My Column 2018 - Moving forward together

Thursday 13 December 2018

Staying safe this summer

I cannot believe 2018 is almost over. We've had a big year in the Far North with several significant new projects funded, and others nearing completion. This year will be seen as a significant for our district. We have a new focus on growth and we are already seeing the benefits of this with more to come.

Before tackling the challenges of 2019, I aim to relax with friends and family. Like we do most years, we'll go to the beach, collect shellfish, go fishing, swim, and end the day like so many other Kiwi families gathered around the barbeque. I've said it before, you just can't beat summer in the Far North. There's no other place like it, and each year thousands of visitors from both New Zealand and overseas make their way north to share what we have. That brings fresh challenges to our district and I urge you all to be extra careful when travelling or enjoying our wonderful coastline.

Spending time in or on the water is a treasured pastime for most of us. This summer Surf Lifesaving Northern Region volunteers will again patrol beaches from Raglan to the Far North. We are lucky to have them. Last year they performed 427 rescues and assisted 128,000 people. It is a remarkable record, but these volunteers cannot patrol all of our beaches. To help, I will work with Surf Lifesaving Northern Region to extend a Far North community water safety initiative launched last February. Operation Flotation installed flotation devices at Taipa, Cable Bay, and Cooper's Beach. These are easily accessible in wooden stands to help beachgoers prevent tragic deaths like that of 54-year-old Wairongoa Renata, who drowned when attempting to rescue children caught in a rip at Cable Bay.

This month the Police launched a nationwide summer road safety campaign focusing on the four main contributors to road injuries and deaths: not wearing seatbelts; driving too fast for the conditions; driving drunk, drugged or tired; and being distracted by cell phones or other factors. If you are behind the wheel this holiday season, please be patient. Don't take unnecessary risks and remember it's better to arrive a few minutes late than not at all. Take care of yourselves, your whanau and the other drivers sharing our roads so we can all enjoy a well-deserved break.

This is my final column for 2018, but before I go I want to thank the Council staff and contractors who will be extra busy over the holiday season. They will be visiting holiday hot spots, collecting rubbish and cleaning public toilets. They ensure drinking water keeps flowing and other vital services continue to run. They do a fantastic job every summer.

On that note, have a safe and enjoyable Christmas and New Year with whanau and friends. Look after each other and I wish you a great Far North summer.

Thursday 6 December 2018

Significant wins in 2018

It was a great year for sport in the Far North and that was celebrated last month during the 2018 Far North Sports Awards at Te Ahu in Kaitaia. Rugby was the big winner with All Black, Jack Goodhue, and Black Fern, Aroha Savage, taking out the Sportsman and Sportswoman of the Year.

I am immensely proud of these outstanding local athletes. They have reached the top of their sport and both have stellar international careers ahead of them.

It was also a great year for our district. We began 2018 with three Northland Maori MPs eager to make their mark in the new Labour-led Cabinet. I said this would be a coup for our region, which often struggles to be heard in Wellington. I was right.

We have notched up significant funding wins in tourism, forestry, and infrastructure thanks to the Provincial Growth Fund. These wins include funding for the new terminal at Bay of Islands Airport ($1.75 million), a super-yacht pontoon in Opua ($890,000), and upgrades to wharves at Paihia ($2.97 million) and Russell ($1.114 million). Community initiatives are also benefitting. In September, the Northland Regional Council announced that the Te Hiku Sports Hub would get $1.4 million from the Regional Sports Facilities Rate.

Last week, Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis confirmed investment of $490,000 for the final stage of the community-owned Waitangi Mountain Bike Park.

We've factored this funding into our Long Term Plan 2018-28. This significant planning exercise is undertaken every three years and helps guide our decisions over the coming decade. This latest plan signals a new phase in the direction of our district. We are now focused on funding growth where we most need it after three years of addressing historic infrastructure gaps. These gaps include sewerage in Kerikeri where many households and businesses rely on septic tanks and where, in March, we began physical work on a new sewerage treatment plant that will support growth of the town.

Making the Far North an even better place to live is not just about big-ticket projects. After much planning and testing, we began digitising our vast records system. Throughout 2018 we have been scanning and electronically storing 50,000 paper-based property and resource consent files. That's about 7 million pieces of paper.

The process will continue next year, but it is already making it easier for property owners and developers to access property information. We are also making it easier to apply for building consents.

Last month, we began transitioning to Simpli. This electronic application system replaces paper application forms, saving applicants time and money. Modernising these backroom processes is a vital part of our drive to improve services and make the Far North a great place to live. We are planning so much more and I look forward to telling about this next year.

Thursday 22 November 2018

Celebrating a summer of sport

Sunshine and a gentle breeze made for a great Kerikeri Half Marathon on Saturday. Around 1800 people took part with 917 runners, 44 competitive walkers and four race chairs. Aucklander Luke McCallum crossed the line first with a time of 1.10.25 minutes. The first woman was Alannah Van Hout, also from Auckland, on 1.22.00 minutes.

After the marathon, many runners and supporters stayed for the Kerikeri Street Party. This community-run, free event is increasingly popular and is a great opportunity for our food and beverage producers to share with visitors to the Far North the best we have on offer.

These linked events unofficially kick off a summer packed with sport. Tomorrow the Far North District Council Far North Sports Awards will be held at Te Ahu in Kaitaia. Presented by Sport Northland, the awards this year received 104 nominations in 20 sports codes. From 6pm, 71 finalists will contest a range of individual and team categories including, for the first time, Disabled Sportsperson of the Year. The evening will culminate with the Top Energy Sportsman and Sportswoman awards and the Far North District Council Supreme Award. This is the Far North's premier sports awards evening and the Council is proud to support it.

The first weekend in December will see hundreds of swimmers plying the harbour between Russell and Paihia in the Council-supported Bay of Islands leg of the Ocean Swim Series. The 3.3km Duke of Marlborough Hotel Bay of Islands Classic is now in its 10th year and regularly attracts up to 2500 contestants and supporters to our district. Of those, 60 per cent travel from Auckland to compete.

On 2 February, Super Rugby will visit the Far North with a pre-season game played for the first time at Lindvart Park in Kaikohe. The match between the Blues and the Chiefs was made possible with support from the Council. The Super Rugby season kicks off two weeks later on February 15.

It wouldn't be summer in the Far North without fishing and there are numerous competitive events dotting the calendar. The premier events come at the tail-end of summer. The first in March will see surfcasters from around New Zealand and the world descend on Te Oneroa-a-Tohe (90 Mile Beach) for the five-day Ngai Takoto 90 Mile Beach Snapper Bonanza. The competition is limited to 1000 anglers, all hoping to get a slice of cash prizes worth over $72,000. The angler catching the largest snapper will win $30,000.

Over on the East Coast, game fishers will get their turn to win in the Houhora Big Game and Sports Fishing Club 2019 Houhora One Base Tournament. This three-day bill-fish competition in April is now 25 years old and boasts a prize pool of over $35,000.

Sports like these bring our communities together and whatever sport you play or watch, these events help make the Far North a great place to live.

Thursday 15 November 2018

Every drop is precious

This week you may have heard about devastating wild fires sweeping across California - the deadliest in its history. Unusually strong winds and drought conditions over summer are being blamed for these lethal blazes. As our own summer heats up, NIWA weather forecasters are predicting that an El Nino weather pattern is likely over coming months. In Northland, this could mean above average temperatures and lower than normal rainfall.

his may be welcome news for those of us planning to join friends and family for a long, golden summer. For others, however, the NIWA predictions will be worrying. Our farmers will be concerned about how prolonged, dry weather will affect pastures, crops and livestock, while our fire services will be nervous about increased fire risks El Nino will bring. At Council, we will be closely monitoring river and aquifer levels ahead of Christmas and New Year.

his is when our population traditionally soars and demand for water is at its highest.

Every summer we ask residents connected to Council supplies to conserve water. Depending on rainfall, we may also apply water restrictions. Water restrictions range from banning outside automatic sprinklers and unattended hoses to our toughest Level 4 restrictions that ban all outside water use.

Only drinking, cooking, showering and laundry water-use is permitted. No one can predict what river, stream and aquifer levels will be like in coming months, but we do know that getting into the habit of conserving water now will reduce the demands we place on these precious resources. This will delay the need for water restrictions and may avoid them altogether.

Providing safe drinking water is a complex and increasingly costly task for all local authorities. In the Far North this is complicated by the fact we operate eight separate water treatment plants that deliver drinking water to around 25,000 residents (we also supply non-drinking water in Russell). Of these, Opononi and Rawene serve less than a 1000 residents, and Okaihau serves less than 500.

In the wake of the 2016 Havelock North water contamination incident that made over 5000 people ill, New Zealand water providers have come under pressure to meet tough drinking water standards. I’m happy to say all but one of our water supplies comply with the New Zealand Drinking Water Standards, and plans are already well advanced to upgrade the Omanaia plant.

Unfortunately, some private suppliers have struggled to meet extra costs. Since 2016, two private schemes in the Far North have announced closure. A supply to about 80 households and businesses in Waipapa was shut last year and 23 customers of a private provider in Kaeo face losing their supply later this month. We are working with the operator, Wai Care, and Northland District Health Board on alternative options and hope to announce a solution soon.

Like many of you, I’m looking forward to a long, hot summer. I’m also hoping for rain from time to time.

Thursday 8 November 2018

Simpli makes building easier

Becoming a home owner is a life-changing event and, for most of us, is the biggest financial commitment we ever make. Buying or building a home is a hugely rewarding experience, but it is often complicated and stressful with a host of new demands and obligations.

As many of you know, the whole country has been experiencing a building boom over the past few years. I discussed the impact this was having on Council here almost exactly a year ago. Like other local authorities, we have been dealing with record numbers of resource and building consent applications, but at the same time, have struggled to hold onto experienced planning staff attracted by higher wages in the private sector.

The Council plays a key part in the building process by ensuring all buildings meet minimum standards. It is up to us make sure each building meets structural, fire safety, access, moisture and durability standards demanded by legislation and we do this through the building consents process.

To ensure we meet the demand for building consents and keep construction work in the Far North on track, we have juggled staff resources and seconded staff in from other areas of the Council. At the same time, we have looked for a permanent way to streamline the building consents process and, this month, we took an important step towards achieving that goal.

