My Column 2017 - Moving forward together

Thursday 7 December 2017

Creating great places

Summer is finally here. For most Northlanders, this is a time of the year when we get to take a break from work and enjoy outdoor living with family and friends. But summer is also when thousands of people from other parts of New Zealand and the world visit the Far North. This annual influx of visitors is the high season for our tourism sector, which is currently the rock star of our economy.

For example, guest nights totalled $1.26 million in 2016/17, the highest ever recorded. It is estimated that visitors spent $514 million while they were in the District last year, a 13.4% increase on 2016. I am confident the tourism sector will have another great year in 2017/8, even allowing for weather forecasters’ predictions of a wet and warm summer.

The record number of cruise ships that will dock in the Far North this summer will certainly buoy the economy. Sixty-three cruise ships carrying a total of 119,700 passengers will have visited the Far North by the end of the 2017/18 financial year, compared with 51 ships last year. Studies show that cruise ship passengers spend, on average, $160 a day on retail while they are in port, so the District could enjoy a $19 million windfall from cruise ships alone this summer.

I am also pleased to report that Air New Zealand will screen a Far North District Council-funded safety video, which showcases the Far North’s great places, on its aircraft again this summer. The Summer of Safety in-flight video was viewed more than seven million times in the first 30 days of being released last December and shown on flights for more than 4 months. The airline will rescreen the video on aircraft between 1 December and 28 February, helping to promote the district as a holiday destination.

Far North ratepayers are a big part of this success story. The rates you pay the Council fund a range of services and infrastructure that make the Far North a great place to live in and visit. These include two commercial airports, 59 boat ramps, jetties, pontoons and wharfs, 154 hectares of recreational space, town maintenance services in 21 towns, 478 rubbish bins in public places, 15 refuse transfer stations, 13 community recycling centres, 29 playgrounds, four skate parks, 64 public toilets at 43 locations, 21 carparks in nine towns, 196 km of footpath, six public libraries and three i-SITE visitor information centres.

This is not an exhaustive list of the amenities we provide, nor does it include core infrastructure, such as water, roads and sewerage, or regulatory services, such as animal management, that help to keep the district safe. The point I wish to make is that, for a small district, we punch above our weight and are obviously doing a reasonable job or holidaymakers wouldn' back here. This is something we can all take pride in going into the peak visitor period. Merry Christmas everybody. Have a safe holiday and a prosperous 2018.

Thursday 23 November 2017

A sporting chance

Last weekend the Kerikeri Half Marathon attracted participants from across our region, from Auckland and from elsewhere in the country. They gathered to compete in what has become a much-loved sporting event in the Far North.

Close to 2000 competitors entered, but unfortunately, persistent rain on Saturday morning reduced the final number who completed the course. Rain also cancelled the just as highly anticipated post-run event - the Kerikeri Street Party.

Both these annual events (when the weather cooperates and they go smoothly) provide much that is positive for our district. They represent an opportunity for our community to come together, to compete, have fun and create community bonds that give us a sense of who we are in the Far North. We have the Kerikeri Half Marathon thanks to Sport Northland, our regional charitable sports trust. The Far North District Council, along with Whangarei and Kaipara districts, and the Northland Regional Council, all help to fund Sport Northland.

It is money well spent and is repaid many times over when you consider the benefits we get from the trust's activities. Sport Northland serves a population of over 170,000, 34 secondary schools, 130 primary schools, 45 regional sports organisations and 500 sport and recreation clubs. In 2016/17 nearly 10,000 adults participated in Sport Northland events, 38 per cent of whom were first time entrants.

The Kerikeri Half Marathon is the flagship event in the Run/Walk Series. These events cater to all abilities with runners, competitive walkers, walkers, wheelchairs and race chairs all catered for. A similar event is held in Kaitaia and there is also the Bay of Islands Beast off-road run, walk or crawl. Together, these events attract 8000 people annually.

Sport Northland also owns and operates the Bay of Islands Recreation Centre in Kawakawa. It purchased the centre and pool in September and has already begun a major refurbishment programme, ensuring that this facility is retained for Far North residents.

Tomorrow there is another major event on the district's sporting calendar - the FNDC Far North Sports Awards at the Copthorne Hotel and Resort at Omapere. Like the Kerikeri Half Marathon and so many other sporting events we call our own, the awards night is organised by Sport Northland. Last year the winners included Sportswoman of the Year Rose King for her contribution to Waka Ama, and Sportsman of the Year Blair Tuke for sailing. Blair also received the Supreme Award.

But it's not only about national or international competition. This year there have been 105 nominations for 21 categories, including masters, volunteers and coaches, officials and leaders. Each year this is our chance to acknowledge the great contribution that sports and sportspeople make in our communities. By being involved in sports we not only boost our physical health, we improve mental health by increasing social connections. Those are the outcomes Sport Northland helps us to achieve and you can't put a price on that.

Thursday 16 November 2017

Working as a team

When the citizens of the Far North re-elected me as Mayor, they also elected nine councillors with the expectation that we would work as a team for the good of our district. Turning our governing body into a committed team is one of my top priorities.

Being part of a team doesn't mean we have to agree on everything. Communities need a robust democracy where issues are well-debated. But for this to happen, members must be prepared to raise matters at council meetings and workshops and discuss them in an adult manner. While we may not always agree, we need to respect each other and work together to build the community's confidence in our council and our strategies for addressing, what are in many cases, long-standing and entrenched issues.

Good team work means elected members should share their concerns with their colleagues before expressing what may be unsubstantiated opinions in the local media. Our Code of Conduct includes protocols for members to raise concerns through the appropriate channels, rather than make claims that may not represent the full picture. Also, my door is always open if a councillor feels they have been hard done by.

Our district deserves to have a council that is working together to improve outcomes for our people. Not raising matters at council meetings or workshops and then publicly criticising colleagues and staff sets a poor example and undermines the commitment of other elected members. Instead, we need to take a mature approach to the matter and, at the very least, first discuss the issue with the person involved with a view to resolving the matter.

