My Column 2019 - Moving forward together

12 December 2019

Christmas funding windfall

With Christmas fast approaching, it is natural to take stock of the last 12 months. It was a busy year for the district, and for me personally. In October, we held our triennial local body elections and it was great to see so many candidates step up to represent their communities. I was humbled by the support many of you gave me. I am very aware of the trust you place in your elected representatives and it will be a great honour to serve you for another three years.

With the Christmas holiday break just weeks away, we can expect to see an influx of visitors to our district. The summer population boom places a significant extra load on our infrastructure, especially water and wastewater. We closely monitor water supplies, but we already know this holiday season will require extra vigilance. Both the Northland Regional Council and NIWA have confirmed lower than normal levels of rainfall recorded in recent months, with NRC warning a dry summer is possible for Mid and Far North areas. You can help by making sure all visitors are aware of the need to conserve our finite water supplies.

Our roads and other facilities will also be much busier in coming weeks. The Council does all it can to attract funding so the burden of building and maintaining these facilities is not borne by ratepayers alone. This week, the government confirmed that nearly $1.4 million in tourism-related funding is earmarked for the Far North. The Tourism Infrastructure Fund will help us to upgrade public toilets at Waipapa and Waitangi Jetty, enhance car parking at Cable Bay and Taipa Beach, improve outdoor showers at Paihia Beach and install security lighting at Kerikeri Stone Store. The busy tourist route to Puketi Forest will also receive $793,584 to help seal the remainder of Pungaere Road. Finally, the Council will receive $75,000 to help us review boat ramp and water access, and freedom camping in the region. This funding boost will help us to make the Far North a better place to live in and to visit.

As always, Council staff and contractors will be extra busy over the holiday season. They will visit tourism hot spots, collect rubbish and clean public toilets. They will ensure drinking water keeps flowing and other vital services continue to run. They do a fantastic job so we can have a trouble-free summer.

If you plan to drive 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, whanau and the others on our roads so we can all enjoy a well-deserved break.

On that note, I hope you 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.

5 December 2019

Building resilient and safe roads

Over the past three years, I have driven over 107,000km in the Far North and Northland in my role as your Mayor. I have attended meetings, visited community groups, opened facilities and helped celebrate significant personal and community milestones in every corner of our district.

I think it is fair to say I have a hands-on knowledge of our roading network. Without doubt, improving, maintaining and paying for our roads is a huge challenge for the Council. However, I am confident we are on the right track and I am proud of the gains we are making in this area. Before sharing some of these wins, I think it is important to restate the challenges we face in the Far North.

Our district has 2508km of roads. Only 35 per cent, or 858km, of these are sealed. We already spend 19 cents of every rates dollar on roads - more than any other single item. Compared to similar districts, we spend a lot maintaining our roads. That’s because we have a high rate of slips, floods and road failures due to heavy sub-tropical rains that wreak havoc on our unstable and steep terrain. We also have a high number of logging and dairy trucks using our road network.

In the 2018/19 financial year, we allocated $22.3 million to improve our roads and another $20.4 million to maintain what we have. We will spend another $4 million this financial year combatting dust by sealing sections of six Far North rural roads. Road dust, especially where there is logging and dairy traffic, is a problem for many rural residents and we are focusing limited resources on sealing our highest priority roads. Deciding which roads (and which sections of those roads) should be sealed is never easy.

To do this in an objective and transparent way, we have developed a matrix that ranks individual sections of every unsealed road in the district. The matrix includes details on traffic volumes, the number of residents on each road, prevailing winds, and the distance homes are from the road. It lists schools and marae, and whether a road is used by heavy vehicles. This is an unbelievably detailed and complex tool, and one that other councils are interested in adopting.

Alongside our partner councils in the Northland Transportation Alliance, we have also been talking to the forestry industry. This has provided an agreement to share the cost of applying dust suppressants on a significant number of Northland roads. In the Far North, this will reduce dust nuisance on 50 roads and bring relief to more than 160 of our worst affected property owners. This is a great result and demonstrates the gains we can make by working together.

The state of our roads is something many of you are concerned about. It’s a big task, but I assure you that progress is being made to provide all residents and visitors to the Far North with resilient and safe roads.

21 November 2019

Celebrating our achievements

After weeks of blustery and changeable Spring weather, the forecast for the coming weekend is sunshine and southerly breezes. That will be perfect for the 30th anniversary Kerikeri Half Marathon due to start from Okaihau at 7.30am on Saturday morning. This is so much more than a Kerikeri event. It attracts competitors from across the Far North, from Whangarei, Auckland and beyond. Last year, around 1800 people took part with 917 runners, 44 competitive walkers and four race chairs.

After the half marathon, many runners and their supporters will stay on for the Kerikeri Street Party that kicks off in the town centre at 5pm. Kerikeri roads will be closed to traffic for an event that last year attracted an estimated 5000 revellers. This community-led, free gathering is a great opportunity for locals and visitors to enjoy live music and entertainment presented on three separate stages. It is also a golden opportunity for our food and beverage producers to show-off just how wonderful our local produce is. Behind the scenes, Council contractors will help to make sure open spaces and facilities are clean, tidy and easily accessible. They will also be on hand to help clean-up afterwards.

The half marathon comes hot on the heels of another premier Far North sporting event - the 2019 Far North District Council Far North Sports Awards, which were held last Friday evening. The event is presented by Sport Northland with this year’s speaking duties skilfully fielded by Kaeo-born, rugby legend Eric Rush. Eric’s presentation left a very appreciative crowd in no doubt that he is as adept behind the podium as he was on the field.

But without a doubt, the standout sportsperson of the evening was Kawakawa-born All Black Jack Goodhue. Jack collected the ASB Code Award for rugby, followed by the Top Energy Sportsman of the Year and, finally, for the second year in a row, the Far North District Council Supreme Award. Jack was unable to attend the awards in person, but his very pleased and proud parents Bernard and Catherine Goodhue accepted the honours on his behalf.

Other Far North sportspeople recognised were Black Fern Te Kura Ngata Aerengamate, who collected both the ASB Senior Code Award for rugby and the Top Energy Sportswoman of the Year. Fullers Greatsights Team of the Year went to Waka Ama Herberts on Tour, while the ASB Junior Sportsperson of the Year was won by Alex Edwards for her outstanding achievements in spearfishing.

I think it’s great that these awards not only recognise the achievements of our outstanding sports women and men, but also honour the work of coaches, officials and other sporting leaders. This year Georgia Grimme picked up Coach of the Year for her Equestrian work, and rugby coach, Jaco Cronje, was recognised as Official of the Year. The Leadership Award went to Mike Edmonds for his contributions to Kaikohe Rugby Football and Sports Club.

I’m proud that the Council is a key supporter of this annual event – the district’s premier sports awards evening. My warmest congratulations go to all the award winners.

14 November 2019

Planning for dry summers

Water tanks may have received a top-up when a low pressure system dumped torrential rain on the district on Sunday, but weather forecasters are predicting a dry summer.

The mid and Far North areas received a third to 40 per cent less rain in the 12 months to October. While it is too early to accurately predict rainfall this summer, most areas will go into December with rainfall and soil moisture deficits.

To illustrate how dry the last year has been, Kaitaia received 925mm of rain during the 10 months to October. This is 32 per cent less than the usual 1350mm. Rainfall in Kerikeri was down by a third during the same period and the six months from January to July were the driest in more than 80 years.

The Council has already introduced a sprinkler ban in Kaikohe where low winter rainfall has left river and groundwater sources low. We support the Northland Regional Council which is urging people not to waste water and to take sensible precautions to prepare for potentially dry conditions in summer and autumn.