From 1 November, we began transitioning to a new electronic building consent system called Simpli. We are one of more than 20 local authorities joining this award-winning programme. It aims to improve the consistency and delivery of building consents across New Zealand and is supported by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

One of the most significant changes builders and homeowners will see is no longer having to submit paper-based building consent applications to Council. Applications can now be filled in on-screen and emailed directly. Plans and other documents are also now accepted electronically as PDFs. This will save you time and money on collating and printing documents, and you no longer have to keep duplicate documents on site - our inspectors will have electronic versions.

For us, the change means using the same forms, and asking the same questions about the same types of building work as other local authorities that use Simpli. We will have the same system to record work, and the same procedures and responsibilities. If you’re a builder of developer who deals with different councils, this gives you certainty about the information to include when lodging building consent applications and booking an inspection - wherever the job is.

This time last year, I promised we would do all we could to ensure your building plans are processed as smoothly as possible, while also meeting our legal obligations under the Resource Management Act and other planning rules. Simpli is a proven electronic building consent process that makes good on that promise.

Thursday 1 November 2018

Funding what we have

Earlier this month, I joined dozens of dog owners and their cherished pets at Simson Park in Moerewa for our third chip and snip event, Nga Kuri Auau o Moerewa. It was a very successful day with 187 dogs microchipped and 185 signed-up to be neutered for free. The goal of these events is to encourage responsible dog ownership and this has proved effective in reducing nuisance dog complaints and unwanted puppies at our shelters.

Owners I spoke to were keen to be part of the solution and grateful for Council's assistance to help them achieve that. The following week many of you will have received your latest rates invoice from Council. This letter inevitably provokes criticism of the Council and complaints that residents get "nothing" for their rates. While I don't agree, I understand how easy it is for us to take for granted the services and amenities the Council provides every day. Few stop to think that the sports fields used each weekend are maintained by rates, or that the book borrowed from one of our six libraries is provided for free because of ratepayers.

How many of us think of the Council when driving on district roads to our favourite beach, or when using a boat ramp to take the family fishing? We park in a Council-owned car park, picnic on a Council-owned and maintained reserve and use public toilets provided and cleaned (sometimes two or three times a day in the summer) by Council contractors. The fact is many of these services are funded entirely by ratepayers. Ensuring they meet expectations and comply with national standards is not easy. Our district has the third largest geographical area of any council in the North Island and is the 13th largest in New Zealand. Half of that land is non-rateable, because it is conservation land, reserve land, heritage land, Ministry of Education land and so on.

Unlike other local authorities, our population is not concentrated in one easy-to-serve city, and we do not possess a money-making port or major airport. Most of our communities are small or very small, but each one requires roads, footpaths, streetlights, water, sewerage and many other vital services. As a result, we have one of the country's longest road networks (2500km), and the third longest unsealed network (1647km). Central government provides some help, but just 36,000 ratepayers pay the lion's share.

The Government is looking at whether rates are the best way to fund local services and has asked the Productivity Commission to undertake a review. The Government is also looking at how we fund roads and water services. We support these reviews. The Nga Kuri Auau days have proved a hit with our communities and we have committed to holding more around the district. This is a good use of ratepayer funds - it encourages more of our people to work with Council, improves public safety and makes this a better place to live.

Thursday 18 October 2018

Protecting our environment

Our environment in the Far North is one of the most precious resources we have. It sustains us, protects us, and defines who we are. We are the custodians of this place and it is our duty to safeguard it for future generations. That means protecting the natural environment - our forests, waterways, coastline and farms - and the built environment - our homes, neighbourhoods and towns.

The Council has a legal obligation under the Resource Management Act to protect the Far North environment and we do that through the District Plan. This is a set of rules that tell us what we can and cannot do with our land and our buildings. These rules cover residential developments, the subdivision of land, our coastal environment, the height and location of buildings, commercial and industrial developments, heritage sites, noise and much more.

We review the District Plan every 10 years. This is to ensure the rules reflect changes occurring inside and outside of the district. For example, since the plan was last reviewed our economy and the way we use our land has evolved. We need to consider more closely the possible impacts of losing prime horticultural land will have for future generations and the need to prevent urban sprawl. The effects of climate change have also become far more pressing and we need to consider floods and other natural hazards more closely when developing or subdividing land.

The rules that govern what we do with our land must be set with your input. To help make that happen, we launched a community engagement project in 2016 called Let’s Plan Together. This was the first step in a review of the current District Plan and helped us develop a policy framework to address nine Significant Resource Management Issues you helped identify. These are: Rural Sustainability, Affordable Infrastructure, Heritage Management, Coastal Management, Urban Sustainability, Indigenous Biodiversity, Partnerships with Tangata Whenua, Landscapes and Features, and Hazard Resilience and Climate Change.

We are now entering the next phase of the review and over the next two months will seek your feedback on what we have done so far. We will do this through a Let’s Plan Together roadshow that will visit Kaitaia, Pukenui, Cable Bay, Mangonui, Kerikeri, Kaeo, Russell, Paihia, Kawakawa, Kaikohe, Kohukohu, Rawene and Opononi in November and December.

Your feedback will help us further develop the framework and rules on where certain activities can occur and when consent will be required. We have created online maps to help you understand how the draft District Plan might affect you. We aim to release the Proposed District Plan towards the end of 2019. This will be another opportunity to provide feedback through a formal submission process.

The District Plan review process is a one-in-10-year opportunity to influence how we manage land use and subdivision in the District. I urge you to have your say and help protect our precious environment.

Thursday 11 October 2018

Welcoming summer ships

Last Sunday the Majestic Princess anchored between Russell and Waitangi in the Bay of Islands. It was an impressive sight. At 330m long and 19 decks high, it has room to sleep, feed and entertain over 3500 passengers. Its arrival heralded the beginning of the summer cruise ship season that will see 15 ships visit the Bay of Islands by the end of December. Ships will arrive on an almost daily basis between January and April 2019 and it is estimated a record 137,000 passengers will visit our shores this summer season.

The visit of the Majestic Princess marks a new high-water mark for cruise liner tourism in the Far North. Cruises are increasingly popular around the world and according to Tourism New Zealand over 103,000 cruise passengers visited the Bay of Islands and Whangaroa Harbour in the 12 months to June. That's a 17 per cent increase on the year before. Since 2010, New Zealand has seen an average 13 per cent growth in cruise passenger numbers. The market grew by just 7 per cent per annum globally. Statistics New Zealand tells us that the 103,000 passengers spent over $14 million in the Far North - an incredible 79 per cent more than the year before.

I was part of the welcome for the Majestic Princess along with representatives of Ngati Rangi, Ngati Kawa and Ngati Hine, who presented a specially prepared carving to the ship's Captain. It was great to see Bay of Islands hapu taking advantage of this multimillion-dollar tourism opportunity by partnering with Princess Cruises, a leading cruise ship operator and owner of the Majestic Princess. Bay of Islands-Taiamai hapu will hold Maori Markets at Waitangi Marae for all Princess Cruises ships to showcase Northland Maori arts, crafts and trade stalls. These will be promoted to passengers before they disembark at Waitangi Wharf.

The markets demonstrate the potential benefits cruise ship tourism can bring to economies like ours. Instead of only visiting the usual tourist hotspots, these tourists spend time at more remote destinations like the Bay of Islands, Tauranga, Napier, Picton, Dunedin and Fiordland.

Like Bay of Islands-Taiamai hapu, we are working to make the visitor experience as memorable as possible by improving our infrastructure in the Bay of Islands and surrounding areas. Far North Holdings is building a new terminal at Bay of Islands Airport, and will spend $5 million upgrading wharves at Paihia, Russell and Opua. Kawakawa's famous Hundertwasser-designed public toilet will be greatly enhanced with completion of Te Hononga - a new tourism and civic hub, and we aim to complete new public toilets at Waitangi boat ramp and Waitangi Mountain Bike Park soon.

The welcome on Sunday underlined for me how unique the Far North is historically and geographically for these visitors. Catering to this increasing tourism in a sustainable way will be a challenge, but together we can ensure this whenua is protected for everyone to enjoy.

Thursday 4 October 2018

Our community's voice

Over the past eight weeks, many of you have spoken to me about dogs. You have shared your concerns about where and when dogs can be exercised, and where they shouldn't. You have told me about problems with wandering dogs and how some of you have difficulty exercising your pets. We have talked about the number of dogs people should own, and about how best to protect our wildlife.

These discussions were held during eight public events the Far North District Council held during August and September to publicise the Proposed Dog Management Policy and Bylaw 2018. Our goal was to inform Far North residents about the proposed policy and bylaw and to encourage as many residents as possible to have their say on how dogs should be managed in our district.

During these events, we handed out more than 850 information brochures and hundreds of submission forms. The Council also directly contacted more than 7119 registered dog owners, 1468 interested residents, 222 special interest groups, 264 people who asked to be informed about Council proposals and 163 iwi and hapu groups. We invested in an eight-week print, radio and digital advertising campaign and reached 34,855 people via social media. The aim was to ensure that as many residents as possible understood the proposal and knew how to give us feedback. I think we achieved that goal.

At the close of submissions last week, we had received 1215 responses. That is a fantastic result and rivals any consultation we have undertaken. By comparison, when we first consulted on this issue in 2016, we received just 337 submissions. Of course, this is not the end of the process. About 100 submitters have indicated they want to talk directly to councillors about the proposal and we will be meeting them during public hearings in Kaitaia, Kaikohe and Kerikeri starting from 18 October.

Elected members will gather to discuss the proposal and the submissions you have lodged on 6 and 15 November. Just as we increased the normal submissions period from four to eight weeks to give people more time to find out about the proposals and have their say, we have also doubled time for deliberations. This is not only due to the number of submissions received and the complexities of what is being proposed. It reflects the depth of feeling many of you have expressed about the welfare of your pets, about the need to protect our wildlife and the absolute necessity of keeping people safe from harm.

Overall, I believe it has also been a positive experience. As a Council we have learnt important lessons about communicating with residents and I believe residents have also learnt about the legal limitations the Council operates within. Whatever the final outcome, your opinions have been heard and will be considered.

Thursday 20 September 2018

The importance of relationship building

Next month Councillor Sally Macauley and I will travel to China for a series of meetings with Chinese officials, business leaders and potential investors in the Far North. We will be joined on the eight-day trip by Andy Nock, chief executive of the Council's commercial arm, Far North Holdings Limited. Since the Council agreed to this trip in October, a number of residents have questioned the need to foster investment links with China.

