My Column 2014 - Moving forward together

Thursday 11 December 2014

A year of progress

As a Council, we are about to complete what could best be described as an interesting and challenging year. We have made real progress in restructuring the organisation and rebuilding resources to better serve the community. From my perspective, we are now served by the best Chief Executive in the country who is leading a team of very capable and responsible departmental managers. We have a team of unified and focused elected members. Resources are slowly being rebuilt and staff across the board have generally responded well to the challenge of becoming a more customer-focused, high-performance organisation.

Yes, there are areas which we still need to address in terms of the general structure and there will always be fine-tuning required to maintain the whole organisation as a cost-effective and efficient operation. But to have reached this level of achievement in one year has been no mean feat. I'm proud of the commitment which has been shown by the whole team. The progress we have made is even more remarkable when you consider the uncertainty in some areas. We are still awaiting the outcome of the Local Government Commission's review of local government in Northland, as well as the results of the Council-initiated Serious Fraud Office investigation. I don't have any definitive information about the timing of these two reports. However, with the Wellington re-organisation proposal now released, it is possible an announcement about the Northland proposal will be next. Similarly the SFO investigation outcomes should not be too far way.

Financially, we are back on a solid footing with public debt currently down by close to $20 million on the June 2013 level of $89.6 million. This is going to be critical as we move into 2015 and, through the Long Term Plan process, begin to closely examine what needs to be achieved over the next 10 years in terms of rebuilding infrastructure. We are coming to final decision time on a number of major projects such as the Kerikeri and Kaitaia wastewater schemes and a number of less expensive but very necessary improvements to water supplies at Te Kao, Rawene and Opononi. We are also looking at a variety of projects to rebuild the unsealed roading network and to develop our sports and recreation facilities.

All these proposals will be laid out in our Long Term Plan which goes out to public consultation early next year. This consultation programme is a real opportunity to rebuild the relationships we have with the communities we serve. Unless we work together the challenges which are coming up next year and over the next decade may prove to be insurmountable. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the community for the support it has shown the council over the last year and to wish everybody good health and a happy festive season.

Thursday 4 December 2014

Building relationships with industry

It is not always easy to determine whether we are performing well as a Council, particularly when it comes to relationships with the communities we serve. We conduct annual surveys, monitor inbound letters and listen to anecdotal feedback from customers and the public. Because it is human nature to complain rather than compliment, we tend to rely on whether complaints are trending up or down to gauge whether we are doing well. I am pleased to say that, at the moment, the trends are in the right direction. Our recent Resident Opinion Survey showed improved levels of public satisfaction with a range of Council services and we are dealing with fewer complaints than we were a year ago. We are even starting to get complimentary messages. The most recent affirmation that our efforts to work with communities is paying off came from the forestry industry. Although the compliment was from only one company and only related to work on Takahue Saddle Road near Kaitaia, I'm happy to take this as an indication that the work staff have put into establishing good lines of communication with the industry has not been in vain. Such feedback is also good to receive at a time when we are enlisting the financial support of the industry to seal metal roads to mitigate dust nuisances and maintain roads used by logging trucks. I would like to return the compliment and thank the heavy transport industry generally for the level of co-operation we are getting and express the hope that the relationships we have developed will continue to improve.

The July storm was a good test of these relationships. The lines of communication the Council had established with the heavy transport sector proved invaluable, given the extremely fragile state of the roading network at that time. Working together to re-establish routes has been productive for all parties. We have helped keep logging costs down and the industry has generally reciprocated with a willingness to co-operate to our mutual benefit. Staff have held regular meetings with industry representatives to discuss roading priorities and logging volumes to enable a co-ordinated approach to restoration work and at least two of the larger forestry companies have contributed financially to the road sealing programme we have initiated this year. Some of the smaller companies have yet to come on board, but I'm optimistic the relationship we have developed will continue to evolve and that the benefits of co-operation will be recognised by others in the heavy transport sector.

Over the next few months, the Council will seek feedback from communities about its Draft Long Term Plan. No doubt some of the directions we are proposing will be criticised. That is fine. What is important is that we work together to find solutions to the problems we face.

Thursday 27 November 2014

Better relationships with Maori

One of the most crucial political and social determinations the Far North District Council will make in its current term of office is the question of how best to develop new levels of partnership with our Maori community. With people of Maori ethnicity making up close to half the population of the district, it is critical that meaningful relationships are developed with iwi and hapu if we are to progress as a district. Early in the New Year we will conduct a public poll which will seek a simple yes or no response on whether the Far North District Council should have dedicated seats at the Council table for Maori. This is a decision which has to be made by the community rather than the Council. If the community's answer is 'yes', we will take this into account when we conduct a mandatory review of boundaries and representation arrangements before the next local elections.

Of course, reviewing Maori representation is only one part of the picture. We will also continue to look at non-electoral options for improving relationships and dealing with other issues that concern Maori. High on the priority list is the historically vexed issue of rates on Maori land. For more than 50 years, we have struggled to find the right approach. As a consequence, the owners of land that is in Maori freehold title have progressively been disenfranchised, their connections with their ancestral land severed and their ability to settle on their land and derive an income from it negated.

We think we may now have found an approach which will bring the land back into production and provide an enlightened basis on which rates will actually be paid moving forward. From the number of inquiries we have been getting from Maori freehold land owners, it's clear they share our views and want the partnership developed further.

There are still some issues to be resolved with the Maori Land Court. In the longer term, there may be a need to change the law underpinning the way valuations are set on land in Maori title so that the rates charged are more in line with those charged on land held in General title. It is essential that these formal relationships are developed as quickly as possible so we can all move ahead positively. What nobody needs is vexatious issues surrounding Maori land still unresolved with the prospect of Treaty settlements just around the corner.

Even the Local Government Commission has acknowledged there are relationship issues which are going to have to be addressed and is working with the Northland Iwi Leaders Forum on a non-elective Maori representation model which could be incorporated in any reorganisation plan.

Thursday 20 November 2014

Use it or lose it

While it is disappointing that Kaitaia has been confronted with losing yet another service - this time air services to Auckland - it has brought into sharp focus the commercial realities of the world in which we live. We can argue about the decision that Air New Zealand has made all we want. The fact remains that unless we make a commitment to actively support these service providers, the risk of losing out at some point will remain. This time we are fortunate that Sunair and the Inflight group have indicated plans to fill the gap and a level of service will be maintained when Air New Zealand pulls out next year. That's very welcome news and means we have been given yet another opportunity to show that we need and appreciate these services. As I understand, Sunair and Inflight plan to review Kaitaia's needs to see whether a more user-friendly schedule can be developed which will help drive passenger growth. For example, there are a lot of Te Hiku Ward residents who currently drive to Kerikeri to take advantage of the early morning link to Auckland and it may be possible to instigate a similar service out of Kaitaia.

Inflight has also contacted me saying they have already begun charter services from Auckland as requested by clients. This week they plan to conduct two flights from Auckland to Kaitaia on Friday and Saturday (21 and 22 November) using their 19 passenger Jetstream J32 Turbo Prop. At the same time, the company is reviewing the local market with a view to possibly operating a regular service providing the region with an ongoing flight service. They will be show-casing the aircraft while it is in Kaitaia and plan to offer a number of free seats to local businesses and general travelling public on their repositioning flight from Kaitaia to Auckland tomorrow (Friday). Far North Holdings, as airport managers, will be meeting with these people next week to work through some of the details. These people will do their homework, but once a schedule has been established, unless there is growth in the number of users, we will be going through this dilemma yet again.

In some respects, Air New Zealand's decision to axe the Kaitaia services and upgrade services out of the Bay of Islands airport at Kerikeri has been a wake-up call. The clear message is nothing can be taken for granted and we have to earn the right to keep services in place. We need to be looking to see what as a community we can do to ensure Kaitaia grows and thrives as a commercial centre and visitor destination. Resorts such as Carrington are doing what they can to drive the top of the north ahead and others in the community who depend on tourism must also look for ways to capitalise on opportunities as they arise. Let's not sit back as we have in the past and wait until the last minute or until it's too late.

Thursday 13 November 2014

Let's help keep the tradition alive

Agricultural shows appear to be one of the few remaining bastions of days long-past and a pertinent reminder of more youthful times and enjoyable experiences. They are also a vivid reminder of the significance of the farming sector to both the national and local economies and how dependent we are on the success of agricultural and horticultural production to maintain our status as a trading nation. In a predominantly rural district such as the Far North, the maintenance of a vibrant farming sector is critical if we are to prosper and develop our economic base. When the farming sector sneezes there is an immediate negative impact on rural communities but when the industry is in good heart we all do well.

There is no better way to showcase the health and prosperity of farming than through events such as these annual shows which reach beyond the interests of the farming sector to include just about every aspect of our daily lives. Let's be honest, for many the serious underlying significance of show day is lost in in our quest to have fun and to enjoy the rural environment with our children and grandchildren. As a family day out there is more to see and do at an agricultural and pastoral show than at any other single event I can think of - and it comes at a relatively affordable cost. However, we are in danger of losing these iconic events. Operational and administrative overheads are rising as are the costs of exhibiting and participating. In a busy world there are fewer with the time and inclination to give the voluntary assistance which is needed to maintain and expand these events. As a community we have to get in behind the associations running these annual shows and support them by participating, providing voluntary labour or simply by attending. It would be tragic to think that these hugely enjoyable occasions which draw rural and urban communities together might be lost forever.

These thoughts have been prompted by the Bay of Islands Show at Waimate North at the weekend which is traditionally the first in a summer calendar of agricultural, pastoral and industrial shows in the Far North. Still to come are shows scheduled for Kaikohe, Broadwood and Kaitaia. The Waimate North event is particularly significant because after 172 years of proud tradition it remains the oldest show still operating in New Zealand. The Bay of Islands Pastoral & Industrial Association has to be congratulated for maintaining an event which so successfully mirrors our heritage and plays such a huge part in perpetuating our sense of identity. This year the event attracted strong crowds and the changes made to the layout of exhibitions really worked. However, all four associations have struggled over the years and have from time to time found it difficult to continue. But with community support, I'm sure the tradition of summer shows will long continue.