It is not acceptable to use significant sums of ratepayer and taxpayer money laying a complaint against another councillor or staff member when the matter could have been sorted out amicably on a one-to-one basis. This achieves very little and shifts our focus away from the things that really matter to you and the things you elected us to achieve on your behalf.

As I have noted, the council is facing a number of challenges, but we are working hard to address these and, if we are to be successful, all elected members must pull their weight and work constructively as a team. I am the first to put my hand up and admit that we don't always get it right, that we could and can do better. We know we need a better roading system. That is why we are restructuring our roading contracting system, so there is regular grading and water tabling on our roads, as well as culvert cleaning to avoid flooding.

We are also aware that we need to streamline our building and resource consent processing and work more closely with the building industry, so we process applications in a much more efficient way. These are just two areas where we need to do better. But we will only make progress if we work constructively with staff and the community. That is why I am committed to building an effective team and why I am looking for the same commitment from others.

Thursday 9 November 2017

We all get a share

Last week the Local Government Commission dropped its proposals to reorganise the way Northlanders govern themselves. Over the past five years the commission has considered several options on how Northland's four councils can more efficiently deliver services to ratepayers.

One option on the table was to amalgamate all three district councils and the regional council into a single, unitary authority. This Auckland-style set-up was touted to deliver greater financial clout and increased efficiencies. Many of you were not so sure. There was widespread concern that this kind of centralised bureaucracy would seriously reduce local decision-making in communities.

That lack of public support for Northland amalgamation was a major factor in the Commission's decision to wind-up its proposals. Another reason was the shared services model that the Far North District Council has worked on over the past five years with Kaipara and Whangarei district councils and the Northland Regional Council.

Local government impacts on all of us every day. From the roads we drive on to the water we drink, district and regional councils provide vital services that our very existence depends upon. As your representatives, it is our obligation to consider how to deliver these services in the most efficient and effective way possible. Together we wanted to achieve the financial clout and efficiencies promised by amalgamation, but retain the decision-making that our communities demand.

The result has been the Northland Forward Together programme of shared services. This collective plan for all four Northland councils currently has a list of 20 shared services projects, each with the aim of maximising planning and resourcing across the region.

As of October, 14 of these projects are being progressed with the remaining six awaiting resources. Our biggest win so far has been the Northland Transportation Alliance, which was unveiled in May 2016. This partnership with the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) enables Northland councils to coordinate road programmes and align contracting investment.

We estimate this alliance will deliver financial benefits of at least $18m over the next 10 years. It has already made progress after it was announced last December that Mangakahia Road, which links Whangarei and Kaikohe, would become a State Highway. This 96km road will now be operated and maintained by NZTA, not Whangarei or Far North ratepayers.

Other projects include a regional ICT programme, shared contact centre, Four Waters - a combined approach to water and wastewater - and joint procurement, which has already netted significant savings on insurance costs. This approach has been endorsed by the Local Government Commission. Announcing the decision to drop reorganisation plans last week, Commissioner Brendan Duffy confirmed that shared services, not amalgamation, was the best way to promote good local government in the region.

Thursday 2 November 2017

Riding the building boom

A number of residents have expressed their frustration to me over long delays to get homes built, or have repairs and renovations completed. We don't always get it right at the Council and there is always more we can do to meet your expectations, but this time the Council is feeling the same squeeze that residents are. We too are waiting weeks or months for building materials and struggling to find qualified tradespeople to do our building work. We also feel the frustration that delays and subsequent cost blow-outs are causing.

The whole country is in the midst of a building boom that industry pundits say will require another 56,000 construction workers to keep pace. We are training a record number of building apprentices in New Zealand, but this too is predicted to fall short of industry demand.

Neighbouring councils are struggling too and, like us, they are also under pressure to keep up with record numbers of resource and building consent applications. Our efforts to cope with this extra demand have not been helped by other councils and the private sector poaching experienced planning staff. This has left our resource consents planning team at half-strength.

Despite being shorthanded, this team has risen to the challenge and processed a total of 598 resource consents to the year ending September. That compares to an average full-year total of 528. We've achieved this by juggling staff resources and bringing qualified staff in from other areas of the Council. When absolutely required, we have also employed consultant planners to complete work within statutory timeframes. Even so, some of you will have waited too long - up to 10 weeks in some cases.

I assure you that the Council is doing all it can to avoid further delays, but this spike in demand will continue as increased resource consents lead inevitably to increased building consent applications. Our predictions are that building consent applications will top 1400 in the year to June 2018 - that's well ahead of average totals over the past four years, which is 1259.

Simply telling our planning staff to soldier on is not a viable solution. We are investigating a range of options to reduce workloads while ensuring that customers receive the level of service they expect and deserve. What we will not do is cut corners on our legal obligations under the Resource Management Act and other planning rules. That would jeopardise the investments of future home owners. We will also continue to consult with communities on the planning issues that impact on them.

That may be of little comfort for those unable to start building when they had planned. I want to stress that the Council is focused on ensuring our district participates fully in this building sector upturn. We have some tough and well-resourced competition, but I believe careful planning and patience will see us share in its benefits.

Thursday 19 October 2017

Keeping our place great

Last week, nearly 150 Far North residents crowded into the Theatre Bar at the Turner Centre in Kerikeri. There were more people than chairs so several sat on the floor. They were there to listen to geologist, Dr Bruce Hayward, explain how tectonic plates, ancient lava flows and eons of erosion had created the hills, valleys, amazing rock formations and wonderful coastline we are all familiar with in Northland.

The Far North is a unique environment. We have the oldest rocks in the North Island at Whangaroa. We have the largest and hottest geothermal field in northern New Zealand; the most pure silica sand at Parengarenga; the whitest halloysite clay (used in making bone china) in the world at Matauri Bay; and the best examples of fluted basalt (possibly in the world) at Lake Manuwai and at Wairere Boulders.