I'm glad these questions are being asked. It means our community is concerned about the district's development and wants to be informed. Without doubt, this is an important issue and we owe it to future generations to make well-informed, transparent decisions that focus on what is best for the whole district.

Private foreign investment from around the world is already occurring in New Zealand and China has emerged as a major player. That investment is regulated by the Overseas Investment Office under the Overseas Investment Act (2005) and, as a Council, we have no control over who invests or acquires land in our district. That said; a core aim of the Council is to be an enabler of economic development. That leaves us with a simple choice: engage with investors as best we can, or watch from the sidelines.

While we don't decide who buys land or invests in our district, all investors are subject to local statutes and bylaws. For example, development proposals will likely require consents under the Resource Management Act, just as any locally-owned development would. And often, you get to have your say on this development where consent applications must be publicly notified.

In that case, why fly Councillors to China? Building meaningful relationships is crucial for any long term partnership wherever you are from. This is particularly important when dealing with investors from China and we have already done considerable work in this area. The Council has a long-standing sister city relationship with the Chinese province of Liaoning and we will devote two days to renewing these links.

We also have a Memorandum of Intent with Tus-Holdings, the business arm of Tsinghua University in Beijing. Tus-Holdings wants to invest in tourism and geothermal energy projects, and to establish a fund encouraging innovative projects in tourism, technology, film and the environment. Last November, Deputy Mayor Tania McInnes and Councillor John Vujcich travelled to Beijing to outline our vision to Tus-Holdings and to identify 'win-win' opportunities that will increase incomes in the Far North.

Without doubt, a 'win' for the Far North means protecting our environment and the ideals we hold dear. Our Memorandum of Intent with TUS-Holdings specifies that Treaty of Waitangi principles must be honoured in future dealings. Gaining that concession required building a level of understanding and respect you don't get via email or Skype. We achieved that through face-to-face contacts and by building a relationship, not by watching from the sidelines.

Thursday 13 September 2018

Creating a great place at Mangonui

Without doubt, Mangonui is one of the jewels of the Far North. The coastal town is famous for its tranquil harbour, stunning picture-postcard views and, reputedly, the best fish and chip shop in the country.

The annual Mangonui Waterfront festival has also been a smash hit, attracting hundreds of visitors who pack Waterfront Drive and the boardwalk to enjoy great food, stalls and performances. Ensuring that visitors and residents alike can make the most of this natural treasure is one of the reasons the Far North District Council included $1.5 million in its Long Term Plan 2018-28 for waterfront improvements.

We are also seeking external funds for these works, which are the subject of a discussion document the Council and Mangonui Waterfront Facilities Working Group released last week. We know how important it is to protect the unique character of this maritime settlement - the very thing that makes Mangonui such a magnet for visitors.

Ensuring we get the development-preservation mix right is crucial. We therefore want Matarahurahu, kaitiaki o Ngati Kahu and the wider community to be involved in all aspects of the project, including consultation, design, consents, cultural significance and storytelling.

We are keen to hear your feedback on the proposed ideas, which include an extension to the wooden boardwalk, gangways and pontoons for small boats, extra parking for cars and artworks and signage that tell the Maori, European, maritime and natural history of Mangonui.

We also need to consider how to ensure the boardwalk at the waterfront complies with a Northland Regional Council resource consent. We are installing an interim safety barrier along an 80-metre section of the boardwalk (between the Four Square and the War Memorial) while we work with the working group on a waterfront plan that minimises the need for safety barriers.

We recognise that many people in the community prefer the boardwalk without a safety barrier. Unfortunately, this is a condition of the resource consent for the boardwalk which was completed 10 years ago.

Successive councils since then have avoided installing the safety barrier, leaving the regional council no option but to recently serve an abatement notice on the Council. Not complying with this notice, and risking a fine of $200,000, wasn't an option for the current Council. However, we recognise that many in the community would prefer to have uninterrupted views of the harbour. That is why we have tasked the working group with developing options that avoid or minimise the need for a safety barrier.

I encourage people to provide feedback to the working group over the coming year as it starts to develop designs.

Thursday 6 September 2018

Have your say on drinking in public places

Like many of you, I'm looking forward to another wonderful Far North summer. For me, summer means sharing time with family and friends. It means enjoying the beach and the sun, and later, sparking-up the BBQ. For many of us, a day like this is not complete without enjoying a beer or wine. Having a social drink is something we think little of. But we have all witnessed when a social drink has become antisocial; when overindulgence has led to aggressive, intimidating and offensive behaviour. This is never OK, and the Council must ensure this does not happen in the public spaces it is responsible for.

On Monday, we will ask for your help with a review of the Public Places Liquor Control Bylaw 2003 before it expires on 18 December. The bylaw controls alcohol consumption in public places, such as residential streets, beaches and reserves. It is not a review of the location or number of alcohol retailers, or the hours that alcohol can be sold. Nor does it apply to private property.

We already have alcohol bans in place at 23 towns, beaches and reserves throughout the district. Most of these are complete bans - 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A few restrict public drinking to certain times. For example, drinking is banned at Tokerau Beach at various times during the Christmas and New Year's period.
The proposed Alcohol Control Bylaw retains the existing restrictions, although we propose that some areas are expanded based on advice from the Police and population growth since 2003. These areas include Ahipara, Coopers Beach, Haruru Falls, Moerewa, Kerikeri, Omapere and Opononi.

While much remains unchanged in the proposed bylaw, we still need your input. You know your community best and you know where people like to gather, and where public drinking can sometimes get out of hand.

During this four-week consultation, we want you to tell us where existing bans are or aren't working, or where we should consider new bans. We also want to hear about alcohol-related disorder and crimes you may have witnessed. By applying or amending bans to these areas, we give the Police powers to intervene before things get out of out of control and there is a risk to public safety and property. Using the bylaw, they can diffuse a situation by issuing a warning, removing and disposing of alcohol, or serving an infringement notice.

If you want to find out more about alcohol control areas, I urge you to check the satellite maps available on the FNDC website or by looking at a copy of the proposed bylaw at a service centre or library. The consultation closes on 5 October.

Thursday 23 August 2018

Full-on and community-led

I have always believed that the best projects are community-led with support from local and central government where required. I was reminded of this last weekend when I spent two full-on days attending events in the community.

It started Friday evening with a function to launch Waharoa ki te Toi Research Centre, a joint project led by the Maurice Wilkins Foundation and the Moko Foundation. Based at Kaitaia Hospital, research will cover the entire district and provide new understanding of how best to tackle our community's health issues. Thanks to Professor Peter Shepherd and Dr Lance O'Sullivan for their work on the project. Thanks also to Northland DHB and its Chair, Sally Macauley, for their support.

Early Saturday morning I helped launch Operation Flotation Trust at Cable Bay with Pat Miller. The project is supported by Ngati Kahu, local businesses and the Mangonui and Coopers Beach communities. The trust aims to prevent drownings such as one that tragically occurred at Cable Bay last summer when a father tried to rescue children caught in a rip. Their motto is ‘Not another life lost'. Both the District Council and Northland Regional Council are supporters, and I am working to ensure the devices are made available at swimming spots nation-wide.

By mid-morning I was attending a Kaitaia Lions function to raise money for Kaitaia community projects. The fundraisers were all volunteers giving up their time for the area in which they live. Later, I was at the Doubtless Bay Christian Centre market in Mangonui helping out at a Council-run stall. We were encouraging community input into the Draft Dog Management Policy and Bylaw. The more submissions we get, the better informed Councillors will be about your wishes.

By afternoon, I was in Kerikeri attending a St John Youth Regional Enrolment ceremony. This organisation represents the epitome of volunteers working tirelessly for their community. It was inspiring to see our youth inducted into this wonderful organisation, taking their first steps in giving back to their community and our nation.

Saturday evening Leoni and I attended the annual Bay of Islands Vintage Railway Trust fundraiser. It was great to see so much community support for this organisation. Once again Frank Leadley and I presented the ‘Frank and John' approach to auctioneering. It's entertaining and, I'm happy to say, very successful in securing funding for the trust. It was a very enjoyable and successful evening.
Sunday morning I joined staff and elected members at the Kerikeri market to again promote submissions on the draft dog control bylaw and talk with residents about issues that interest them.

Every community I visit in the Far North has people working hard to help others and make their community a great place to live. We owe them a debt and to groups like Te Hiku Sports Hub Trust, Focus Paihia, Far North Youth Council, Love Opua and so many more. We are all better off because of them.

Thursday 16 August 2018

Tackling plastic

Last week the government announced plans to phase out single-use plastic bags in New Zealand within 12 months. We will join over 100 other countries that have already banned single-use bags, including China, Indonesia, parts of Europe, and much of Australia.

A key reason for the proposal is the harm plastics are causing our environment, particularly our marine environment. Scientists estimate there is already over 150 million tonnes of plastic in our oceans with growing evidence this is decimating marine and bird life, and also entering the food chain. Far North residents are right to be concerned about this. We love our beaches, our warm seas and our kai moana. For many of us, it is why we live in the Far North.

Like most councils around the country, we supported a Local Government New Zealand remit earlier this year asking the government to develop and implement a plan to eliminate single-use plastic bags and plastic straws. I am very happy these efforts, plus the countless letters and emails sent directly to the government by concerned New Zealanders, have led to this announcement.

Phasing out single-use plastic bags is only a first step. As a nation we are one of the highest per capita producers of urban waste in the developed world. Much of that is plastic and around 79 per cent of it is going into landfills rather than being recycled. Nearly half of the plastic waste we generate is packaging, such as drink bottles.

That's why the Council also supports calls for a Container Deposit Scheme. It is estimated that New Zealanders use around 2 billion plastic and glass drink containers each year. A lot ends up in landfills, but too many are dumped along roadsides and eventually make it into the sea. Putting a refundable charge on every container sold will encourage consumers to recycle containers instead. That's good news for the environment and for ratepayers. Anything that reduces the total amount of waste we send to landfills will save us all money.

But even that is only part of the solution. China, New Zealand's biggest buyer of recyclable waste, has now stopped taking 24 types of recycling from overseas. The Far North has not been directly impacted by this yet, but the message is clear: we must dramatically reduce consumption of non-reusable plastics.