Dry weather is an annual occurrence in the Far North, so people may wonder what the Council is doing to make our drinking water supplies more drought-resilient. In Kaitaia, we are developing an aquifer bore to supplement our primary water source, the Awanui River. We have tendered for a bore and pipeline design and aim to have a preferred option by mid-2020. We plan to begin physical works in late 2020 and expect to complete these by late 2022. In Kerikeri and Kaikohe, we are assessing whether it is possible to take more water from Puketotara and Wairoro Streams without adversely impacting the ecological health of these streams which supply our water supplies.

We are considering how to make our Paihia water supply more resilient and have shortlisted three options for further investigating and high-level costing. We have applied to the Northland Regional Council for resource consent to take water from a bore at Opononi-Omapere where we rely on two small streams to supply drinking water to the community. We are also inspecting our water pipe network and are replacing ageing pipes as part of an ongoing renewals programme.

These are short to medium-term measures. In the long-term, we need to cater for growth while adapting to a changing climate. NIWA predicts higher temperatures and an increased risk of drought in Northland over the next 70 years. Sea level rise may also reduce groundwater storage, impacting our water supplies. We are addressing long-term infrastructure challenges and opportunities like these as part of our Far North 2100 project. We will seek community feedback on a draft strategy that addresses high level challenges and opportunities before the end of summer.

7 November 2019

He waka eke noa

Thank you. That is my heartfelt message to people who voted in the triennial local elections last month.

This year, 47.5 per cent of eligible voters in the Far North cast votes. This was just below the national average of 48.3 per cent, but a big improvement on the 41.7 per cent voter turnout in 2016. I want to thank those people who voted for me and the five councillors who served on the previous Council: Ann Court, Felicity Foy, Mate Radich, Kelly Stratford and John Vujcich. Thank you for entrusting us to continue the progressive work of the last triennium.

I also want to thank voters who elected our four new councillors: David Collard, David Clendon, Rachel Smith and Moko Tepania. The people you have chosen to represent you have incredible passion for the Far North, as well as diverse skills and experience. While we will miss the contributions of former Deputy Mayor Tania McInnes and councillors Dave Hookway, Colin Kitchen and Sally Macauley, we are excited to be working with their successors.

I want to acknowledge those voters who didn't vote for any of the councillors who were elected. You may not have chosen us, but we are here to serve and represent you as well. We heard the voices of many of you during the election campaign and your concerns did not fall on deaf ears. We aim to be a Council that listens and responds, so please don't stop talking to us.

Finally, I have a message for the 52 per cent of registered voters who didn't vote at all. The services we provide touch everyone in the district every day whether they know it or not. It is in your interests to have your say on how we deliver these. I encourage you to find out more about your council and to vote when the next local elections are held in 2022.

The new councillors and I have already spent three days together getting to know each other, discussing how we are going to work as a team and identifying what we want to achieve on behalf of communities over the next three years. So far, it has been tremendously successful. We are committed to working together and providing strong and progressive governance.

I am confident we will be able to deliver a lot for the people of the Far North over the next three years. We have also met with the Chief Executive and senior managers who are keen to reset the relationship between governance and management. They recognise that elected members set the strategic direction for the Council. We accept in return that they make the operational decisions and deliver the work programme we have mandated via the Annual and Long Term Plans.

We are at our best when governance is steering the waka and staff are paddling it. The whakatauki he waka eke noa (a waka we are all in together) has guided our discussions so far and will continue to do so in the years ahead. Thank you again for the trust you have placed in us. It is an honour and a privilege to serve you.

15 October 2019

Thank you to everyone who was involved in my campaign; it's a great honour and privilege to represent this District, and I'm looking forward to the next three years working for and with the Community.

It's been an interesting campaign and I've taken on board the messages we received. Thank you all. Cheers, John.

John and Leoni

Leadership by community and for community

I have always maintained that local government is successful when it is lead by the community - not the other way 'round. It is for the communities of the Far North to tell its Council what it wants, and the Council's job to facilitate the outcom. My aim as Mayor has always been to help communities in developing their plans for the future and then doing my utmost to bring that vision into reality.

Elections were conducted, by postal vote, on Saturday 12 October 2019.

Final election results for Mayor

These include votes cast at Council offices on Election Day and Special Votes.

Candidate name Votes received
MCINNES, Tania 3903
HOOKWAY, Dave 3520
KNIGHT, Monty 2345
HEPI, Jay 1249
GILL, Peter 985
BROWN, Harko 902
LEVERS, John 612
BASSETT, John Edward 291
MATENE, Kuini 239

Thursday 8 August 2019

Cycle trail vision becoming reality

When former Prime Minister John Key announced the implementation of a cycle trail network throughout the country there was a lot of scepticism about the value of such a structure. How could building trails for people to ride bikes be of any use? The vision was to build a network of world-class cycle trails that would not only provide a safe and sustainable way to explore New Zealand’s special places, but also generate lasting economic, social and environmental benefits for surrounding communities.

That vision is now a reality; re-purposing old railway tracks, restoring and extending other established pathways, enables cyclists to visit significant historic and cultural sites while traversing some the country’s most impressive landscapes. In every region that the Cycle Way passes through, opportunities have opened up for enterprising people to start their own business to service the passing cyclists.

The Far North is working hard to grasp its share of the economic opportunities afforded by the ever-growing demand for cycle-related services - from food and lodging, to bike tours and shuttles. Our own Pou Herenga Tai, the Twin Coast Cycle Trail, running from Opua through to Horeke is amazing. Reported to be the best in New Zealand, if not the world, its patronage is already breaking all expectations.

As a consequence of the cycle trail implementation, many businesses in towns like Kaikohe have expanded or been established to provide accommodation, equipment and meals etc. It has been a tremendous job creator, improved our economy [anecdotally, I am told that for every dollar invested there is an eleven-dollar return] and created much needed recreational facilities for young and old in our community.

In the east, my Council is working with the Bay of Islands Vintage Railway Trust (guided by the visionary Frank Leadley and with a significant shot-in-the-arm from the PGF fund) to re-establish the rail from Kawakawa to Opua, alongside the existing cycle trail, and providing a brand new Railway Station, Café, etc, facilities for steam enthusiasts and riders alike.

In the west at the Horeke end under the guidance of Trustee John Law the Cycleway committee is working with Council to update toileting and other much needed infrastructure.

And in the middle there’s a new and exciting development that will add a further attraction to the Trail; the proposed Waihou Valley Sustainable Farm and Tourist Park at Okaihau, the brain-child of Ken and Phyllis Rintoul. Their goal is to turn their farm into an off-grid sustainable tourist attraction with buildings made from sustainable products and in keeping with the old nearby township.

All facilities will be set amongst farm animals, fruit and nut trees and vegetable gardens. The farm will be self-sufficient in power, water, sewage, natural gas and will eventually supply at least 80% of its food. It will be a fabulous stop-off point for the cycle trail, and will eventually include accommodation, restaurant, land-based adventure activities.

There is no doubt in my mind that our Pou Herenga Tai will provide even more opportunities to those who have the vision to make it happen. "Luck" is where opportunity and preparation collide, and it is so encouraging to see people getting prepared.

If you haven’t ridden it already, "Get on yer bike!".

Thursday 1 August 2019

Friends in need

I had the Honour on Saturday evening to attend the fifty-year celebration of the Houhora Fire Brigade. And to recognise the fifty years' service of three of their stalwarts, an amazing effort. Earlier that day I attended the blessing of the new St John Ambulance in Russell.

During the week I attended the change-of-officers evening at the Waipapa Rotary Club. I attended a ratepayers meeting at Opononi and a week earlier a ratepayers meeting in Kerikeri. I am a member of the Kaitaia Lions Club.

What links this diverse list of organisations? They all provide a service to the community and they are all run by volunteers.

Our first responders such as the fire service, ambulance and coastguard are all made up of the people in the community themselves - our neighbours looking out for us. The same applies for services that help make people's lives easier - the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Disability care providers, the list is a long one.