Thursday 6 November 2014

Serving our customers

The Far North District Council recently completed an annual customer satisfaction survey it is required by law to undertake. As usual, there have been encouraging results in some areas and disappointing results in others. The problem is that there are frequently no clear trends or patterns to the returns and sometimes we are left to scratch our heads over the outcomes. For example, we used the survey to canvas opinion on the subject of aquatic facilities which produced some rather interesting responses. While residents were generally not very happy with the standard of existing facilities, only 25% were prepared to pay extra in rates for a heated indoor swimming pool in their ward. However, in a recent separate survey carried out by the Council, there was a large majority in favour of paying up to $100 more in rates in the Te Hiku Ward with less definitive but generally favourable responses from the Bay of Islands-Whangaroa and Kaikohe-Hokianga Wards. On the one hand, we are getting a clear direction that our money would be better spent in other areas, particularly roading. On the other hand, we are criticised for inadequate swimming pool services. When the customer survey looked at roading it was a depressing outcome with only 42% satisfied with the standard of service compared with 51% in the 2013 survey and 57% in 2012. In fairness, it is likely the outcomes were influenced by the fact the survey took place at about the time we were experiencing one of the worst storms to hit the Far North in recent years and the roads were generally in a real mess. I'm optimistic that our roading performance levels will improve over the next year because we have been working hard over the last 12 months to rebuild an efficient and cost-effective asset management structure.

In terms of positive outcomes, the survey showed really good gains in areas such as community awareness of council activities and satisfaction with what we are doing to keep the public informed. There were also consistent improvements in satisfaction levels over the previous year in areas such as footpaths, urban storm water, refuse and recycling facilities, public toilets, cemeteries and parks and reserves management. Customer contact points and libraries also scored extremely well with libraries peaking at a 94% satisfaction level. This year, for the first time, the survey also directly targeted satisfaction with resource and building consent processes and found 56-60% satisfaction levels to set a benchmark for the future. However, the survey showed we are still a bit behind the results being achieved by other districts in these areas.

Overall, while we didn't hit a number of our performance targets, the trends in terms of satisfaction levels are improving. I anticipate further improvements to result from the work we are doing to make the Council more customer-focused. I'm quietly pleased with what has been happening and I'm looking forward to the outcomes which come out of this survey when all the changes which have been made are fully bedded in. We still have a long way to go before we are a high-performance organisation, but we are making steady progress.

Thursday 30 October 2014

Progress on beaches

When the Council meets today, it will be to consider an agenda that is dominated by matters of direct relevance to the people of the Te Hiku Ward, including a number of issues that have had somewhat problematic pasts.

Of particular interest is the subject of vehicles on beaches. There is a long history of problems arising from conflicting uses of Ninety Mile Beach, especially in summer when hundreds of people use the beach for a wide range of recreational activities. I am pleased that, after many years of procrastination, we are finally addressing issues at Ahipara where we plan to introduce a number of temporary safety measures pending the official transfer of beach management responsibilities to Te Oneroa-a-Tōhē Statutory Board. These include erecting new information signs to publicise 30 kph speed limits on the beach near the Kaka Street and Foreshore Road access points. We will also develop information brochures that identify environmentally-sensitive areas such as dotterel nest locations and dune protection areas. We recognise that these measures alone won't change the behaviour of beach users who ignore requests to behave responsibly and with consideration to others so plan to reinforce these messages with a physical presence by enlisting either voluntary community patrols or, if necessary, paid patrol services. We will also develop this public information and education programme in consultation with the statutory board to ensure that it is in line with a management plan the board is developing for the entire Ninety Mile Beach foreshore area.

Another agenda item which should interest beach users is a proposal to investigate a regional approach to funding surf live saving services. Surf Live Saving Northern Region provides vital life saving services at six Northland beaches each summer, but has to go 'cap in hand' to Northland councils each year to fund its operations. Each of the councils decides the level of support they are willing to offer to surf live saving at different times and independently of each other. Coordinating council support for surf life saving and potentially other emergency services, including coastguard and the Northland Electricity Rescue Helicopter, would allow these organisations to plan these important services with more certainty. Ratepayers will get an opportunity to have their say on any changes we propose when we consult on our Long Term Plan.

We are also taking steps to resolve the failed development of 122 Houhora Heads Road as a sports complex. For those not aware, work on this project stopped six years ago when an investigation revealed the site was an indigenous wetland. We now plan to restore the wetland and seek community feedback on a proposal to develop a smaller sports field at Araiawa Domain.

We're not quite ready to declare that we have solved these problems, but we are making progress. Our approach also shows a willingness to collaborate with other councils, work with Tangata Whenua and be guided by the community in our decision-making. That is how we will move forward together as a district and as a region.

Thursday 23 October 2014

Cricket show should be a big hit

Please mark November 8 in your calendars if you love cricket. That is the date the International Cricket Council plans to bring the Cricket World Cup Trophy to Kaitaia as part of a nationwide tour to highlight New Zealand's joint hosting responsibilities for the 2015 world cup tournament. This is great news for the Far North, not just because it creates a point of interest for local cricket enthusiasts in the run-up to the world's fourth largest team sport event, but also because it acknowledges that we are in fact part of New Zealand. Too often the Far North gets overlooked in lists of potential venues, thanks to its relative isolation and the distances which need to be travelled. In this case, Kaitaia is getting a world-class event, which could easily have passed it by, thanks to the efforts of the Far North Cricket Association and the Far North District Council which will host the road show at Te Ahu. I urge people to repay the International Cricket Council's vote of confidence in the Far North by getting down to Te Ahu on 8 November or catching the roadshow in Whangarei the day before if that location is easier.

For many people, the road show represents a once in a lifetime opportunity to see the cricket world's most sought-after silverware up close. However, the road show is also a great opportunity to learn about the history of the Cricket World Cup, as well as the 2015 tournament. The quality of the road show, which includes high tech, interactive displays, is top notch so cricket lovers have a treat in store. The outdoor activities which allow people to test their bowling and batting skills should also be a big hit with cricket fanatics. The value of hosting the road show in the Far North cannot be overstated, given the declining significance of cricket in the district in recent years. The few remaining clubs across the district are struggling to attract players and some schools are even struggling to maintain teams other than for inter-school fixtures. This is a real shame given that our schools are nurseries for the sport and Northland historically has been the breeding ground for many players who have gone on to national selection and international fame. In a professional sporting era, these are potential career opportunities our talented young players can ill afford to lose. The more exposure the sport has the more likely a vibrant cricket climate can be developed which encourages player participation and growth of the sport. Bring on the road show. It promises to be a big hit.

Thursday 16 October 2014

Port projects will boost economy

The Far North economy will soon receive a much-needed boost from two major infrastructure projects the Council's commercial company Far North Holdings Ltd (FNHL) is developing in the Bay of Islands.

At Opua, FNHL plans to add 173 berths to the 250-berth marina to cater for the hundreds of international cruising vessels that use Opua as their port of entry to New Zealand each year. There has been demand for extra berths at the marina since it was built 15 years ago, so I am delighted that FNHL has obtained resource consents for this long-awaited project to proceed. The maritime estate at Opua has already fostered the development of 63 commercial businesses that employ about 250 people. An economic analyst estimates that extending the marina will help to create another 70 full-time jobs at Opua and a further 150 in the wider district. It also forecasts economic activity worth $23 million a year after the five-year establishment period, so this is a project we can all get excited about, particularly as it is self-funding and the $13 million capital costs won't require a call on rates. While I must temper my enthusiasm with the knowledge that the consents may be appealed, I am confident that our consent authorities have addressed reasonable concerns about the project by attaching conditions to the consents.

Another project which represents a major investment in infrastructure that is vital to the district's tourism industry and economy involves an upgrade of terminal and aircraft facilities at Bay of Islands Airport in Kerikeri. FNHL and Air New Zealand are replacing and extending the apron and taxiway at the airport to cater for the 50-seat Bombardier Dash 8 Q300 aircraft that Air New Zealand will operate on all flights in and out of the airport from February 2015. Replacing the 19-seat Beechcraft 1900D aircraft with the larger Q300 will increase annual capacity on flights between Kerikeri and Auckland to 12,000 seats, so Far North Holdings is also extending and upgrading the departure and arrival halls. Work on this project was due to get underway this week .

I want to congratulate FNHL Chairman Ross Blackman and Chief Executive Andy Nock for masterminding these projects which represent big steps forward for the Far North and Northland.

Thursday 2 October 2014

Maintaining traditions

In most areas of life, things go smoother and there is a greater sense of satisfaction when we work together with common goals and a sense of community. This was brought home to me when I attended two quite dissimilar school functions last week: one was an inter-school speech contest at Far North REAP and the other was a calf day at Waiharara School.

The speeches by the young children from the 11 participating schools were outstanding. I was even more impressed by the enjoyment and positivity expressed by not only the participants, but also their friends, parents and the whole school community. Obviously there was a sense of competition, but there was also an over-riding sense of common interest and the pleasure of participating.

The calf day at Waiharara School reflected the same levels of positivity and community involvement. It was a joy to see and I can't but help reflect on how sad it is that events such as this, which were once so common across rural New Zealand, are now rapidly becoming a thing of the past. I understand there may now only be one or two schools in the District that still have an annual calf or pet day. These events may not fit the modern curriculum, but they connect schools to their communities and instil values in children that help them to develop into compassionate human beings.

On a similar note, it is also sad to see participation in sports declining in schools. Sport was once the great team-builder in the school community and school sports teams were where our nation's elite athletes first learned to throw or kick a ball. I find it sad that traditions which once brought communities together and defined us as a nation now have an uncertain future in some areas. That is why I commend Waiharara School for its calf day. I also applaud the Ngataki, Pukenui, Paparore, Kaingaroa, Kaitaia Intermediate, Oturu, Broadwood Area, Pompallier, Oruaiti, Ahipara and Abundant Life Schools for their inter-school speech contest. It is easy for newspaper front pages to give the impression that only bad things are happening in our communities. These events proved otherwise and I want to thank all those people who played a part in helping to organise them and for making our communities stronger in the process.

