My Column - Moving forward together

22 July 2021

Providing clarity on SNAs

Last month, I asked staff to pause mapping of Significant Natural Areas (SNAs) in the district in response to a very clear message from mana whenua and landowners who opposed this process. It was the right decision to make, but it left the Council in a regulatory limbo.

If you have been following this issue, you will know that the Council was undertaking this work as part of our review of the District Plan. We are required by the Resource Management Act, the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement 2010, and the Regional Policy Statement for Northland 2016 to protect natural habitats in the District Plan.

Identifying SNAs is how we and all other councils in New Zealand were to meet that obligation. However, the Far North has a unique set of conditions that make this requirement widely unpopular. As much as 42 per cent of our district includes habitats of high ecological value. We also have a much higher proportion of Maori-owned land than elsewhere in the country. These factors make the cultural and economic impacts of SNAs potentially far greater in the Far North.

That is why I and other elected members went to Wellington to discuss the issue directly with Associate Environment Minister James Shaw. It was important that he clearly understood the concerns of our landowners. I am grateful that both Minister Shaw and Local Government Minister, Nanaia Mahuta, supported a pause on SNAs until the National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity (NPS-IB) is implemented. That is now due by the end of the year.

While the Government has signalled support for a pause on SNAs, we must continue the very important task of reviewing our District Plan. Our goal is to publicly notify the proposed Plan later this year, so we can then gather your feedback. On Tuesday, our Strategy and Policy Committee considered how to make that happen.

They debated this issue at length and the concerns of the community were front and centre of their thinking during this discussion. I believe they have opted for a way forward that meets our legal obligations, recognises the legitimate concerns of landowners and provides us with the best opportunity progress the Proposed District Plan. They decided to continue developing the District Plan but remove SNA maps from the document. They also voted to revisit the issue at the next committee meeting when we have completed our conversations with Government ministers and have a clear idea about the way forward.

While I was unable to attend the committee meeting myself, I know there was vigorous debate about SNAs. That included making a stand and refusing to apply the Government’s current requirements. What was never seriously considered was an option to continue with the SNA mapping process.

We have heard your views about SNAs loud and clear, and the committee’s decision reflects that. What we will do now is continue our vital work updating the District Plan so that we can present a proposed Plan to you for feedback later this year. Our aim now is to complete this process so that we can provide greater certainty to residents, businesses and landowners on planning rules.


15 July 2021

Setting the right road speeds

From this week, we are asking residents and road users around Kaitaia, Broadwood, Moerewa and Te Oneroa-a-Tohe / Ninety Mile Beach to provide us with feedback on new speed limits proposed for Council-administered roads in the district. The proposals are part of a region-wide review of road speeds being undertaken by Northland councils and are the second review for the Far North. We applied new speed limits in January this year to over 50 roads between Kaeo and Ohaeawai. This work aligns with the Government’s Road to Zero national strategy to reduce deaths and serious injuries on New Zealand roads by 40 per cent over the next 10 years.

We are reviewing road speeds area by area with roads that have the highest risk of serious and fatal crashes reviewed first. Statistics show that roads around Awanui, north of Hokianga Harbour and Moerewa have a high rate of serious road crashes and we can help reduce those statistics by applying speed limits that better reflect the road environment. Te Oneroa-a-Tohe / Ninety Mile Beach is a little different and is included to help implement the Te Oneroa-a-Tohe Beach Management Plan for Ninety Mile Beach.

When considering the road environment, we must look at the road itself. Many Far North roads are unsealed, narrow and winding. Despite that, most have a default speed limit of 100km/h. While most modern vehicles are safer than those available when speed limits were set, they are often capable of much faster speeds. The other factor to consider – and one we need your help with - is who uses these roads. Our population has grown, and we have more community organisations, kura and businesses using the roads. We need to know about these so we can set speed limits that suit the road and its users.

During the last review, many people asked when the Council planned to seal the roads. It’s a fair question. Only 35% of our roads are currently sealed. Sealing all the remaining 2508km would place an unaffordable burden on ratepayers, although we are making progress on our highest priority roads that link a high number of homes, schools, marae and other public facilities. In 2021, we will seal another 23.3km of these roads with funding assistance from the Government, mostly through Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency. However, to reduce the road toll, we must look at all options.

We are installing more road engineering improvements, such as rumble strips and road barriers, and are working with communities on road layout changes to improve the safety of pedestrians and cyclists. But our most effective tool is speed. Travelling too fast for the road conditions contributed to nearly a third of serious injury or fatal crashes in the Far North between 2016 and 2021. So, if you travel in the review areas, I urge you to provide feedback on the proposed speed limits. Please go to our website www.fndc.govt.nz/Whats-new/Have-your-say/Speed-Limits-Bylaw-2021 to find a full list of roads under review and to make a submission. Feedback closes on 24 August.


8 July 2021

The challenges of water reform

A year ago, the Government launched its Three Waters Reform Programme. This proposes reorganising the delivery of the nation's drinking water, wastewater and stormwater services and was sparked by the waterborne outbreak of campylobacteriosis in Havelock North in 2016. A report into that incident estimated that over 5500 Havelock North residents became ill from drinking infected town water with 45 being hospitalised. Tragically, four died.

National drinking water standards have since been tightened and, at the same time, there is a push to improve water quality in rivers and at our beaches. Government officials estimate that spending on three water services will have to double over the next 30 years to meet water quality goals. Local Government Minister, Nanaia Mahuta, says this could cost as much as $185 billion. This highlights the dilemma faced by local authorities. Achieving these goals will require levels of investment far beyond what councils and ratepayers can afford.

Last week, the Government released new details on its reform proposals. It wants one organisation to take over provision of drinking water, wastewater and stormwater services in Northland and Auckland. Remember this is a proposal only. We are now studying details to get a clearer idea of how this would affect our residents. According to Government calculations, the current average costs of three waters services for Far North households would fall from $1,120 a year in 2021 to $800 a year in 2051. If we did not join the reform programme, average household costs would rise to $8,690 or more a year in 2051. Those figures are compelling, but Whangarei District Council was not persuaded. It has stated it does not want to the join the programme. Auckland City Council has also expressed reservations.