Our backyard is a perfect geology classroom. That is why GNS Science and Far North REAP have been using it to teach science to year seven and eight children from 10 Far North schools. Visiting these incredible natural features during two-week GEO Camps brings science to life for our young people. I have been a proud supporter of the camps since this innovative teaching approach began, because I believe we need to do anything we can to inspire young minds and encourage a passion for learning.

Hopefully, some will feel inspired to pursue a career in science, maybe even geology. Dr Hayward's talk last week was organised by the Council's District Plan Review Team. It had a dual purpose: one was to promote Dr Hayward's new book about Northland's geology, Out of the Ocean, into the Fire. The other was to encourage Far North residents to get involved in the District Plan review process.

Too often, decisions about how we govern and use our land are left to others. The District Plan Review Team is determined to change that by making this vital task as compelling and accessible as possible. Dr Hayward's talk was one example of how the team is trying to make the subject come alive.

Another is the Let's Plan Together storymap. This website uses cutting-edge mapping technology - like Google Maps - to open up the planning process and allow anyone with an internet connection to contribute. It's a finalist in the upcoming 2017 New Zealand Spatial Excellence Awards and, in May, was runner-up in the GIS Project of the Year at the 2017 Association of Local Government Information Management Awards.

So why go to all this effort? The Far North is a wonderful and unique natural environment. We need to protect it, but we also need to use it to grow and prosper. Getting the balance right is not always easy, so we need all our communities to have their say. I encourage everyone to get involved in this. To get started and find out more, follow the District Plan link on the front page of the Council's website.

Thursday 12 October 2017

Committed to transparency

Earlier this year, I discussed how the Council had committed to opening up to outside scrutiny so that we can all get an independent assessment of how well Council delivers its key services. That assessment is now complete and you can read the full Far North District Council report for yourself by following the Excellence Programme link on the Council's website.

Before discussing the results in detail, I want to give you some background. The Far North District Council was one of 18 New Zealand councils to sign-up as foundation members to the CouncilMARK™ local government excellence programme last April. This Local Government New Zealand initiative sends a team of independent assessors to each participating council to question staff and managers about their work. The team then rates the Council's business practices across four priority areas: leadership, finance, service delivery and community engagement.

Once results have been collated, an overall quality rating is awarded on a scale ranging from AAA to C. The assessments are repeated every three years. The aim is to give residents and ratepayers, elected members and staff an independent and unvarnished view of the organisation's strengths and weaknesses. And that, I think, is exactly what the first report, released this week, has achieved. No, we didn't receive a perfect AAA score. We did, however, receive a very creditable B rating.

This puts us in the middle of the field. It tells us that we have plenty of work to do to improve the way we deliver our key services. I have never denied this. We didn't get a perfect score, but we certainly didn't do as badly as our most trenchant critics would have you believe. In fact, there's plenty that we are getting right. I urge you to read the complete report to make up your own minds, but the short messages are these: we need clearer separation between elected members and staff so we can each do your jobs more effectively.

We need to work on how we deliver infrastructure projects, but the report acknowledges that our size and low-density population means this will always be a challenge. Overall, we manage our finances well, but again, our lack of population growth and low income levels mean money will always be tight. We generally engage well with the community to keep them informed of our projects and vision, but we need to strengthen our Iwi engagement.

Overall, I think this first snapshot provides an excellent benchmark against which we can measure our progress over the next three years. We have already been working on the areas the report pinpoints, but this underlines the need to try harder. Just as importantly, this report - and the fact we were among the first councils to sign-up to this programme - demonstrates our commitment to being as transparent as possible. That is how we achieve excellence: by being open to scrutiny, acknowledging where improvement is needed and working hard to make that a reality.

Thursday 5 October 2017

Finding common ground

Last week, about 40 Rawene residents met with Far North District councillors and council staff to talk about rates and water. You might imagine a meeting like that would be split down the middle with residents on one side and the council on the other. You'd be wrong.

We all listened to each other and when the meeting broke up, we had a much better understanding of the issues and each other's concerns. We have agreed that we will meet again to continue the positive discussion. This isn't the first time councillors and staff have formed a working party like this with local leaders to help solve pressing community problems.

The council has also been using this approach to address the dust nuisance problem that logging trucks create on unsealed roads near homes. I won't claim that we have solved this issue, but we have made progress by working with the community.

More recently, we have been working hard with dog-owners in the Bay of Islands to tailor new dog control rules that better suit local needs. There is more to do, but the anger that many dog-owners felt about not being listened to has diminished and we are making progress on finding a solution that balances the interests of everyone with an interest in dogs.

In the Far North, councillors and staff have been helping the small community of Te Kao explore ways of improving its water supply. We are still working on a solution that is affordable. However, I am confident that, by talking and listening, we will find common ground.

The council acknowledges that it doesn't have all the answers, so I want to see us work with more interest groups and communities so we include them in our decision-making process. We recognise that communities have a lot to offer and we accept that local knowledge is often crucial to making decisions that result in better outcomes.

Listening is the first and most important step. And that doesn't only mean the council. Individuals and communities also need to have an open mind about the competing demands that elected members and staff must juggle. As a council, we have many community interests to balance and a suite of laws and regulations that must be adhered to.

Giving everyone, everything they want all the time is simply not achievable. What we aim for instead is a workable compromise. That is democracy. It is not perfect and it is rarely quick, but elected members, staff and the community can achieve an outcome that is enduring and has a level of support in the community if we work together.

Thursday 21 September 2017

Kawakawa pool: a win for everyone

I am very pleased that last week the Council signed an agreement that will secure the future of a well-used and much-loved community facility - the heated, indoor pool at Kawakawa. The future of Te Papawai Bay of Islands Community Pool has been uncertain for many years. This is due to the very complicated heritage of the pool and its adjoining recreation centre. Both sit on Ministry of Education land, but are owned by the Bay of Islands College.

The pool, originally built by the school in the 1970s, was covered and heated in the 1990s after a major community fundraising campaign. They also built the adjoining recreation centre. Both were run by a charitable trust until 2003, but then the college was forced to resume responsibility.