Thursday 25 September 2014

Cooperation in action

With the General Election out of the way, a decision on the future shape of local government in the north is now probably not too far away. A best guess is that the Local Government Commission will make an announcement before Christmas or early in the New Year. We don't know if the Commission will propose to maintain the status quo, merge Northland's councils into one or more unitary authorities or propose variations made possible by recent changes to the Local Government Act. For example, the Act now allows the Commission to include local boards in its reorganisation proposals. What is certain is that, irrespective of the outcome and whether or not residents will demand a referendum, we need to be ready to move forward.

The common driver towards change has always been the need to achieve greater efficiencies and more cost-effective services in order to keep costs to ratepayers within acceptable levels. We need to actively work towards this goal regardless of the council structure we have when the Commission has completed its review of local government in Northland. This is why there is now greater cooperation between Northland councils and why the Northland Mayoral Forum is currently exploring opportunities to collaborate in the provision of services and initiatives that generate cost savings or benefits for Northlanders. A report commissioned by the Mayoral Forum has identified numerous activities that could be undertaken on a shared basis. These include call centre operations, animal management, valuation and rating rolls, building and bylaw administration, library services and asset management. It is now up to a working group of Council Chief Executives to define those activities where efficiencies or benefits could be gained from a shared approach.

The added advantage of setting up a framework for shared services at this point in time is that, should there be a new governance structure, a great deal of the groundwork towards amalgamation will have already been completed. If, on the other hand, the Commission and Northlanders elect to retain the current Council structure, we will have a well-advanced plan in place to achieve cost savings across the region. Another bonus of working towards shared services has been a renewed level of political cooperation and collaboration between councils. Sadly for Northlanders, this has not always been the case. I would like to think that this level of cooperation and collaboration will continue irrespective of what the Local Government Commission may be planning.

Thursday 18 September 2014

Partnerships produces results

Most councils try to keep rates down by reducing operating costs and finding smarter ways to do business, but an often overlooked area where Councils can ease pressure on ratepayers is by developing partnerships with communities.

The principle has never been more clearly demonstrated than at Russell where the local community worked with the Council to improve the township's wharf facilities. In 2011, the upgrade of the 53-year-old wharf was seen as a 'nice to have' but unaffordable project until the business community stepped up to the plate. The Council of the day was prepared to spend $95,000 repairing the commercial pier and passenger ferry terminal, but wasn't willing to spend $267,000 on improvements to the southern pier unless the Russell community contributed $100,000 to project costs within 2 years. The Russell Business Association regarded the wharf as a vital transport link for the thousands of people who visit Russell each year so formed a trust to raise the community's share of project costs. Raising $100,000 was no easy task but through some innovative fund-raising initiatives and a huge level of community commitment and enthusiasm the trust achieved its goal.

This kind of community commitment and the willingness of the people of Russell to work in partnership with the Council is heart-warming and worthy of sincere congratulations, particularly given the somewhat uneasy relationship which had historically existed between this community and the Council. The project not only improved a vital piece of infrastructure for the people of Russell, it also helped to build bridges and restore channels of communication with the Council. It is this kind of partnership arrangement we are trying to encourage in other towns seeking heated swimming pools. These "nice to have" projects are unlikely to get off the drawing board in the current economic climate without community buy-in and support. While it would be easy to say let's get on with it irrespective of the cost, we have a duty of care not to burden current and future generations with unaffordable levels of public debt, particularly when there is a huge list of basic infrastructure in need of urgent attention. I urge all communities to take a leaf from Russell's book and to look for innovative ways to fund amenities that make our towns better places to live in and visit.

Thursday 11 September 2014

Serving our community

The recent deaths of Work and Income staff in Ashburton and the escalation of threats against staff at other branches since is a reminder of how vulnerable public service workers are. These are genuine people who are trying to help others and do difficult jobs that involve administering policies set down in legislation. Unfortunately, there are those in our communities who are prepared to resort to threats and violence to get their own way. We can rationalise it anyway we like, blaming tough economic times and failures in health and education. But the reality is, there are some people in every community who simply cannot be reasoned with and who are willing to resort to violence to achieve an end.

Unfortunately, intimidation, verbal abuse and violence aren't just directed at Work and Income staff. They are also occupational hazards in local government. Field staff are the most likely to encounter abuse, but front office staff are not far behind. In most cases, the abuse is only verbal but it does occur almost daily. I find it extraordinary that such incidents even occur in our libraries. I know of at least one case where police intervention was needed. As recently as a week ago a member of our field staff was physically assaulted in the course of his duties and I'm told that field staff encounter face-to-face threats of physical violence about once a month on average. The level of verbal abuse through less direct medians such as the telephone is substantially higher. We have protocols in place to deal with abuse and threats but there really is very little we can do to protect against the possibility that somebody will overstep the mark and resort to physical violence at any given moment.

While we intend to review our workplace safety, it is physically and financially impossible to cover off every potential contingency with high numbers of staff in the field and numerous workplaces across the district. What we can do as a community is to remember the Ashburton tragedy, be aware of the dangers and be prepared to act quickly and call for external assistance should a situation arise in which others are being threatened or may be in danger. Looking out for each other is very important in areas such as the Far North where isolation is an issue.

If you happen to see staff as an easy target for abuse, please think again. As a Council, we will not hesitate to report your behaviour to higher authorities. Employees are entitled to the best possible level of protection and should not have to suffer for perceived injustices or for simply carrying out duties which, at the end of the day, are about serving our community.

Thursday 4 September 2014

Paying for pools - what do you think?

We know there are close to 3000 people in the Kaitaia, Kaikohe and Kerikeri areas who would like the Council to support the development of aquatic centres in their towns. What we don't know is how many would be prepared to do some local fund raising and pay additional rates to make these multi-million-dollar facilities happen. The Council simply doesn't have the financial resources to make these very desirable community amenities available, given a huge demand for remedial and new works in the areas of water, wastewater and roading over the next few years. This means that up to two-thirds of funding would need to come directly from local communities with the Council borrowing money to make up the difference and striking a targeted rate to service the loan. Because we are community-driven, we have set out a number of possible funding options in the Aquatic Strategy discussion document which is displayed on the Council's website. I urge all ratepayers to look carefully at the options and let us know which of these - if any - would be acceptable to you. Until we reach a position where the majority of people are on side, we cannot make a commitment to provide any level of rate funding. These projects fall into the "nice to have" category and are really luxuries rather than essential facilities. But if the demand is sufficient and communities are willing to pay the price, the Council will review its priorities.

Te Hiku Sports Hub wants an $8 million facility at Kaitaia. The Council is prepared to commit to $2.66 million of the cost by way of a loan, as long as residents in the ward agree to a targeted rate which will vary between $4 and $40 a year, depending on the distance of any property from the facility. The Mid-North Aquatic and Fitness Facility group wants to build a $12-$15 million facility at Kerikeri. We think this is a little excessive and that an $8 million facility would be adequate in the medium term. The more expensive facility would mean a targeted rate of between $3 and $113 across the ward if the Council borrows $5.33 million and between $1 and $38 a year for the more modest option. Kaikohe is looking to a $4 million facility which, on the same cost-sharing basis, would mean an extra $2 to $50 a year for ratepayers across the ward. Please take the time to find out about these proposals and let us know what you think before the end of this month.

Thursday 28 August 2014

Democracy in action

A wide cross-section of the community has brought its views to the Council table on a potentially contentious range of proposed new policies which will impact on the social fabric of the communities in which we live. I'm referring of course to the policy reviews we are currently undertaking on the subjects of gaming machines, alcohol and the sale of what are commonly referred to as "legal highs".

In the review of the rules for premises involved in the sale of alcohol, the submissions show clear points of difference between those concerned to ensure regulation does not unfairly impact on business and in particular the tourist economy and those determined to have issues surrounding the social effects of alcohol properly addressed. While there were areas of general agreement, there were also areas of divergent thinking particularly on the subject of closing hours, the number of liquor licenses in the Far North which currently stands at 295, and the one-way door management approach. There were also some submissions suggesting that there should be different rules for tourist locations such as Paihia and Russell.
I'm not going to comment on the likely outcome from the public submission process until the Council has had the chance to deliberate on the issues raised - which will be towards the end of September. However, I would like to make the point that the Council was very aware of the likely areas of conflict before the draft policies were prepared and deliberately attempted to find a way down the middle - a way to satisfy community concerns about the adverse impacts of alcohol without unfairly restricting the rights of those in the industry to make a living.

In terms of the submissions on legal highs and the licensing of "pokie" machines, the draft policies enjoyed a far higher level of overall support. The majority have supported the concept of a "sinking lid" policy for gaming machines - that is, when premises close down the licenses lapse. And there has also been almost unanimous support for the restrictive measures proposed to make sure when the ban on the sale of untested legal highs is lifted, the Far North will have a strict code in place to control where the sales of tested and approved products can and cannot occur.

These are all very important social issues which were only introduced after close consultation with the NZ Police and health authorities. I am pleased that the wider community and those directly involved in the liquor and gambling industries have now taken the opportunity to have their say. However this is not necessarily the end of the road. After the Council has deliberated on the submissions, the policies may be amended to reflect the submissions. In the case of the gambling and legal high rules, these can be adopted by simple resolution of the Council. But in the case of the Local Alcohol Policy, the policy only becomes provisional and there is a statutory period where those who have made submissions have the right of appeal to the Alcohol Regulatory and Licencing Authority (ARLA). That may annoy those looking for closure on these issues, but that's democracy.

