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LTP hearings, decisions, a virtual chocolate fish, a speech and a reading list...

This blog is long, so I've broken it into several parts hoping you'll scroll to the areas that interest you. The first part is about the hearings themselves because I wanted to showcase some of the thoughtful and helpful effort people put in to shape up this plan. The second part has most of our actual decisions, and offers evidence that we listen carefully to submissions and make changes accordingly. If you just want to know the outcomes (spoiler alert, Wānaka and Kingston will not pay for Queenstown's public transport, nor Middlemarch and Ōamaru for Dunedin's) scroll down to that second part. Then I put my reading list (aside from council papers and student submissions) and finally, I make an award and publish a speech. Apologies for the length - brevity is an art I'm out of time for today!

Two days of hearings

Day one, Monday 20 May was in Queenstown. I was looking forward to being there along with several councillors who made the trek from Dunedin to hear from those who live close to the headwaters. But sadly, my plans were Covided so the best I could do was watch the recording after sleeping most of the day.

Day two, Tuesday 21 May was in Dunedin. I watched online, video and mic off just listening and not engaging.

But I learned heaps over those two days of listening only. 

Previously going through the written submissions I'd been struck by the astounding polarisation.  At one end of the continuum, people wanted to fire the entire ORC, they see no value in what we do and do not want to invest in environmental management,  public transport, and certainly not climate change adaptation or mitigation.  These same submissions often criticised our efforts to work with mana whenua or community groups and equally saw our science and monitoring work entirely a waste of their hard-earned. At the other end of the scale, exactly the opposite.  People appreciated what they see as a new openness, access to science and monitoring, and wanted us to do more. They said we were not doing nearly enough and must speed up our responses to a changing climate and degrading environment. These people often encouraged greater partnership with mana whenua.  

Some submissions were at cross purposes with themselves, eg, asking for lower rates but better buses, or more investment in flood infrastructure. And everything in the middle. 

However, during the actual hearings, the polarisation was a whole lot less.  People's arguments were often nuanced and well-articulated. 

Over the two days, from both extremes of our region, I heard that while people are worried about affordability, a cost of living crisis, and a cost of farming crisis, many thought ORC was generally on the right track.   People valued and commended our current efforts to increase environmental monitoring and support regeneration efforts. 

A point made by a former Queenstown Mayor resonated as she argued for us to retain the wilding pine rate as its own separate line item.

“…although it’s expedient to roll the wilding pine rate into a wider bucket, it’s important not to.  People need to be able to relate with this rate.” I think we've under-rated the power of the rates demand as a marketing document.

In Dunedin the Otago University Students’ Association (OUSA) supported the proposed increase in environmental rates even in a time of economic austerity and a timid market.

“Much of the investment detailed throughout this long-term plan is long overdue and over the next ten to twenty years will provide value back to the community and I believe will be of considerate value to the community.”

 OUSA’s comments weren’t those of one person on behalf, the group ran a survey and gave us the results. Interestingly, 23 of the 40 people contributing wanted a Large Scale Environmental Fund of $2m, 36 wanted public transport investment, and 23, for ORC to improve regional climate resilience.  Just 5 wanted service and rates reduction. 

 We heard from many people on the Taiare (Taiere).  There is a lot of concern about flooding – a big flood could cause catastrophic flood bank failure resulting in loss of life. Funding works to improve flood bank infrastructure may become unaffordable and this really worries people.  The costs of infrastructure maintenance are apparently so high that the marketability of farms for sale is affected. We heard how flood schemes decimated papa kainga on the Taiare and mahinga kai and now these people are further hit economically by rates increases. This is a fraught issue.   Taiare people felt more of the costs should be spread across a wider area.  But where is the line? It’s a long bow to draw to say that, for example, people in Mosgiel benefit from Leith flood protection.

 This argument stretches to the public transport rates where our initial plan was to spread Dunedin public transport costs across the entire Dunedin City area and the Queenstown public transport costs across all of the Queenstown Lakes District.  Wānaka people have told us in no uncertain terms that this would be unacceptable.  Similar story from those who live in Middlemarch.   “Cows don’t use buses” was a comment I heard from someone who is rated for buses even though their land has no buildings on it.

 Dugald MacTavish and Solis Norton from Wise response questioned the strength of our Long Term plan goals and took us back to the foundational system dynamics climate modelling  done by Donella Meadows and her team of young scientists at MIT in the 1970sWise Response presented graphs showing how correct those predictive models have proven over the past 50 years.  Wise Response wanted us to connect more urgently with our communities around the disaster coming at us because of climate instability.  They said that ORC has a role in bringing people along on this journey and that the reality behind higher rates is the need to do more work.