The Council has funded the day-to-day operation of the pool and recreation centre for some years, but it does not own them. After being elected Mayor in 2013, the future of the pool was one of the first issues to land on my desk. There was talk of closing Kawakawa pool and building a new facility in Kerikeri.

The response from the community was very clear: no one had the right to pull the plug on a facility it had paid for. I agreed. At the time I said I wanted to see the Kawakawa pool remain open and after much discussion and negotiation, that is exactly what we have achieved. To get here, we had to get agreement from the Ministry of Education, the Bay of Islands College Board, Sport Northland, Kawakawa Business and Community Association and the Council.

Under the deal, Bay of Islands College sells the pool and the recreation centre for $1 to the Sport Northland trust. The Ministry of Education leases the land under the buildings for $1 a year to the trust. Sport Northland manages the facilities under a service agreement with the Far North District Council, which will pay it an annual operational grant.

The day-to-day running of the pool continues to be undertaken by the current operator, CBEC. Each organisation had its own priorities and budget constraints, but by working together and putting community interests first, we got a deal that ensures the facilities remain open.

Sport Northland is the ideal organisation to take on the job because it already owns and operates similar facilities. There is continuity for both users and pool staff. The Bay of Islands College does not have to worry about spending scarce resources on the facilities, while the community can feel reassured these remain open and accessible to all. I call this a win for everyone.

Thursday 14 September 2017

Working as a team

It shouldn't come as a surprise that people take a keen interest in how their council performs. Local authorities provide a range of vital services every day that we simply cannot live without. Not surprisingly, they are complex organisations and ensuring they run smoothly is a complicated balancing act.

On the one hand, you have the elected members or politicians - the Mayor, councillors and community board members. We are accountable to you, the residents and ratepayers. It is our job to manage the relationship between you and the council, bring your views to the table and consider them in our decision-making. In any district, there are many different points of view, competing needs and numerous priorities, so governance is not simple or easy.

Elected members are also responsible for setting the Council's strategic direction. We determine the programme of work the organisation will deliver and how it will fund this work. Council management and staff are tasked with delivering this work programme while ensuring that the Council operates within approved budgets and fulfils its statutory obligations.

Staff also have specialist knowledge and technical skills without which elected members couldn't govern effectively. A Council project that exemplifies this convergence is the Long Term Plan which outlines what the Council plans to do over a 10-year period.

Elected members determine the Council's strategic priorities and develop options for communities to provide feedback on. Staff guide us through the process, doing the number crunching and ensuring the plan meets Audit New Zealand requirements.

Elected members alone can't produce a Long Term Plan, but nor can staff without political direction. Getting these two wings of the Council to work together effectively is a complex and nuanced exercise, but I think we are getting the balance right.

Of course, there will be times when elected members need to raise issues on behalf of residents and ratepayers who feel they haven't received a fair deal or good service from staff. We have every right to do this. However, we should not be tasking staff on operational matters, so we have implemented a system to ensure that we raise these issues with the Chief Executive in the first instance.

I am a big supporter and user of this system which is already delivering outcomes that represent good local government practice. Councils are also more successful if their elected members are a cohesive group. There are probably few local authorities in the world where this happens consistently. There will always be differences of opinion and misunderstandings caused by different personalities with different agendas.

That is to be expected in any large organisation or situations where people from diverse backgrounds are tasked with working together to achieve common goals. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't stop trying to work as a team. It is the oath we take when we are sworn in as councillors and it is the only way we will move forward as a Council and a district.

Thursday 31 August 2017

Finding a way forward

New Zealand has a number of premier sports team. They bring their individual skills together and - as a team - use them to achieve the on-field successes that we admire and enjoy so much.

The Far North District elects individuals with different skills to represent its interests. Understandably, our community expects that their elected representatives - like their favourite sports teams - will work as a team with the best interests of the district as their game plan.

Of late, that team spirit hasn't been as evident as it should be. This prompted me to call a meeting recently of elected representatives to discuss how we can bring our individual skills to the table and work more effectively together.

I am the first to acknowledge that there are areas for improvement within the Council, both at a governance level among your elected members, and at an operational level. However, if all we ever do as elected members is highlight deficiencies, without a full and frank discussion around the Council table on how to address those deficiencies, we will never resolve them.

As elected members, we need to bring these issues to the table for discussion, but we also need to make recommendations on how to address them. Highlighting these issues and bringing a positive recommendation on how they can be improved should be how these matters are addressed. This must be our game plan.

The discussion during our meeting revolved around how we, as elected representatives, can have confidence and trust in each other. We discussed how those issues that are of concern to the community can be placed on the table and how we can express those concerns openly and honestly in order to find solutions. Our goal must be to work with and support the community to help them achieve their goals and wishes. The Council should not be a barrier to those ambitions; it should be a positive part of the solution.

I am aware that it can be challenging to work together with others; to talk through all of your differences until you have nailed down a solution that works in the best interests of everyone. I also know that working like this - as a team - is the most effective way to get results. That has always been my way and that's the way I intend to continue.

As our sports teams demonstrate time and again; effective teamwork achieves results. That's what we all want for the Far North.

Thursday 24 August 2017

Wins with challenges

It's easy to lose sight of the successes each of us achieves every day. It's the same for the council. So it's important to occasionally step back and take stock of what we are getting right. An important indicator of how we are doing as a district is revealed by how much new building there is.

For some time now, our building inspectors have been breaking records for the number of building consents and inspections they are processing. They have averaged 600 building inspections a month this year - 150 more per month compared to last year. In May they carried out 900 inspections. This was one of the highest inspection rates in a single month and twice as many inspections conducted in May 2016. May was also a record-breaker for building consents. There were 160 issued - 50 more than May 2016.

This increase in building has been trending up in our district for three years now. In the 2014/15 financial year there were 1122 building consents processed. This climbed to 1318 in 2015/16 and if the trend continues, the council will process close to 1500 building consents over the next 12 months. This workload also brings challenges and we are adjusting staff numbers to ensure we process this demand as efficiently as possible.