Thursday 21 August 2014

A position of strength

I want to thank The Northland Age for helping us to put a spotlight on infrastructure issues recently. It is true that the Far North District Council faces major challenges. But I would argue that it has never been in a stronger position to tackle these. First, the Council is not the organisation it was a year ago. We have a new governance team that is committed to building a high-performance, customer-focused organisation that carries the trust of the community. We also have a new management team that is led by one of New Zealand's most experienced local government managers, Colin Dale. This team was recently bolstered by the appointment of two highly-experienced and skilled managers to key positions. Jacqui Robson, an engineer with more than 20-years work experience in the United Kingdom and Middle East, took over as General Manager of our Infrastructure and Asset Management Team last month. Jacqui was a Senior Engineer at global engineering and construction firm URS which built the $360 million Northern Gateway Toll Road in Auckland. She was also Principal Engineer (Special Projects) at Waitakere City Council when it developed a $36 million public transport interchange at New Lynn, so we are very excited to have her on board. The appointment of Kathryn Ross to the position of General Manager - Strategic Planning and Policy - is also a major step forward for the organisation. Kathryn is a highly-qualified policy specialist with nearly 20-years' experience of government at all levels. She will drive a number of high-value projects that help the district address its infrastructure issues, including the development of growth and community engagement strategies.

Of course, we can't tackle these challenges alone so we are also sharpening the tactics we use to secure Government subsidies. I am pleased to confirm that we have not lost a Ministry of Health subsidy to address sewerage issues in Kerikeri. We will be updating the community on progress with this project in the near future. We are also committed to collaborating with other Northland Councils in the provision of services and are developing a strategic plan that will identify areas where councils might work together to reduce local government costs and improve outcomes for Northlanders.

Recent changes to the Local Government Act are also good news for ratepayers. The amended Act reinforces the importance of asset management plans and requires councils to disclose risk management arrangements for assets in their Annual Reports. Councils must also develop a 30-year infrastructure strategy and produce a Long Term Plan consultation document that tells a coherent story and highlights matters of public interest. I welcome these very timely changes which provide greater public transparency about infrastructure issues. Please make sure you have your say when we release our Draft Long Term Plan next year. We are stronger when we address problems together.

Thursday 14 August 2014

The debate continues

The recent storm and focus on infrastructure has taken the spotlight off another hot issue we are seeking public feedback on. Genetic engineering and whether there should be an opportunity to trial or commercially grow genetically-modified crops in the Far North is a debate that has been raging for more than a decade.

As a territorial authority, it is now our turn to consider the implications and we are currently inviting public submissions on Proposed Plan Change 18. On the surface, that shouldn't be too difficult, but the reality is whatever rules and regulations we choose to adopt at a local level are unlikely to meet with universal acceptance. The debate is almost certain to linger on and probably will head to the courts before finality is reached. We have opted to take a position agreed between most of the councils located north of Auckland - to use the District Plan to ban the general release of modified organisms, but to allow field trials subject to regulation via the resource consent process. This would allow the Council to require applicants to publicly notify proposals, provide a performance bond and meet conditions during and after trials.

The District Plan approach has been heralded by groups such as GE-Free Northland as a break-through, but is still to run the gauntlet of those who see merit in genetic engineering and want the right to at least trial new crops. All of which is why it is critical that we get as wide a cross-section of opinion as possible on our proposed change to the District Plan. The public submissions process may only be the start of a marathon, but at least now there is a finish line in sight.

I'm also pleased that, as a council, we are working with our neighbours. Auckland has already regulated GMOs in its proposed Unitary Plan and Whangarei is also moving ahead with a proposed Plan Change. This means we will be able to jointly hear submissions through independent commissioners and hence share overheads. If in the final analysis the matter goes to court, again there can be cost savings with a joint approach.

Proposed Plan Change 18 is open to public submissions until September 9. Please make sure you have your say!

Thursday 7 August 2014

The road ahead

I want to thank communities for their patience as we repair roads damaged by last month's storm. We are doing everything we can to urgently restore road access in a few places where subsidence has closed roads to traffic and we are assessing costs of repairing slips that have reduced roads to one lane. We are grateful for your patience and understanding so far and ask you to bear with us while we tackle this work.

The storm has brought into sharp focus the infrastructure challenges we face as a district. We have one of the longest roading networks in New Zealand. Most of our roads aren't sealed and many traverse flood-prone areas or steep hill country that is prone to erosion and subsidence. Roads also have to withstand several destructive weather events every year, each of which can cost us millions in road repair costs. To compound these challenges, we have a relatively small population and rating base. The storm has also highlighted the poor state of our roading network. The Council that was elected last October inherited a roading network that was effectively 'broken' as a result of decades of under investment. We don't say this to score political points. We point it out because it is a reality we need to acknowledge and address, not just as a council but as a district. Fixing this network is a top priority for the new Council. However, this will require Central Government support. We were encouraged by Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee's recent announcement that the Government may meet more than 90 percent of road repair costs caused by the storm. We will be making a case for maximum Government assistance when we have finished adding up costs. We will also be seeking improvements to non-emergency funding of roading infrastructure in the Far North and will outline new tactics in the near future.

I encourage communities to start thinking about how we might address our infrastructure deficits in the lead-up to preparing our Long Term Plan next year. We all use and depend on our roads. Quite simply, our economy couldn't function without them. But we also need to provide other vital services, including water and sewerage, and we have an obligation to maintain the community amenities that make the Far North a great place to live. Previous councils have deferred maintenance on some of these amenities for years, so there will be tough decisions ahead as we work our way through a backlog of work, weigh up competing demands and try to prioritise projects based on what is fair and affordable for ratepayers. The nature of local government is that you can't please everyone all the time, so some of us will need to be prepared to adjust our expectations and put the district's needs ahead of personal or local interests. Realism and reasonableness will be needed by all on the road ahead.

Thursday 24 July 2014

A shared purpose

When I made the decision to take leave earlier this month and travel overseas for a couple of weeks it was based on the belief that this was likely to be a relatively quiet time on the local government front. What I couldn't have foreseen was that the Far North was about to experience its most destructive storm in years. I am proud of how the Council and other agencies responded to this emergency and how those in charge rose to the occasion. Effective leadership is never just about one person. It requires a team effort and I want to commend the Northland Civil Defence Emergency Management Group for leading the district through this challenging event.

When Cyclone Wilma flooded Moerewa in 2011, the Council was criticised for failing to provide adequate help to the community. This time, Council staff and representatives of other agencies, including Work and Income and the Fire Service, were on the ground assessing and responding to welfare needs when floodwaters threatened households. We put portaloos and rubbish skips in streets, pumped out houses and septic tanks and inspected properties damaged by water. Elsewhere in the district, we delivered food parcels, provided portable showers and offered accommodation to families who were without power. It is gratifying to hear positive feedback about the support we were able to provide to communities by joining forces with other agencies. The storm has highlighted the importance of these co-operative relationships and shown the strength and resilience we have as a district and a region when we work together and have a shared purpose.

I also want to congratulate Top Energy for successfully responding to what must have seemed an insurmountable challenge. At the height of the storm, up to 16,000 households were without electricity. Yet Top Energy had power back on to all but a few hundred properties within 48 hours. Council contractors also worked long hours to keep the district's water supplies, wastewater treatment plants and roads operational or open. The New Zealand Transport Agency deserves special applause for getting State Highway 1 open again within a week.

We are still tallying up the cost of repairing our infrastructure, but expect the bill to run well into the millions. I am grateful for the financial support we have already received from the Government, which has allowed us to establish a $180,000 Mayoral emergency relief fund to help storm victims. The Council will be making a strong case for further Government support when staff have completed cost assessments. We have long argued that the Far North has unique social, economic and geographic challenges. This storm has brought those challenges into sharp focus once again. We need to develop a shared purpose that spans all sectors and levels of Government if we are to recover from this event and become a stronger and more resilient district.

Thursday 10 July 2014

Welcome to the Kiwi family

Inspired! That is one of the words that have been used to describe the Far North District Council's decision to hold a citizenship ceremony at Waitangi Treaty Grounds last Friday. Thirty-six people from 10 nations took part in what is believed to have been the first citizenship ceremony to be held at the Treaty Grounds. I would like to thank the Waitangi National Trust for allowing us to hold the ceremony at Waitangi which is the birthplace of our nation and its most important historic site. I can't think of a more fitting place to bestow the rights and duties of citizenship on foreign nationals seeking to make New Zealand their permanent home. The historic significance of the venue was not lost on our new Kiwis either. Many of those who attended the ceremony inside the carved meeting house or Te Whare Rūnanga (House of Assembly) spoke about the privilege of taking the oath of allegiance at Waitangi – a place that is charged with history and symbolism. Hopefully, this experience will validate their decisions to become New Zealanders and encourage them to learn more about New Zealand's past and the role they can play in its future.

The success of the first citizenship ceremony at Waitangi has encouraged us to consider holding future citizenship ceremonies against other iconic backdrops. We are fortunate to have in the District a number of nationally significant places that help to define who we are, where we have come from and what we value. Some locations that come to mind include Tane Mahuta in the Waipoua Forest, Te Rerenga Wairua (Cape Reinga), Te Oneroa-a-Tōhē/Ninety Mile Beach and Kororipo/Stone Store Basin in Kerikeri. We will consider these places as future venues for citizenship ceremonies, provided there is support from Maori and the appropriate agencies and the logistics of organising outdoor ceremonies in these more remote locations stack up.

I want to finish by acknowledging our new Kiwis who come from Australia, Fiji, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Ireland, The Netherlands, South Africa and the United States of America. It takes fortitude and bravery to leave one's place of birth and settle in another country. Choosing to become a citizen of that country isn't a decision that is taken lightly. Thank you for making that decision. We value the knowledge, skills and perspectives that you bring to our workplaces and communities which are more vibrant and rounded expressions of the human experience by your being here. Welcome to the Kiwi family.

