview of where he's getting to with RMA reform. He assured us he was closely following the Randerson Report and reminded us that a copy of that report was sent to every single councillor in NZ, so it should be well understood where we are going. Three acts will replace the RMA. The exposure draft of the Natural and Built Environments Act is out and there's more info about the Spatial Planning Act and the draft Climate Adaption Act here.

A panel discussion included Cr Rachel Keedwell, Chair Horizons Regional Council and focused on the fact that we in New Zealand are living far beyond the capacity of Earth to support us and Local Government doesn't have the agility to respond - maybe the community doesn't either. Rachel reminded us that Earth Overshoot day (the day we exhausted our annual ecological budget) was upon us - we actually reached it on April 19 along with Russia, according to this report.

We were reminded that climate action needs to be just - and often innovative tech solutions are not. This in response to the Chief Executive of Toyota NZ telling us that policy makers need to listen to business because without business, nothing will happen. We were also reminded that if we were to take the actions we needed to take, we would be voted out. Quite the connundrum. The not-very-good anwer was to focus on legacy rather than re-election. In an attempt to do this, Horizons has set up a Climate Action Joint Committee designed to take climate change seriously - but they're finding that it's very difficult to get on the ground action.


So an inspiring and depressing event. But as our last keynote speaker told us, resilience is everything and humans are a highly resilient species if they consider 3 specific things. Suffice to say there was plenty of food for thought and a reminder that lots of change is coming at us - demographic change, climate change, tech change, reforms and others. Strap in and keep up with the most open mind you can muster as we build towards a hopefully better future in true partnership with iwi was my takeaway. To finish on a cheery, resilient note, a pimms with Pim and Waikato Regional Councillor, Jennifer Nickel. Pim Borren is the Interim Chief Exec of ORC and it was a pleasure to attend conference with him.

Ngā mihi, as always, be in touch however you would like:


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