My Column - Moving forward together

Thursday 20 April 2017

Helping our youth helps us all

Last week Nina Griffiths was among 50 individuals and groups recognised by Youth Minister Nikki Kaye at the 2017 New Zealand Youth Awards.

The Kaitaia 18-year-old received her Change Maker (Community Safety) award during a ceremony at Parliament for her work in suicide prevention. It is one of several well-deserved accolades Nina has gained including an AMP Dare to Dream scholarship won in October. That comes with $10,000 that Nina plans to put towards youth development in Kaitaia. In December she was named the People's Choice in the New Zealand Herald's search for New Zealander of the Year.

This is a lot of public attention for someone who has just left school. It is a credit to Nina that the most important thing for her last week was the pride she felt in being joined by fellow Northland award recipients, Te Rau Aroha Totoro and Justice Heteraka.

We need more young people like Nina, which is why Far North District Council is supporting the Far North Youth Council. Last On Tuesday I attended the Far North Youth Council powhiri at Kohewhata Marae in Kaikohe, together with the Deputy Mayor. We've established youth councils in our three wards and these have gone on to engage with 12 to 24-year-olds, strengthening our relationship with young people and encouraging their participation in the work council does.

Providing this platform for a youth voice means that council can more easily consult with youth on our key projects. So far the Youth Council has provided volunteers for several community projects and events such as the opening of the Kaikohe Skate Bowl. In return we have provided youth mentoring and leadership training, and organised youth events across the district.

This year, the Far North Youth Council will participate in the Future Leaders programme delivered by the Inspiring Stories Trust. This programme is part of the Mayors Taskforce for Jobs initiative, supported by Local Government Youth Project funding from the Ministry of Youth Development.

I believe this is important work for all of us. Like other provincial areas, the Far North struggles to hold on to its young people. Many head to the cities for education and work, and then overseas for adventure. Many never come back here to live.

As parents we want to see our tamariki do well, but regret this often happens so far away. It is also hard for our district. Without young people our communities begin to die; our schools close down, family farms are sold off, jobs disappear and the ones we do have are harder to fill. That's why we need to encourage a sense of belonging and provide opportunities for youngsters to have a real say about how their district develops. The Youth Council is just one way we can achieve that.

Nina Griffiths plans to study at university. I wish her all the best and thank her for the contribution she has made. I hope she returns. In the meantime we will do all we can to encourage our young people so they too become active and passionate community members.

Thursday 13 April 2017

Counting the cost of our road toll

Tomorrow is Good Friday and the start of the Easter long weekend. This is one of the most important dates in the Christian calendar. It is also one of the last opportunities to enjoy the tail end of summer and many people will be loading up the car and hitting the road to join family and friends.

As I write this, it seems likely that Cyclone Cook will throw a dampener on the weekend as it tracks down the east coast. Rain is predicted. It could be heavy and some regions may experience flooding.

The weather will also be a worry for our emergency services and not just because of the potential for floods and slips. Heavy traffic and wet conditions will make driving more dangerous. Last year, there were four road deaths during the Easter holiday period. In 2015, there was one fatality. In 2014, there were five.

As a nation, we've done a lot to get the road toll down from the 1980s when the Easter Weekend road toll regularly hit double figures. In the 90s it began tracking down to single figures and once - just once in 2012 - no family received that dreaded visit from police.

Last week, Associate Transport Minister David Bennett put a cost on road crashes. It is estimated that the average social cost of every fatal crash now tops $4.7 million. A serious crash costs $912,000, while a minor crash costs us all $99,000. Notice the minister didn’t call them 'accidents'. That's because most road crashes are preventable.

In 2015, 40 per cent of Easter Weekend crashes involved one vehicle where the driver lost control. Another 20 per cent were intersection collisions and 16 per cent were collisions with parked vehicles or other obstructions. Alcohol was a factor in 21 per cent of crashes and travelling too fast for the conditions was a factor in 17 per cent.

Failing to give way and inattention also figured prominently. Nearly half the crashes were on the open road. As a council, we spend about a third of our total budget on maintaining, improving and building roads and footpaths. Improving the design and signage of that infrastructure is always a priority.

But ultimately, it is us drivers who make decisions behind the wheel. You and I decide whether to speed, whether to answer your mobile phone or whether it's safe to overtake. From 4pm tonight, the official Easter holiday period begins. It will continue until 6am on Tuesday.