Thursday 26 June 2014

Strengthening Services

If I was asked to name two significant philosophical changes reflected in the Annual Plan this year, I would point to the new focus on becoming a more customer-centred organisation and a desire to invest in better recreational and sports facilities in the District. While the budget remains dominated by the need to address a backlog of maintenance and improvements to basic infrastructure such as roads, water and wastewater, we have been able to make adjustments to provide a boost to both recreational and visitor facilities. In total, some $5.1 million will be spent renewing and improving facilities such as halls, wharves, boat ramps, parks, reserves, and public toilets. Some of this spending has been prompted by concerns the public brought to the table during the Annual Plan community consultation. Some of it is a result of our own concern at a growing backlog in asset renewals. Even in tough economic times, there is only so long that renewals can be deferred before it no longer makes economic sense to put off this work. A good example of this, and one of the bigger projects we are planning, is the restoration of the Kaikohe rugby grandstand. This building has been neglected in recent years, so we plan to spend up to $192,000 restoring or replacing it. We also plan to spend $100,000 improving security at our housing for the elderly, while a number of public halls will get much-need renewal work.

What is also significant is that we are continuing to look to partnerships with other service providers, clubs and local communities to provide new amenities which might otherwise not be an option. It's all about getting the best possible return for the community for each dollar spent. At the same time, there is a renewed focus on the provision of improved and additional tourism amenities which will help boost local economies. Not the least of these is the commitment to lease a new i-SITE visitor information centre Far North Holdings is building at Opononi. We have also allocated $100,000 for job creation initiatives which will be developed in conjunction with CBEC, The Mayoral Taskforce for Jobs and the Te Hiku Social Accord.

However, moving forward is not a question of money alone. There must also be the right framework in place to make things happen. This year's Annual Plan attempts to address this with a focused internal programme aimed at strengthening resources, building a more customer-focused culture and improving relationships with the community. The goal is to become a high-performance business operation which can better respond to the needs of its customers and take greater account of community aspirations. We are already making progress in this regard and look forward to reporting on further improvements at the end of the financial year.

Thursday 19 June 2014

Paying for pools

If anyone was in any doubt that there is strong interest in a proposal to build an indoor, heated pool in Kerikeri, they should have been at last Thursday's pool meeting at The Turner Centre. This was one of the biggest public meetings the Far North has seen in years. The huge turnout mirrored the large number of submissions the Council has received from people wanting a heated pool in Kaitaia. Kawakawa residents were also very vocal recently when it was suggested that their pool complex might not be sustainable.

I congratulate the Mid-North Aquatic and Fitness Facility Committee for bringing the Kerikeri project forward and for the extensive research committee members have put into preparing this proposal. Strong mandates are exactly what any Council needs when planning for the future. However, that doesn't automatically mean communities will get what they ask for when they ask for it. The crunch is always going to be the question of affordability. Having a wish list is one thing, but having the ability to pay is critical. While rates may be a part of any funding mix, it is always going to be a question of just how much capital individual communities are able and willing to bring to the table. The other obvious question is can the community afford the ongoing running costs? For example, a $15.7 million state-of-the-art pool complex at Rolleston in Canterbury costs Selwyn District $700,000 a year to operate. At Kaitaia, we are looking at a pool complex likely to cost about $8 million and at Kerikeri a complex with preliminary estimates suggesting slightly higher numbers.

The questions we will need to grapple with as a district are where will the money come from to build these facilities and how will annual operating and any debt servicing costs be funded? Our draft strategy for pools suggests there can be a mix of funding, but makes the point that each community is expected to accept responsibility for a substantial share of the funding requirement. For example, the Kawakawa community has played a big part in securing their pool for the future by giving practical application to the principles of self-help. But an $8 million pool complex at Kerikeri, with annual operating costs of $330,000, could lift rates in the central Kerikeri area by as much as $240 a year. For a $13 million scheme, rates could rise by $300 a year. Obviously these figures will reduce depending on how widely the rate impact is spread, what differentials may be applied and the amount of local funding available. The next step for the Council will be to determine whether or not the community is prepared to cut its cloth and accept an $8 million complex with the basics but without some of the extras proposed by the Aquatic and Fitness Facility Committee. If Kerikeri opts for the full Monty, then fund-raising will really become a priority.

Thursday 12 June 2014

Those who also serve

Society is often quick to acknowledge the achievements of high-profile front-runners while ignoring the efforts of people who help to make these achievements possible. This is why I strongly support the Trustpower Community Awards and the Far North District Council's Citizen Awards. Both awards are a means of delving beyond the headlines and shining a light on people who work tirelessly behind the scenes to make their communities better places in which to live and work. I am not for a moment suggesting that community leaders and high-profile achievers don't deserve the accolades. Their leadership and innovation are paramount in building strong communities and instilling a real sense of community self-worth and pride. I'm simply making the point that there is an army of volunteers out there whose efforts and achievements largely go unsung.

This year's Queen's Birthday Honours recipients in the Far North richly deserve the recognition they have received. Haami Piripi is one of the emerging Far North leaders whose role in all probability is still to find its peak, while Rangitane Marsden has played a pivotal role in securing a future for his Iwi Ngai Takoto. I am also sure that Kaitaia GP Dr Ian Smit will not step back from his drive to improve the health and well-being of the communities in which he works. However, their awards would not have come about without the support of the communities in which they have worked. In all three cases, the recipients have been quick to acknowledge the efforts of the teams with which they work and those behind the scenes without whom their success would not have been possible.

Which brings me back to the Trustpower Community and Far North Citizen Awards. You may well ask why it is necessary to have two sets of rather similar awards. The answer is that the Trustpower Awards recognise the achievements of volunteer organisations or groups while the Citizen Awards recognise the unpaid efforts of individuals on behalf of their communities. The fact there is still a need for a lower tier community award system is demonstrated by the more than 40 nominations received for this year's Trustpower Far North Community Awards. It is also proved by the Citizen Awards roll of honour board in the foyer of the Council's Kaikohe headquarters. This board, which records the names of award recipients since 2001, represents countless good deeds by many people over the years and we know there are more like them out there. Please help us celebrate what is good in our communities by telling us about good Samaritans when we call for nominations next month. Help us to make our outstanding citizens stand out.

Thursday 5 June 2014

Make your vote count

It may sound a cliché, but the fact is that unless people take every opportunity to express their opinions by way of the ballot box, as a community we wind up with the level of elected representation we deserve. Another opportunity for residents to have their say on who will be making the decisions which affect them is coming up. Next week, voting papers will be mailed out to about 1800 people in the North Cape subdivision to fill a vacant seat on Te Hiku Community Board. There are three candidates seeking election. I can't emphasise how important it is that there is a strong voter turnout. Whoever is successful needs to know that he or she has a strong mandate from the community. There is nothing more unnerving for somebody new to local government than to step to the board table not really knowing whether their community is really behind them or whether they are simply there by default. Even if the outcome is a close call, if the total voting numbers are strong they can move forward with confidence and start bringing to the table the matters which really count for their electorate. A strong turnout will also make them very aware their community is passionate about what happens at the board or council table and that they need to work hard and perform to retain their electoral support.

There are no free lunches in local government and members are expected to earn their stipends. However, unless you call them to account on election day, that may not necessarily happen. I have heard the comment made that it is "only" a community board seat at stake - the inference being that it doesn't really count. Believe me, it does matter. My council is committed to expanding the roles that our boards play and to working in closer co-operation with the communities we serve. This can best be achieved with strong local boards which are prepared to listen to and to mix in with the people they serve, bringing local issues strongly to the council table.

Human nature being what it is, we all tend to listen more closely when a project being brought forward has a strong mandate from the community most directly affected.

In short, when you receive your voting papers take the time to fill them out and return them in the self-addressed envelope supplied. Don't waste everybody's time, and a great deal of money, by throwing them away. Make your vote count and help us to make our communities grow. Over the years, we have fought hard to make sure local representation is maintained. It would be a tragedy to see the 'local' go out the door as a result of a complacent electorate.

Thursday 29 May 2014

We're here to help

Ngawha's geothermal hot springs have for generations been one of the Far North's overlooked tourist attractions. But that's all about to change. The Far North District Council recently assigned a new 33-year lease of the Ngawha Springs Domain Reserve where hot pools are located to the Parahirahi C1 Trust. This will enable the Trust, as pool operators, to launch a very substantial improvement and development programme designed to recapture the attention of the visitor industry and turn a barely economic operation into a viable and sustainable business venture. This is a good example of how the Council can best stimulate the district's economy; by creating an environment which encourages private enterprise to take up new challenges. Our role is not to physically engage in new economic activities, but to facilitate and encourage others to make these investments.

Until such time as Treaty of Waitangi settlements are enacted, the Trust needs security of tenure against which to raise the $2.5 million it requires to see the Ngawha development through to completion. The new peppercorn lease has provided that security without draining the coffers and leaving nothing available for development and marketing. In addition to a major revamp of the facilities, the project includes flood protection work to help secure the long-term integrity of the pool complex. With the upgrade completed the Trust can then get out and confidently market the facilities, reigniting visitor interest and generating new employment opportunities. This can all happen without destroying the natural values of the mineral pools which have attracted local and international clientele convinced of their healing powers for years.

The Trust's Ngawha development project is also a good example of how to leverage economic opportunities from our natural and historic resources in a sustainable way. The geothermal field is one of the largest in New Zealand outside the central North Island plateau and to be able to utilise this resource without depleting it or diminishing the attraction is a win-win outcome. About all that has been holding Ngawha back in the past is the fact that facilities at the pools have frankly not been up to international standards. This has meant that word of mouth, the best and cheapest marketing tool available, has not generally acted in Ngawha's favour. As soon as the upgrade is completed, the next task will be to get the message out that the Ngawha mineral springs are back in business and contributing in a meaningful way to the Far North tourist package. When the springs are linked with other attractions, including the Twin Coast - Pou Herenga Tai - Cycle Trail, Pioneer Village in Kaikohe, Wairere Boulders, Waipoua Forest, The Bay of Islands Vintage Railway and a fabulous maritime playground, we really do have something very special to offer the visitor industry.

Thursday 22 May 2014

Making progress

It's been just over seven months since the current councillors and community board members were elected to office, but we've already achieved a lot for ratepayers. We've put in place a new committee structure to allow councillors to investigate proposals and options more thoroughly before they come before council. We've also appointed experienced local government manager Colin Dale as acting chief executive to implement the changes that elected members and ratepayers are seeking. Mr Dale and managers are reviewing business practices across a number of key areas including how we communicate with customers and have already made improvements, such as restoring the free phone service for customers who call our contact centre from cell phones. We also believe we could be leveraging significantly more value out of our contracts with suppliers so are reviewing these contracts to ensure ratepayers are getting the most bang for their buck.