Mary O’Brien from CCS Disability Action offered support for ongoing investment in public transport.  It occurred to me that disabled people are far more likely to suffer economic disadvantage than most, yet they still have to pay rates. I don’t hear them complaining about the increases, but they urge us to continue investing in better, more accessible public transport.  They understand that this supports health and well-being for everyone. Mary explained that reaching health appointments is a priority for these people and their economic situations mean they need effective public transport to do so. 

Bridie Lonie talked about the private car and its function as another living room.  I loved the way she put this and how she named it as manipulation by the fossil fuel industry.  She pointed out that Public Transport was a public good adding to the cohesion of our community and accepted that rates will only go up if we are to make the future we want.

There were many, many other arguments and positions.  I was reminded of a book I read recently, but more about that in the What I'm Reading section below.

Two days of deliberations.

First, thank you a million to those people who made submissions, you had an impact and I hope you are pleased with the changes your submissions made to the plan. Ka tino pai tō mahi.

1.    Investing in our environment

The table below summarises what you told us. (CD stands for Consultation Document)

How we voted: There will be a $2m fund for environmental projects from the 25/26 financial year. That rate will be applied across the region.

2. Public Transport

The first question slightly favoured 'No' but we voted yes. In my view this was because we were able to argue there is a benefit to everyone in having efficient and growing PT networks in Dunedin and Queenstown and given we were rejecting the next proposals, this was fair, if not perfect.

How we voted: This will be charged on an 80/20 basis – 80 percent in the area where Public Transport (PT) is delivered as per the status quo (Queenstown and Dunedin). So, apart from the relatively small entire region contribution, areas not served by public transport will not be rated for it.

2. Flood Protection, Drainage and River Management

As adopted for PT, flood protection will now be paid for as per the 80/20 rule and drainage 90/10 recognising exacerbators and beneficiaries. The Tokomairiro scheme will now be defined as flood protection.

There is a lot more detail on this which I won’t go into here because the complexities of some of the decisions would have us all here all day.

3. Catchment Rates

The preferred option as consulted was approved and it was agreed that the new catchment management rate is an Otago-wide general rate based on capital value.

4. Navigational safety rates

Approved as outlined in the consultation document.

5. Wilding Conifer Control rate

The status quo prevailed. The Wilding Conifer Control rate continues as a Uniform General Rate as requested by all the control groups in Otago.

6. Decisions on our Must Do work

There's been a shift. We've heard that the community will support greatly improved environmental outcomes as long as they are involved in identifying and resolving issues. This is the direction set by this plan. There'll be work to be done to be efficient and pull all the programmes into something integrated and comprehensive. As Chair Gretchen noted, we've got to ramp up support for the expertise that is in the community and work with them to get the best environmental outcomes. Hallelujah! I hope this is fast enough and comprehensive enough to really make change. I've learned we have to pull people up to speed, they don't like being got ahead of, maybe we're getting there. For complete-ness, I also need to note a lot of non-supportive submissions in the environmental management and climate mitigation space. Many people still find it wasteful for us to spend in this space. We do not have everyone pointing the same way on this.


  • Upper Clutha gets support for a PT business case in year one instead of yet another trial.

  • $50k for activity outlined in Dunedin Tracks and Trails submission - year two

  • Investigate looking at Ōamaru to Dunedin service (year one). Look to a trial in year two

  • Didn't manage to get 'Saturday-isation' of Dunedin bus services at a cost $340k per year, but will get that looked at through the Regional Public Transport Plan.

What I'm reading

This report from Jana Davis on the condition of Waiwhakaata - Lake Hayes, and his concerns about its future. Considering the development planned in some areas of the catchment of that beautiful taonga, he's right to be very worried. Demanding more of developers' stormwater plans will help. Stormwater is what carries damaging sediment carrying the algae-fertilising-phosphates into this Lake. We must pay attention to this. Check out my earlier post on the phosphorous/phosphate cycle affecting this lake and the cycle's history dating back to 1950s farming.

Same as Ever, by Morgan Housel (2023)

Housel says that people will believe what they want to believe, and much of that is about what they’re incentivized to believe.  Of course this is as true for me as for anyone.

In the book, Housel tells how Jason Zweig of The Wall Street Journal says "there are three ways to be a professional writer:

1.       Lie to people who want to be lied to and, you’ll get rich

2.      Tell the truth to those who want the truth and you’ll make a living

3.      Tell the truth who those who want to be lied to and you’ll go broke."

As a journalist in the 1990s, I was in the second category. Wanting a better lifestyle (more money, more time, fewer unreasonable demands), I started a PR company with a fellow journalist, and after 16 years acknowledged to myself that much of my work fell into the first category arguing one side of a story for the benefit of whoever was paying.   That was the end of that business for me.  I sold my share of the company, invested the money in my education, transformed my own mindset and now here I am, for better or worse.