We all hope for another Easter like 2012 with no fatalities, because the cost of road crashes is just too high. Certainly, the mums, dads and kids taking to the roads can ill-afford the consequences of poor driving decisions. So please, this Easter Weekend be patient. Concentrate on the road, slow down and have a safe and happy Easter.

Thursday 6 April 2017

Helping communities to help themselves

Recently, I along with mayors Meng Foon and Steve Chadwick called on government to change the way the nation deals with entrenched problems many of our communities face. We said that local communities should be helped to deal with intergenerational unemployment, poor education, family dysfunction, crime and much more. We’re keen to trial such a proposal and are in in talks with central government about how, where and when we can do this. This is an initiative we are taking as leaders of our districts – it is not council policy for the Far North, Gisborne or Rotorua districts.

I’m confident that with the right support, the people of the Far North can rise to this challenge and make a real difference to how social and economic problems are resolved. What makes me so confident? Because I see our communities do this each and every day and we always have: mums and dads have always mucked in to help with the school gala, the sports team, the AMP Show. Church groups, and Lions and Rotary clubs raise money to help those less fortunate here and overseas. Every day individuals give up their spare time to help others.

Academics call this Civil Society - where people outside of government get together to provide services or advance ideas because they want to, not because they are being paid to. We’re better at this than many other countries. We have a high rate of 'volunteering' in New Zealand and we have some great examples of this up here in the Far North.

In Opua there’s the very well-organised Love Opua Community Group. This group has several projects around Opua, but one of the most visible has been the transformation of the space at the top of the hill on the road to Paihia. You can now stop and take in the wonderful view of the Bay of Islands from the intersection because of the landscaping work these people did together.

In Kaitaia the ANT Trust launched its Open the Curtains initiative last year to work one-on-one with people to identify their strengths and their needs. Trust staff plan to visit every at risk Maori home in the area, taking kai first to break the ice and then following up by helping whanau access what they need, whether it be food, furniture or clothes for children.

He Korowai Trust is another example of communities helping themselves. This consortium of Maori organisations has joined with government and businesses to help whanau improve their lives through budgeting, housing, health services and much more. Some of their services are funded by government, but many aren't. The underlying principle is helping others to help themselves, says trust founder Ricky Houghton.

That principle neatly describes the role I think all our communities can aspire to - helping others to help themselves. I don’t want to let central government off the hook and I don't want to shift the burden to under-resourced communities.

This is about acknowledging that the State does not have all the answers. But what the State can do is help our communities find solutions that work for us.

Thursday 23 March 2017

Our plan for reducing waste

One of the biggest challenges we face as a district and a nation is disposing of the mountain of rubbish we produce each year. We are a throwaway society and that is evident in the staggering volume of rubbish we bury in the ground each year.

In 2015/16, the Far North district sent just under 20,000 tonnes of waste to landfill. That equates to about 320 kg per person. Clearly this is not sustainable. Landfills are expensive to operate and it costs a lot of money to truck waste to landfills outside the district.

Landfills also release methane and have the potential to contaminate underground water, so they pose a threat to the environment and public health. It is hard to imagine our children and their children will thank us for leaving them a stinking pile of rubbish. We need to do better and we can do better.

The Council is currently seeking community feedback on a Draft Waste Management and Minimisation Plan that aims to reduce the waste people in the district send to landfill each year to 200 kg per person by 2023. This is an ambitious goal, but a necessary one if we are to become a more sustainable district.

The draft plan is designed to make it easier for people to recycle and it includes proposals to develop resource recovery centres in Waipapa/Kerikeri and Russell, as well as new community recycling centres at Mangamuka, Matawaia, Oruaiti, Pamapuria, Te Tii, Waiharara, Waima and Waitangi.

The plan also proposes to campaign for a national refundable deposit on drink containers and develop a regional forum to tackle illegal rubbish dumping. We all produce waste and every one of us will be affected by this plan, so I strongly urge you to provide feedback on what we are proposing before we finalise the plan on 11 May.

We are accepting submissions until 18 April, so there is plenty of time to find out more and have your say by going to the FNDC website or visiting a Council service centre. Of course, this plan alone won’t enable us to meet our waste minimisation goals. We will still rely on households and businesses to make use of the extensive network of recycling centres and services the council and private contractors provide.

The plan also won’t stop people from buying consumer products with packaging that can’t be recycled, nor will it force them to reuse things as many times as possible before putting them in the rubbish.