We are also making significant progress on a number of problematic projects. Efforts to secure a new aquifer-fed water supply for Kaitaia had effectively stalled before we came to office. We have just completed long-awaited pump tests to determine what effect drawing water from the Sweetwater Aquifer will have on neighbouring bores. We have also commissioned an independent study of water sources in the Kaitaia area so we can satisfy ourselves that we have thoroughly researched all options before we commit further capital funds to the aquifer project. We have heeded Auditor General warnings to councils to thoroughly research the affordability of large, expensive infrastructure projects. That is why we have opted to address sewerage issues in Kerikeri in stages and as part of a growth strategy for the Bay of Islands and District. We copped flak for leasing the Hokianga i-SITE Visitor Information Centre at Opononi to a Four Square grocery store last year. But we had inherited a situation where the council owned the i-SITE building, but not the land under it. We have rectified this by asking our subsidiary Far North Holdings to buy the land and buildings and we hope to build and open a new i-SITE there before Christmas. The Twin Coast Cycle Trail was another project that had lost momentum when we came to office. I am pleased to report that we have reopened negotiations with landowners who were opposed to us developing the trail between Otiria and Kaikohe. Initial talks have gone well and we are putting together a proposal for government assistance to complete the trail. We have also resurrected a cycle trail working group which will help to keep this project on track. We've got a long way to go before we can say we're a high-performance organisation, but we're on the right track and we're making steady progress.

Thursday 15 May 2014

Talking and listening

History is a great teacher. Seven years ago, the Far North District Council found itself in a war with the Doubtless Bay community. The council had given a developer permission to build a pedestrian bridge over State Highway 10 so residents of apartments being built on a headland overlooking the bay could walk to the beach. However, neither the council nor the community board had deemed it necessary to publicly notify the consent application. Not surprisingly, many people in the local community were angry that they hadn't been given an opportunity to have their say on the proposal. Protestors occupied the beach and warned the council and developer they would have a war on their hands if construction of the bridge went ahead. The council and agencies involved in the project tried to do damage limitation at a public meeting at Mangonui Hall, but protestors spat at speakers and subjected them to a barrage of hostility and angry interjections. It wasn't our finest hour as a council or a community. Kenana Marae spokesman Bryce Smith summed up the situation well when he said in the Northland Age: "We must all consider and learn from this and position ourselves so that this type of behaviour is not repeated by our consenting authorities."

Last week the Far North District Council returned to Mangonui Hall to meet the Doubtless Bay community. Te Hiku Community Board wanted to find out what the community felt about a number of issues, including how best to manage vehicles on Coopers Beach. Board chairperson Lawrie Atkinson made it clear at the start of the meeting that no decisions had been made on any of the discussion topics. The board was simply there to listen, so it could gauge how best to address these issues. The meeting that followed was peaceful, constructive and very different to the one that had taken place in the same venue almost seven years ago to the day. People spoke in normal tones and listened to each other and everyone had a chance to have their say.

I want to commend Te Hiku Community Board and council staff for holding this meeting. We want to be guided by the community in our decision-making, so it is great to see our community boards reaching out to our communities. I also want to commend members of the community who made the effort to attend the meeting at Mangonui. This is how we solve problems and resolve differences - by talking and listening to each other. This is how we move forward together.

Thursday 8 May 2014

Co-operation and collaboration

There is very little that is more effective in advancing the future of the Far North than the application of the principles of communication, consultation, collaboration and cooperation. Yesterday we marked the completion of a project which epitomised these principles when we officially turned on new floodlights at the AstroTurf pitch in Kaikohe. The Lindvart Park floodlights project came to the table more than 10 years ago, but the aspirations of the community were never fully addressed until these principles were given practical application. We now have a physical demonstration of what can be achieved when agencies such as the Far North District Council and Top Energy combine their efforts and get the private sector on board. In this case, the Council provided $100,000 in seed funding and paved the way through the various consent and approval processes. Top Energy applied its expertise and provided the balance of the construction costs while contractors from the private sector gave very liberally of their time to make it happen.

Partnerships such as this based on trust and cooperation are the pathway to the future and I hope that all agencies in both the public and private sector take note of what can be achieved when there is a will to drive the Far North forward. As a Council, we had a situation in which a $1.3 million investment had been made to develop the Far North's first basic AstroTurf facility, but the sports codes involved were realistically never going to raise the extra funding needed to apply the finishing touches. Night lighting was essential to maximise use of the facility.

As a result of some very persistent lobbying by project champion Sally Macauley, we had the business community behind us and when Top Energy stepped in with a proposal which exceeded expectations, suddenly there was a realistic pathway forward. None of this would have happened if we had not talked to each other and, more importantly, if we had not listened and assimilated the practical advice of all the parties involved. This project has given the Mid-North the impetus it needs and is a major step towards realising the ambitions of the Kaikohe & District Sportsville group which wants to make Lindvart Park a sports hub for local and potentially regional or even national events.

The task before us now is to make sure that this investment is fully utilised by schools and sports clubs. In these very difficult financial times, the use it or lose it concept has never been more important and this applies to all sports facilities. There are times when parochialism and politics need to be set aside and we need to pull together as a community and simply get on with it. The Lindvart Park floodlights project is a great example of what can be achieved when we do this.

Thursday 1 May 2014

Loud and clear

It's that time of the year again - the time when the community has an opportunity to influence work priorities and budgets by way of submissions to the Council's Draft Annual Plan. We went to the community this year with a fairly conservative programme. It is probably fair to say we anticipated a generally moderate response, but if there is one thing you can always expect in local government, it is the unexpected. The unexpected this year is the volume of demand for a new sports hub and heated swimming pool in Kaitaia. More than 800 of the approximately 1500 submissions we received were related to the Kaitaia sports hub/pool concept. I say the response was unexpected because the Council has already made a commitment to further investigate this project. The Te Hiku Community Board has allocated funding, a study has been commissioned and the outcome is expected to be known in a matter of weeks. I guess the community just wants us to know the depth of support there is for the concept and to re-affirm that it has been far from satisfied with the outcomes it has had in the past. Thanks for taking the time to make submissions on this issue. We hear you loud and clear.

A final count and full analysis of submissions is yet to be completed but on the preliminary figures there is no doubt that this is the single most substantive issue we will have before us when we sit down over the next few weeks to consider the matters raised. While we are still in the preliminary stages of tabulating and analysing the wish list, it is already fairly clear that, other than for the Kaitaia project, the majority of submissions relate to the hardy annuals - roading and the need for seal extensions and equity and fairness in the rating system. It is also clear from the submissions that many people in the community do not understand the relationship between property revaluations and rates and why a decrease in values does not necessarily bring a reduction in the rates bill.

One rating issue raised this year has been the way the "separately inhabitable unit" rule has been interpreted, the impact it has had on properties with a family use and the disparities the same rule has created in the commercial playing field. What has been particularly heartening from the submissions is an increasing number of complimentary submissions, a lower level of antagonism and an increase in the number of practical and constructive ideas which are coming forward. I don't necessarily read this as an affirmation we are now heading in the right direction but it is certainly an indication that the community generally is willing to give us this year at least to bring changes about. I look forward to the deliberations to come.

Thursday 24 April 2014

The ultimate sacrifice

Tomorrow we commemorate one of our most important national days. ANZAC Day marks a defining moment in our nation's history and public interest in this day of remembrance hasn't faded over the last 99 years. The Returned Services Association can take much of the credit for preserving the ANZAC tradition as we approach the centenary next year.

I was privileged to attend the 90th ANZAC Day commemorations at Gallipoli in 2005 when I was the National Party's Defence and Veterans' Affairs Spokesman. It was a sobering experience to visit the place where 2,721 New Zealanders were killed and another 4,852 were injured. The 14,000 New Zealanders who landed at ANZAC Cove were pawns in a badly-strategized and under-resourced military campaign. It was heart-breaking to stand where the blood of thousands of Kiwis had soaked into the ground and to imagine the carnage our men suffered. Those soldiers who didn't drown after disembarking from Allied war ships came under fire when they made it to shore and the bodies of the wounded and dead soon covered the exposed beach. Those who managed to penetrate inland endured eight months of living in trenches where they faced a constant barrage of artillery and sniper attacks, as well as harsh weather, disease and food shortages. When the Allied forces abandoned the Gallipoli campaign and evacuated their surviving troops, a third of the New Zealanders who had taken part had been killed. Tragically, their sacrifices were in vain because the campaign had little bearing on the outcome of World War One.

I encourage Northland Age readers to reflect on the following. What sort of world might we live in today if the Allied Forces hadn't defeated Germany in Europe? Would we enjoy the freedoms, political stability and economic prosperity most of us take for granted? Every one of us owes a debt to the New Zealand soldiers who fought in both World Wars and that debt doesn't diminish with each passing year. How we choose to acknowledge that debt is up to each of us as individuals. Most of us will never be called on to fight for our country, but we can honour our war dead by living lives dedicated to the values they gave their lives fighting for. For starters, we can take an interest in the welfare of our remaining returned servicemen. We can stand up for what is right and use reason instead of force to resolve conflicts with others. We can also exercise our democratic right to vote at elections instead of saying, "I can't be bothered". We can be less absorbed in ourselves and more involved in serving our communities. None of the above will bring our soldiers back but it will show that we haven't forgotten them and that we are determined to make the world we live in a better place than the one they knew. That is the best memorial we can give to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Thursday 17 April 2014

Wheels in motion

The prolonged summer without significant rain has drawn the vulnerability of some of our water supply schemes into sharp focus and has been a painful reminder of just how precarious the narrow line is between affordability and necessity. In an ideal world, the long-term problems associated with water delivery in locations such as Kaitaia, Rawene and Opononi would have been addressed a decade ago. The fact is, we have tended to put the construction of water, and also wastewater, assets on the back-burner. The question has always been, can we afford it? Sooner or later, a point is reached at which necessity outweighs affordability, irrespective of the financial climate. That is now the case with these three water supply schemes and we can no longer tinker around the edges with temporary and part solutions. There has to be a commitment to move forward, find staged solutions, talk with our communities and build for the future.