Government will be part of the solution, but we all have a role reducing demand for single-use plastics. Kaitaia Library is showing us how. Rather than use plastic bags for borrowed books, members are being offered cloth bags sewn from old t-shirts by volunteers at the EcoCentre Kaitaia (Te Whare Tiaka Taiao). The scheme has been running for a few months now with bags replenished as required and paid for by koha. Library users elsewhere in the district will also soon be offered reusable book bags at $5 each. It's a small price to pay to save our environment.

Thursday 9 August 2018

Praise for Te Hiku Sports Hub

Construction of Te Hiku Sports Hub may have slowed over the winter months, but support for the project has not waned. Last week, a letter published in The Northland Age from Kaitaia GPs Dr John Bradley and Dr Joost van Rens clearly articulated the support local doctors have for the multi-purpose sports hub now taking shape at Moerua Park.

The letter, entitled "A worthy and mammoth project", cited the benefits health professionals know will flow from the project once it is complete. They said there is truth in the old adage that prevention is better than cure. We see people of all ages and sizes who lead sedentary lifestyles and who would benefit from the year-round physical activity one could access in a new sports hub. Te Hiku Sports Hub could provide an accessible, positive environment for helping to create improved health outcomes in our community.

Our community has consistently got in behind the project with more than 2000 submissions in favour of the hub received during the Long Term Plan 2015-25 consultation process - a record level of support for such an initiative in our district. It has also won the backing of Northland Regional Council, Sport Northland, iwi, schools, police, social welfare agencies and organisations, sports codes and clubs. When completed, the $12 million facility will dramatically boost recreation options for an estimated 20,000 people in the region.

Physical work on drainage and initial landscaping began just over a year ago for the state-of-the-art, all-season sports facility. Since then, new car parking and an entranceway have been developed.

The Council is, of course, a key backer, having set aside $2.56 million in its Long Term Plan 2015-25 for design, planning and physical works on the project. The second stage of the build will be an indoor pool, which will be co-funded by the Council, community fundraising and a recently announced $2.8 million contribution from the Government. We anticipate Stage 2 construction to start in 2020 or 2021.

The heated pool complex is the part our GPs are really excited about. In their letter Drs Bradley and van Rens said they see residents on a daily basis who can benefit from the Te Hiku Sports Hub. "For those of us with osteoarthritis and back pain, swimming in a heated pool would be a boon. Those of us who are overweight, recovering from strokes, and who have cardiovascular disease - we would all benefit."

The Far North District Council is committed to building healthy, vibrant and resilient, communities and supporting youth development. I believe Te Hiku Sports Hub is a tangible expression of that commitment.

Thursday 2 August 2018

How should we manage dogs?

Over the next eight weeks, we will be seeking your views on how best to manage dogs in the Far North District. Consultation on our Proposed Dog Management Policy and Bylaw 2018 opened on Monday.

To ensure everyone has time to consider this proposal and have their say, we have extended the four-week consultation period required by the Local Government Act 2002 to eight weeks. I strongly encourage you to find out about this proposal which will control which beaches dogs can go on, when dogs need to be on leashes and how many dogs a person can keep.

Under the proposed policy and bylaw, dogs would be allowed off-leash on most beaches at all times, except from 1 December to 31 March and on public holidays from 9am to 6pm. Special restrictions designed to protect people, wildlife and areas of cultural importance to Maori would apply at the following beaches: Cable Bay, Coopers Beach, Hihi, Mahinepua, Paihia, Russell, Tapeka Point, Taupo Bay, Tauranga Bay, Te Haumi, Te Tii (Paihia) and Waitangi.

We also propose to limit the number of dogs (aged three months or older) people can keep at properties in identified areas, unless the owner has written permission from the Council. We last reviewed our bylaw in 2006 and we need to ensure it is fit-for-purpose as our district changes and grows.

We have therefore identified 52 communities using a combination of District Plan zones (residential, coastal residential, commercial and industrial), as well as properties with similar characteristics. Asking dog owners to seek Council permission to keep more than two dogs in the proposed areas would help us keep our communities safe and help to ensure our dogs are looked after.

I encourage you to find out about this proposal which will affect most built-up areas in the district. Other proposals we are seeking community feedback on include establishing all-year, off-leash areas for dogs in Kaitaia, Kaikohe and Kerikeri, prohibiting dogs from children’s playgrounds and public swimming pools and requiring dogs to be on a leash at parks, sportsgrounds and reserves.

Go to, or visit one of our service centres or libraries, to view maps showing areas and properties where the policy and bylaw would apply. You can also access our online submission portal from this website and get details of community events (e.g. markets) staff and elected members plan to attend to raise awareness of the proposal.

We encourage you to find out more about the Proposed Dog Management Policy and Bylaw 2018 and to make a submission before the consultation period closes at 4:30pm on 24 September.

Thursday 19 July 2018

Celebrating local achievements

This week Deputy Mayor Tania McInnes and I joined around 600 local government staff and elected representatives to discuss the future of local government in Aotearoa New Zealand. With us at the Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) Annual General Meeting were Councillors Colin Kitchen and Kelly Stratford, Community Board member Rachel Smith, and Council CEO Shaun Clarke. The Christchurch gathering discussed numerous issues significant to Far North residents. These included 13 policy remits focused on infrastructure and funding, waste minimisation, climate change, the environment and a range of social issues. LGNZ represents all 78 councils in New Zealand and the organisation is now tasked with promoting these remits to central government, business leaders and community groups.

Of particular importance for Far North residents was the Minister of Finance Grant Robertson's announcement of an inquiry into local government funding. The Far North District Council is almost completely reliant on property rates to fund our services and infrastructure. Unlike other councils, we have no port, no major airport or any other big-ticket infrastructure assets that generate an alternative income stream. With our comparatively low number of ratepayers (many on fixed incomes), we struggle to fund infrastructure improvements and meet the demands now facing us. These include addressing climate change, more frequent extreme weather events, and the impact of increasing tourism on our facilities. The Minister has tasked the Productivity Commission to look at new ways councils like ours can fund existing and new infrastructure, and I look forward to their recommendations.

Taking greater control over funding and the direction of local government was a strong theme of the conference. Instead of relying on central government to decide what's good for our communities, LGNZ President Dave Cull suggested councils and communities need to make these decisions. I agree. It is those living and working in our communities who best understand the issues facing them and, very often, how to solve them.

Every year the great things we do in our communities are celebrated by the Local Government New Zealand EXCELLENCE Awards. This year saw the highest number of entries vying for six awards. Our project, Nga Kuri Auau o Kaikohe, which promotes responsible dog ownership, was highly commended by judges of the Fulton Hogan EXCELLENCE Award for Community Engagement. While we didn't get the win, we were one of 10 councils to win an award or to receive a commendation from judges. I was extremely proud of staff from across Council who so effectively encouraged dog owners to microchip and neuter their pets. The Nga Kuri Auau days held in Kaikohe and Kaitaia have already reduced the number of dog complaints we receive and the number unwanted puppies brought to our shelters.

Thursday 12 July 2018

Proposed rules for dogs

At the end of the month, we will ask residents to start giving us feedback on revamped dog management rules for our district.

Like all other Councils in New Zealand, we are obliged by the Dog Control Act 1996 to ensure dogs are managed responsibly within our district. The Act sets out many of the rules councils must enforce, such as registering dogs and for dogs to be controlled in public. A number of other rules, such as where and when dogs can be exercised, are left to each council to decide in consultation with residents. We must review these rules every 10 years.

Dogs are cherished companions for many Far North residents and, whether you own a dog or not, they are a part of our lives. Most people will agree that dogs need to be controlled. Our children and our elderly must be protected from dog attacks, farmers need to protect their stock, and our wildlife must be safeguarded. At the same time, we want dogs to remain a positive part of our community. We want dog owners to enjoy being with their pets outside their own properties, whether it’s on the beach or in the park. Striking the right balance between the need to protect our people and our environment and our desire to encourage responsible ownership is not easy.

The rules we will ask you to comment on at the end of the month were reworked from earlier proposals we sought community feedback on in 2016. We refined those proposals through a series of workshops with community representatives, staff and elected members. The workshops were completed in May and have resulted in numerous changes to the draft Dog Management Policy and Bylaw.

The proposed rules cover urban and rural environments, areas of great cultural significance, and unique wildlife habitats. They vary depending on whether its summer or winter, or whether wildlife is present. Not only dog owners will be affected by the proposed rules; anyone who enjoys our coastline, our reserves and forests, and our urban areas too, is likely to have an opinion on how dogs should be controlled.

To ensure everyone has time to consider these proposals, we are doubling the normal consultation period from four to eight weeks. We will also produce comprehensive, easy-to-understand explanations on how the proposals will impact you. This information will be made widely available.

Our district has changed a lot since we adopted the current rules in 2006 and, while we are unlikely to get 100 per cent agreement on all proposals, we aim to achieve rules most people will feel are fair and reasonable. Ultimately, your elected representatives will decide the details of the bylaw. It will reflect as closely as possible a community consensus, while also observing our obligations under the Dog Control Act. I urge you all to work together and help us make this consultation a success.

Thursday 5 July 2018

Growth where needed most

A week ago today, councillors voted to adopt the Long Term Plan 2018-28. This is a roadmap for the Council that will likely impact on all Far North residents over the coming decade. Its adoption last Thursday was the culmination of a huge amount of work undertaken by staff, elected members and you, the people of the Far North, who made hundreds of submissions on the plan and attended three days of hearing.

Getting the plan across the line was achieved only after considerable debate among your elected representatives. Our decisions attempted to weigh the wishes of individual submitters with our wider responsibilities to the whole district, as well as the Council’s legal obligations and the need to keep rates as low as possible.

I am very happy with the result. Your Councillors have opted for a 10-year plan that focuses on funding growth where it’s most needed, while consolidating and building on infrastructure gains we have achieved since our last Long Term Plan. I hope you agree that we have achieved some important wins over the last three years. The new Kerikeri sewerage scheme is due for completion next year, and we have begun work on Te Hiku Sports Hub in Kaitaia. We are constructing a new water treatment plant at our Rawene-Omanaia water supply and have completed the Twin Coast Cycle Trail, which is already attracting thousands of cyclists and creating new opportunities for business.