Many of us already recycle, but too many people are still putting waste in their rubbish bags that it is biodegradable or can be recycled. We all need to reduce, reuse and recycle so the Far North becomes a place our children and their children will thank us for. Please think of your children’s future next time you are about to chuck something out.

Thursday 16 March 2017

Council works in tandem with communities on cycle trail

I wrote a little last week about opening the final section of the Pou Herenga Tai Twin Coast Cycle Trail on Saturday. This promises to be a great day and not just for cyclists, but for the people of Okaihau and Horeke.

Creating the country’s only coast to coast cycle trail has not always been a straightforward task and it’s taken us over six years to get here. But at last we are opening one of 22 Great Rides that make up the New Zealand Cycle Trail, Nga Haerenga.

Along with a team of dedicated council staff, I have been intimately involved in making Pou Herenga Tai happen and I've talked with most of those involved. What sets the Okaihau- Horeke section of the trail apart is that it does not follow an existing Crown-owned rail corridor. Instead, much of it crosses private land, meaning council has had to negotiate access with each landowner.

Fortunately, the owners of five farms between Okaihau and Horeke gave us permission to develop a 10km section of the trail across their land. It starts at Alexsey Lykho’s macadamia orchard in Okaihau and ends at Mangataraire Farm Trust near the junction of Horeke and Mangataraire Roads in the Utakura Valley.

In between, the trail winds through some truly spectacular countryside with a breath taking descent from Okaihau to the Utakura valley where riders follow the impressive Utakura River through stands of kauri and join the road heading to the Hokianga Harbour. Before reaching the historic settlement of Horeke they travel along a 1.25km boardwalk – the longest built for a New Zealand cycle trail.

Being able to access this countryside is due almost entirely to the generosity and imagination of the Lewis, Lykho, Harrison, MacMillan and Taylor families. They quickly understood the potential that the cycle trail offers to the whole community.

That potential is amply demonstrated by the Otago Rail Trail. Year after year tourists eager to see the Otago countryside and understand its history have flocked to the region’s five cycle trails. In the process these tourists have resuscitated fading small towns.

This example has not been lost on our own residents. Ray and Robyn Clarke understood the opportunities early on and set up Top Trail Hire & Tours in 2012 to provide cycle hire and transfers across the entire 85km of the Pou Herenga Tai Twin Coast Cycle Trail.

Likewise, Noelene and Pete Inverarity in Okaihau spotted the possibilities that hundreds of cyclists passing their front gate brought. To harness just some of that potential the pair converted old railway carriages into accommodation for cyclists and they also cater for camper vans at the Okaihau Rail Stay.

Thursday 9 March 2017

Something for everyone

The next few weeks will be very busy in the Far North with major sporting, family and cultural events that promise to cater for all tastes.

First up is a classic Far North pastime that combines two of our quintessential icons: fishing and Te Oneroa-a-Tohe 90 Mile Beach. The Durapanel 90 Mile Beach Snapper Bonanza begins on 14 March and will attract around 800 surf casters competing for $100,000 in prize money.

Up to 3000 supporters are also expected to attend the final prize giving eager to see which lucky angler takes out the $30,000 Largest Snapper prize. Prize money like that attracts anglers from all over the country and many of them return year after year. It's a huge event for beach residents and Te Hiku businesses. It's also one council has proudly sponsored since 2011.

This sponsorship is part of our Events Strategy, where we support events that encourage a culturally rich, connected district and also enhance our communities. Events like these attract visitors and bring positive economic benefits to the whole district.

On the final morning of the five day fishing competition, the people of Okaihau and Horeke will be celebrating another achievement - the opening of the final section of Pou Herenga Tai Twin Coast Cycle Trail.

Registrations open at 7.45am on 18 March for riders ready to take on the full 28km route from Okaihau to Horeke. This grade 2-3 ride follows the banks of the Utakura River and then Horeke Rd before finishing in the Hokianga settlement of Horeke. For those wanting a more leisurely day, there's a 9km loop cycle, run or walk.

This is rated as a grade 1 event. Registrations open at 8.30am at Horeke Primary School for a 9.30am start. Both routes finish at the historic Mangungu Mission for a powhiri and prize giving for those registered in the free event. You can then stay around and join in the annual Horeke Regatta on Hokianga Harbour.

Meanwhile, that afternoon on the east coast is the Bay of Islands Classic 3.3km swim from Russell to Paihia. Another council-sponsored event, the Classic always attracts good crowds, media coverage and positive spin-offs for our district.