Northlanders have rejected past proposals to merge local government services and before we make any commitment to this proposal, we need to fully understand the advantages and disadvantages of an entity providing three waters services to 1.7 million people across a large geographic area. My concern is that the 'local' in local government will disappear and our voice will be drowned out by demands of much larger urban centres south of us.

Many Far North households and businesses currently rely on private water supplies. The recently introduced Water Services Bill, which has not yet become law, may require councils to take over private water networks that fail to meet standards. The Bill defines a water network as any water supply that is not a single-dwelling supply, so the new standards will apply to marae, community facilities and others. I think many residents will see this as bureaucratic over-reach that is unnecessary and unwanted.

None of us want a repeat of the Havelock North incident and we all want our rivers and coastlines to be clean and healthy. However, these proposals represent the biggest restructure of local government since councils were amalgamated in 1989, and the decisions we make now will affect everyone. I will update you again when we know more.


1 July 2021

Planning for the next decade

Last week, the Council adopted the Long Term Plan 2021-31. This guides our activities over the next 10 years and includes detailed financial projections that will help us achieve our aspirations. The LTP is a significant piece of work undertaken every three years and that is finetuned each year through our Annual Plan. This planning cycle allows us to respond to economic and other challenges quickly.
We certainly had unique circumstances to contend with for this LTP. We continue to deal with fallout from the most severe drought the Far North has seen in recent times and the COVID-19 global pandemic continues to influence activities every day. Both are reflected in the LTP with increased investment in water resilience projects and continuing work on government-funded 'shovel ready' projects aimed at getting the nation's economy back on track.

Over the next 10 years, we have committed over $100 million to enhance water supplies so we are well-prepared for future droughts. The new Sweetwater bore in Kaitaia will vastly improve Kaitaia's water resilience. Meanwhile, work on a second bore at Tokareireia (Monument Hill) to supplement supplies at Kaikohe is also continuing.

I'm confident these and other capital works will a have lasting and positive impact on our district, but the LTP covers more than infrastructure projects. During our Navigating Our Course consultation in March, we sought feedback on three significant issues. We asked how we should improve our Housing for the Elderly portfolio and whether to become a shareholder in Northland's economic development agency, Northland Inc, and invest in the Investment Growth Reserve Fund. We received 740 submissions on those and other issues, and 100 of you presented your views in person. Last week, we decided to identify suitable organisations to take over our 147 Housing for the Elderly units, but this will only go ahead if tenants are protected and services are maintained or increased. We also agreed to purchase a 33% share in Northland Inc to help stimulate sustainable economic development. We will do this if there is a focus on Maori economic development and community wellbeing, and if Kaipara District Council also gets on board.

Changing the rating system to reduce complexity and make rates fairer was the third issue we asked about and one of the most contested topics. Overall, you do not support basing the General Rates on capital value and we recognised that. As a result, we will not change the way we calculate rates, which will continue to be based on land value.

Finally, rising costs and new commitments have increased our outgoings meaning total rates revenue must increase in the first year by 6.74%. That is 1.2% higher than initially proposed. Not everyone will see increases of that amount and changes for individual property owners will vary. Our aim is to keep increases to a minimum, but we must balance that against investing where we need it most. That is how we ensure the Far North continues to be a great place to live.


17 June 2021

What next for SNAs?

Last Friday, an estimated 2000 people joined a hikoi to Council headquarters in Kaikohe to deliver a very clear and emphatic objection to land being designated as Significant Natural Areas (SNAs). This protest was the largest seen in the Far North for many years and demonstrated the passion landowners feel. I want to thank the organisers and all those involved for ensuring the protest was peaceful.

I have been criticised for not welcoming the hikoi in person. It was not an easy decision, but I believe it was important to take your concerns directly to Associate Environment Minister James Shaw in Wellington. I was confident my fellow councillors, the CEO Shaun Clarke and senior staff members could represent the Council and receive the petition from organisers on my behalf.

As it turned out, I had a positive meeting with the Minister, and can I assure you that the Government is now well-aware of the unique issues facing our district. To further underline their understanding, I have invited Minister Shaw and officials to visit the Far North so they can see first-hand why SNAs have sparked such concern. Te Tai Tokerau MP Kelvin Davis and Northland MP Willow-Jean Prime have been invaluable, and I thank them for their help. I also want to acknowledge the perspectives shared with officials by two staunch Far North advocates, Dover Samuels and Shane Jones.

So, what makes our district unique? The Far North covers 682,200 hectares and 42% of that land has been assessed as having high ecological value. Fifty-eight per cent is in private ownership, while 42% is publicly owned. This is mostly Department of Conservation land, but some is reserve held by the District Council. What makes our district truly unique is that 17% of the district’s land is Maori-owned. That is the highest percentage in the country and five times more than Gisborne, which has the second highest rate. Of the 115,974 hectares of Maori-owned land in the Far North, approximately 52% has been mapped as a SNA.

I recognise that the mapping process for SNAs has caused anger. It did not adequately acknowledge Maori as kaitiaki of their whenua. Nor did it acknowledge the concerns of the farming community. Minister Shaw understands this, and he supports a pause in the SNA process. Our aim now is to use this time to talk again with landowners and to listen more closely to your concerns.

Ideally, we will talk to all affected landowners to learn more about their land and how we can work together to ensure both your rights and our most precious taonga are protected. That will be a massive undertaking and we will be seeking input from the Government on how we can achieve that with our current resources. In the meantime, I want to assure you that the District Council, Northland Regional Council and the Government have heard you and we will continue to listen to what you have to say on SNAs.