It is now time to look firmly to the future. Our region has experienced considerable growth in recent years with a surge in migration from Auckland and elsewhere, and a boom in tourism. The Labour-led Government, elected in 2017, has shown a willingness to help by increasing investment in regional economies. The Far North has been an early beneficiary with the Provincial Growth Fund pledging millions for a range of projects to promote sustainable development, long-term jobs and growth for our people.

Our Long Term Plan 2018-28 will build on this momentum and will make our district a better place for residents and visitors. It allocated $13.4 million to upgrade Kaitaia’s wastewater system; $11.8 million for a community and civic hub in Kaikohe; increased funding for animal control; and will extend our cycle trail to include new destinations.

We know roading is a key concern and we have included an additional unsubsidised road sealing allocation of $1m per annum and committed to a districtwide roading strategy to ensure funding goes where it is most needed. We worked with Northland Regional Council to bring forward plans to prevent flooding on West Coast Rd, Panguru, and with the NZ Transport Agency to ensure infrastructure work coincides with the new Taipa Bridge construction.

I am excited by this plan. I urge you all to look at what we are doing for your community by viewing a copy at your local library, service centre or on the FNDC website.

Thursday 21 June 2018

Tourism funding relief for ratepayers

I have previously discussed the benefits tourism has for our district. We have a distinctive blend of environmental, historical and cultural offerings found nowhere else and it is a privilege to share this with both New Zealand and overseas visitors. Last year, those visitors injected an estimated $496 million into our economy, creating jobs and opportunities that will help us achieve our vision of creating a proud, vibrant, and prosperous community.

But there's a price to pay for this success. Like elsewhere in New Zealand, increasing tourism creates demand for new amenities and puts strains existing infrastructure. While we welcome visitors to our district, it is currently ratepayers footing the bill to provide extra toilets, parking, rubbish collections and other services tourists demand.

Last week, the Government announced plans to charge overseas tourists $25 each to create a Tourism and Conservation Infrastructure Fund. Local Government New Zealand says shifting the cost of building and maintaining community facilities away from ratepayers is a step in the right direction and I agree. Like other popular tourist destinations in Otago and on the West Coast, we have a relatively low number of ratepayers in the Far North, many of whom are on low or fixed incomes. We need help to pay for new infrastructure.

The government estimates its new fund will raise $75 million a year with 60 per cent going towards growing the tourism industry. Of that, $27m per year will help fund infrastructure projects. That's well short of the estimated $1.38 billion infrastructure investment that Deloitte New Zealand identified in an April 2017 report for Tourism Industry Aotearoa.

However, the new Tourism and Conservation Infrastructure Fund is not the only source of funding. Northland has already been promised $46 million from the Provincial Growth Fund with several of its projects tourism based. Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones says Northland did well out of the fund because it was well-prepared. That's largely due to tourism being identified in the 2015 Tai Tokerau Northland Economic Action Plan as a key economic driver for the region. We've been developing innovative business proposals to spread tourism across the region and also reduce its summer peaks and winter troughs. That preparation has now paid off.

We've also benefitted from the Tourism Infrastructure Fund. This fund provides up to $25 million per year for tourism-related infrastructure, like carparks, freedom camping facilities, and sewerage and water works. Applications for round two closed in May and a further round will be held later in the year. We've already secured funding to build new public toilets at Kaimaumau and recently completed new toilets at Broadwood using money from an earlier version of the fund.

Council will continue to seek government funding to help shift the financial burden of tourism away from ratepayers. We'll also be working hard to ensure we get a fair share of the new Tourism and Conservation Infrastructure Fund.

Thursday 14 June 2018

Banking on our positive growth

Last week, ASB Bank chief economist Nick Tuffley confirmed what most of Northland already knows - our region is experiencing significant economic growth.

According to the bank, Northland jumped from seventh to become the country's top regional economic performer in the last quarter. This was according to the ASB Regional Economic Scorecard, a quarterly tally of how each region measures up on employment, construction, retail trade, house prices and new car sales.

Northland achieved five-star ratings across all the bank's indicators, but was especially impressive on jobs, which increased 4.6 per cent over the year, and retail sales, which climbed more than 5 per cent.

This backs what Council has been seeing. Our planners processed a record number of resource and building consents over the past 12 months, and traffic volumes on our roads increase year on year. Bay of Islands Airport - currently undergoing refurbishment - is one of the fastest growing regional airports in the country.

We are working hard to cater for this growth. Earlier this year the Council agreed to invest $5 million through Far North Holdings to create a market-ready industrial park at Ngawha. By harnessing cheap power from Ngawha geothermal power station, we aim to attract industry and jobs to feed our growing district.

In Kerikeri, the new wastewater project is on track for completion in a year's time, tripling the capacity of the existing treatment plant and greatly expanding our ability to cater for growth.

Our Long Term Plan (LTP), which we've just deliberated on, also focuses strongly on promoting growth where it's most needed. We aim to upgrade Kaitaia's aging wastewater system, while in Kaikohe we have proposed working with key partners to build an $11.8 million community and civic hub for the town.

In Kawakawa, the LTP proposes to support creation of a tourism hub by funding construction of public toilet and shower facilities, as well as a public square that will encourage visitors to the famous Hundertwasser Toilets to stay longer in the town. This 10-year blueprint will be our commitment to making the Far North a great place to live for all our residents. Meeting the demands that growth places on our funds and infrastructure will be central to that goal.

But infrastructure projects like these are only part of the story. I remain acutely aware of serious social issues many of our communities struggle with. We are working with Central Government to find solutions to these problems.

I was heartened by a recent Housing New Zealand announcement to build new homes in our district and by several Provincial Growth Fund announcements that will provide new opportunities for employment.

One example is the just announced joint venture with Te Uru Rakau and Ngati Hine Forestry Trust to plant 3600 hectares of pine trees in the district. We aim to capitalise on all these initiatives when we adopt our new Long Term Plan on 28 June.

Thursday 7 June 2018

Stars are aligned for Northland

In my first column of 2018, I delivered an optimistic outlook for the Far North. The General Election last year had produced an unexpected windfall for the district. For the first time, Northland had three Maori MPs in Cabinet and one of those, the Rt Hon, Winston Peters, was the Deputy Prime Minister.

The fact that these ministers held portfolios that were vital to addressing Northland's social and economic needs was another stroke of luck. It was as if the stars had aligned in Northland's favour.

Shortly after I wrote that column, Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones announced the coalition government would invest $17 million in tourism and transport projects in Northland. Funding in this investment package included $9 million for a roundabout at the hazardous intersection of State Highway 10 and Waipapa Road, $4.6 million for a high-tech, Kupe visitor centre in Opononi and $2.3 million for a tourism hub in Kawakawa. In March, Mr Jones announced that the Government would provide $1.7 million for a terminal upgrade at Bay of Islands Airport.

Last week, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that Northland will get $46 million for initiatives that support economic growth and create healthier communities. This investment package includes $20 million for projects that create jobs, $10 million for a Hundertwasser Arts Centre and Wairau Maori Art Gallery in Whangarei, $8.7 million for social and state housing projects and $6.2 million to revitalise the Twin Coast Discovery Route.

Northland will also benefit from the Government's One Billion Trees Programme. A joint venture between Ngati Hine Forestry Trust and Te Uru Rakau (Forestry New Zealand) will receive $6 million of provincial growth funds. This exciting project will involve the planting of four million pine and manuka trees on 400 hectares of land owned by Ngati Hine, Ngati Rangi and Ngati Kawa.

The joint venture, which is the first to be negotiated under the One Billion Trees Programme, will provide forestry training for up to 40 young people, while profits from forestry harvests and sales of manuka honey will provide a financial return to the 4,000 shareholders who own the land.

The level of funding the coalition government has invested in Northland since it was formed seven months ago is extraordinary and possibly unprecedented.

I am particularly impressed that most of this investment addresses needs and opportunities identified by the Tai Tokerau Northland Economic Action Plan.

This plan has already delivered wins for Northlanders and it is a privilege to be a member of the advisory group that is overseeing implementation of the plan.

It is starting to feel like Northland and the Far North's fortunes are on the turn. I and my Council will do everything we can to ensure we maintain this winning streak.

Thursday 31 May 2018

Forum highlights China opportunities

It is impossible to talk about economic growth in provincial New Zealand without considering the role that China plays in this. China is our second largest trading partner. Its trade and investment with New Zealand has been critical to our recovery from the Global Financial Crisis. This is one of the reasons why the Far North District Council helped the Chinese Consulate General in Auckland host a trade and investment forum at Waitangi last week

Until now, talks between the Far North and China have mostly been at a government level. The purpose of the forum was to extend the depth and breadth of this engagement, so that Maori and businesses were part of the discussion about trade and investment between the two countries.

It was encouraging to see representatives from most Far North iwi and industries at the forum where speakers included representatives from BNZ, China Forestry Group New Zealand Ltd, China Southern Airlines, China Travel Service (NZ) Ltd, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in New Zealand, the Consulate-General of the People's Republic of China in Auckland, CVIC Software Engineering New Zealand Ltd, Far North Holdings Ltd, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (New Zealand) Ltd, Ngati Hine Forestry Trust, Northland Chamber of Commerce, Northland Inc and Te Hiku Media.

So, what did we learn from this diverse line-up of speakers? The Chinese Chamber of Commerce offered useful tips on doing business in China. It advised Kiwi businesses to choose joint venture partners wisely and to consider partnering with New Zealand-based Chinese companies rather than businesses in China.

Choosing projects that had good alignment with market opportunities in China was important, while good communications, patience, persistence and open-mindedness were critical success factors in any Chinese business venture. Other speakers delivered upbeat messages about opportunities for tourism, which is Northland's 3rd largest industry employing 8,800 people.

China is now New Zealand's second largest tourism market, thanks to the growth of air transport links between the two countries. While Australia is expected to remain our largest source of visitor arrivals over the next seven years, China is expected to overtake Australia as our largest market by expenditure, reaching $3.1 billion by 2024.

The Far North is well-placed to take advantage of this growth. Increasingly, Chinese visitors to New Zealand are independent travellers looking for fresh, unique experiences, rather than tourists travelling as part of organised group tours. Opportunity was a key theme of Far North Holdings' presentation too.