Finally, and to prove we also appreciate some culture in the Far North, there is Upsurge, a five day festival of the arts starting 5 April. Upsurge features musicians, comedians and artists from around New Zealand and the world. Events will be held in Russell, Kerikeri, Waitangi, Kawakawa, Omapere and Kaikohe.

It will be physically impossible to participate in all these events, but I urge you to get involved and to show visitors to our district some Far North hospitality.

Thursday 2 March 2017

Aiming for excellence

Excellence is something we tend to read or hear as a word rather than see as an action. Many organisations refer to excellence in their mission statements, but often they fail to define what excellence is or how it is achieved. It can also be hard to point to anything that passes as excellence in their day to day operations.

The Far North District Council has a vision that commits elected members and staff to providing effective services to customers and communities. Every one of us relies on Council services every day and we all have an opinion, which may be a positive or negative view, about how the Council provides those services. What most of us don't see is the organisational machinery that sits behind these services and has a bearing on whether they meet the needs of customers or comply with legislation.

We also have no objective means of gauging whether the systems, policies and practices that comprise this machinery represent the best in local government or the worst. That is why elected members decided last year that the Far North District Council would become a foundation member of Local Government New Zealand's Excellence Programme.

Under this benchmarking programme, independent assessors rate the business practices of participating councils across four priority areas: leadership, finance, service delivery and community engagement. They then award each council an overall quality rating on a nine-point scale from AAA to C. The intention is that councils discuss these ratings and assessments with their communities and use them to develop action plans that target improvements where they are most needed.

I am delighted that the Far North District Council is taking part in this programme, which will give elected members, managers and communities an unvarnished view of the organisation's strengths and weaknesses. This is essential information if we are to become a provider of high-quality services.

This willingness to open ourselves up to this kind of scrutiny is also proof of our commitment to be as transparent as possible. Staff have already completed self-assessments and external assessors will be visiting the organisation this month to interview key managers.

I look forward to reading these assessments when they are published and made available to the public. I also look forward to talking about the findings, and how we are addressing these, in future columns.

Excellence should be something we demonstrate in our actions every day, rather than an aspiration without an action plan.

Thursday 16 February 2017

Recognising our volunteer groups

In this column I often discuss the many ways Council is working to make the Far North a better place to live and work in for everyone. Just as crucial to the task of building a supportive and vibrant community is the volunteer work that individuals and groups undertake each and every day all around New Zealand.

To recognise the invaluable contribution volunteers make to our towns and communities, Council has partnered with Trustpower to present the Trustpower Far North Community Awards.

Since the awards began in 2009, more than $44,000 has been given away to support the work that community groups and organisations undertake. This year more than $5000 is up for grabs in the Far North.

There are five award categories: Heritage and Environment; Health and Wellbeing; Arts and Culture; Sport and Leisure; and Educational and Child/Youth Development. Category winners receive $500, runners-up receive $250 and the Supreme Winner takes home $1500 and an all-expenses paid trip to the 2017 Trustpower National Community Awards.

Each district's Supreme Award winner competes at the Trustpower National Community Awards to be named the National Supreme Winner. In 2015 that honour went to Focus Paihia, which was chosen from among 25 district winners from around New Zealand.

Focus Paihia won the award for its incredible work converting a waterfront car park into a park and village green. This has transformed the waterfront and helped make Paihia the unique attraction it is for visitors and locals alike.

As with all regions in New Zealand, the Far North has its own special identity and often it is our volunteer groups that best express that uniqueness. Focus Paihia managed to do just that, as has the Bay of Islands Vintage Railway Trust. It won the Far North Supreme Award in 2010 and no one could deny that the Trust has helped make Kawakawa the vibrant little town it is today.

Bay Bush Action, which won the Far North Supreme Award last year, reflects how much we love our natural environment in the Far North. Day-in, day-out Bay Bush Action is leading by example, eradicating introduced pests and helping to save the Opua State Forest.

I'm proud of the remarkable volunteer groups we have here in the Far North and I'm happy Council has the opportunity to recognise them through the annual Trustpower Far North Community Awards.

You have until 5pm 31 March to nominate your favourite volunteer group or organisation. You can nominate your own group too. The criteria are simple: the awards are open to all voluntary groups and organisations working to make the District and its towns a better place to live.