Just as important as how many new buildings are consented is what is being built. An increasing number of building consents are for large residential homes - the greatest number for five years. Many of these will be for families, which is good news for a district that has struggled to hold onto its young people. These arrivals will create growth for our schools, for our businesses and for the district. Again, this growth will bring challenges, especially for our infrastructure.

The Kerikeri Wastewater Project demonstrates that. Our largest town's reliance on septic tanks and an ageing wastewater treatment plant is a key factor in holding back its growth. We've laid nearly a quarter of the 27km of pipes needed to connect 350 new homes and businesses to a modern and expanded wastewater system. This will allow us to cater for growth and increase the density of Kerikeri without encroaching on our valuable horticultural land.

Like elsewhere in the country, tourism has boomed in the Far North. The industry earned Northland an estimated $1.061 billion this year with the Far North attracting the lion's share of $496 million. Catering for this also brings challenges. As a council we have invested in big-ticket tourism infrastructure like the Twin Coast Cycle Trail, which was completed in March, and is already attracting thousands of visitors.

We are also making it easier for businesses to take advantage of this growth. For example, we recently announced that food outlets will have lower start-up costs in the Far North after the council was accredited to verify food retailers and distributors under the Food Act. New food businesses were paying as much as $3500 for third party verification. This will drop to just $515 with council inspectors. It's important to remember that it's the small successes, combined with the bigger infrastructure wins, that create the type of progress we can all share in.

Thursday 17 August 2017

Meeting our vital needs - Moving Forward Together

Thirty-eight years is a long time to wait for something that is vital to life, but that is how long the people of Omanaia have been lobbying government for safe drinking water.

The small Hokianga community is the only community in the District to receive an untreated water supply from the Far North District Council. This unacceptable situation is set to change. The Council last Thursday gave the go-ahead for a $2.2 million upgrade of its Rawene-Omanaia water supply.

The new water treatment plant will provide Omanaia with water that meets New Zealand Drinking Water Standards. It will also remove a health risk this vulnerable community has lived with for decades.

This is progress for Ngati Kaharau and Ngati Hau who currently have to boil their water before using it. I am pleased the Council has finally delivered justice to this hapu after 11 years of korero and mahi. I would like to apologise for the hardship they have suffered and thank them for working constructively with Council to find a solution to this historic issue.

I particularly want to acknowledge wahine toa Dallas Williams who has provided exemplary leadership on behalf of her people. Others who helped us obtain a $1.87 million Ministry of Health subsidy and make this project a reality include Council staff, Kaikohe-Hokianga Ward councillors Sally Macauley and John Vujcich, Kaikohe-Hokianga Community Board Chair Mike Edmonds and Northland District Health Board Drinking Water Facilitator Sonny Nesbit.

I am also pleased the Council was able to fund the new water scheme in a way that minimised costs for Omanaia and Rawene ratepayers. Unfortunately, the Government has withdrawn subsidies for water supply upgrades, so any further upgrades the Council undertakes will need to be funded by ratepayers. This therefore becomes a conversation about what is affordable and how we rate for this.

We also need to be mindful of how climate change might impact the District's water supplies when we plan new infrastructure. Northland has had four droughts in the last eight years and scientists predict the region will be more drought-prone by the end of the century. Developing new water sources and storage is expensive, so we need to be much more conservation-minded when it comes to how we use water.

I encourage water users to visit our Be Waterwise website for water conservation tips before summer arrives. I also encourage ratepayers and residents to have their say on how we fund vital infrastructure when we consult on our Long Term Plan 2018-28 early next year.

Thursday 10 August 2017

Breaking down your rates

Most property-owners in the Far North should by now have received their latest rates bill. I won't pretend it's a letter anyone enjoys getting, but this is a good opportunity to talk about rates and what you get for your money.

Before getting into details, I want to provide some context. The Far North is the third largest territory in the North Island. About half that land is unrateable because it is Crown land (much of it DOC land), but it also includes reserves, schools, churches and so on. We also have a 2,500 km road network - one of the longest in New Zealand - 65% of which his unsealed.

Unlike elsewhere in the country, we do not have a major city. Apart from Kaitaia, Kerikeri and Kaikohe, most of our communities are small and each of those requires infrastructure, including roads, footpaths and lights. We also have a small income base of just 36,000 ratepayers to pay for all of it.

This year, our income is expected to be $133.3 million. Just over one-third (36%) of that will come from general rates. A further 23% will come from targeted rates, 23% will come from subsidies, 11% will come from fees and charges and the remaining 7% will come from penalties and other sources.

Targeted rates can make a big difference to your rates bill. These pay for infrastructure that you and your community directly benefit from, such as water supplies and sewerage. If you can't connect to a council sewer, water supply or a storm water system, you don't pay these rates.

Targeted rates also pay for sports centres, swimming pools and cultural centres. You may not personally use these, but they make your community a better place to live in and they increase the value of your property.

As Mayor, I often hear complaints about the state of our roads. Unfortunately, geology combined with high rainfall, means our roads are prone to slips and washouts and require constant maintenance.

We currently spend almost 20% of our budget on roads and footpaths and very little of this comes from central government. In a perfect world, we would seal all of our roads. But at $300,000 per kilometre, the total bill for such a project would top half a billion dollars. We choose instead to spread our scarce resources more widely.

Of every rates dollar collected, we spend 14 cents on wastewater services, 11 cents on community services (cemeteries, town maintenance), 11 cents on customer services (libraries, information centres), 8 cents on planning (policy, community assistance) and 6 cents on recreational facilities like parks, reserves and pools.

These services are all vital to making the Far North a great place to live. You can find out how we spend the remaining 50 cents in the dollar by going to the rates page on our website. I also encourage you to read our Creating Great Places newsletters which showcase our infrastructure projects in each ward.

Thursday 13 July 2017

Our environment needs all of us

Last month Te Runanga-a-Iwi o Ngati Kahu won the Kaitiaki Leadership category of this year's Ministry for the Environment Green Ribbon Awards. Ngati Kahu won this for its outstanding work restoring Lake Waiporohita on the Karikari Peninsula.