Northland was great at developing innovative products. FNHL had already helped one local producer co-develop a natural cosmetic product with a Chinese company and it was willing to put other local businesses in touch with Chinese businesses. The Council is planning follow-up activities to help Far North businesses establish links with China. I look forward to telling you about these in future columns.

Thursday 17 May 2018

Working harder for better roads

Earlier this month, I praised NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) efforts to keep our state highways open. These links are vital and, as we've seen with the recent washout at Pukenui and the closure of Lemons Hill, losing them - even for a short time - has a huge impact on people's lives.

As important as they are, state highways represent only a fraction of the district's road network. In the Far North, we have 2508km of roads, 1650km (65 per cent) of which are unsealed. Scattered along these are 723 bridges, of which 528 are single-lane bridges. The Council already spends more on roads than any other single item - 19 cents in every dollar collected in rates. But with just 36,000 Far North ratepayers, we rely on government funding to help us improve and maintain this infrastructure.

Staff go to considerable effort to win this funding by presenting detailed proposals to NZTA based on traffic flows, population densities, safety issues and growth projections. Our Roading Team has made the Far North one of the most successful councils in the country at securing government subsidies. We have a Funding Assistance Rate of 61 cents in the dollar and this is increasing to 66 cents from July.

We also lead the country in tackling road dust. We have been told that our business case to get Ngapipito and Pipiwai Roads sealed is an exemplar of best practice and we were the first council to receive money under this new funding category.

This week, contractor Broadspectrum began work to widen a section of Kerikeri Road to improve traffic flows and safety at the intersection with Access Road. This project is 60 per cent funded by NZTA and will take around two months to complete.

Residents outside Kerikeri can be forgiven for asking when their roads will receive similar attention. The fact is, Kerikeri Road is the district's busiest thoroughfare and traffic flow is a key criterion for winning NZTA funding.

However, that doesn't mean roads elsewhere are missing out. For example, the Council has just repaired two bridges on Diggers Valley Road in Te Hiku about 11km from State Highway 1. Contractors replaced bridge sections and installed new guardrails and railings under a district-wide bridge renewal programme.

We aim to increase the level of work like this on local roads and will achieve this through new roading contracts (being finalised now) and by tapping into increased road safety budgets signalled by the Government.

Finally, in July the Northland Transport Alliance (NTA) will be fully imbedded and responsible for all new works, renewals and maintenance on local roads. The alliance combines Northland's three district councils along with the Northland Regional Council and NZTA. The aim is to better share resources and deliver more cost-effective transport options for all of Northland.

We know the state of our roads is a key concern for Far North residents. I assure you, the Council is working hard to maintain and improve them.

Thursday 10 May 2018

Genuine consultation for real results

Last month, I wrote about your impressive participation in the Council's Long Term Plan 2018-28 consultation process. There were more than 860 submissions with many of you expressing considered and heartfelt opinions on several issues. You can read all of those submissions on our website.

Many of you have now also spoken directly to councillors and staff during three days of hearings held in Kaitaia, Kaikohe and a marathon 10-hour session in Kerikeri. While this process can be tiring, for me it was an uplifting experience.

It's not easy standing up in a formal environment and speaking to a room full of strangers. That's what so many of you did with courage and passion. Each day we saw how deeply you care about your community and I was genuinely impressed by how many of you are concerned about issues beyond your immediate communities.

You spoke with grace and humour and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It also underlined the value and importance of public consultations for our democratic process. This is your opportunity to have a direct impact on your Council and how your community is run.

This consultation is a major undertaking, but the Council also conducts smaller consultations regularly. This year alone, we have consulted on establishing a business park in Kaikohe, a wastewater drainage bylaw, renewing the lease on a reserve for a successful Kerikeri restaurant, and a proposal to connect 80 Waipapa households and businesses to the Kerikeri water supply.

You can follow our past, new, and on-going consultations (such as the dog control bylaw) on our website. Of course, there are critics who will tell you consultations are merely a box-ticking exercise; that the Council has already decided what it will do no matter what you say. That is not true.

Our last Long Term Plan 2015-25 consulted on a range of issues and all but one of the proposals eventually adopted by the Council were supported by the majority of submitters. The Council listened and made decisions to reflect your wishes.

Very occasionally the Council will make a decision that is not well-supported by submitters. I assure you, that is never easy. But sometimes there is no clear-cut, right or wrong choice. Often there are wider issues at stake that councillors must consider. This is when elected representatives must demonstrate the leadership they were elected to provide.

Sometimes, considering what is right for the whole community is not the same as making the most popular choice. Democratic processes can be messy and demand flexibility.

The Long Term Plan process is no different. Councillors were due to consider your input next Wednesday. Instead, those deliberations will be held on 24 May and the final Long Term Plan adopted during the 28 June Council meeting.

Consultations only succeed with genuine input from both sides. You have told us clearly what you think of our proposals and we will do our best to reflect those wishes in coming weeks.

Thursday 3 May 2018

Keeping the roads open

Our roads are the most important infrastructure links we have in the Far North. Losing these - even for a short time - has a major impact on communities and our economy.

The February slip that closed State Highway 11 between Kawakawa and Paihia is a perfect example. Lemons Hill is easily the largest slip we've seen for years. It's over 80 metres long and 52 metres high, or about half a rugby field. It has closed State Highway 11 since mid-February, severing key links to Paihia, Waitangi and Russell.

This impacts thousands of residents along with some of the district's most significant tourist destinations. Fortunately, alternative routes are available, although the drive to Kawakawa from Opua can now take 40 minutes, rather than 10.

The New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) offered some relief for commuters and businesses last week when it introduced limited openings of the highway. Unfortunately, wet weather saw this withdrawn this week. So why the caution?

To fully understand the scale of the job, I urge you to view aerial footage of the slip on the NZTA website. This clearly demonstrates the amount of work required to restore this vital road link. Initially NZTA engineers estimated that 10,500 cubic metres - about 650 truckloads - of earth and rock would have to be removed. But by mid-April, more than double that - 22,500 cubic metres - had been taken out and contractors continue to remove more.

They have done a fantastic job working seven days a week to reopen the road. This continued even after State Highway 1 was dramatically washed out at Pukenui late in March. Rather than pull contractors from Lemons Hill, NZTA ensured work continued while it marshalled more staff to reconnect Aupouri Peninsula communities.

But NZTA's role is not only about emergencies. For example, the agency is doing a fantastic job replacing Taipa's old single-lane bridge. This had become a major bottleneck for a coastal town increasingly popular among tourists. The new two-lane crossing will also feature a shared path for pedestrians and cyclists, and a swimming platform so our tamariki can continue to enjoy swimming from the bridge, just as their parents did.

NZTA also plans a pedestrian crossing outside Taipa Area School and improvements to the town centre. Other Far North single-lane bridges slated for replacement include one on the Twin Coast Discovery Route in Kaeo. As residents know, this State Highway 10 bridge can be closed to traffic due to flooding. NZTA plans a new two-lane replacement with room for pedestrians and cyclists well above predicted flood levels.

This and other projects are part of ongoing central government investments in the district's state highway system that the Council has worked alongside NZTA to secure. This is vital for our district and the Council will continue to pursue similar improvements for ratepayers.

We are also working hard to gain new investments signalled by the Labour-led Government for regional road networks. Like ratepayers, improving our unsealed roads is a priority for Councillors and we are already highlighting this to the Government.

Thursday 19 April 2018

Working together on dog control

Last week the Society for Local Government Managers singled out the Council's innovative dog microchipping and neutering project for special praise during the Local Government Excellence Awards held in Auckland. Nga Kuri Auau was in line for the Better Policy and Regulation Award, but on the night was narrowly pipped by New Plymouth District Council's Draft Digital District Plan.

While we didn't win, the judges did commend Nga Kuri Auau for being an excellent example of a community-based solution. "The mantra 'caring before compliance' struck a chord with us - modern regulation is about working with people to resolve issues," they said.

Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta was also impressed, saying Nga Kuri Auau was the project that stood out for her. The goal of Nga Kuri Auau was to encourage responsible dog ownership by making it easy for owners to micro-chip and neuter their pets during one-day events held in Kaikohe and Kaitaia.

Last year's 'Chip 'n' Snip' days attracted hundreds of dog owners with their pets and, so far, more than 200 dogs have been neutered. This has already had positive impact. Animal management staff say that following the 'Chip 'n' Snip' days, they are attending fewer callouts for wandering and aggressive dogs, and are also seeing fewer unwanted puppies in the Council's dog pounds.

Most owners are responsible and work hard to keep their pets healthy, happy and under control. We know that dogs that are registered, neutered and cared for are far less likely to become a problem. Sadly, not all owners are responsible.

Each year, the Far North records an unacceptably high number of dog attacks on people and stock, and we also have a very high rate of unregistered dogs. There are no easy solutions to this. Many of the dog owners who attended the Nga Kuri Auau events confirmed that cost is a major barrier for getting their pets neutered or keeping registrations up to date.

With $15,000 in funding from the Department of Internal Affairs, we saw an opportunity to help them become responsible dog owners. The judges called it 'caring before compliance'. You could also call it a carrot and stick approach, because in 2017, we stepped-up prosecutions of owners who flout dog controls.

We recorded numerous court wins that saw irresponsible owners fined, prevented from owning more dogs and ordered the destruction of vicious dogs. Last year, we also began work on our new dog control bylaw. We have learned a lot through this process, including the need to work more closely with responsible dog owners.

Effective dog control in a large district like ours means working hand-in-hand with owners to ensure rules are supported and effective. This community-based approach is one we hope to apply more to dog control and will be part of positive stories we aim to announce in coming weeks and months.

Thursday 12 April 2018

Long Term Plan a community effort

A month ago I asked you to tell us what direction you think the Council should take by making a submission on the Long Term Plan (LTP) 2018-28. I'm happy to report that many of you took that opportunity with 866 submissions received at the close of our consultation period last week.

There is much more to do before a new LTP is adopted. Firstly, many of you will speak directly to your submissions during public hearings later this month and Councillors will discuss what you've told us in May. The final LTP is due to be adopted on 21 June.

This consultation is your one-in-three year chance to influence the direction and priorities the Council takes, and this year we were determined to get as many people involved in that process as possible. We did this by taking the consultation to you.