Thursday 9 February 2017

Reflecting on our relationships with Maori

The annual commemoration of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 is always a timely reminder to reflect on the Far North District Council's relations with iwi and hapu.

Local authorities have statutory obligations under the Local Government Act to recognise and respect the Crown's obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi. These obligations include providing opportunities and processes for Maori to contribute to their decision-making and keeping Maori informed about matters that are relevant to their interests.

Councils have a duty to consider the relationship iwi and hapu have with ancestral land and other taonga when they make important decisions about land or water. They also have obligations under the Resource Management Act to engage with Maori when preparing or changing regional and district plans or making other resource management decisions.

We have a long way to go before we are fulfilling these obligations across the district. However, we can pride ourselves in what we have achieved since last Waitangi Day. In May, the council and Te Runanga o Ngati Hine signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that formalised a mutual desire to work together to achieve shared objectives.

Late last year, the council signed an MOU with Ngakahu/Ngakohu Whanau Ahuwhenua Trust about public water works on the trust's land in Kaitaia. These agreements followed the signing of an MOU with Te Runanga o Te Rarawa in 2015. On Saturday, the council signed a similar agreement with Waimate North hapu Te Whiu.

While these agreements are often born out of the frustration and grievances of iwi and hapu, they provide a foundation for more positive relationships with the council.

I am also proud of the way our District Plan Review Team has involved Maori in its review of the District Plan. The team launched an extensive community consultation campaign last year, visiting numerous communities and marae across the district to ensure that as many Maori as possible had an opportunity to provide feedback on this important document which controls land use and subdivision in the district.

The Council has also established a new team dedicated to helping owners of freehold Maori land clear their rates so they can develop their land without the burden of debt. We profiled the team in the first issue of a newsletter called Te Aka Kumara, which showcases Council policies and services that are designed to support Maori development.

We have a long way to go before we have a clear understanding of the expectations and aspirations of all iwi and hapu in the Far North and are supporting these aspirations in our decision-making. However, we have made a lot of progress in a year. I look forward to updating on you this important work next Waitangi Day.

Thursday 2 February 2017

Connected communities our goal

Happy New Year, Northland Age readers. I hope you and your whanau had a safe and enjoyable Christmas and 2017 is a prosperous and healthy year for you.

I would like to use my first column of 2017 to share some exciting news with you. Last week, Northland councils learned that 21 communities in the region, including nine Far North communities, will receive ultra-fast broadband fibre under the Government’s Rural Broadband Initiative 2 (RBI2).

This is great news for people in Ahipara, Kaikohe, Kaitaia, Kawakawa, Kerikeri, Moerewa, Paihia, Russell and Taipa-Mangonui who can now look forward to the benefits of ultra-fast internet.

The nine Far North communities include two communities (Ahipara and Russell) that weren’t among the towns Northland Councils recommended in a joint registration of interest for RBI2. Kaeo and Rawene were included in the registration of interest, but didn’t make the cut.

The Government’s $33.8 million investment in ultra-fast broadband fibre in Northland is a big step towards 100% connectivity in the region. I am very pleased that Northland councils have been able to deliver this result for Northlanders by working together and advocating Northland’s needs with one voice.

The only downside of the announcement is that Crown Fibre Holdings and Chorus won’t complete the rollout of fibre in Northland until 2023. While it is good that Northland is ahead of 10 other regions in the queue for ultrafast broadband, six years is still a long time to wait for this infrastructure which is critical to the growth and development of our communities and our economy.

Ultra-fast broadband will improve communication within the district and with the world, allowing residents to become global citizens. It will also boost business productivity, give entrepreneurs access to new tools and markets and position the region for a future when jobs aren’t bound by location.

Without digital connectivity, our people will continue to fall further behind and our businesses won’t be competitive with businesses elsewhere. For example, Northland boasts some of New Zealand’s top tourist attractions. However, international visitors have digital expectations we are currently failing to meet. By failing to invest in ultra-fast broadband infrastructure now, we are effectively denying our communities their tomorrow.

We are acutely aware that many rural communities won’t get broadband under RBI2. We remain committed to working with communities that weren’t chosen and helping them find broadband solutions that meet their needs. The Far North District Council is developing a digital infrastructure and solutions report that will identity what investment is needed to improve broadband and cellular coverage in the District.

Our goal is 100% connectivity and 100% opportunity. That is the only way we will become a district of sustainable prosperity and wellbeing; by moving forward together and leaving no-one behind.



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