Lake Waiporohita is a small dune lake that has become seriously degraded by invasive exotic plants, farm sediment and other environmental issues. Ngati Kahu took a lead in restoring this local taonga.

Today, access to the lake by farm animals is under control with new fences. A weir is addressing sediment inflows and planting is underway around the lake edge. A media campaign to stop vehicles being washed in the lake has built support among the wider community.

Winning a Green Ribbon Award not only recognises the strong leadership role Ngati Kahu has shouldered, it also shows what can be achieved by communities determined to protect and manage resources such as Lake Waiporohita.

Determination, focus and leadership are all vital to get projects like this off the ground and to keep them running month after month, year after year. Eventually, funding will become an issue and many very worthy environmental projects have faltered without this key ingredient.

If your group is facing this dilemma, I urge you to consider applying for the Ministry for the Environment's Community Environment Fund. The next funding round opens on 21 August. If your project is about strengthening partnerships, raising environmental awareness, or encouraging participation in environmental initiatives in the community, you can apply for between $10,000 and $300,000 in funding.

Go to the Ministry for the Environment's website to find out more about the funding criteria. Our environment, and how we protect it, has never been more important. In the Far North we are acutely aware of just how vulnerable we are, especially from the weather. More severe and frequent storms are predicted in coming decades, and for that reason we need to protect our waterways and increase their resilience to deluges and droughts.

Ngati Kahu and many other community-based environmental groups have demonstrated what can be achieved by working together.

Why is this important? Like the rest of New Zealand, we in the Far North rely almost completely on our environment for our livelihoods. Farming, horticulture and tourism are the economic mainstays for Northland. And increasingly for the Far North, tourism is where our future economic wealth will come from.

Recent reports stated that tourism earned Northland an estimated $1.061 billion this year with the Far North taking in $496 million, Whangarei $453m and Kaipara $113m.

The region's total is predicted to grow to more than $1.24 billion a year by 2023. And what do tourists want to experience? Our natural environment, of course. Preserving that treasure is everyone's responsibility. We will all benefit by supporting those efforts wherever we can.

Thursday 6 July 2017

Our plan for the year

Late in June your Councillors signed off the 2017/18 Annual Plan, Mahere a-Tau. I'm very pleased with the plan and the story it tells about the progress our district is making.

I would love to think that all Far North residents would take the time to look through the Annual Plan. We've worked hard to make the information clear, accessible and readable. However, I know that wading through council documents is the last thing many of you would sign-up for.

Instead, let me present to you the highlights. In 2015, there were critical gaps in our infrastructure and we created a bold new works programme to address this. We've made significant progress since then.

In Te Hiku Ward, we recently began construction of a multi-purpose sports hub at Moerua Park. This will sit beside and complement Kaitaia's existing cultural hub at Te Ahu.

In the Bay of Islands-Whangaroa Ward, we bought land for the new Kerikeri wastewater treatment plant and recently began building a 27km sewerage network to connect households and businesses to this desperately needed infrastructure.

We expect to commission the new sewerage scheme and complete most of stage one of Te Hiku Sports Hub within the next 12 months.

In the Kaikohe-Hokianga Ward, we have opened the 28km Horeke-Okaihau section of the Twin Coast Cycle Trail - Pou Herenga Tai. This is already attracting visitors to the district and boosting business in towns from Hokianga Harbour to the Bay of Islands.

Water is always a key issue for our communities and we will be upgrading the Rawene-Omanaia supply over the next 12 months. Further north, we will be discussing how to supply safe drinking water in the most cost-effective way with the community in Te Kao.

Other infrastructure projects planned during the coming year include upgrading our Paihia and Russell wastewater treatment plants, and our sewerage network in Kaitaia, which overflows in wet weather.

On the transport front, we aim to finalise plans with NZTA to revamp the State Highway-Waipapa Road intersection. We will complete a walkway from Haruru Falls to Waitangi and extend a footpath on Kerikeri Road to State Highway 10.

We are also working hard to improve service delivery. One key project that property owners will be relieved to know is progressing well is the scanning of all district property files. Soon these will be available to view online rather than at a council office.

As a district, we have had a lot to catch up on and I'm pleased with the progress staff and council have made together. There is, of course, much more planned.

If you want to know what your council is doing to make the Far North an even better place to live, I urge you to study this 60-page document, either online, at a Far North Library or at a council Service Centre.

Thursday 22 June 2017

Honouring the extraordinary

I have lived almost my entire life in the Far North and I remain constantly impressed by the number of very talented experts, leaders and advocates we produce here. These people can be our neighbours, colleagues or friends, and invariably they are very modest about their accomplishments.

They shrug-off praise and say they were just doing their job, or credit their achievements to team members. This may be partly true, but we all recognise something special when we see it.

There are those among us whose enthusiasm, focus and leadership inspires us all. These people make a real difference, creating change for those around them and for their wider community.

Sometimes they have a global impact. Two of these outstanding members of the Far North community were named recently in the Queen's Birthday Honours list.

Marara Kaweora Te Tai Hook was honoured with a Queen's Service Medal for her longstanding support to Maori, while Caroline Harriette Eliza (Moe) Milne was named an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM). She received this for her significant contributions to Maori and to health services.

Reading the dedications for these two remarkable Maori women reminded me once again how the Far North is blessed by leaders such as these. Marara has been heavily involved in her home Marae of Te Rawhiti for many years and has also contributed her talents to two very important Auckland marae - Te Mahurehure Marae in Pt Chevalier and Hoani Waititi Marae in West Auckland.

Meanwhile, Moe has made significant contributions nationally to Maori health research and practice. She has been active in the International Network of Indigenous Health Knowledge and Development, sharing her experience and knowledge with a global audience. Moe has also been a member of the Maori committee of the Royal Australia and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists for almost 20 years.

I think it's important to publically acknowledge and honour the outstanding achievements of others. Honours like these demonstrate to the individuals involved how much we value their efforts, but they also reaffirm the ideals and principles we as a community want to promote.