Between 5 March and 4 April, Councillors and dozens of staff set up information stalls at 17 markets and public meetings from Panguru to Paihia, and Kawakawa to Kaitaia. I think it's worth mentioning that staff volunteered to attend these events. They did it in their own time and because they wanted to.

Like Councillors, who attended these events, staff gave up their time because they know how important the LTP process is. Much of the LTP concerns our day-to-day work - maintaining our road network, collecting rubbish, treating wastewater and water, processing consents and licenses, managing community property, providing information and distributing community grants.

But there were also 13 specific projects we needed public input on due to the impact these proposals might have on your rates and because of the importance these projects will likely have for the community.

An example was a proposal to transfer ownership of Russell Wharf to Far North Holdings. We received 557 submissions on this issue - the highest number for any proposal. We also received 281 submissions on a proposed Civic Hub for Kaikohe, 278 on a replacement cycle trail between Opua and Taumarere and even more (295) on our longer-term cycle trail plans.

Of particular concern for residents in the north of the district were proposals for a Kaitaia sewerage scheme (244 submissions), and water supply options for Te Kao (185). Of those, 180 also told us how the Te Kao scheme should be paid for.

Many submitters also wanted to talk about issues not raised in the consultation documents. These included Maori engagement, road maintenance in Panguru, footpaths and cycle lanes, dogs and town maintenance.

We made it as easy as we could for everyone to take part in this consultation. We handed out 2000 brochures, 300 consultation documents and 500 submission forms. Easier still was our online submission process - 55 per cent of submissions were made online.

So whether you spoke to us in person or went online to have your say, I want to thank everyone for making this LTP consultation one of our best.

Thursday 5 April 2018

Teamwork bridges the gap

The closure of a major road - State Highway 1 at Pukenui last week - seems like a funny thing to celebrate in this column. However, Moving Forward Together is about how the Council works with the community to achieve the best outcomes, even in emergencies such as Pukenui the washout.

In this case, there were multiple agencies involved, all focused on ensuring disruption for the people of Aupouri Peninsula was kept to a minimum.

The deluge that tore a 20 metre-wide gouge out of State Highway 1 on the afternoon of Friday 23 March was as unexpected as it was devastating. Well over 100mm of rain fell that day in a weather event the rest of the district was largely unaware of.

There were only a few showers that afternoon in Kaikohe as residents looked forward to the weekend. But there would be no weekend for staff involved from Far North Roading, Fulton Hogan, Northland Regional Council, NZ Transport Agency (NZTA), the New Zealand Police and the Far North District Council.

Repairing the 5m-deep washout was the responsibility of the NZ Transport Agency, which administers all the country's state highways. But reinstating the road was just part of the puzzle. The welfare of hundreds of residents and tourists was of immediate concern.

Bill Hutchinson from the Council's Civil Defence team was on the scene quickly and set up a drop-in centre at the Houhora Big Game & Sports Fishing Club for people stranded by the slip. He arranged for milk and bread to be delivered to the Pukenui Four Square and worked with other Council staff to keep residents and tourists updated about the repairs.

Very early on, alternative routes around the washout were being discussed by locals and officials. These included either driving along 90 Mile Beach or through forestry roads. Neither option seemed suitable.

There were fears drivers, especially tourists, would become stuck on the beach, while a detour through forestry roads was rejected because it was argued that allowing cars and tourist vans to mix with forestry trucks on rough, single-lane tracks would be a disaster.

It looked like everyone north of the washout would be stuck for at least a week. But residents told us the detour decision should be revisited and we agreed.

With other agencies we approached Bob Shirley from Summit Forests. He readily agreed to put the community's interests first and on Monday morning 25 vehicles were escorted by police along the company's forestry tracks. Twenty-two travelled south and three were escorted north.

The convoys occurred again that evening and, over three days, more than 150 vehicles took the 40-minute journey north or south, until the road was reopened on Wednesday afternoon, a day ahead of schedule.

While reinstating the road was driven the NZTA, the Council also had a key role to play. By working with our community and with other agencies, we helped ensure disruption was kept to a minimum. It was great to be part of that process and I thank everyone involved.

Thursday 22 March 2018

Working with Government for growth

As you may know, on Friday the Government committed another $6.7 million from the Provincial Growth Fund for infrastructure projects in the Far North. The announcement was made at Paihia by Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones along with fellow Northlanders, Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis and MP Willow-Jean Prime.

The funding will go towards a new terminal at Bay of Islands Airport ($1.75m), a super-yacht pontoon in Opua ($890,000), and upgrades to wharves at Paihia ($2.97m) and Russell ($1.114m).

It comes on top of $16 million already committed in February to Far North projects from the Provincial Growth Fund. This fund will spend $1 billion a year creating jobs, encouraging sustainable growth, and enhancing social inclusion in New Zealand's provinces. It's not a lolly scramble; Far North communities and organisations, like the Council, have committed many hours - even years - on these projects and funding is only offered once the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, and an Independent Advisory Panel, have scrutinised each project.

As a district, we've done very well out of the fund. We've won funding commitments of over $22 million in just two months from the Government. Without the Provincial Growth Fund, that money would have been sourced from multiple funding agencies and, in some cases, from ratepayers.

The fact we've done so well is testament to the hard work community and other organisations in the Far North have put into these projects. They stack-up financially, environmentally and socially, and will make our district a better place to live. Friday's funding announcement included two projects that will have an impact throughout the district because of their strategic importance.

Bay of Islands Airport is one of the fastest growing regional airports in the country and in 2017 was used by 96,000 travellers. It is working at capacity and airport operator, Far North Holdings, is already committed to upgrading the facility. Friday's funding will help that cause considerably.

Paihia Wharf is another vital transport link struggling to keep up with existing passenger ferry services and extra demands from cruise ship arrivals and tourism charters. The business case for tackling these projects is clear and immediate and to delay investment would hamper growth of the whole district.

There's more to the fund than transport infrastructure. A good example of what can be achieved is the Manea Footprints of Kupe Cultural Heritage and Education Centre in Opononi. The Provincial Growth Fund committed $4.6 million to the project in February. This will create up to 14 full-time jobs and provide additional tourism opportunities for our West Coast.

Any organisation can apply to this fund and I strongly encourage them to do so. Projects should aim to lift the productivity of our region and contribute to jobs, community, improved use of Maori assets, sustainability of natural assets, and help adapt to climate change. Find out how by contacting the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

Thursday 15 March 2018

Landmark moment for Kerikeri

Tuesday was a big day for the Far North District Council and for the people of Kerikeri. While most residents were drying out after Cyclone Hola, representatives from Ngati Rehia and our contractors, Broadspectrum and United Civil, joined Councillor Ann Court and I in a rain-soaked field 3km out of town.

We carried shovels and were joined by a photographer. We were there to say a few solemn words and begin construction of Kerikeri's new Wastewater Treatment plant. It was a symbolic act - the real work begins in coming days and weeks - but it was also a very significant moment.

It has taken 11 years of discussion, design and redesign to get to this point. The Kerikeri Wastewater Project began as a much more ambitious plan that came with a much more significant $42 million price tag. But things changed. The Global Financial Crisis slowed growth in the Bay of Islands and we drew important lessons from elsewhere about the affordability of large infrastructure projects.

In 2015, after running extensive consultations with the community, we decided on a scaled-back plant for Kerikeri, while also upgrading existing capacity at the Paihia sewage plant. The new Kerikeri Wastewater Treatment plant and associated reticulation work will cost half of the original plan at around $20.5 million.

Despite the lower cost, it will still triple the capacity of Kerikeri's existing and failing treatment plant. It will treat 1000 cubic metres of sewage a day - that's more than three times the current plant's capacity and much more than current peak summer loads. Will that be enough to cope with population growth?

The Ministry of Health certainly thought so when it signed-off on a $7.3 million subsidy for the project in February. We gained that approval by demonstrating the project will not only improve sewage treatment, it will also cater for Kerikeri's long-term growth.

When we do reach that 1000 cubic metre capacity, the plant can easily be expanded to treat a total of 1500 cubic metres of sewage. We think it will take eight to 10 years before that is needed. In the short-term, when construction of the plant is completed in 2019, 350 new properties will be able to decommission their septic tanks and join the 1090 existing homes and businesses connected to a modern reticulated sewerage system.

That's important for two reasons. The Ministry for the Environment estimates that 15 to 50 per cent of on-site waste disposal systems fail because of poor maintenance and unsuitable soil types. Failing septic tanks and soakage fields contaminate streams, estuaries and our beautiful harbours. Secondly, septic tanks and soakage fields take up a lot space.

Without a modern wastewater system, Kerikeri will not accommodate the growth we are now witnessing in the town. It took us a long time to get to that field on Tuesday, but I'm confident we have chosen the right solution for our largest town. And that's important for the whole district.

Thursday 8 March 2018

Looking to the future - our Long Term Plan

Last week we adopted our consultation document for the Long Term Plan 2018-28.

The Long Term Plan (LTP) is incredibly important for all ratepayers and residents of the Far North. It outlines the plans and key proposals the Council has for the next 10 years - many of which will affect your rates. This is your one-in-three year chance to influence the direction and priorities of Council, so I encourage you all to have a say.

But first, you need to look through the consultation document. This has been in development for the past year, with the work load including 20 workshops to help the representatives you elected to Council to review and discuss the key issues. We looked at the strategic direction of Council, community outcomes, our current work programme, challenges we will face over the next decade, and the new work priorities we need to meet those challenges.

We have achieved a lot since our last LTP was adopted in 2015. Construction of a new sewerage scheme for Kerikeri is now well underway after years of planning. We have started work on Te Hiku Sports Hub, a world-class sports facility for Kaitaia. We have completed the long-awaited Twin Coast Cycle Trail, and repaired and strengthened roads damaged by one of the biggest storms to hit the district in decades.

At the same time, we've been addressing historic infrastructure gaps across the district, such as dusty roads and how we manage our information and assets. Keeping assets in good condition, while also keeping services affordable, is always a challenge.

The consultation document explains our plan to achieve this. How we intend to upgrade Kaitaia's wastewater system and provide Te Kao with safe drinking water. How we will cater for growth (where it is occurring), meet community needs and expectations, and be open to opportunities that deliver economic and social prosperity.

This requires a focus on maintaining, and getting the most out of, existing services and infrastructure, while keeping debt and rates as low as possible. We will use Government subsidies and other funding to develop new infrastructure that delivers the economic and social prosperity our communities deserve.