We are such a privileged community to have so many people who are so giving of their time to support our youth and our elderly, and everyone in between, from all walks of life, who need support from time to time. And there's SPCA looks after the welfare of our animal citizens, in fact there's an organisation out there providing services for almost any need you can think of.

There's no doubt in my mind that without all these wonderful people giving so much of themselves, their reward being only the satisfaction of helping where they can, this country would struggle and communities like ours in the Far North would be worse off.

One of Society's challenges in recent years has been to maintain the volunteer numbers that allow these organisations to continue their work. When you visit some of these organisations you can see the grey heads, still keen to do their bit, but looking back to see who's coming along behind them, and … it is disappointing for them to see that there's not many. Volunteer numbers for many of our organisations are falling, in some cases to the point where they close and are lost to the community altogether.

Many organisations have programs that provide for new members and younger people to join them and start giving back to their community. We need to encourage our younger generation to join organisations such as Fire Service, St Johns and Coastguard so they can continue to deliver the services that we have come to expect that will be available to us when we need them. The benefit is not only to others; there's a measure of satisfaction and self-esteem in helping others that is hard to find elsewhere.

What we give today come back to us many-fold in many ways. I am sure that we would all like to think that the volunteer system we have in place will still be with us in years to come.

Thank you all who are giving, or have given, and thank you to those who will step up in the future. You are the backbone of our communities that make our Nation the great place that it is.

Thursday 18 July 2019

Progress in our District gaining momentum

The Provincial Growth Fund under the stewardship of Regional Development Minister Shane Jones has provided many ‘feel good’ moments for the District, and given us all a taste of the successes that can be achieved when the community takes the lead.

Developments such as the recently-opened Bay of Islands Airport terminal building in the east, the Te Hononga Hundertwasser-inspired project in the south at Kawakawa, the Manea Footprints of Kupe Cultural Heritage and Education Centre Project in the west at Opononi, the Te Hiku Sports Hub in the north in Kaitaia are amongst the many projects that our District will benefit from.

They will provide public facilities, cultural venues, education centres and recreation opportunities for their communities and they have one thing in common - these projects arose from the vision and hard work of their communities. They were and are supported by the Council as and when required and have proved themselves worthy of the investment of taxpayers’ funds as well.

Another PGF project giving a boost to Northland is the One Billion Trees Fund, Te Uru Rakau. In our District, Ngati Hine’s Pita Tipene, and Jack Johnson of Johnson Contractors Ltd., have created the "Nga Mahuri o Ngati Hine" programme - an innovative tree-planting project that will provide silviculture training to its young people, and a financial return to the people. I recently attended the graduation of the first trainees and could see the wonderful results.

Similar projects are being undertaken in other areas, such as Hokianga and Peria.

These developments provide social and commercial benefits for the local and wider community. Other projects have more intrinsic value by the protection of sites of historic and cultural significance, and particular vulnerable species.

It was a great pleasure to attend recently the Ngati Rehia project which will establish a Kauri Forestry sanctuary and riparian native species planting on their land at Takou Bay.

This project has social and economic outcomes, was also led by the people themselves, and it has a special significance in honouring the past, providing for the present and looking to the future of the hapu and its prosperity. The site holds an ancient pa, and village and is the resting place of the waka Mataatua. The seed will be grown up to planting stage by Ngati Whare’s Minginui Nursery, another hapu descended from Mataatua. It is a wonderfully holistic venture.

I was really impressed at the amazing blending of science and tikanga at work here. The kauri seed has been collected by the people and tested by SCION to ensure it is free of disease.

My thanks go to Kipa Munro for his leadership in this and also to kuia Nora Rameka, a special lady leading her people by example.

As Mayor it has been my place and my pleasure to meet with all the people involved in these projects, to understand their needs and to advocate for them and support their applications for these government funds. To all those involved in these and other diverse projects right across our district, my heartfelt thanks for truly 'making a difference'.

Thursday 11 July 2019

Community-led placemaking

Anyone who has lived in the Doubtless Bay area for the last 10 years will be familiar with the saga of Mangonui's waterfront. It started in 2007 when the Far North District Council began work on a project to transform a section of Mangonui's waterfront into an attractive promenade. Initially, this took the form of a concrete walkway and iron fence.

Local people complained that the promenade wasn't the jetty-like structure they had asked for, so the Council replaced it with a timber boardwalk in 2008. This was a lot more popular with people, but there was still a problem. The boardwalk lacked a safety railing required by a Northland Regional Council resource consent.

I won't try to chronicle events over the next 10 years, particularly transactions between the district council and the regional council. Suffice to say, my Council installed a safety barrier at the boardwalk in 2018 to comply with the resource consent and to avoid costly legal action. We said at the time that the safety barrier was an interim measure while a community working group developed waterfront plans that minimized the need for safety barriers.

I am pleased to report that the working group has just released a draft concept plan for the waterfront. This pulls together ideas from the community and does away with the existing safety barrier, proposing a lower wharf alongside the boardwalk. Other features of the concept plan include enlarging the circular wharf near the War Memorial, extending the boardwalk to Maori Point and installing pontoons and gangways, so there is easy access to the water for boating, fishing and swimming.

I encourage you to provide feedback on the draft concept plan before 31 July, so the working group can finalise the plan and we can start preparing a resource consent application. Further information and feedback forms are on our website at or you can pick these up from Mangonui Stationery and Lotto.

I commend the working group for producing a plan that includes a lot of the things the community asked for. Reaction to the plan has generally been favourable so far, though ultimately consent authorities will determine the final design, including whether safety barriers are required.

Realising the entire concept plan will also depend on obtaining external funding. The Council has included $1.12 million in its Long Term Plan 2018-28 to fund a boardwalk extension. This will only cover a fraction of capital costs, so we will be looking to the Provincial Growth Fund and private funding agencies to fund the balance.

The Far North District Council is all about creating great places and supporting our people. This project is a great example of this and it is one of many successful, community-led placemaking projects across the district.

Thursday 4 July 2019

A year of achievements

We are now four days into the new financial year, so it is timely to look at what we are planning for the next 12 months. We look forward to completing a number of historic infrastructure projects in 2019/20, notably the Kerikeri Wastewater Project, which will provide our fasting-growing town with 21st century sanitation.

Treated effluent discharges at our Paihia Wastewater Plant haven't fully met consent standards for years. We have finally found an affordable solution and plan to upgrade the plant this year.

At Omanaia, in the South Hokianga, we will complete a new water treatment plant that will deliver safe, drinking water to residents who have received untreated water for decades.

People in the Kerikeri/Waipapa area have been asking for a traffic roundabout at the intersection of State Highway 10 and Waipapa Road for more than 20 years. Our roading partner NZ Transport Agency plans to begin building a roundabout in October and aims to complete this in mid-2020.

Traffic congestion is also an issue in Kerikeri. We are investigating transport options for this town, but are acutely aware of roading issues in other towns, including Kaitaia and Kaikohe. We are developing a Transport Strategy and will seek community feedback on this in October.

We recognise that roading is an important issue for rural ratepayers and plan to spend $4 million sealing sections of metal roads in 2019/20. We have developed a prioritisation matrix that will determine which roads are sealed and we will make this available to the public later this year.

Tourism accounts for 14% of the Far North's gross domestic product. This is great for our economy, but high numbers of tourists put pressure on our infrastructure. With help from central government, our commercial company, Far North Holdings Ltd is upgrading wharves at Russell and Paihia. It aims to complete the Hundertwasser-inspired visitor centre at Kawakawa in April 2020.

Meanwhile, the Council plans to build new public toilets at Mitimiti, Opononi and Waitangi.

We are also developing a long-range strategy for the District, named Far North 2100 to inform future planning. We will bring a discussion document to our communities for feedback before Christmas and seek further feedback on a draft district strategy and spatial plan in 2020.

To supplement this work, secondary strategies will set direction for key activities, including how we adapt to climate change. Maximising inwards investment is high on our list of priorities. We will continue to work closely with central government to secure subsidies for roads, sewerage and water.