We do that in our own way in the Far North with the Citizen Awards. Each year we recognise the extraordinary volunteer work that ordinary people undertake to contribute to the wellbeing of all of our citizens. Nominations for the Far North Citizen Awards open again soon, so I want to ask that you give some thought to who should be recognised this year.

The criteria is simple: the person must have made a considerable contribution to the Far North District and its citizens over a significant period of time; their efforts must have been unpaid; and they must be a resident of the district at the time of nomination. I look forward to these awards every year. The ceremony at Te Ahu is one more opportunity to be impressed by my community and the people of the Far North.

Thursday 15 June 2017

Dog Day a win for responsible ownership

Despite predictions for showers, it was a beautiful day last Friday in Kaikohe. But that's not why so many dog-owners came to Memorial Park. They were there to help tackle a serious problem that Kaikohe shares with much of the Far North and the whole country.

Over the last 12 months, Animal Management Officers have attended 525 dog call-outs in the town. Many were for wandering and barking dogs, but there were also aggressive dogs and, very sadly, far too many attacks on people and animals.

That statistic is what Friday's event, Nga Kuri Auau o Kaikohe, aimed to reduce. This Far North District Council initiative was a pilot that we hope to extend to other towns and is part of our approach to promote responsible dog ownership.

This approach recognises that the Council cannot solve the issue of wandering, unregistered and aggressive dogs alone. Keeping our streets, parks and beaches safe from uncontrolled dogs is the responsibility of dog-owners. However, the Council does have a role to play in encouraging better-informed and responsible dog ownership.

We must make it as easy as possible for owners to do the right thing, while also prosecuting those who blatantly flout their responsibilities. Nga Kuri Auau o Kaikohe was a demonstration of how we can help. This one-off event provided free microchipping and neutering for Kaikohe dogs. Dog-owners responded positively with 85 dogs microchipped and 80 signed up for neutering. That alone will annually prevent hundreds of unwanted puppies being born in Kaikohe, which means fewer roaming dogs and fewer dog attacks in the future.

Many owners also told us that they want to attend dog classes and other events to socialise their dogs. We'll be looking into this and other ways of encouraging more responsible dog ownership. That's the carrot, now for the stick. Council has been accused of being unwilling to prosecute the owners of aggressive dogs.

I can tell you that is not the case. This financial year, we took seven dog owners to court and won every time. These owners were convicted and fined, many were prevented from owning dogs and their aggressive animals were destroyed.

This sends a clear message that dog-owners who endanger others will pay heavily. But legal action should always be a last resort. Much better to prevent attacks in the first place and we can only do that by working with dog-owners to help them best care for and control their much-loved companions.

I'm proud of the work Council staff put into this pilot and delighted that so many Kaikohe dog-owners joined us on Friday to do right by their dogs. Together we can turn our reputation around and make dogs in the Far North a good-news story.

Thursday 8 June 2017

Bald angels are the bomb

Two years ago in this column, I told you about the amazing achievements of the Bald Angels Charitable Trust. They had just set a new Guinness World Record by shaving 462 heads in one hour and raised $50,000 for Northland children in need.

It was a phenomenal result and demonstrated just what can be achieved when people work together towards a common goal. I was privileged to be an adjudicator at the fundraiser. At the time, I hoped the trust founders Thérèse Wickbom and Inky Vink would continue their work and come up with new ideas and ways to inspire community spirit.

I wasn't disappointed. Thérèse and Inky are still helping those less fortunate than themselves. But they're no longer just shaving heads. These days, the Bald Angels run annual toy drives and organise food parcels at Christmas. They also run a community garden and work with NZ Police, Plunket, Women's Refuge, St John and the NZ Fire Service.

By inspiring the generosity and goodwill of Northlanders, the Bald Angels Charitable Trust is now annually helping more than 200 families and 1000 children in our district. I was therefore stoked to present Thérèse and Inky with the Supreme Award at the Trustpower Far North Community Awards recently.

Winning this award means the Bald Angels Charitable Trust will represent the Far North at the 2017 Trustpower National Community Awards in Queenstown next April. I'm sure that the Bald Angels' innovative approach to community care will make them a favourite at the awards.

The Trustpower Awards are always a wonderful reminder of the valuable work that volunteers do every day across the Far North to make the district a better place to live. Aside from the Bald Angels, who also won the Health and Wellbeing category, there were other worthy individuals and groups recognised this year.

For instance, Springbank School student Aliesha Whitehead was named the Youth Community Spirit Award winner and the Far North SPCA won the Heritage and Environment category.

The Kerikeri International Piano Competition took the Arts and Culture category, while the Kaitaia Basketball Association won the Sports and Leisure award.

Finally, the Education and Child/Youth Development category went to Bay of Islands Coastguard Incorporated.

Every one of these groups could have been a contender for the Supreme Award. I would like to thank all those people who give up their time and energy to make these groups a success. Our communities would be poorer places without this volunteer ethic which is a part of our heritage and our DNA. Congratulations to all of this year's Trustpower Awards winners. You are the bomb!

Thursday 18 May 2017

Building our communities

As Mayor, I am often asked by ratepayers, "what do I get for my rates?" The simple answer is "a lot".

The council provides a range of services that help to make the Far North a great place to live in and visit. We are keen to highlight some of these services, so have launched a new newsletter that highlights our infrastructure projects and services in each ward.

We're doing this because people have told us that they want more information about what the council is doing to make the district a better place. We talked about some of our projects in Te Hiku Ward in the first newsletter, which we published in The Northland Age earlier this month.

These projects included the commencement of earth works at Te Hiku Sports Hub, new public toilets at Taipa and upgrades of maritime facilities and public car parks in the ward. We recognise that people are busy, so have tried to make the newsletters visually attractive, as well as quick and easy to read. Please go to our website to download a copy of the newsletter if you missed it in The Northland Age.