That includes a bold proposal to create a network of cycle trails so that more communities can enjoy the benefits Pou Herenga Tai - Twin Coast Cycle Trail is already delivering. Funding this will require significant investment, so we need to know if you support the idea. Similarly, we want to hear your views on whether we should fund a new community and civic hub to revitalise Kaikohe, and how much money is made available for community infrastructure and projects to create our great places.

This LTP affects all ratepayers and most communities across the district and I want to know what you think of it. Please look through the consultation document. You can find it online at or at any Council service centre.

Thursday 22 February 2018

How your council supports tourism

One of the surprise news stories of 2017 was the revelation that tourism had overtaken dairy farming as New Zealand's top export earner. Northland has long had a strong visitor industry and latest figures underscore its growing importance to our economy.

Tourism spending in the region totalled $1,106 million for the year ending December 2017, a 7% increase on 2016. The services and infrastructure the Far North District Council provides are a big part of this success story.

Our commercial company Far North Holdings LTD (FNHL) will soon begin a major upgrade of passenger facilities at Bay of Islands Airport, transforming the existing terminal building into a stylish gateway that offers automated check-in and bigger departure and arrival lounges. Passenger numbers at the airport have increased by a third since Air New Zealand started flying larger aircraft on the Auckland-Kerikeri route, so expanding the terminal is an economic priority for the district.

FNHL's expansion of Opua Marina has also supported tourism growth. Visiting boats from overseas and Auckland have snapped up most of the 149 new berths completed last August. An economic expert estimates the marina expansion will boost business at Opua marine services hub and the wider region by $23 million a year within five years of its completion.

FNHL is also a vital enabler of our booming cruise ship industry, which added $447 million to Northland's economy in 2016/17. The company maintains Waitangi and Russell Wharves where cruise ships disembark passengers and it has statutory responsibility for ship security while cruise ships are in port.

Developing new tourism infrastructure could be a focus of the new Government's Regional Development Fund, so I hope to be able to talk about other infrastructure that will generate revenue in future columns. The Council's support of tourism isn't limited to providing infrastructure.

We provide financial support to a range of events that bring thousands of people to the district each year, including the annual Snapper Bonanza Surf Casting Competition, which will be held at Te Oneroa-a-Tohe (Ninety Mile Beach) next month.

Past initiatives designed to support tourism include helping to preserve vital air services between Auckland and Kaitaia Airport, which FNHL operates on behalf of the Council. More recently, we have helped Kaikohe to become a Motorhome Friendly town under the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association's Motorhome Friendly Town scheme. Association members spend $211 million a year while touring the country, so towns have a lot to gain by offering the facilities and friendly welcome that motorhomers are seeking.

I want to finish by acknowledging the vital role that volunteers play in making the Far North a great place to visit. The district would be a more impoverished and less interesting place if we didn't have an army of volunteers out there providing a range of valuable services, including developing mountain bike parks, running museums, removing rubbish from beaches and transforming public places into vibrant spaces.

I also want to thank those of you who work in the hospitality sector or simply go out of your way to make visitors feel welcome. We all benefit if Northland's tourism industry is strong and we all have a role to play in ensuring its success.

Thursday 15 February 2018

Enabling social and economic growth

Most people will be aware of the current building boom and the opportunities it is creating for Northland. The Far North District Council wants to enable this growth, so I would like to explain how our building and resource consents service is dealing with the higher number of applications.

First, I want to point out that the Council is not alone in struggling to issue consents for building projects and developments within statutory timeframes. Auckland Council made national news last November because staff turnover and the increasing complexity of applications were causing delays in approving projects.

The construction sector is also under pressure. There is a shortage of tradespeople across the country, including in Auckland where one company has resorted to bringing in 200 workers from China to complete a new hotel.

I am pleased to report some progress since I first commented about these issues late last year. We have now filled most vacancies in our planning team and we have improved our processes for handling resource consent applications, although it will be some time before we are assessing all applications within 20 working days.

While we are processing most building consent applications within 20 days, we are struggling to handle the growing number of consents for large developments.

We are currently processing, or awaiting, 30 building consent applications for commercial developments. These have a total value of nearly $51 million and are in a range of sectors, including retail, education and health. It is very pleasing to see this level of social and economic investment in the district, but we need to ensure we are enabling this growth.

We are urgently investigating measures to increase our capacity to deal with these applications, as well as those the government's investment in the Far North will generate. Options we are considering include referring applications to other councils to process, seconding staff from these councils and reviewing our case handling processes.

We are also looking at improving our communication with applicants and developers, so they have a better understanding of our information requirements and opportunities to meet with staff before they lodge applications. We have to return a number of applications, because they are not complete or up to the required standard.

We appreciate the frustration this causes for some developers, but we have to comply with the Building Act, accreditation regulations and Government directives. One of the best things we can do is get together before a project starts, so I encourage developers to avoid unnecessary delays by asking staff to vet applications at pre-application meetings.

I will update you on progress with this investigation in the near future. In the meantime, I want to assure developers that we hear your concerns and are doing everything we can to address these as quickly as possible.

We have already adapted successfully to the building boom by redeploying organisational resources or outsourcing work to external planners. It is our aim to continue working closely with builders, developers and architects to achieve good outcomes. I am confident that, together, we will rise to this new challenge, so that the Council enables the growth and opportunities these developments represent.

Thursday 8 February 2018

Milestone for our biggest project

I am pleased to report that our biggest infrastructure project, the Kerikeri Wastewater Project, reached another critical milestone last week. Health Minister David Clark has confirmed a $7.3 million subsidy for the project, which means we can now begin construction of a new treatment plant that will have double the capacity of the existing plant which is old and failing.

ation of the subsidy represents the end of an 11-year journey that started in 2006 when the Council made a preliminary application for a subsidy under the Ministry of Health's Sanitary Wastewater Subsidy Scheme. The Council's subsidy application received preliminary and provisional approval the same year, but the Council was unable to apply for final approval until recently. Initially, the delay was because the Council was waiting for a resource consent for a Bay of Islands wastewater treatment plant that would treat sewage from Kerikeri and Paihia. The Council obtained this consent in 2012. However, it was concerned about slower than expected growth and the affordability of a supersized scheme, so it decided not to go ahead with the new plant.

In 2015, the Council, under my leadership, decided to build a new treatment plant at a rural location after engaging an international engineering firm to undertake a multi-criteria analysis of the options available to us. We have made good progress since then, buying land for the plant and beginning construction of a new sewerage network that will allow more properties to enjoy the benefits of reticulated sewerage. Getting final Ministry approval of the subsidy was dependent on resolving a number of issues, including the capacity of some sewer mains and pumps.

I am pleased we have now resolved these and I want to thank the Minister and the Ministry of Health for their support and understanding over the years.

I also want to thank the Kerikeri community for sharing its views about the project.

The Government introduced the Sanitary Wastewater Subsidy Scheme in 2003 to help communities meet the costs of upgrading sewerage systems, so this outcome is a great example of central and local government working together to improve public health.

We will fund the balance of project costs from a targeted rate on properties in the new wastewater scheme's area of benefit. We aim to deliver the new plant and sewerage network so that costs to ratepayers are roughly what we estimated they would be when we first proposed the current project in 2015.

I am also pleased to report that we are close to finding a cost-effective fix for our Kaitaia wastewater system which is old and spills into waterways during storms. We offered three solutions when we consulted for our Long Term Plan in 2015, but have since discovered more cost-effective options and will be seeking public feedback on these when we consult on our Long Term Plan 2018-28 next month.

As with Kerikeri's sewerage system, we are addressing historic issues, so I am pleased we are finally making real progress and delivering wins for our communities.

Thursday 1 February 2018

Opportunities in optimistic outlook

Anyone who has left a message on my cell phone will know I am an optimist. My voicemail message reflects my earnest belief that we are making progress as a district. I try to retain this optimism however tough the challenges are.

Naturally, it is always easier to be optimistic at the start of the year when you are feeling energised after a summer of glorious sunshine. But this year, I am feeling particularly optimistic about the outlook for the Far North. As most of you know, the General Election last year delivered an unexpected windfall for the district.

For the first time, Northland has three Maori MPs in Cabinet and one of those is the Deputy Prime Minister. This alone would be a coup for a region that has always struggled to make its voice heard in Wellington, but it is the portfolios these ministers hold and their understanding of our opportunities and challenges that is especially exciting.

Let's start with the Hon Kelvin Davis who is Crown/Maori Relations Minister, Corrections Minister, Tourism Minister and Associate Education Minister. These portfolios cover a range of issues that are vital to addressing social and economic needs and unlocking opportunities in the Far North, so I am stoked that a Northlander has responsibility for these.

Likewise, I am excited that the Hon Shane Jones is Forestry Minister, Infrastructure Minister, Regional Economic Development Minister, Associate Finance Minister and Associate Transport Minister. These portfolios are also aligned with some of our biggest issues.

It is early days, but the upbeat messages we are getting from Wellington about investing in Northland are very encouraging. We have already met with Minister Davis who recently announced $14.9 million new funding for tourism infrastructure and cycle trails.

The Far North District Council built the Twin Coast Cycle Trail with Government subsidies and it plans to apply for more subsidies to fund new tourism infrastructure.

We have also met with Minister Jones who sees Northland joining the 'golden triangle' of Auckland, Waikato and the Bay of Plenty to form a 'golden diamond'. Jones says Northland is one of four regions that will benefit greatly from a $1 billion Regional Economic Development Fund.

A rail upgrade has already been mooted and there will be a review of upper North Island ports, which may lead to a relocation of manufacturing and investment. The Government is also providing $14 million to support the planting of pine trees next year under its one billion trees programme, which will create jobs and income streams from unproductive land.

It is important that other decision-makers in the capital are aware of issues in the north and have confidence in how we are addressing these, so we have also recently met with Hon James Shaw who is Climate Change Minister, Statistics Minister and Associate Finance Minister.

We will hold further meetings with Ministers and the four other Northland MPs over the coming year to ensure our concerns are heard and understood. We will also continue to work with the other Northland councils, so we articulate the region's challenges and opportunities with one voice. We have achieved a lot on behalf of Northlanders in recent years, but I am optimistic we can build on these achievements in 2018. As I say on my voicemail message, every day gets better and better.



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