10 June 2021

Honouring our community advocates

While we all relish an extra day of rest and relaxation with friends and whanau, the Queen's Birthday long weekend is also when the nation acknowledges the outstanding contributions New Zealanders make to our communities. This year, the Queen's birthday will never be quite the same for four of our Far North residents and I want to acknowledge and congratulate Murray Bain, Ian Leigh-MacKenzie, Noma Shepherd and Maxine Shortland.

Our region is known for having the highest rate of volunteering in New Zealand with over a third of Northland adults working in their communities every week. These are parents who coach kids' football, neighbours who help at the charity shop, workmates who drive ambulances or race out the door when the fire station siren sounds. Our communities would be much poorer without these volunteers. That's why it is such a pleasure to see them named in the Queen's Birthday Honours list.

I was particularly gratified to learn that Kawakawa resident, Noma Shepherd, was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to the community. We probably wouldn't have Kawakawa's wonderful Te Hononga Hundertwasser Memorial Park building and library without Noma's efforts over many years. The building was opened by the Prime Minister in 2020, but completing the project has not slowed Noma down. She is still heavily involved with several community organisations in Kawakawa.

Another Kawakawa resident, Maxine Shortland was named a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to netball and governance. Maxine has 40 years of experience in netball as a player, manager, coach, administrator, and parent netball convenor. She is also a director of Netball New Zealand. It's not only about netball; Maxine is involved in a range of community organisations, and sits on health, conservation, and funding boards.

Kerikeri resident Murray Bain was named an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to tertiary education and digital learning. Murray was chair of Open Polytechnic of New Zealand's Governing Council until 2020 and helped ensure equitable access for Maori in online learning. His work proved invaluable during the COVID-19 lockdown when educational organisations looked to Open Polytechnic to help support digital learning initiatives.

Ian Leigh-MacKenzie will be known to many residents and visitors to Hokianga. The former policeman and publican is now owner of the very popular Opononi takeaways. A long-standing member and chairman of the Pakanae Water Board, Ian worked hard to extend reticulated water supplies to households and a marae in the Hokianga. He was also instrumental in repairing Opononi's iconic statue of Opo the dolphin. He has contributed to numerous Hokianga committees, clubs and associations. Ian received a Queen's Service Medal for his services to the community.

We all want to make the Far North a great place to live and work in. That requires the active support of our community. Those honoured last weekend demonstrate the great outcomes that individuals can achieve. They are our people and they make us all proud.


3 June 2021

Industrial park investment pays off

In March 2018, a unanimous decision by councillors gave our commercial company, Far North Holdings Limited (FNHL), the go-ahead to create an industrial park near Kaikohe. Our goal was to create jobs and economic growth for the area. We had already consulted with you about the proposal and of the 175 submissions we received, 140 were in support. Most agreed that a reliable (and possibly discounted) source of power from Top Energy’s soon-to-be-completed Ngawha Geothermal Power Station expansion made the project feasible.

We agreed to loan $5 million to FNHL to buy a Ngawha dairy farm for the industrial park site. FNHL would pay interest on the loan (so no financial impact for ratepayers) and would obtain consents and build infrastructure to create a ‘market-ready’ facility. We knew the project would be a gamble but trusted FNHL had the expertise and experience to attract enough businesses to make the park a success.

And successful it is. Last week, the Ngawha Innovation and Enterprise Park won the Inclusive Development Award during Economic Development New Zealand’s 2021 awards night. The award reflects our commitment to partnership, particularly with Ngati Rangi, but also with Tinakori Enterprise, the local business community and with regional economic development agency, Northland Inc.

While it is satisfying to be recognised for the great work we are doing, I’m really proud of the jobs we have already created and the knowledge that many will follow. As you drive west to Kaikohe along State Highway 12, you can clearly see construction underway. Dozens are now employed building roads, and power and water supplies. Also visible are 10 hectares of hydroponic tunnel houses for our anchor tenant, Kaikohe Berryfruit Ltd. This is a joint venture between Ngapuhi Asset Holding Company, FNHL and Maungatapere Berries and has already employed 20 people. This sustainable, hydroponic operation will eventually provide work for up to 160 people each year, including 60-70 full-time positions. Another anchor tenant is organic avocado oil producer, Olivado. It is planning a biogas facility that will recycle on-site waste from the park, along with local dairy farm effluent, to produce bio-methane gas. This will fuel its own processing plant, as well as a Ngati Rangi manuka oil distillery.

We need that sort of innovative thinking to attract new business and to stay competitive. To help us achieve that, Northland Inc is establishing an innovation centre at the park focused on research, development, innovation and education. It will foster collaboration, solve industry problems, and identify opportunities for park businesses. A dedicated education precinct will also provide training for up to 160 people so companies can work directly with education providers to upskill and get people into lasting employment.

Crucial to getting this project over the line was $19.5 million in funding from the Provincial Growth Fund for the construction of vital infrastructure. I’m grateful for the faith shown by the Government in this project. In just three years what seemed to be a gamble is now a reality providing real opportunities for the people of Kaikohe and the Far North.


20 May 2021

Updating you on SNAs

Earlier this month, we sent letters to approximately 8000 landowners informing them about results of a regional Significant Natural Area (SNA) mapping project undertaken with Northland councils at the direction of Northland Regional Council and the Government. This was the first step in a discussion with landowners about SNAs identified on their properties.

This land was identified using the most recent data available to Council, such as aerial photography, to identify the presence of native plants and habitats with high ecological value. Typically, this is an area of native bush that is home to rare or endangered native species. Like elsewhere in the country, these habitats are being lost due to introduced predators and habitat loss.

Included in the letter was an ecological report detailing the SNA, along with a feedback form and an online link to provide a more detailed response. Many have contacted us, and I want to respond to key questions and provide an update on the process.

Firstly, I want to emphasise this is not a Council initiative. All local authorities across the country have been tasked by the Government with protecting areas of high ecological value under the Resource Management Act. The overall goal is to slow or halt habitat loss. In Northland, the 2016 Northland Regional Council Regional Policy Statement directs us to identify SNAs and to include these in the District Plan. We are now doing that as part of our District Plan review.