You can also download newsletters we have produced for the Bay of Islands-Whangaroa and Kaikohe-Hokianga Wards. In these newsletters, you can read about how the council is working with the New Zealand Transport Agency to make the intersection of State Highway 10 and Waipapa Road safer.

We talk about our plans to extend a popular footpath and cycleway on Kerikeri Road all the way to State Highway 10. In the Kaikohe-Hokianga Ward newsletter, we celebrate the completion of the Twin Coast Cycle Trail - Pou Herenga Tai and highlight plans to replace public toilets in Rawene.

We also highlight community board support for local projects in the newsletters. The three community boards have collectively allocated $101,000 in grants to 36 community projects in the last three months.

These projects include festivals and initiatives that are designed to make communities safer. The positive response we have had to stories from the newsletters on Facebook shows we are on the right track, so please look out for the newsletters if you want to know what the Council is doing on your behalf.

Future newsletters will also highlight the value the Council adds to communities via the services it provides on a day-to-day basis. Council staff and contractors deliver a range of important services across the district every day, including town maintenance, refuse and recycling centres, libraries and more.

Often, these services are not fully appreciated or used by the public, but hopefully this will change and fewer people will ask me what they get for their rates, because they already know the answer - a lot.

Thursday 11 May 2017

Facing biosecurity threats together

As I write this, an infestation of myrtle rust has been discovered at a second Kerikeri plant nursery.

Like many of you, I prayed that the Far North would be spared this latest threat to our flora and fauna. We've already confronted the bee-attacking varroa mite, our kiwifruit industry has been seriously threatened by Psa fungus and another fungus is sapping the life from our mighty kauri trees.

Unfortunately, the odds of dodging this latest invader were always slim. We can't control the wind, which the experts agree is how the spores of this fungus most likely arrived in our district. No one knows yet how badly myrtle rust will affect plants here in New Zealand, but we know that the South American fungus has been decimating a number of tree species in Australia for the past seven years.

At the very least, this disease will seriously disrupt our growing manuka honey and feijoa industries. At worst, those industries will be decimated and we will witness the widespread loss of manuka, kanuka and pohutukawa. It's easy to feel powerless when faced with a threat that can't be seen or contained.

But this is no time to be despondent. After all, Psa did not destroy our kiwi fruit industry nor has the Varroa mite killed all of our bees. Instead, we adapted to those challenges by working together locally and nationally. That is the best way for us to respond to this latest challenge.

The Ministry for Primary Industries and Department of Conservation have launched a major ground operation in a bid to contain the fungal disease and local agencies, including the Far North District Council, are doing what they can to assist them in this endeavour. We are relying on communities to help us identify how far myrtle rust might have become established.

I encourage Northland Age readers, wherever you live, to check your gardens and favourite forest and coastal areas for plants with yellow growths on their leaves. You can report any tell-tale signs of infection to the Ministry for Primary Industries by phoning 0800 80 99 66.

Please also make an effort to stay informed about how the Ministry and DoC are combatting this serious biosecurity threat. It is unthinkable that plants such as manuka, feijoa and pohutukawa, which are so much a part of our heritage and national identity, might be blighted by myrtle rust.

As Kiwis, we have a patriotic duty to fight this scourge before it becomes established. Please do everything you can before it is too late.

Thursday 4 May 2017

Sports hub good medicine for us all

Last Saturday was a big day for the Far North but particularly for Kaitaia. At Moerua Park, Councillor Colin Kitchen and Te Hiku Community Board Chair Adele Gardner joined iwi and community leaders to officially launch construction of Te Hiku Sports Hub.

Having a state-of-the-art, all-season sports facility in Kaitaia means our district will have sports hubs in all three wards - Kaikohe has Lindvart Park and Kerikeri has the Sports Complex on the Heritage Bypass. The Kaitaia community has long been behind this project. Fronted by Te Hiku Sports Hub Society, they have marshalled backing from Northland Regional Council, Sport Northland, health practitioners, iwi, schools, police, social welfare agencies, sports codes and clubs.

The Far North District Council is also a keen supporter and has committed $2.56 million for design, planning and physical works in its Long Term Plan. Once completed, Te Hiku Sports Hub will boast multi-sport fields, a fitness trail, club rooms, a heated pool complex and much more.

The benefits of having a sporting facility providing year-round recreational opportunities are clear. All Te Hiku region doctors support the concept because they know that staying physically active is a key way to avoid a range of physical and mental diseases. Leading Kaitaia GP Dr Lance O'Sullivan has been particularly enthusiastic about proposed pool facilities, saying patients with diabetes, heart disease, osteoarthritis and a number of other medical conditions will be able to exercise any day of the week, any time of the year.

Far North teachers are also strongly supportive. Kaitaia College principal Jack Saxon says the development will help him recruit and retain staff, it will enhance programmes the college offers students, and students will have recreational opportunities outside of school. That last point is key: Our youth complain that they have few places to go and police know that involvement in sports provides our young people with opportunities to become involved, keep fit and learn how to work with others.

The sports hub will dramatically expand recreational options for our young people and increase the opportunities they have to make good life decisions. Good decision making is not always easy. We know that the Far North is a fantastic place to live, but we also know many of our communities are wrestling with a range of social problems.

A sports hub by itself is no silver bullet for these issues, but it can be part of the solution. A high quality, inclusive facility that people want to visit and is linked to our existing cultural hub at Te Ahu I think will provide us with a focal point. It will create a sense of pride and boost community cohesion. We need more of that if we want our children to stay in the Far North and if we want new people to join our communities.

Thursday 20 April 2017

Helping our youth helps us all

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday 13 April 2017

Counting the cost of our road toll

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday 6 April 2017

Helping communities to help themselves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday 23 March 2017

Our plan for reducing waste

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday 16 March 2017

Council works in tandem with communities on cycle trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday 9 March 2017

Something for everyone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday 2 March 2017

Aiming for excellence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday 16 February 2017

Recognising our volunteer groups

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday 9 February 2017

Reflecting on our relationships with Maori

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday 2 February 2017

Connected communities our goal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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