In the case of the Sweetwater aquifer, definitive pump testing will very soon be underway to address sustainability issues raised, a liaison group has been established to keep the lines of communication open with the community, and an internal governance group has been set up to ensure continuity and co-ordinate the planning effort. Irrespective of the testing outcome, that is not necessarily the end of it. We are also dusting off files on decades of investigations into raw water sources for Kaitaia - some dating back to the 1980's - to ensure the aquifer is the best and most sustainable long-term option. The delay may be expensive, but we would rather be sure than sorry.

At the same time, we have made a commitment to lift the ongoing needs of Rawene and Opononi/Omapere out of the too-hard basket and to focus with renewed purpose on how best to achieve a sustainable outcome for the future. A lot of the research has been done over the years. It's now time to start finding and costing practical solutions. Transporting water or requiring people building new dwellings to install their own rainwater collection and storage facilities may be more cost-effective options, but whatever the outcome it's way past time for procrastinating. If current global climate trends continue the water supply situation in the Far North is only going to get worse. Because these issues touch both on our daily living needs and our pockets there are always going to be sensitivities which will need to be addressed. However, we cannot continue to leave things to the next generation or excuse inaction on the grounds of poverty or political expediency. This is not something which can be rushed, but the time to set the wheels in motion is now.

Thursday 10 April 2014

Pour the bronze

I want to congratulate The Northland Age and its sister newspaper The Northern Advocate for their recent wins at the APN Regional Newspaper Awards. For those not aware, Northland Age editor Peter Jackson took away the Columnist of the Year title for the second time. Judges described his editorials as "brilliantly crafted" and rivalling those in the nation's daily newspapers. Since then, Peter has been shortlisted for the Editorial Writer of the Year award at the 2014 Canon Media Awards. This is a remarkable achievement. The Canon Media Awards (formerly the Qantas Media Awards) are the Academy Awards of the New Zealand publishing industry. Competition for finalist places is fierce, so it is exciting to see Peter's work recognised alongside that of The Listener's political writer Jane Clifton.
The Northern Advocate won eight awards at the APN awards this year, including Regional Newspaper of the Year, Editor of the Year, Senior Reporter of the Year, Junior Reporter of the Year and Salesperson of the Year. The paper was also the only APN newspaper in 2013 to grow its readership and it is a finalist in two categories at the Canon Media Awards, including Newspaper of the Year (under 30,000 circulation). This is an amazing achievement that all of Northland can take pride in. I wish Peter and The Advocate every success at the awards which are on May 9. I also want to acknowledge Advocate reporter Peter de Graaf who is known to many in the Far North where he has been based for a number of years. Peter was named Digital Innovator of the Year at the APN awards, but he should have received a special award for services to the community. His work ethic is legendary and his willingness to travel long distances at all hours to report on everything from car accidents to country fairs explains why someone once said, "Peter is part of the fabric of our community".

I am disappointed but not surprised that readers of The Age and The Advocate haven't publicly congratulated the publications on their achievements via their letters pages. Most of us take the press for granted in the same way that we don't think much about the electricity that powers our homes or the water that comes out of our taps. We are also oblivious to the punishing hours and gut-busting efforts that go into producing just one edition of a newspaper. Yet generations of journos have been cranking out editions of The Advocate for 139 years, while The Age has been in print for 110 years. Peter Jackson's editorship at The Age spans an incredible 30+ years and he has been a journalist at the paper for nearly 40 years. I'm not sure if that's a national record but it must be close. I would argue that, during that time, he has developed The Age into a newspaper of record and influence and in doing so has provided exceptional service to the community. Perhaps there should be a statue of Peter in Kaitaia's main street? Who's going to pour the bronze?

Thursday 3 April 2014

Two fine men

In the last seven days, we have gathered at Te Ahu on two occasions to pay homage to men who have made significant contributions to our communities.

On Friday, we celebrated the achievements of Kaitaia GP Dr Lance O'Sullivan who was named Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year earlier this month. Dr O'Sullivan needs no introduction. His work in the health care sector, and the accolades he has received for this, have been well-documented in The Age for years. The Council held a civic reception in Dr O'Sullivan's honour to affirm not only these achievements, but also the leadership he exemplifies. I am a big believer in team work, but it is often a highly-driven charismatic leader who shines the light on a problem or inspires a vision that galvanises a team to work towards a common goal. Dr O'Sullivan has what others have called 'fervent vision' and an 'unwavering commitment' to providing affordable primary health care and eradicating poverty-related illnesses. Without this, the remarkable achievements his team have made wouldn't have been possible.

Yesterday, we remembered the life of Te Hiku Community Board member and long-time Houhora resident Murray Rae who died last Friday aged 75. Murray had only been on the board for five months, but he brought a wealth of business and life experience to the role. During his illustrious career, he managed operations at a major clothing manufacturer, worked as a chartered accountant, operated a charter fishing company and presided over numerous industry organisations including the Employers and Manufacturers Association. This background gave Murray an eye for business opportunities, as well as the ability to find out-of-the-box solutions to problems. He could see the economic advantage the Aupouri Peninsula's northern latitude and warm temperatures gave it over other parts of the country and was a vociferous champion of growing the peninsula's horticulture industry. He was also mindful of the hazards of driving on the peninsula's main highway and wanted to investigate the viability of creating an alternative highway for logging trucks on roads in the Aupouri Forest. I am sure his colleagues on the community board will miss his thoughtfulness and desire to make the Far North a better place for all of us.

Te Ahu was built to bring people together to celebrate. I am pleased we were able to use this magnificent venue to celebrate two fine men. I hope this isn't the last time we gather to rejoice in good works.

Thursday 27 March 2014

Watch this space

I wish to respond to a recent story in The Northland Age about submissions to the Local Government Commission's draft reorganisation proposal for Northland. Commission Chair Basil Morrison reportedly said that submitters at a Kaitaia hearing showed a disappointing lack of understanding of how local government worked and what councils actually did. This isn't a problem that is unique to the Far North. A 'Public Knowledge about Local Government' survey the Department of Internal Affairs carried out in 2006 drew similar conclusions. Less than one-third of New Zealanders surveyed said they were knowledgeable about their district council, while 11% were unsure what services their council provided. The results were worse for regional councils. Only 18% of respondents said they were knowledgeable about their regional council and 44% were unsure what services it provided. The survey also found low levels of public interest in local government. Only 39% of respondents said they were interested in their district council, while 21% said they were interested in their regional council. Less than half (49%) said they were likely to give their views to a council on an issue. The main reasons people gave for not taking part in consultation exercises were: "I'm not interested enough", "it won't change anything" and "I don't have enough time". The survey results weren't all negative. Fifty-seven percent of respondents agreed they had a duty to take an interest in what their council did and 55% recognised that the local council provided services that were important to them and their family. Forty-nine percent said they wanted more say in what their council did.

The Far North District Council has improved its communication practices in recent years in line with the findings of this survey. We've tried to make our Annual and Long-Term Plan consultation documents easier and quicker for busy people to read and comment on. We've also replaced a quarterly newsletter with a monthly one that highlights the positive impact the Council has on people's daily lives. However, we accept there is room for improvement. That is why we are currently reviewing our communication and community engagement practices. I've already outlined my vision for a council that is guided by the community in its decision-making. The challenge now is to ensure our decision-making and communication processes deliver on this promise. This isn't a simple or quick exercise. The Council provides services to 42 towns or settlements and the remoteness of some communities presents communication challenges that most councils in New Zealand do not face. However, we are determined to build the relationships that are necessary for a healthy democracy. We want the Local Government Commission to come to the Far North and be impressed by the knowledge communities have of their council. Watch this space.

Thursday 20 March 2014

Resilient communities

Cyclone Lusi last weekend was a timely reminder of the importance of being prepared for the threats that severe weather poses to people and property. Most Northlanders are familiar with the precautions they need to take to get through natural disasters and cope with storms well. However, there are still some straightforward things we all need to do to minimize the impact of these events and to make sure the region gets back to normal as quickly as possible.

The emergency services and Civil Defence plan and train together to make sure the region is able to cope with disasters. But Northland is a big region with limited resources and the authorities may not be there exactly when you need them. In any adverse event that affects you or your property, there will be a period of time before help can arrive when you need to do certain things to keep safe. This could be days in a major emergency, so think about developing an emergency plan for your household so you are prepared for a disaster. There are useful tips on the Get Ready Get Thru website. Please make time to look at these and think of this as an investment in the safety of your family and property.

I also ask you to think about what you can do to support our emergency services. Our fire brigades are all staffed by volunteers who go beyond what is required of them in storms to help and protect communities. But while they are clearing leaves from a blocked drain to divert storm water, they could be responding to a more pressing and life-threatening emergency. It is your responsibility to make sure your property or business is protected, so think about the practical things you can do before a storm, including removing debris from storm water drains. You may find you are unable to get the help you need if you wait until the middle of a disaster to do something.

Also, find out if your community has a Community Response Plan. These help communities respond to emergencies until outside assistance arrive. The Far North District Council's civil defence coordinator is happy to put you in touch with a community response group in your area and will help you to initiate a plan for your community if you don't have one. The council can also help business-owners put in place continuity plans that help their business recover from natural disasters quickly.

Civil Defence and emergency services are here to help, but they are not your first port of call to protect your family and property – you are. There is never a more important time to accept personal responsibility than during an emergency.

Thursday 13 March 2014

Have your say

People in the Far North want their Council to cut costs and provide vital infrastructure, such as sewerage and water. In developing our Draft Annual Plan 2014-15, we have tried to maintain investment in basic infrastructure without causing undue financial stress. While there are changes to the path set in the Long-Term Plan 2012-22, the majority of these reflect a restraint in spending. Hence, we are proposing a 2.7% increase in rates revenue, instead of the 4.3% increase planned in the Long-Term Plan. I would like to stress that this increase relates to the amount of money we need to collect to fund our activities, not the amount each property's rates will go up by as reported by some newspapers. The impact on individual ratepayers will vary as a result of Quotable Value's revaluation of properties last year. We appreciate that property owners will be keen to know what rates and charges their properties are liable for under the Draft Plan so have calculated these for each property and made this information available on our website.