The mapping exercise identified as much as 42 per cent of the district as having high ecological value. This is more than when the district was last mapped in the 1990s. If you disagree with the assessment of your land, we want to hear from you. Initially, we gave landowners until 24 May to provide feedback, but we have listened to your concerns and extended that to 11 June. Getting your feedback was never the end of the process. We are continuing discussions with landowner and tangata whenua, so we can fine-tune the new District Plan. Our aim is to balance our obligations to protect habitats, while helping to maintain ongoing land uses. You can make a submission on SNAs and the Proposed District Plan when it is publicly notified later this year.

I know landowners are concerned about restrictions on property use. The Council has raised similar concerns with the Government through input on the draft National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity. This remains under review, and we hope it will provide greater flexibility, especially around Maori land.

If you have concerns, I urge you to make your Member of Parliament aware of them.

Last week, the Council held deliberations on the Long Term Plan 2021-31 and decisions made will be confirmed during our 24 June meeting. Many of you will want to know about the rates review. I can confirm that we will retain the current system of calculating rates based on property value. Many more decisions were taken during what was a marathon meeting last Thursday and we will provide more details soon.


13 May 2021

Time has come for Mãori wards

Last week, Councillors voted to establish Mãori wards in the Far North for the 2022 and 2025 local body elections. This was a momentous decision and one I think is supported by many residents. Several councils around the country have already taken similar steps, but we understand Northland is currently the only region where a regional council and all that region’s territorial authorities have established Mãori wards.

Our decision taken in Kaikohe followed several passionate and moving presentations from iwi and hapu representatives delivered in front of a packed public gallery. I can recall few other Council meetings that have attracted the level of public interest we saw last week, with many people having to watch the meeting via a video link set up next door in Memorial Hall. Our debate of the issue was powerful and I want to commend all Councillors for the courageous and principled contributions they made.

If you are familiar with the history of this issue, then you will be aware that I supported a decision last year to poll electors on establishing Mãori wards during the next local body election in 2022. As stated at the time, I support the adoption of Mãori wards and believe it to be a vital step in the economic, political and cultural growth of the district. However, elsewhere in the country decisions to adopt Mãori wards had been overturned by publicly initiated polls and I believed this would also occur in the Far North, further delaying action on the issue for another six years. Whangarei and Kaipara district councils, as well as Northland Regional Council, all adopted Mãori wards and petitioners subsequently gathered more than enough signatures to force these councils to initiate polls. In the end, these did not occur because the Government passed new legislation allowing councils to revisit decisions on Mãori representation. The Local Electoral (Mãori Wards and Mãori Constituencies) Amendment Act gave councils until 21 May to decide on establishing Mãori wards for the next elections, regardless of previous decisions or previous poll outcomes.

In recent months, we have conducted four workshops on Mãori wards for councillors. Meanwhile, residents have provided informal feedback on the issue as part of our Representation Review conducted in March. Of those, 81.76 per cent supported Mãori wards, while the remaining 18.24 per cent did not.

This, and the passionate support we witnessed last week, convinced the Council that the time is now right for Mãori wards. The meeting also voted to immediately reconsider our committee and community board structures, membership, and delegations to ensure Mãori representation is a part of these decision-making bodies. The challenge for our district now is to consider how best to implement these resolutions and how best to include iwi, hapu and our community on that journey. I will update you on how we plan to do that as soon as I can.


6 May 2021

Hard work paying off

In this column in October 2017, I discussed how the Council had committed to opening up to outside scrutiny by asking independent assessors to examine how well we delivered key services. We were one of 18 New Zealand councils that had volunteered to become foundation members of the CouncilMARK™ local government excellence programme. Under that programme, a team of independent assessors visited our offices to question staff and managers about their work. They then rated us on four priority areas: leadership, finance, service delivery and community engagement.

We received a very creditable B rating on a scale ranging from AAA to C. Using that assessment as a benchmark, we then set to work on 34 transformation projects and prepared for our second assessment in three years. Like so many plans laid for 2020, that assessment was delayed by the nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Delayed but certainly not forgotten. In November 2020, two assessors visited us over 2½ days and again interviewed elected members and staff about the same key areas of leadership, finance, service delivery and community engagement. Their full report has now been released and is available on our website’s Performance and Transparency page.

Using the same nine-point rating scale, the CouncilMARK™ Independent Assessment Board awarded us a BB rating, an improvement on the B received in 2017. Assessors confirmed that our financial decision-making is ‘better than competent’ and governance, service delivery and community engagement is ‘competent’. This is a good result for a council with significant infrastructure, affordability and socio-economic challenges and I was gratified that assessors recognised the improvements we had made since 2017.

So, what does this mean for you? Some of the improvements you may have noticed include shorter waiting times for building and resource consents, and more of our capital works programme being delivered than we have achieved in the past. While we are rolling out more service improvements, we also have more work to do. The report said our relationships with iwi are sometimes poor, despite attempts to improve engagement. We also need to focus more on building community satisfaction and keeping you better informed of the work we are doing.

LGNZ President, Stuart Crosby, commended the Council for its appetite for transparency and improvement and Audit NZ director, David Walker, was also positive. He summed up the result nicely, saying we may feel we deserved greater recognition for efforts over the past three years, but urged us to remember that an investment never gives all its returns on day one. We will now focus on improving relations with iwi and the community. We aim to be a council that listens and responds to the people and has stronger relationships with our strategic partners.

I have been a staunch supporter of the CouncilMARK™ programme since its inception, because I wanted us to have a foundation on which to become a better council. This improved rating demonstrates we are on the right track and affirms our progressiveness as an organisation.


22 April 2021

Major change to rating Maori land

Last week, new legislation that supports the development of Maori land came into force. We supported the objectives of the Local Government (Rating of Whenua Maori) Amendment Bill and welcome Parliament's move to modernise laws that have remained largely unchanged since 1924.