Considering people's incentives for believing what they did make for interesting reflection as I went through submissions. Demonstrated over and over is that reason, data and facts have way less to do with it than, what this means for the individual, their individual business, their individual future. I keep thinking we’ll reach the tipping point, culturally and socially, that will make for different action.  As Housel says,  unsustainable actions go on for much longer than they should because there are “social and financial reasons preventing people from accepting reality for as long as they can.”

Simon Upton annihilates the Fast Track Bill

I loved watching this.  If you haven’t already seen it, fast forward to minute 16 of this video and watch the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, politely, reasonably but scathingly say what he really thinks of the bill. Environment Committee on Vimeo

I’ve also had a brief read of the very readable latest report from the commissioners office. It would be sobering if we didn’t know it already.  But that aside, there’s real direction in this report and I’d like to see us consider it carefully.

Of course cycleways are good for business

And of course cities get way better for humans as you remove cars

This from the wonderful The Conversation

Engaged citizen award - a virtual chocolate fish to Pierre Marasti

Figure 2: AI picture from the prompt, Français avec un poisson au chocolate. I would like to have properly attributed the sources that provided the basis for this image but can't because AI doesn't not reference its sources.

Finally, in this long and rambling blog, I’d like to acknowledge Pierre Marasti who has faithfully attended every ORC council meeting this triennium to deliver us timely messages on climate change.  His speeches are always fully researched and sourced and are always well received. Over the next wee while I’ll publish more of his speeches – I wish I’d thought of it earlier.  Here’s his May 22 speech.

Kia ora koutou katoa,

We want to start by thanking you for inviting us to give some input into the drafting of the future climate action plan. We did and we were happy to hear during the webinar that even the business representatives present were asking for more tangible actions!

We also want to thank you for your work on the 10 year plan and to express our full support for the maximum proposed investment in public transport and for the maximum proposed investment in the new environmental fund.

But we also need to cover the latest climate news and they are catastrophic.

April was the 11th month in a row to break temperature records and the last 12 months were 1.61º above pre-industrial average. So the Paris Agreement target has now failed and we’ll have to deal with the consequences of our inaction.

The warming of the planet during these last 12 months has been 10 times faster than what is expected by the models... 10 times! 

Let’s hope that the coming La Nińa cycle will slow this trend down.

But with the oceans temperatures continuing their alarming upward trend this is not a given.

These record temperatures have of course consequences.

In the last month or so, you must have all seen the desert town of Dubai being flooded, Southern China has also been flooded, and after years of deadly drought Kenya has been flooded killing hundreds,... more than one hundred have also died through floods in Brazil where weeks after the initial flood water still hasn’t receded in many places… and deadly floods happened in Afghanistan too,...

In western countries also, Europe just experienced widespread floods While Texas was hit by a deadly storm after being hit by floods.

In Europe again a late cold snap has destroyed the harvest of many orchards and if you like wine from Chablis, up to 25% of their vinards have been destroyed by a hail storm, Chablis will be expensive this year!

A more systemic crisis is happening in Southeast Asia where the population is dealing with more and more deadly heatwaves and Catalonia is in a state of emergency as they are running out of water…summer hasn't even started in Spain!

Here of course floods are becoming our new normal!

Also, as predicted by the IPCC, now that we have passed 1.5º of warming we can expect up to 90% of coral reefs to die. 

It is happening as we speak in Australia where most of the great barrier reef is bleaching. 

Now I am sure that many people do not care about coral reefs, but let me remind you that 25% of marine species need coral reefs to live, no coral reefs, no fish to eat.

And it is not just fish dependent on corals that are suffering from the extreme temperatures of our oceans, if you like “fish and chips”, be warned that cods cannot spawn when temperatures are too high, they are on a fast decline too.

So the situation is bad, and you are already all being affected each time you go buy food.

It is about time to stop talking and to start acting.

There is at least some good news on that front. We sent you the electric homes report from rewiring Aotearoa after the last meeting.

It proves that to electrify everything in the country, besides being the low hanging fruit of real climate action, is now the cheapest way forward for New Zealanders.

It is cheaper, in New Zealand, to drive electric vehicles, it is cheaper to warm your home with electricity, it is cheaper to warm your water with electricity and it is cheaper to cook with electricity.

You can also make it even cheaper by producing your own electricity.

There now is really no excuse left to keep polluting with filthy old fossil fuel powered machines. 

Who in their right mind would want to pay more for the privilege of committing civilisational suicide?

And there is more positive news. Last week Rewiring Aotearoa released its follow up “Electric Farms” report.

It shows, in complete transparency, how New Zealand farmers can be at the forefront of the country’s energy transition while creating new sources of revenues for themselves!

We will share this report with you and we hope that you will dig into it to see how the ORC can help support this transition.

Thank you

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