We also look forward to seeing how International Visitor Levy funds will be made available to local authorities to help alleviate the impacts of tourism.

I encourage you to read our Annual Plan 2019/20 to get a fuller picture of what we are doing to create a district of sustainable prosperity and wellbeing.

Thursday 20 June 2019

A year of achievements

We are now four days into the new financial year, so it is timely to look at what we are planning for the next 12 months. We look forward to completing a number of historic infrastructure projects in 2019/20, notably the Kerikeri Wastewater Project, which will provide our fasting-growing town with 21st century sanitation.

Treated effluent discharges at our Paihia Wastewater Plant haven't fully met consent standards for years. We have finally found an affordable solution and plan to upgrade the plant this year.

At Omanaia, in the South Hokianga, we will complete a new water treatment plant that will deliver safe, drinking water to residents who have received untreated water for decades.

People in the Kerikeri/Waipapa area have been asking for a traffic roundabout at the intersection of State Highway 10 and Waipapa Road for more than 20 years. Our roading partner NZ Transport Agency plans to begin building a roundabout in October and aims to complete this in mid-2020.

Traffic congestion is also an issue in Kerikeri. We are investigating transport options for this town, but are acutely aware of roading issues in other towns, including Kaitaia and Kaikohe. We are developing a Transport Strategy and will seek community feedback on this in October.

We recognise that roading is an important issue for rural ratepayers and plan to spend $4 million sealing sections of metal roads in 2019/20. We have developed a prioritisation matrix that will determine which roads are sealed and we will make this available to the public later this year.

Tourism accounts for 14% of the Far North's gross domestic product. This is great for our economy, but high numbers of tourists put pressure on our infrastructure. With help from central government, our commercial company, Far North Holdings Ltd is upgrading wharves at Russell and Paihia. It aims to complete the Hundertwasser-inspired visitor centre at Kawakawa in April 2020.

Meanwhile, the Council plans to build new public toilets at Mitimiti, Opononi and Waitangi.

We are also developing a long-range strategy for the District, named Far North 2100 to inform future planning. We will bring a discussion document to our communities for feedback before Christmas and seek further feedback on a draft district strategy and spatial plan in 2020.

To supplement this work, secondary strategies will set direction for key activities, including how we adapt to climate change. Maximising inwards investment is high on our list of priorities. We will continue to work closely with central government to secure subsidies for roads, sewerage and water.

We also look forward to seeing how International Visitor Levy funds will be made available to local authorities to help alleviate the impacts of tourism.

I encourage you to read our Annual Plan 2019/20 to get a fuller picture of what we are doing to create a district of sustainable prosperity and wellbeing.

Thursday 20 June 2019

Working for our wellbeing

Last month the government made headlines with its Wellbeing Budget. Rather than focusing only on economic growth, this budget looks at the state of our natural resources, our people and our communities as important indicators of how well our nation is doing.

The coalition government also recently passed the Local Government (Community Well-being) Amendment Bill. This puts four indicators of community wellbeing - social, economic, environmental and cultural - back into the Local Government Act. These had been removed in a review of the Act by the previous government.

Most local authorities continue to deliver across these four areas and this change recognises that fact. It also recognises that many residents want their councils to do more than only build roads, collect rubbish and provide street lights. They expect local authorities to contribute to communities by providing cultural and social amenities, such as community halls, parks, libraries, swimming pools and sports grounds. They also expect their local representatives to reflect concerns about protecting our precious natural environment.

The Far North District Council takes its social responsibilities seriously. We know that the Far North is a fantastic place, but we also know that many of our communities wrestle with a range of social problems. We are working on ways to tackle these problems and improve community wellbeing.

For example, we are a supporter of Kaitaia's Te Hiku Sports Hub. Construction of this state-of-the-art, all-season sports and aquatic facility is well underway. When completed, our district will have sports hubs in all three wards with Kiakohe's Lindvart Park and the Sports Complex at Kerikeri.

These facilities provide measurable benefits for our residents. That is why Te Hiku doctors are also strong supporters of the hub. They know that encouraging physical activity is a key way to avoid a range of physical and mental diseases, and that having high quality, inclusive facilities that people want to visit creates a sense of pride and boosts community cohesion. We need that if we want our children to stay in the Far North and new people to join our communities.

Elsewhere in the district, Kaikohe made headlines this year when we helped bring the first-ever pre-season Super Rugby match to Lindvart Park. The sell-out game proved a huge hit with locals and visitors, and we hope to hold more of these events. In the Bay of Islands, we are supporting construction of Te Hononga, an iconic building modelled on the ideas of Austrian architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser.

This promises to transform the centre of Kawakawa. Many of you may have attended the Upsurge Bay of Islands Arts Festival earlier this year. This Council-supported event inspires and connects our communities and is held every two years.

I know the Far North needs a strong economy, sustainable jobs and investment. Just as important for our wellbeing are vibrant communities that have a sense of pride in our place.

Thursday 13 June 2019

World class in the Far North

This is an important time for the Council's commercial company Far North Holdings. Yesterday it celebrated an international award recognising Bay of Islands Marina in Opua and next week it will officially open a new terminal building at Bay of Islands Airport.

We often talk about building ‘world class' facilities in the Far North. Last month, the Marina Industries Association said our 400-berth marina is the best in the Asia-Pacific region – the first time a New Zealand marina has won the Club Marine Marina of the Year Award. Judges were impressed by the high level of customer service from arrival and customs clearance, through to the work conducted by the boatyard and the services delivered by the local marine industry.

This is a well-deserved win for Bay of Islands Marina staff and management. It also demonstrates how well the board and management teams of Far North Holdings are delivering benefits to all Far North ratepayers. A key goal of the company is to work with local businesses and communities to make the most of economic opportunities and this is obviously occurring successfully at Opua.

For more than a decade, 100 per cent of Far North Holdings' trading surplus has gone to the Council or has been reinvested into property and infrastructure for ratepayers. This has included upgrades and maintenance to maritime facilities such as Taipa Boat Ramp, Kerikeri Stone Store Wharf pontoon, Waipapa Landing pontoon, and wharves at Hokianga, Pukenui, Te Hapua and many other favourite fishing haunts. Without this, general rates for everyone would be about four per cent higher each year.

Another demonstration of how Far North Holdings is making this a great place will be officially unveiled next week. The Minister for Regional Economic Development, Shane Jones, and Air New Zealand Head of Tourism and Regional Affairs, Reuben Levermore, will open the expanded and modernised Bay of Islands Airport terminal building on Friday morning 21 June. This $4.75 million project has transformed a key transport hub by providing roomier departure and arrival areas, state-of-the-art baggage screening and separate luggage collection.

Passengers can experience this for themselves from Monday next week. Of the total project budget, $1.75 million came from the Government's Provincial Growth Fund, thanks largely to a very compelling funding application presented by Far North Holdings. This upgrade will help us cope with a significant increase in passenger numbers. Last financial year, a record 110,000 passengers passed through the airport.

Other recent Far North Holdings projects include construction of a new office building in Kaitaia for the Ministry of Education, and construction of 10 high-end units at Omapere. These have been leased to the Copthorne Hotel and Resort significantly expanding accommodation options at this popular tourist destination.

Far North Holdings is working on more world class facilities that will make the Far North a great place for residents and visitors, so watch this space.

Thursday 6 June 2019

Making history in the Far North

History was made last week in the Far North when Stephanie Tweed from Canterbury claimed a New Zealand sporting first at the national sheepdog trials held at Ohaeawai. On Thursday, trialling her dog Grit, Stephanie became the first woman to win a national title in the straight hunt event. This was a momentous occasion for the world of dog trialling, traditionally a male-dominated sport. Congratulations Stephanie.

I didn't witness this historic win, but I did catch up with Northland Sheepdog Trial Association president Chris Robertson during the week-long event. It was great to see the competition play out across the slopes of Mt Te Ahu Ahu.