The Far North contains large tracts of Maori freehold land, much of which is unoccupied or unimproved and since becoming Mayor in 2013, I have worked to change the way our Council views this land, particularly multiply-owned Maori land.

The need for change was very clear to me. I found that a block of multiply-owned Maori land, when compared to a similar block under general title, was charged at least double if not more than the rates levied against general title land. I found that the valuation, because of the way in which the law is stated, meant that multiply-owned Maori land was often given a far greater value than its general title counterpart. I found that, because of issues around records, we often had incorrect owner names and addresses meaning the Council was not communicating with landowners.

I worked with staff to change the way Council viewed this land. Instead of seeing it purely as a source of rating revenue, we asked how we could help make the land productive from the owners' point of view, both financially and emotionally. We looked at how we could help turn these blocks into productive units that will benefit owners, the district and the region. We have worked to correct our land records and brought rates into line with those levied against general title land. Most significantly, we have worked with landowners to write-off the burden of outstanding rates - something that so often prevents them using their land.

That is why I am so pleased the Government has reviewed rating legislation for Maori land. The key implication of the Bill is to make 'unused' or 'unoccupied' land non-rateable from 1 July 2021. We estimate we will need to write off about $20 million of $21.6 million owed on Maori freehold land. Where appropriate, the Bill allows the Council to apply rates to those “using” the land instead of the owners. We are reviewing our rating accounts for land identified as unused or unoccupied. In addition, we are reviewing accounts that have carried big arrears for a significant time. Some of these arrears will be written off and where this occurs, landowners will be encouraged to explore ways to begin making regular rate payments. These write-offs may not be for the full amount owing, as the Local Government Act requires us to make every attempt to collect money owed. However, I anticipate that if arrears are significantly reduced, landowners will be in a position to begin making regular rate payments.

Te Puni Kokiri has published a booklet aimed at Maori landowners explaining the new legislation. If you or your whanau want to find out more, go to the Te Puni Kokiri website.


15 April 2021

Remembering the Duke

Early next Sunday morning New Zealand time, the funeral for Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, will be held in the grounds of Windsor Castle. It will be a relatively low-key ceremony due to COVID-19 restrictions and, according to reports, the Prince's own wishes.

That doesn't surprise me. I have met several members of the Royal Family, including Prince Philip, and have had the opportunity to speak with them at some length during official functions. I found the Duke to be very easy to talk to and, like the Queen and Prince Charles, he had a great knack of putting you at your ease. It was an honour to meet the man and I am saddened by his passing.

The British Monarchy is probably the most scrutinised family in history. Every day, they are featured in magazine and newspaper stories, television news reports, and are even the subject of a television series. With all that attention, it is perhaps easy to lose sight of the fact that this is a family. The Duke has been a steady and unwavering part of this household during the good times and the crises that all families experience. Despite their exalted position and privilege, they will be feeling the loss of a husband, father and grandfather very deeply. Whatever your views on the Monarchy, I think it's important to acknowledge that fact.

Something else I want to acknowledge is the positive influence the Duke has had upon millions of young people around the world, including in New Zealand. Early in his career, Prince Philip initiated the Duke of Edinburgh's Award. Originally set up for boys aged 15 to 18 in 1956, it quickly expanded to include girls in 1958 and is now awarded to youth in more than 130 nations. While there are variations in how the award operates across the world, all seek to encourage young people to excel through volunteering and in improving physical skills in sports, arts, and other challenges.

The award was established in 1963 in New Zealand and is referred to as the Duke of Edinburgh's Hillary Award, acknowledging links with Sir Edmund Hillary. The Duke of Edinburgh's Hillary Award receives around 8000 registrations annually from 14-24-year olds and more than 19,000 young New Zealanders are participating in the challenge at any one time. Globally, it is estimated that as many as 8 million young people have participated in the Awards. The Duke could only have known a small number of those participants, but that does not diminish the very significant positive impact this man had on the lives of others by using his position to assist them.

Since learning of the Duke's death last weekend, much has already been said and written on what this may mean for the British Royal Family. I think everyone would all agree this is a significant moment for the institution. For now, though, my thoughts are with those mourning the loss of a much-loved family member.


8 April 2021

A lot at stake in three waters reform

Anyone who has been following the Government's Three Waters Reform Programme will have worked out that this represents the biggest change to local government in New Zealand since the amalgamation of councils in 1989.

Currently, 67 councils own and operate most of the nation's drinking water, wastewater and stormwater services. Providing these services has become a financial burden for all councils and ratepayers. We need to renew and upgrade ageing infrastructure. We also need to ensure that this infrastructure complies with safety and environmental standards and caters for growth.

These alone are daunting challenges, but we must also reckon with the threats that climate change poses, including droughts, damaging storms and coastal inundation. The Government believes these problems are best tackled by a national approach rather than community solutions. It proposes to restructure three waters services into a smaller number of governance and management entities.

The exact size of these entities is still being worked through, but the most likely scenario proposes one three waters entity for Northland, Auckland, Waikato and Coromandel. The Government has also introduced a Water Services Bill which establishes the powers of the new water regulator Taumata Arowai.

The local government sector supports the intent of the Bill, having advocated for clear drinking water standards since 2015. However, we are concerned that the Bill forces councils to take over private water networks that fail to meet standards. The Bill defines a water network as any water supply that is not a single-dwelling supply, so the new standards will apply to marae and community facilities.

The Government announced a $30 million fund last year to help non-Council water supplies meet new water standards. However, it is estimated that up to one million New Zealanders are not on Council water supplies. In many cases, ratepayers will have to meet the costs of upgrading private supplies.

The Far North District Council voted unanimously last August to join the initial phase of the reform programme in return for a share of $28 million for three waters infrastructure in Northland. This only committed us to share information about our infrastructure and to consider the creation of large-scale service delivery entities.

