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Three months in, what's going on?

Listening to understand, being willing to modify a position - Land and Water Plan. Sounds trite, but is really important. There are 12 opinions around our council table, all are valid because people in our region voted them there. Listening to learn, modifying to the point of compromise is hard, but pays off. I'm hoping this is confirmed as we finish our land and water plan this year even as government takes its foot off the environmental restoration pedal and the argument around the table is, should we stop, or should we forge ahead? The STOP team says government has signalled its direction and that is to kick this can down the road (extend the timeframes in government-speak) at least another three years. Many people are invested in a halt and sure that would give those people a breather, plus we'd probably iron out a few deep creases. But there's a whole lot of other people the HAERE TONU (crack on) team, that are distressed by the degradation of water and want us to focus hard on policies and regulation that will restore water quality and quantity - iron out the creases as we go.

We're in government hands here to a large degree, but I note our planning staff are ready to deliver a plan for consultation by the 30 June 2024 as still required by the Ministry - we're yet to receive formal HALT WORK notice. Also noteable is other regions behind us in the process are still looking to consult by end 2025. They too aren't so keen on suggested end dates of end 2027. Read the latest report (presented to February 21 council meeting) here. Watch this space and as always, let me know what you think.

Problems need to be well understood before solutions leapt to. There have been plenty of examples of this over the last year. For example, how we fund and maintain flood and drainage infrastructure across Otago (it's extensive and expensive, more on this later) and the efficacy or not of Park 'n' Ride to enable better use of public transport, (it's complicated, in fast growing areas like Queenstown initially proposed PnR in Frankton would have proved useless as growth pushed into that area and it now has a congestion problem as bad as downtown - current suggestions of further out of town are not likely to prove any better). In all such cases, jumping to solutions risks unintended and unenvisaged consequences. So modeling and careful transparent consultation is important despite the delays and glacial progress they can cause. Challenge is, how can we be flexible and ensure flexibility is built into solutions? The ability and will to just try things that are of little consequence but might be wonderful is severely limited in local government. Bring on reform (and note that that report took two years to produce!).

You've got to take community with you. Decisions won't stick if communities aren't behind them. The Manuherekia water debate is a clear case here. Decisions are stalled, debates are bitter and damage to communities cause deep wounds. Public Transport too. Get too far ahead and push to quickly and people just get angry and won't use it all - worse, will refuse to fund it. There's always the tension between providing a service just good enough that people will use it but not so good it becomes too expensive. And then of course there are frustrating systemic issues. Eg. Housing shortage = bus routes becoming unreliable. Queenstown's dire housing shortage means we are several bus drivers short mostly because of the housing crisis. Not enough bus drivers means when someone doesn't come to work, routes and timetables are missed.

Councils are slow moving beasts and are not well understood. All expenditure has to be budgeted and generally approved around the table and then, through the planning and consultations system, by ratepayers. Judging by rates complaints in my inbox, few ratepayers understand how local government funding works and many find it hard to accept how rates can go up faster than, for example, the CPI. In the simplest of terms councils figure a work plan based on directives from central government, their own strategic directions and community needs, then cost it out apportioning those costs according to their rating policy. As the problems get bigger, and there's more to be done, rates go up. As more people move to a place like Queenstown, they need more infrastructure to support them and that's funded by rates. Bring on a visitor tax that would allow investment funded partially by visitors. As our biodiversity plummets more funds are needed to help community groups make repairs and work towards restoraton, this costs. What's frustrating is that the cost benefit ration of funding biodiversity improvements is massive (Wilding pines as high as 94:1 - ie $94 benefit for every $1 spent), it's still very hard for ratepayers to accept/afford the rate increases that fund the work.


The big work this year

Long Term Plan (LTP)

This is a 10 year work and funding plan that is reviewed every three years - and consulted at each review. It is a considerable piece of work that is required under the Local Govt Act and is the key tool in communicating a council's intentions in a way that is transparent and accountable. Read more about why and how these are prepared here. The LTP has to outline outcomes to be achieved and the levels of service to be provided (performance targets for example). Read more from the auditor general about service levels here.

Read the reports presented on February 21 on the hows and whys of who is rated for what here. Most importantly, check out much of the draft plan itself and its strategic directions here.

This year the main areas of discussion are likely to be about:

Flood and drainage infrastructure

It serves to protect people buildings and land. Much of it was designed years ago to protect less, and in the face of lesser threats than now. We need to understand a broader picture now. That includes discussions about how much longer we can engineer water into restricted channels given expected hydrological changes, are we facing diminishing returns in maintaining infrastructure as we do now? What's happening elsewhere in the world ? England is facing similar issues as discussed here.

Public transport

Patronage is going up, so are costs. The current government isn't favouring increased expenditure on public transport which means our plans may not be funded in the way they used to be. How much are ratepayers willing to pay to retain our current direction towards better transport choices and increased pubic and active transport patronage? How should funding be allocated across the region? How committed are we to equity of access? This is likely to be hotly debated as the plan is consulted. Particularly as we face an average 18+ percent rate rise that I can't see a way out of given increasing workload and demands.

Partnerships and other strategic directions

Our primary partnership is with Kai Tahu, mana whenua of this rohe. The draft strategic directions chapter of our Long Term Plan - to be consulted - offers an overview of this partnership. You'll find it on page 65 of this document.

 What I’m reading/listening to.

You can read this guardian article or it is beautifully read if you like a podcast -


Why building more carparks won’t help anything at all. This for all those that still think providing more carparks is a good idea. Please do check out another perspective.

I'm loving several substack newsletters and am enjoying following people who write and analyse well. You can follow me there to see what i'm reading. My favourites are below:

In hardcopy, I'm reading Michael Kin'g's Te Puea. Wonderful portrayal of an outstanding human. Can't believe it's taken me so long to get to it. Particularly since I'm from the Waikato and I understood none of this as i grew up. In catch up mode...

Tūwhitia te hopo, mairangatia te angitū! Chair Gretchen Robertson gave me a coffee mug with this whakatauki. It means feel the fear and do it anyway, or accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative. ( Have to say I'm learning much from our calm and talented chair.

Haere tonu! Onward or Carry on... Kā mihi maioha ki a koutou. Greetings and thanks to you all.

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