The New Zealand Sheep Dog Trial Association put on a memorable competition that attracted 240 competitors and more than 500 dogs from 157 sheep dog trial clubs across the country. Many more supporters, officials and event organisers were in the Far North for the event, which the Council supported with a $10,000 grant from our Events Investment Fund.

The same day that Stephanie was changing the landscape of New Zealand sheep trialling, the New Zealand Federation of Commercial Fishermen was also enjoying our corner of the world. Fisherman had gathered for their annual conference, held this year at Waitangi.

It was a fitting location; the Bay of Islands is renowned for its fishing, especially recreational and sport fishing. That reputation can be traced back to Zane Grey. The famous US author sailed into the Bay of Islands with his entourage in 1925 and was blown away by the fishing he found. After touring the country, he wrote Tales of the Angler's Eldorado, New Zealand and put sport fishing here firmly on map.

I joined the conference briefly and discussed this important industry. I applaud the Federation's efforts to represent the interests of owner-operator commercial fishermen and to ensure the industry remains sustainable.

We all know some fish stocks are not as abundant as they were and this has led to substantial changes for commercial fishing operations around the country. According to the latest research, New Zealand's fish stocks are in relatively good shape with 142 of the 169 assessed in the latest Status of New Zealand's fisheries report having no sustainability issues.

It was great to see these two national events held in the Far North last week. They make a valuable contribution to the local economy, especially during the off-season, and allow us to showcase our great culture and environment to visitors.

Finally, I was thrilled to learn that Laurence Gordon was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in this year's Queen's Birthday Honours. Laurence, now based in Kaitaia, has played a key role in reviving kiwi and weka populations around Russell, and this honour recognises his services to wildlife conservation. Laurence has helped make the Far North a great place to live in and thoroughly deserves the honour.

Thursday 23 May 2019

Building better consent processes

For some time now, we have struggled to process resource and building consent applications within set timeframes. This is due to the high number of applications received over the past two years or more. This increase has impacted many councils across the country and, like us, a good number are struggling to process consent applications on time.

Understandably, this has caused serious frustration within the building industry due to delays and, in some cases, increased project costs. This situation has been compounded by stresses the industry itself is under to fill gaps in skills and materials.

Because of the increase in the volume of applications, independent building consultants across the nation have taken on more staff to cope with increased enquiries from residents and developers. And where do they recruit from? The Council.

No one blames those who take the opportunity to improve themselves, both financially and experience-wise. However, this very competitive employment market has left many councils - including this one - understaffed in this vital service area. The result is we are all struggling to fill staff gaps so we can process consent applications to the standards and timeframes required.

This Council has committed to providing the resources needed to fill these gaps. Part of the solution has been to ask other local authorities not experiencing the same pressures to assist with our processing. This has helped, but hasn’t solved the problem. We have also employed consultants from across the country to assist. Again, this has helped, but has not resolved our shortfalls.

We have sought advice from the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) and International Accreditation New Zealand. With their input, we are streamlining our processes and late last year began transitioning to a new electronic building consent application process already supported by more than 20 other councils. We have sought advice from others experienced in this system to advise us on the steps we should be taking.

So, where we have got to? We are unblocking 'bottle necks' with 30 initiatives made already since improvements work started. We are working with building practitioners to help ensure their applications are complete and less likely to stall while we ask for more information.
A frustration we share with the industry is the plethora of new rules and regulations we have to keep pace with. This is an ongoing challenge in the industry, but these standards must be adhered to so we can protect current and future building owners. No one wants a repeat of the 'leaky building' issue and it is encouraging to see proposed building law reforms recently released by MBIE.

We now process more resource and building consent applications and have reduced those that are outstanding. It has been a struggle, but we continue to improve. The result is a better resourced and more nimble consent process that is helping us make this a great place.

Thursday 16 May 2019

Remembering Sir Hek

It is difficult to know where to begin when writing about the life of Sir Hekenukumai Busby. In his home town of Kaitaia, Sir Hek is a hugely respected and loved kaumatua and his passing over the weekend at Kaitaia Hospital will be mourned by the whole community.

His leadership touched many lives. He was a keen exponent of Maori arts, including haka, taiaha and kapa haka. He was a life member of Te Matatini, the national kapa haka competition. He was heavily involved in Waitangi Day commemorations and was a kaumatua for Maori tourism in Northland.

Over his 86 years, Sir Hek became a prominent economic, political and cultural leader for Te Rarawa and Ngati Kahu. In February, he was made a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit by Governor-General Patsy Reddy for services to Maori. Sir Hek was the first person to be knighted at the Treaty Grounds and his investiture ceremony was witnessed by hundreds of guests, including Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

It was the visit of the Hawaiian waka, Hokule'a, to Aotearoa New Zealand in 1985 that started Sir Hek on a waka-building journey that eventually gave him global prominence. Hokule'a arrived at Waitangi as part of its Voyage of Rediscovery that took the double-hulled canoe on a 19,000km journey across Polynesia. The great Ngapuhi leader Sir James Henare wanted to repeat the journey from New Zealand and Sir Hek took up the challenge, building and launching the waka Te Aurere in 1992.

He became a legendary waka builder, who had an uncanny talent for selecting trees and turning them into strong and beautiful waka. Sir Hek carved 26 traditional waka and had a hand in the construction of many more. He also built the magnificent double-hulled sailing waka hourua. Two of these, Te Aurere and Ngahiraka Mai Tawhiti, made a 5000-nautical-mile, four-month voyage to Rapa Nui (Easter Island) from Aotearoa New Zealand before returning to Aurere Beach in Doubtless Bay in May 2013.

Sir Hek will forever be honoured throughout the Pacific and the world for reviving the ancient Maori arts of ocean voyaging and celestial navigation. This was a magnificent achievement that helped ensure early Maori were acknowledged for their expertise in celestial navigation. The achievement also ensured these ancient skills were again passed to new generations of navigators.

This knowledge will not be lost or forgotten. Three years ago he told the Waitangi Tribunal he hoped to create a navigation school to pass on the traditional techniques of Pacific voyaging. Earlier this year, the Government announced a grant of $4.6m from the Provincial Growth Fund to build the he Kupe Waka Centre Traditional Navigation School near his family land at Aurere. This is the same beach he launched many of his waka from.

Sir Hek was an icon for all New Zealanders and his achievements will continue to guide us. We are all richer for knowing him.

Thursday 9 May 2019

Conserving precious water

This week water supply restrictions are being lifted across the district. This is in response to consistent rainfall improving both river flows and soil moisture levels.

Thankfully, we did not experience a full-blown drought this summer, but conditions have been dry across much of the Far North. As early as October, river and soil moisture levels were in decline. According to NIWA, even now soil moisture in the very Far North remains lower than normal, particularly at Aupouri Peninsula. This has prompted the organisation to name the peninsular a soil moisture ‘Hot spot' for May 2019.

This weather put our streams, rivers and ground water sources under pressure, forcing the Council to introduce level 3 water restrictions at four of our water supplies. Rawene-Omanaia, Opononi-Omapere, Kaikohe-Ngawha, and Kawakwa- Moerewa all faced bans on sprinklers and hoses. Level 2 sprinkler bans were also applied to the Kaitaia, and Kerikeri-Waipapa supplies.

It was unusual for Kaikohe to face level 3 restrictions. Its water supply is normally very resilient. However, forestry work in the area had significantly increased sediment levels in the Wairoro Stream catchment - the town's primary water source - meaning volumes that could be filtered at the Taraire Hills Water Treatment Plant were significantly reduced. To compensate, we took more raw water from our bore at Monument Hill. Unfortunately, this increased reliance on our secondary supply meant underground aquifer levels became depleted. As a result, both Kotahitanga Marae and Kaikohe's historic Aperahama Church, which rely on the same aquifer supply, faced the prospect of their spring running dry.