We have provided data about our three waters assets and last week we attended a regional workshop where we provided feedback that will shape the policy work that is underway. Cabinet will make key decisions on the reform programme in a few months before launching a public information campaign.

Councils will decide whether to participate in further stages of the reform programme later this year. We will keep you informed as this work progresses. In the meantime, I encourage you to find out more about the reform programme by going to the Department of Internal Affairs website. There will be winners and losers when the programme is finalised, so it is important that we are all aware of what is at stake.


1 April 2021

Tackling the housing crisis

For a growing number of our people, owning or renting an affordable home is now an almost impossible dream. This is not just a Far North problem; the whole country is in the grip of a housing crisis. This has seen the cost for buyers and renters spiral ever upwards. In just the past year, the median house price in Northland has climbed from $560,000 to over $660,000.

Like elsewhere, we have too few homes to meet increasing demand from those escaping wildly inflated city housing markets and those returning home from overseas. As a result, we are seeing increased overcrowding impacting on people's health and contributing to a raft of other community problems. Worse still, homelessness is now a serious issue. While this has long been a problem in our cities, a growing number of our people are now living in cars, garages and even tents. This is a huge concern, but one the Council cannot tackle on its own. That is why I was so pleased last week to learn that the Government has committed $3.8 billion to a new Housing Acceleration Fund.

New housing developments require substantial investment from councils for infrastructure. We need to provide new roads and storm water systems. We may also need to provide water and sewerage systems. Then there are facilities that help make this a great place to live. New playgrounds, footpaths, sports fields, boat ramps, libraries and much more. For cash-strapped councils like ours, paying for this infrastructure can place an impossible financial burden on ratepayers. One aim of the Government's $3.8 billion fund is to help local authorities provide critical infrastructure. This will be on top of the Government's $350 million Residential Development Response Fund established in August 2020 to support the construction sector following COVID-19.

Another aim of the new fund will be to better meet housing needs by expanding existing relationships with iwi and Maori, and the not-for-profit sector. We're already making strides in this area. The Council is working closely with Ricky Houghton and He Korowai Trust in Kaitaia, and we are undertaking similar work in Kaikohe. With Government assistance, we hope to advance similar relationships with other housing providers and community groups across the district.

We will also ask our commercial company, Far North Holdings Ltd, to focus more on housing developments for our people. This company has already proved it is a very capable and successful project manager, delivering numerous high-value projects for the benefit of the whole district. These include the complete revamp of Opua Marina, a new terminal at Bay of Islands Airport and creation of a business park at Ngawha.

The Government is still working on details of its Housing Acceleration Fund and says it will reveal more by the end of June. Detailed discussions will then begin with councils around the country. We will keep you updated on progress and on how we plan to get our people into homes.


18 March 2021

Protecting Significant Natural Areas

From this week, around 9000 Far North property owners with Significant Natural Areas on their land will receive a letter from the Council. A Significant Natural Area (SNA) has high ecological value due to the native plants and habitat there. Many Far North property owners will already know they have an area like this on their land and will also know about District Plan rules designed to manage and protect these areas.

We are now working on a new District Plan and the Government requires that these areas are identified and managed more specifically. We also have a responsibility under the Resource Management Act to protect significant indigenous vegetation and habitats. To comply with this, we worked with other Northland Councils last year to map SNAs in the region. This was undertaken by ecologists, Wildland Consultants. They used a combination of existing information, new aerial photography, and site visits to identify SNAs. This work has increased the accuracy and knowledge of natural areas and we now know that approximately 42 per cent of our district contains potentially sensitive environments. Half of this is within Department of Conservation land. When last mapped in the 1990s, SNAs accounted for just under a third of the district so many property owners will be unaware that their land includes an SNA.

So, what exactly is an SNA and why should we care?

Northland has a unique environment containing many endangered plant and animal species. An example is the Northland Green Gecko. This is found only in Northland and its population is in decline. These are tree-dwelling and active during the day, so you may have seen them. They have an important role in our environment because they pollinate native plants and disperse seeds. One of the biggest threats to species like the gecko is loss of habitat. That’s why we need to protect the SNAs we still have for future generations.

The proposed District Plan will have rules for SNAs related to clearing vegetation or when subdividing your land. This is when you may need to apply for a resource consent. There is no requirement to protect the SNA through fencing, covenants or other methods, unless you intend to develop or subdivide the land. Of course, you can voluntarily protect the SNA through a Council conservation covenant or a private covenant. There are incentives to do this, including rates remission for voluntary conservation covenants. Protecting our diverse environment also increases recreational and educational opportunities. It enhances tourism, especially eco-tourism. It provides opportunities for science, research, and education, and helps protect our archaeological, geological and cultural heritage.

If you have received a letter, you will also have a feedback form. This allows you to provide us with more detail about the assessment of your property. You can also make a formal submission when our Proposed District Plan is publicly notified later this year. Alternatively, visit us at one of the drop-in venues operating this month during our Navigating our course public consultation. We are in Kerikeri tomorrow, Kaikohe next week and finally Kaitaia from 29 March.


11 March 2021

Lessons from the tsunami

It is almost a week since tsunami sirens sounded last Friday. It followed an 8.1 magnitude earthquake near the Kermadec Islands about 1000km north of us. This was a big quake with a real chance that a tsunami was on its way. Remember, the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami that killed over 200,000 people was sparked by a 9.1 magnitude quake. By mid-morning, our coast was hit by unusual surges and currents, but our coasts were not inundated. We were lucky.

What had nothing to do with luck was the way you responded. Almost without exception, people in low-lying coastal areas quickly got to high ground. In the Far North, many of you learned of the emergency through our network of tsunami sirens. I think they proved their worth last week. Unfortunately, alarms at Te Kao, Te Paki, Te Hapua and Ngataki did not work due to a power outage. This is being investigated and I anticipate a remedy will be prepared soon.