The conservative approach we have adopted has also been influenced by uncertainty about the outcome of a proposal to replace the four councils in Northland with one unitary authority and seven community boards. We are mindful that the structure of local government may be different at the end of next year. However, it is important we lay down a solid foundation for whatever the future may hold. To this end, we plan to spend about six months working with communities to develop a vision for the Far North that identifies who we are, what we value and where we want to be in 50 years. This will provide us with a framework within which to develop a draft long-term growth strategy for the district.

We are also reviewing a number of inherited projects aimed at improving sewerage in the Bay of Islands and Doubtless Bay areas and securing a new high-quality water source for Kaitaia. Other key issues in this Draft Plan include the future of the Hokianga i-SITE and a proposal to develop a Local Alcohol Policy that will control how and where liquor outlets and bars can operate. We are also signalling our intent to develop strategic relationships with Maori that deliver benefits to everyone in the Far North.

Please read the Draft Annual Plan summary document that was sent to households this week for more information about what we are planning. I also urge you to make a submission before the closing date of 17 April. Local government affects every one of us, so we need to hear from as many people as possible before we finalise the Draft Plan on 26 June. Please tell us what you think.

Thursday 6 March 2014

Fun under the sun

Living long enough to celebrate your 100th birthday is an extraordinary achievement for a person. It is no less an achievement when an organisation notches up 100 birthdays, particularly when it is run by volunteers. It was a privilege and a pleasure to attend the North Hokianga Agricultural & Pastoral Association's 100th show at Broadwood last month. I congratulate association President Wayne Semenoff and his team for putting on another great show this year and I wish the association the longevity of the Bay of Islands A & P Association which held its 171st show last November.

The annual A & P shows at Kaitaia, Waimate North, Kaikohe and Broadwood are just a few of the events on the Far North social calendar. In fact, there aren't many weekends between Labour Weekend to Easter when there isn't a wine and food festival, fishing contest, fun run, raft race or school fair happening somewhere. These volunteer-run events bring people together, define who we are and add to the quality of life in the district. They also make a significant contribution to our economies. The annual Captain Morgan Snapper Bonanza, which gets underway at Te Oneroa-a-Tōhē/Ninety Mile Beach the week after next, attracts hundreds of people to the district who collectively spend an estimated $2 million at local businesses. That is one of the reasons why the Far North District Council and Te Hiku Community Board have financially supported the Bonanza since the inaugural contest in 2011. I commend district councillor Dave Collard and Kaitaia businessmen Brian Archibald and John Stewart for organising the contest which gives people the chance to become a fishing legend on what is arguably New Zealand's most famous beach.

The council supports other events through the community grants scheme, which is administered by community boards, and many events are held on reserves owned and maintained by the council. It was great to see the Kerikeri Domain used again for the annual Ocean and Orchard Festival and Be Free Talent Quest last month. The Ocean and Orchard Festival gives people another reason to visit the Far North and I congratulate the Kerikeri Business Association for organising this world-class wine and food festival. I also thank Tony Harrison and Be Free for staging another family music festival to promote freedom from drugs and alcohol. I was delighted to endorse Be Free's community grant application for this event and I commend the Bay of Islands-Whangaroa Community Board for granting Be Free $5000 to offset equipment hire costs.

There are few forces more powerful than people working together to achieve a common goal and there are few things more sought after than 'the good life'. We are fortunate to live in a country where cooperation is possible and where people enjoy a level of prosperity most of the world's population can only dream of. We have a lot to be thankful for when we have fun under the sun.

Thursday 27 February 2014

Helping ourselves

We are fortunate to live in a country where free medical care is available to most of us when we need it. But we can't always rely on the state to be the health provider. Communities need to step up to provide some health services and it is great to see Northlanders doing just that. The turning of the first sod at the site of a new $5 million cancer treatment centre at Whangarei Hospital earlier this month was a community milestone as much as a Northland District Health Board one. We should applaud the Northland Community Foundation and ourselves for raising $3.67 million to build the new unit in partnership with the board. Cancer is New Zealand's leading cause of death, affecting one in three New Zealanders, so thousands of Northlanders will benefit either directly or indirectly from the services the new centre provides.

We should also celebrate Hospice Mid-Northland's new day therapy centre in Kerikeri. Hospice has been supporting Far North people with terminal illnesses for more than 25 years, but has never had its own premises. I visited the centre last month and was impressed by Far North Holdings Ltd's floor plans which transform the former early child education centre into a therapeutic centre. I have promised Hospice the Council will do what it can to help it raise funds to fit the building out. I will also be one of the auctioneers at a charity golf tournament and auction Hospice is holding at the Bay of Islands Golf Club on 7 March. Proceeds from the fundraiser will go towards a vehicle for the clinical nursing team which provides home-based palliative care and support to the terminally ill and their families. It is great to see the Bay of lslands Golf Club, BNZ and The Radio Network getting behind this annual fundraiser. I encourage you to enter a team, sponsor a hole or donate an auction prize. I also urge you to support former Kerikeri High School students Rex Faithfull and Fiona Jagiello when they cycle from Bluff to Cape Reinga next month to raise money for the Cancer Society's Domain Lodge. The lodge provides accommodation for Auckland Hospital cancer patients and their families and became a home away from home for Rex's family when his late mother Kathryn Faithful was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2010. Go to the Everyday Hero website to sponsor the couple.

Thursday 20 February 2014

Changing the future

I commend The Northland Age for its comprehensive and prominent coverage of the signing of a Deed of Settlement between Ngati Kuri and the Crown at Ngataki earlier this month. It was an honour to represent the Far North District Council at the signing which was a historical milestone; not just for Ngati Kuri but also the district. The settlement gives Ngati Kuri an asset base that will help to set it on a road to economic self-reliance. It also strengthens relationships between Ngati Kuri and the Government and gives the Iwi control over culturally significant sites.

However, the signing at Waiora Marae was also a saddening experience. The Iwi's Treaty of Waitangi claims were based on actions and failures by the Crown which alienated Ngati Kuri from their lands, deprived them of economic opportunities and caused the break-up of the tribe. I was ashamed of the way these people were treated in this nation which elevates the principle of fair play and prides itself on its race relations. It was also sobering to hear Ngati Kuri Trust Board chairman Harry Burkhardt describe the relationship between the Iwi and the Crown as "broken" after 174-years of "quietly disintegrating". I assume he was also referring to local government and have given this statement much thought since the signing. Unfortunately, we can't change the last 174-years, but we can change the next 174-years. That is why one of the priorities my Council has flagged in the Draft Annual Plan it adopted last Friday is a determination to improve the way it engages with Maori. Local authorities have statutory obligations to consider the needs and interests of Maori in their planning and service delivery and to involve them in their decision-making. To a certain extent we already do this, but we need to formalise these relationships and raise them to the highest political level if we are to build enduring partnerships based on trust, respect and understanding. I'm not under any illusion that this will always be easy or straightforward. Sometimes we have to accept that there are irreconcilable differences between us or even within Iwi as demonstrated by the protest at the Deed of Settlement Signing. But there is also plenty of common ground where we can discuss problems and opportunities and align strategies. I believe we have more to gain than lose as a district if we work together rather than go down separate roads.

It is sometimes said that politicians are doomed to repeat the mistakes of earlier governments. I am determined to be part of writing a history our descendants will be proud of instead of leaving another legacy of division and mistrust.

Thursday 6 February 2014

Walking the talk

It would be fair to say that the Far North District Council didn't start the year on the right foot. We deserved the kicking we got for leasing the Hokianga i-SITE building to a grocery store against the wishes of many in the community. We are taking steps to put things right and want to reassure people that this is not how we plan to make decisions about local amenities in the future. We are here to serve our communities and be guided by what they want. This means listening to them, helping them to achieve their aspirations and involving them in our decision-making. That is why we are holding a community meeting in Rawene next week to discuss the design of a new public toilet. Rawene residents will have to use, look at and live with the toilet we build on the waterfront, so it is only fair that we seek their ideas before replacing the existing toilet which is old and costly to maintain. This is a big improvement on the decision-making process we followed before leasing the i-SITE building at Opononi. It is also how communities can expect us to make decisions about local issues in the future.

Ratepayers may also notice that our community boards are more engaged with their communities than they may have been in the past. The Kaikohe-Hokianga Community Board is acutely aware of its responsibility to present the views and needs of its constituents to Council. Board members Pauline Evans, Garry Clarke and Louis Toorenburg plan to hold public meetings on a regular basis so they are better-informed about local issues concerning residents and ratepayers. This is a praise-worthy initiative and I encourage Hokianga residents to attend the first meeting at the Rawene Town Hall next Thursday from 6pm-7pm.

I also commend the Bay of Islands-Whangaroa Community Board for inviting the community in December to comment on a proposal to remove 142 redwoods in Kerikeri. This is an issue that had generated significant public interest in the past, so it would have been remiss of the board not to have allowed the community to have a say on this proposal. Nearly 200 submissions had been received by the end of the last week, so clearly this remains an issue people feel strongly about.

In the north, Te Hiku Board recognises that a proposal to use a Council reserve (Korora Park) at Kaka Street in Ahipara as a car parking area during the holiday period is likely to be an issue for local residents and reserve users. That is why it has decided to consult the community before making a decision. The board also won't decide whether to remove or upgrade a boat ramp at Coopers Beach until it has gauged community support for these proposals. Likewise, it plans to consult local residents about how best to redevelop Coopers Beach Domain so it better meets the needs of youth.

I promised in my first newspaper column three months ago that my council would address problems and opportunities by working with communities. That is why I named the column 'Moving Forward Together' I hope that people will now start to see that we are walking the talk.



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