The people of Kaikohe rallied following calls from the Council and Waikotihe Trust, the kaitiaki of the spring, to cut water consumption. Because of this community effort, the spring continued to flow over summer and the level of the aquifer is now showing signs of recovering.

Across the district, the Council is working hard to improve the resilience of its water supplies. In Kaikohe, we aim to increase capacity at the Taraire Hills Water Treatment Plant and so reduce reliance on the aquifer. Meanwhile, in the Hokianga our most sensitive water supplies are also being improved. We are due to complete a new $2.8 million water treatment plant for Omanaia and Rawene in August, while we hope a new bore at Smoothy Road will increase raw water supplies for Opononi and Omapere residents.

In Kaitaia, we are investigating new extraction options from the Aupouri aquifer, and stepping up a programme to identify and repair leaks in the town's reticulation system. Similar leak identification programmes will be undertaken at our other water supply schemes.

It is crucial that we improve the resilience of our water supplies. Just as important, is for all of us to reduce consumption. Kaikohe residents have demonstrated just how effective reducing demand can be and I want to acknowledge and thank them for their efforts throughout the summer.

Thursday 2 May 2019

Kaitaia takes a lead

Last weekend, people attending the Kaitaia farmers market had an opportunity to share their ideas on how best to upgrade the town's most popular recreation area, Jaycee Park.

Many Kaitaia residents, especially the caregivers of younger children, will already be aware that new play equipment has been installed into the park's junior playground. This has already proved a hit with tamariki, who have taken to the new boat-shaped climbing platform with its different decks, telescopes, slides and an artificial grass-covered crawl tunnel. New swings have also been added, including a basket swing suitable for infants.

This upgrade was led by Te Hiku Community Board, which used its share of a $100,000 Placemaking Fund to pay for the work. The Placemaking Fund was created by the Council in 2018 with the aim of helping our three Community Boards better support Council's mission of 'creating great places' in the Far North.

The junior playground upgrade was just the first phase of a wider revamp of Jaycee Park. The aim is to eventually link the area, also known as Centennial Park, to the town's skate park to create a single recreation area for residents of all ages. And that was what Kaitaia residents were asked for their feedback on as they strolled between the fruit, vegetable and craft stalls on Saturday. How can we make Jaycee park even better?

I was really impressed by the level of interest shown and the many great ideas people shared. Everyone seemed eager to contribute. That's exactly what the Placemaking Fund was created to achieve – community-led projects, supported by Elected Members and Council staff, that address the needs and wishes of our communities.

Our two other Boards are also considering placemaking projects for the Bay of Islands-Whangaroa Ward, and the Kaikohe-Hokianga Ward. They will be taking note of Te Hiku's progress and will be working hard to advance their own Placemaking Fund projects in coming months.

It's worth noting that none of this would be possible without the input of community groups like Shine on Kaitaia, which has taken a strong lead in the Jaycee Park revamp. Credit must also go to Te Hiku Community Board and its Chair, Adele Gardner, who has been an enthusiastic supporter of the park project. Also on hand at the information kiosk during Saturday's market stall was the landscape designer, who has provided a blueprint for the second stage of the park revamp.

The Community Board is already working to provide more features, such as shade sails, drinking fountains, picnic tables, seating, lighting and concrete paths. I understand good progress is being made on these elements, including promises of sponsorship to help pay for these from local organisations and individuals. So watch this space Kaitaia. Your ideas and your enthusiasm is creating real change in your town and making Kaitaia a great place to be.

Thursday 18 April 2019

Good news at Easter

Good Friday tomorrow begins one of the most important celebrations on the Christian calendar. Many of you will take the opportunity to visit your local church or mark the occasion in your own way at home.

Easter weekend for many of us also signals the tail end of summer and a final opportunity to gather with family and friends before winter really begins to bite. Families will soon load up the car and hit the road to join their loved ones throughout New Zealand.

For many business owners in Northland, Easter weekend also marks another important milestone. It is the end of the summer tourism season. To demonstrate just how important this is, tourism operators will be holding the second annual Bay of Islands Tourism Ball on 4 May. Whether they run a B&B from home or own one of the many tourism businesses in the Bay of Islands, this is their chance to celebrate their industry. And it is worth celebrating.

If we look at one sector: according to Tourism New Zealand, over 103,000 cruise ship passengers visited the Bay of Islands and Whangaroa Harbour in the 12 months to June 2018. That was a 17 per cent increase on the year before. Statistics NZ also tells us that those 103,000 passengers spent over $14 million in the Far North - 79 per cent more than the previous year. This summer season we will have welcomed around 130,000 passengers from 64 ships. Today the liner Noordam, arrives carrying 1800 passengers, while our final visitor for the season, the Sea Princess with around 2000 passengers, arrives on 11 May.

Add to that overseas visitors who fly or drive to the Far North and the many Kiwis who visit each year, and you can see how much tourism contributes to our economy. We are working hard to ensure these visitors are taken care of. Our commercial company, Far North Holdings, began a $9 million upgrade to three Bay of Islands’ wharves this month and work to expand Bay of Islands Airport is now nearing completion.

Our cycle trail has done a great job of spreading the tourism dollar further across the district, and the Government is also helping by funding visitor projects, including Sir Hek Busby's Kupe Waka Centre and the Manea Footprints of Kupe centre in the Hokianga.

As we know, Northland is a favourite destination over Easter and our roads will be extra busy. The Police are already out determined to make this Easter crash-free in Northland. They are emphasising the dangers of using a cell phone while driving, and the importance of wearing seatbelts. Sadly, Northland has the worst record in the country for deaths and serious injuries where seat belts were not used.

So please, if you’re driving over Easter, stay focused, belt-up and make sure you and other road users get to see their loved ones this long weekend.

Thursday 11 April 2019

Progress for Hokianga

Last week Regional Development Minister Shane Jones, Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters and Economic Development Minister David Parker announced more than $21 million in new funding from the Provincial Growth Fund for Northland.

Included was $3.2 million to rebuild Opononi's seawall and improve the resilience of State Highway 12. This is great news for South Hokianga residents experiencing the impacts of coastal erosion along this road. As Hon Shane Jones said, State Highway 12 is hugely important and the only coastal link between businesses and schools in Opononi and Omapere.

During this visit, the Ministers announced over $21 million in new funding for Northland projects, bringing the total the region will receive from the Provincial Growth Fund to more than $130 million.

But it's not just central government investing in our district. The Far North District Council and its partners are also involved in many projects, both large and small, that are making the Far North a great place in which to live. Elsewhere in the Hokianga, Panguru residents will soon see an end to flooding that has frequently cut their only road link to the rest of the district.

During a hui at Waimirirangi Marae in February, they agreed to a 50-year flood resilience plan that will see West Coast Road raised by 1.5m and Otengi Road by 0.75m. We have worked closely with the community and Northland Regional Council to come up with this plan, and residents will see physical work begin next summer.

For Omanaia and Rawene, we are on target to complete a new $2.8 million water treatment plant in August. This is great news for a number of Omanaia families, who for many years have tapped into raw water supplies before it was treated at the Rawene water treatment plant. The new plant will mean an end to a long-standing Boil Water Notice for these residents.

Supplying enough treated water to Opononi and Omapere residents and visitors over summer should soon be easier. A test bore at Smoothy Road has proved successful and resource consent is now being sought to make this a permanent water source. It is hoped the bore will augment our existing water sources by next summer.

Another exciting project we are seeking community support for is a proposal to create a 700 square-kilometre dark sky reserve over North Hokianga. These reserves keep light from street lights and other sources to a minimum to preserve night sky clarity for star watching. A dark sky reserve would very likely encourage visitors to stay longer and boost low-impact tourism to the area.

Other Hokianga projects we are working on include new public toilets for Opononi, new road seal on a section of Punakitere Loop Road, and repairs to slips on West Coast, Broadwood and Rakautapu Roads.