Many others learned about the emergency from a series of unmistakable National Emergency Management Agency mobile phone messages. Of course, the news media also did a fantastic job of keeping us informed. Radio and television reminded us how valuable mainstream media can be. Their coverage was calm, informative and at times gripping. I had no idea my own live-to-air interview with Radio New Zealand would capture the drama of the evacuation. I was just one of hundreds of people across much of the North Island making sure that friends and neighbours knew they had to get to higher ground.

I was impressed and proud of the way our nation responded. There was no panic. People understood what had to be done and they got on with it. We made sure loved ones were safe and we helped others. My own community of Waipapakauri Ramp was typical. Everyone got the message, and everyone left quickly, including those who needed assistance. About 40 of us ended up on California Hill where we monitored news reports and social media.

Civil Defence across the country and in Northland swung into action and the Council started to set up its Emergency Operations Centre at Kaikohe. Long before we got the all-clear by mid-afternoon, about 100 staff had volunteered to work shifts round the clock and over the weekend if required.

We are grateful that those volunteers weren't needed. Nevertheless, there will be lessons to learn. Civil Defence and the Council will be looking closely at what can be improved, and I know you will also be thinking about how to do things better. We were fortunate this did not happen at night or during the cold of winter and I think many understand the value of having an emergency ‘go bag' handy with warm clothes, snacks, water and a medical kit.

Being prepared and building sustainable, resilient communities is our best defence against tsunami along with other threats, including COVID-19 and climate change. That's something we want to discuss during our Navigating our course public consultation this month. We'll be visiting a community near you, so come see us and share your thoughts.


4 March 2021

A lot happening in Te Hiku

We are seeing unprecedented levels of infrastructure investment in the far Far North. Much of this is through the Government's Provincial Growth Fund and COVID-19 economic recovery funding, with funding input from the Far North District Council as well.

One of the most exciting initiatives is a plan to breathe new life into three of our Te Hiku towns. The $7 million Te Hiku Open Spaces Revitalisation project will create shared pathways, public art, park improvements, and street works in Kaitaia, Awanui and Ahipara. This is part of more than $65 million secured by the Council and Far North Holdings for Far North infrastructure projects.

Central to this project is to link up Ahipara, Kaitaia and Awanui to Te One Roa a Tohe (Ninety Mile Beach) via Waipapakauri by building shared pathways for pedestrians and cyclists. A project masterplan to achieve this vision has been adopted and procurement plans for physical work is underway. For Kaitaia, concepts are being developed to transform the old Warehouse building and quotes are coming in to reseal East Lane on the edge of The Warehouse carpark. Options to transform alleyways between Far North Pharmacy and Coin Save, and Central Dairy and Kiwibank are also being developed. Meanwhile, quotes are being gathered from local firms to build new carparks in Awanui and Ahipara, and new park tables and seating have been ordered for all three townships. Local artisans are being commissioned to create gateway artworks for each community, and others are completing training so they can safely complete murals on 6-metre-high walls. None of this would have been possible without the input of the Kaitaia Business Association. It has driven concept plans for the revitalisation project alongside Te Hiku's five iwi, Northland Regional Council and the FNDC.

Another important project is making Kaitaia's Centennial Park a 'destination park' for the town. Last month, a new basketball half-court was opened, and a new swing specifically designed for children and adults in wheelchairs was installed to complement the recently revamped Jaycee Park playground. Two more of these swings will be installed at other Far North playgrounds soon. And let's not forget Te Hiku Sports Hub. A building consent for the aquatic centre and multi-sport facility is due this month with physical work on the site likely to begin in May. All going well, the facility will open for use in April 2022.

Making Te Hiku a great place to live is not only about transformational projects like those above. Our commercial arm, Far North Holdings, plans to begin work mid-year to upgrade Pueknui wharf. The $2.5 million project is jointly funded by the Government ($1 million) and Council ($1.5 million). Meanwhile, designs for a new $1.6 million ($600,000 from Council) concrete wharf at Unahi are complete and construction is due to be completed early next year. At Mangonui, geotechnical testing has been completed and consultation on designs is continuing. It is hoped work on the waterfront development will begin within months.

These projects will not only provide vital jobs for Te Hiku, they also celebrate our place and our people. I'm excited by and proud of that.


18 February 2021

Future proofing transport links

Many of you will have seen the great progress Waka Kotahi NZ Transit Agency is making on roundabout projects now underway in the Far North. These significant engineering projects to reduce traffic congestion and improve road safety are now nearing completion at Kawakawa, Puketona Junction and Waipapa. In Kaitaia, work is beginning on a roundabout at the intersection of State Highway 1 and Matthews Avenue.

Residents consistently tell the Council that improving our road network is their number one priority and each year we spend more on roads than any other item. Progress can seem slow: our district is big and just 35 per cent of the 2508km network is sealed. Each year we seal more with funding help from Waka Kotahi NZTA and through our own ratepayer-funded seal extension programme. This summer we are sealing sections of Porotu and Puketi Roads, Church Road in Kaitaia, and Koropewa and Pungaere Roads near Waipapa. We are also sealing sections of three strategic roads (Peria, Ngapipito and Ruapekapeka) with $20.7 million in Government COVID-19 recovery funding. Work on Peria Road is nearly complete, and work is starting on Ngapipito and Ruapekapeka Roads.

We always look for ways to make your rates dollar go further. We achieved significant savings in roading by forming the Northland Transportation Alliance with other Northland councils in 2016. We aim to build on those gains with the adoption this year of an Integrated Transport Strategy. This sets out key priorities to help us build a transport system that best supports our people over the next 30 years. It will identify key transport challenges and provide guidance on how to respond. We also have an Integrated Transport Plan that prioritises individual roading projects to address current transport issues. This was approved by the Council last September.