Thursday 4 April 2019

Celebrating our community spirit

Last weekend, my wife Leoni and I had the privilege of celebrating the inspiring and humbling work of the country's volunteer community. We joined representatives from the 25 district and city councils in Tauranga to support 26 volunteer groups selected to compete in the Trustpower National Community Awards.

Each volunteer group had been selected during local rounds of the Trustpower Community Awards held last year. The Far North was represented by KaiMatariki Trust, which has already gained an international reputation as a leader in the preservation and celebration of indigenous culture. Its recent achievements include an invitation to an international kite flying festival in Italy, hosting First Nations Cree for Waitangi Day celebrations, and teaching Maori games at Leiden University in The Netherlands.

Harko Brown and his daughter, Yves, represented the group, putting on a hugely enjoyable and entertaining interactive presentation for the audience. The goal is to build life skills and opportunities for participants and KaiMatariki Trust does this by using indigenous culture. That includes use of stick, ball and string games, kapa haka, weaving, speechmaking, values coaching, physical fitness and kite flying to involve and teach participants new skills in a supportive environment. KaiMatariki Trust delivered an eight-minute presentation that shared the Trust's story, its achievements, and why it should be named the Trustpower National Community Awards Supreme Winner for 2019.

During the presentation audience members were taught Maori games and skills, while Harko explained the cultural meanings behind each activity. Harko and Yves did a fantastic job. The audience was energised by the activities they learned and impressed by the rapport the pair built. It was fine effort and I am hugely proud of their contribution.

On the night, however, the Supreme Award went to Matipo Community Development Charitable Trust, representing Whanganui District. South Catlins Charitable Trust, a group representing Invercargill City and Southland District, was named Runner-Up.

While KaiMatariki Trust did not take away the Supreme Award, they proved once again how innovative and effective our volunteer sector is in the Far North. Let's not forget that the 2015 Supreme Award was taken by Focus Paihia, a group that has shown the whole country how communities can be transformed when a keen group of volunteers work together.

A key mission of the Council is to make the Far North a great place to live and work in for everyone. Making that a reality requires the active support of our community and this is demonstrated every day by the countless hours of volunteer work undertaken by individuals and groups.

Far North people make a real difference to all our communities, creating change for those around them. Groups like KaiMatariki Trust, Focus Paihia, Bald Angles and many others demonstrate how individual efforts can be focused to achieve truly great outcomes. And these people are our people. They are our neighbours, colleagues and friends. Together, we are making our place great.

Tuesday 21 March 2019

They are us

They are us. Perhaps these three words spoken by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern after last Friday's terrorist attack in Christchurch best describe the solidarity that has been the one positive to emerge from this terrible tragedy. The nationwide outpouring of condolences, love and support for the victims and their families has defined us as a nation.

We should be proud of the progressive leadership we are showing to the world at a time when some international leaders seek to divide rather than unite. I commend and thank people in the Far North who have donated money to those affected by the mosque shootings or taken to social media to send messages of support. I also want to acknowledge Deputy Mayor Tania McInnes, Whangarei Mayor Sheryl Mai, Northland Regional Council Chair Bill Shepherd and Kaipara Mayor Dr Jason Smith who have reached out to Northland's Muslim community and organised meetings and offered support.

The Far North District doesn't have a large Muslim community. However, more than 15% of people in the District were born overseas and many of those are from non-Christian countries. These people have chosen to make New Zealand their home and it is their home. One of the privileges of being Mayor is to officiate at citizenship ceremonies and witness people of all colours and creeds pledge allegiance to our Queen and the laws of our country.

Many of our new Kiwis have chosen to make New Zealand their home because it is a peaceful, tolerant nation that welcomes people of different races and religion. Hearing their life stories is to be reminded that the real story of humanity is about shared beliefs and values, not differences and otherness.

We can't bring back the Kiwis who died in Christchurch, but we can make their deaths meaningful by pledging to defend the values that made them choose New Zealand as their home. We must celebrate diversity not fear it. We must embrace difference not reject it and we must confront hate and prejudice in all their forms.

New Zealand has often led the world in its quest for social justice. We can do so again by modelling Kiwi values of inclusiveness and tolerance in our words and our actions. I encourage people in the Far North to think about little things they can do to make our migrant communities feel more welcome and accepted, so they really feel like New Zealand is their home and they are one of us.

Thursday 14 March 2019

Far North snapper bonanza

Today 1000 very keen anglers will be taking a well-earned breather. They have already spent two days knee, waist or even neck deep in the surf along Te-Oneroa-a-Tohe hoping to pull in the big one in the Ngai Takoto 90 Mile Beach Snapper Bonanza. Another two days of very competitive surfcasting lies ahead before the winners are named on Saturday evening.

This is probably the biggest competition of its type in the world and is certainly one of the biggest events on Te Hiku calendar. It started as the Snapper Classic in 1982, and was taken on by John Stewart and Dave Collard in 2011. They renamed it the 90 Mile Beach Bonanza and the event has gone from strength to strength since. This year, the 1000-ticket limit sold out a full month before the competition started. Previously, tickets have been available right up to the weekend before competition.

So what brings surfcasters from around the country and from overseas to our corner of the world at Waipapakauri year after year? A pretty spectacular prize pool helps. Prizes for the heaviest fish range from $200 to $30,000. Team event cash prizes top $4000. And even those who fail to wrestle the big one from the surf can walk away with a substantial reward from the $100,000 of spot prize pool. That includes a brand new $50,000 Mitsubishi Triton ute.

This year a new sponsor has joined the event. A deal struck with local iwi, Ngai Takoto, has secured funding for the next three years and given Ngai Takoto naming rights to the competition. This means organisers have financial certainty, and Ngai Takoto can link their guardianship of Te-Oneroa-a-Tohe to a nationally and globally recognised competition. It is a great partnership that will add a new dimension to the competition and give visitors an appreciation of how significant this iconic coastline is to tangata whenua and to all New Zealanders. Of course, it also helps ensure employment and financial benefits continue to flow to our communities from the event.

The Far North District Council has long supported the Bonanza with funding and logistics. We understand the value these events bring. Like the Ocean Swim Series at Russell, and the Kerikeri Half Marathon, the Snapper Bonanza is so much more than the 1000 anglers that compete each year. Nearly all bring friends and whanau to Waipapakauri as supporters and to join the fun. That’s thousands of people needing accommodation, food and entertainment over five days. And if each tells a friend about our hospitality, our coastline and the history of Te-Oneroa-a-Tohe, I am confident more visitors will, in turn, come to our district.

One thing we cannot control is the snapper. However, I’m told that a few personal records have recently fallen for local anglers. Whatever the outcome, Ngai Takoto 90 Mile Beach Snapper Bonanza 2019 is already a record-breaker, which is great news for the whole district.

Thursday 7 March 2019

Banking on our vision

This week at Otiria Marae in Moerewa I was privileged to attend the launch of Nga Mahuri o Ngati Hine Manuka Plantation Training Programme. The ‘Saplings of Ngati Hine' programme will see 20 men earn as they learn over the next two years while they plant manuka seedlings across hundreds of hectares of Ngati Hine land, much of it currently in scrub. The manuka plantations will earn carbon credits, become a source of valuable manuka honey and manuka oil, and help return tribal lands to native vegetation.

For the 20 men at Monday's event, there was a strong sense that this course - part of the government's billion trees programme - will make a real difference to their lives and their whanau's. It will provide jobs, make the land productive and help protect it for future generations.
This was the second announcement in as many weeks that will impact positively on future generations in the Far North. On 27 February, Tourism Minister and Te Tai Tokerau MP Kelvin Davis announced $8.2 million from the Provincial Growth Fund for five Far North projects during an event held in Kaitaia.