One of six priorities identified by the Integrated Transport Strategy is to improve road safety and we will invest $2.5 million this year to achieve that. New roadside barriers worth $1 million will be installed on Kaitaia Awaroa Rd, Kapiro Road, Rawene Road, and West Coast Road. These are all high-risk rural roads where extra barriers will help reduce injuries to motorists by absorbing the force of a vehicle impacts. Another $1 million will see new 'rumble strips' or audible road markings applied to Tai¬pa-Fairburn Loop, Waiare Rd / Wiroa Rd and Wehirua Rd, Kaitaia-Awaroa Rd and Old Bay Rd / Te Ahu Ahu Rd. Rumble strips counter the effects of driver fatigue, a key cause of serious crashes in Northland, reducing injury crashes by 20-45 per cent. A further $500,000 will go towards improving safety for pedestrians and cyclists by applying simple road layout changes, such as raising pedestrian crossings or improving approach ramps to slow traffic where pe¬destrians cross.

You can provide feedback on the Integrated Transport Strategy as part of consultations for our Long Term Plan 2021-31 next month. To learn more about the Plan and the Strategy, go to our website www.fndc.govt.nz and enter the search term 'Transport'.


11 February 2021

Creating great places

Anyone who has read the newsletters the Far North District Council publishes will be familiar with our mission: Creating great places, supporting our people. Mission statements are often trite or hollow promises. In our case, I think we deliver. The economic recovery projects we are progressing with Government support are a good example of how we are creating great places in our District.

Let's start in Te Hiku Ward where we are supporting a $7 million, community-led revitalisation of open spaces at Kaitaia, Awanui and Ahipara. The new walkways, public artworks and park upgrades will create work for local people and make these communities more liveable and more appealing to visitors. We are also upgrading wharves at Pukenui and Unahi in partnership with our commercial company, Far North Holdings Ltd (FNHL). Work on these projects, which have a combined budget of $4.1 million, will begin this year.

At Mangonui, we are planning to redevelop the waterfront after consulting the community about improvements. FNHL has surveyed the seabed and it aims to complete $2.86 million of Government subsidised improvements in November. Other economic recovery projects in Te Hiku Ward include a new northern area animal impounding shelter and a 6.3 km extension of the sealed section of Peria Road.

In the Bay of Islands-Whangaroa Ward, FNHL plans to begin a $13.3 million redevelopment of Paihia's waterfront in May. This three-year project, which includes breakwaters, beach restoration and landscaping, will protect waterfront infrastructure from storm surges and make the waterfront a more attractive recreational space. Similarly, a $3.6 million redevelopment of a jetty and boat ramp at Rangitane will improve water access for boaties in the Kerikeri area.

Other projects that will improve recreational amenities in this ward include a $3 million revitalisation of Kerikeri Domain and new sports fields at Waipapa where we are developing a Bay of Islands sports hub with a $2 million Government grant. We are also supporting a $5.59 million extension of the Bay of Islands Vintage Railway, upgrading the road to Ruapekapeka Pa at a cost of $6.5 million and making Ngapipito Road less flood-prone.

Our biggest recovery project in the Kaikohe-Hokianga Ward is the Ngawha Innovation and Enterprise Park where infrastructure works funded by $19.5 million from the Provincial Growth Fund are underway. I visited this FNHL project last week and was pleased to hear that the park already has five tenants who plan to invest $40 million in new business ventures that will create jobs for 150 people.

We are also supporting a $9.8 million redevelopment of Lindvart Park where physical works should begin in August. Our other economic recovery projects in this ward include a $2 million upgrade of wharves in the Hokianga Harbour. We are really excited to be progressing these projects with substantial Government support. Please keep reading my column for updates and a fuller picture of how the Council is creating great places and supporting communities.


4 February 2021

Challenges and opportunities

Kia ora koutou Northland Age readers. I hope you and your whanau had a safe and enjoyable summer break and 2021 is a prosperous year for you. I want to thank editor Peter Jackson for giving me the opportunity again to share important information with you through this column in the Northland Age. I have used the column since I was first elected Mayor in 2013 to keep the community informed about the work the Council is progressing to make the Far North a better place. I encourage you to read the column so you know how we are addressing opportunities and challenges the district faces.

Last year was a challenging year for the Far North District. We started the year in the grip of the worst drought in decades and COVID-19 had a big impact on businesses and households, particularly those that rely on tourism for a livelihood. These challenges have not gone away. News last month that a Northland woman had tested positive for COVID-19 after leaving a managed isolation facility was a reminder that the pandemic is still a real and serious public health threat. It is likely that the pandemic will cast a shadow over our lives for most of 2021. While business confidence in New Zealand is recovering on the back of strong construction activity, COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Europe and the United States. It is difficult to predict when it will be safe to reopen the border.

We have been blessed with perfect summer weather, which has been a boon for tourism businesses, but the lack of rain has reduced flows in streams and rivers. Water restrictions are now in place at five of our water supplies. There is a sprinkler and hose-pipe ban (Level 3 restrictions) in Kaitaia, Kaikohe and Kawakawa and a sprinkler ban at properties connected to our Kerikeri and Paihia-Waitangi-Opua water supplies where Level 2 restrictions came into effect on 2 February. We appreciate the inconvenience and burden that water restrictions place on households and businesses and are advancing a number of projects to make our supplies more drought-resilient. In Kaitaia,

we are developing a bore site at Sweetwater and plan to pipe aquifer water to our water treatment plant in Okahu Road. We aim to commission this new water source before the end of 2021. In the meantime, we are working to make an existing Council bore at Sweetwater available to bulk water carriers this summer to ease pressure on Kaitaia’s main water source the Awanui River. In Kaikohe, we are drilling and testing a second bore at Tokareireia (Monument Hill) to supplement another bore and the Wairoro Stream. We may begin drawing water from this bore later this month if tests show the bore is a viable water source.

These drought-resilience projects are just two of the infrastructure projects we are progressing across the district. I will talk about this bigger programme of works in my next column. Until then, thanks for reading. Kia pai to ra.

 

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