I am particularly pleased to see $3 million committed to the multi-use Te Hiku Sports Hub in Kaitaia. The community strongly supports this project and it is one the Council has long been involved with. We committed $2.56 million in the Long Term Plan 2015-25 for design, planning and physical works, and further funding in the 2018-28 LTP. Like many in Te Hiku, I strongly believe the sports hub will support youth development, and build healthy, vibrant and resilient communities. This view is backed by Northland Regional Council, Sport Northland, iwi, schools, police, social welfare agencies and organisations, sports codes and clubs.

Also announced last week was $4.6 million in funding for Sir Hekenukumai Ngaiwi Puhipi Busby's Kupe Waka Centre to be built in Aurere, at the southern end of Doubtless Bay. As well as providing jobs for skilled craftspeople and teachers, the centre promises to become a key tourist destination for New Zealand and overseas tourists eager to learn about Sir Hek's knowledge of celestial navigation and waka building.

To complete the package, the Minister said funding will be provided for three iwi projects promising to open up new business opportunities in the Far North for Aupouri, Ngati Kahu and Te Rarawa. He pledged $257,000 to study the feasibility of a barge operation carrying logs from Te Mingi at Parengarenga Harbour to Whangarei Port, and another $250,000 to ANT Trust to scope three key development projects. Finally, he announced $99,500 in funding to investigate a water storage scheme to support high-value horticultural production.

These announcements demonstrate very clearly the belief central government has in the potential, vision and skills our people have in the Far North. It is faith well placed. With this type pf backing, I know we can make our district an even better place to live.

Thursday 21 February 2019

Coping with extreme weather

I watched closely the recent news reports about wildfires that ravaged parts of Nelson and Tasman. Two fires, 20km apart, started on 5 February. The Pigeon Valley blaze in Tasman District ripped through 2335 hectares making it one of the largest fires in New Zealand for decades. At its height, 22 helicopters were fighting the fire and 3000 people evacuated from their homes. Incredibly, no lives were lost and just one home was destroyed.

Earlier this month, fire swept through 5 hectares of scrub and bush at Shipwreck Bay, forcing the evacuation of four homes. That blaze destroyed one bach and a shed. In January, Horeke lost 65 hectares of scrub and pines. At its height, four fire appliances and three helicopters fought the Horeke fire front. Also in January, the northern side of historic Rangihoua Pa on the Purerua Peninsula was engulfed in flames. These events demonstrate how quickly a stray spark (or deliberate acts, as happened at Purerua Peninsula and Shipwreck Bay) can become out-of-control blazes that threaten lives and property in tinder dry conditions.

On 29 January, Fire and Emergency New Zealand declared a total fire ban for Northland on the heels of record temperatures across the country. Last week, that organisation asked Northland councils to stop using machinery that might ignite fires in dry grass or scrub. This follows investigations into the Nelson fires pointing to a spark from farm machinery as the origin of one blaze.

For the time being, machines like flail mowers, mulchers, chainsaws and hard-bladed weed eaters that can create sparks when they hit loose stones or that have very hot exhaust systems will not be used by Council and we have instructed our contractors not mow roadsides and some reserves. I urge all Far North residents to also consider how they use machinery around dry vegetation. In the meantime, the Northland total fire ban remains in place and anyone caught lighting rubbish and scrub fires faces a maximum fine of $300,000 or even a jail term of two years.

This summer we have applied restrictions on water use at Kaitaia, Hokianga, Kaikohe and Kerikeri. Despite ongoing high temperatures and very little recent rain around the district, we have decided not to tighten those restrictions. This is due to the strong possibility Tropical Cyclone Oma will track east of Australia and bring wet weather to New Zealand this weekend. Exactly where this cyclone is heading will be much clearer today and tomorrow, and we will be getting regular updates from Northland Civil Defence on the cyclone's progress. If we are lucky, it will bring much needed rain to the region and take pressure off our stressed water supplies.

Whatever path the cyclone takes, please be prepared in case Oma causes flooding and road closures in your area. Rest assured, we will be working round the clock to keep you and your whanau connected.

Thursday 14 February 2019

Kaikohe the winner

At a time when our attention is so often focused on escaping to the beach, it was wonderful to see Kaikohe take centre-stage for the day earlier this month.

On Saturday 2 February, Lindvart Park was packed for the first Super Rugby preseason match ever to be held in Kaikohe. I don't think anyone there was disappointed. The sell-out crowd of 3000 spectators witnessed an action-packed and hugely entertaining game that saw the Blues thump the Chiefs by a very convincing margin of 43-10.

Younger players from both sides got a chance to show-off their skills and Northland recruits, Matt Matich, Ross Wright and Tom Robinson, received a rousing and heart-warming reception from the crowd. It was great rugby and a great day. However, by the final whistle, I think Kaikohe was the winner.

Some were surprised when the Council agreed to underwrite this match late last year by promising to pay the Northland Rugby Union $59,568 if - and only if - the game was a flop. The original proposal was to hold the match in Kerikeri. But we believed Kaikohe was a better bet. Unlike Kerikeri, it already had a fenced-off ground, changing rooms and ample space for spectators, including a grandstand. On the day, Far North rugby fans proved us right, packing out both the ground and the grandstand.

It seemed like all of Kaikohe was there, putting on sausage sizzles, holding stalls, and making everyone feel welcome. The New Zealand Police entertained spectators before the match (Believe me, performing tasks wearing 'beer goggles' is much more difficult than you think!) and then at half time with a display by dog handlers. There was also a rousing performance put on by Kaikohe Rugby Club juniors, who welcomed their heroes onto the pitch with a haka powhiri along with the cultural group, Te Tira Paraoa.

Youngsters have always had their heroes. But seeing sporting idols like Tana Umaga, Rieko Ioane and Sonny Bill Williams in real life can have a hugely positive impact on young aspirations. I'm willing to bet more than a few of our tamariki are now dreaming of a sporting career, and a few more are thinking about a career in the police, thanks to the great community out-reach that organisation put on.

I want to see more events like this in our district and will be making a case for another Super Rugby preseason match to be held in Kaitaia next year. This fits with the Blues' new focus on community engagement and I'll be talking to the Northland Rugby Union to see how we can encourage other teams to travel north. After all, we now know these can be a success.

Ensuring the Far North is a great place to live means supporting our communities in many ways. I'm proud the Council agreed to support this event. It was a chance for Kaikohe to shine and Kaikohe did not disappoint.

Thursday 7 February 2019

Speaking with one voice

Just over one month into the New Year and 2019 is already shaping up to be a significant one for the Far North and for Northland. Last week, work began in Kawakawa on Te Hononga - the Hundertwasser-inspired community hub that will see the Far North District Council's library and service centre housed under one roof with a gallery, community workshop, and new public toilets and showers.

Getting this project from concept to construction has taken considerable effort, and full credit must go all groups involved. As Deputy Mayor Tania McInnes said on Friday, this project was made possible because of the Kawakawa Hundertwasser Park Charitable Trust and Ngati Hine working closely together, in partnership with local and central government.

Those words carried much greater significance than many gathered in Kawakawa on Friday morning may have realised. The day before, Northland Mayors and Tai Tokerau Iwi Chairs (Te Kahu O Taonui) signed a landmark agreement enshrining that spirit of ‘working in partnership'. This agreement has the potential to be a blueprint for Iwi and local government collaboration across Aotearoa New Zealand.

The only other multi-lateral agreement like this is a charter of understanding between seven South Island councils and Ngai Tahu ki Murihiku. However, this charter is limited to Resource Management Act issues. The relationship agreement signed between Te Kahu O Taonui and the Northland Mayoral Forum supports closer collaboration on social, economic, cultural and environmental issues. That is unique. And significantly, the agreement was signed at Waitangi, where - as we celebrated yesterday - Te Tiriti o Waitangi / the Treaty of Waitangi was also signed.

So how will this actually make a difference? Following 2013 elections, Northland councils began working much more closely on issues that affected us all, such as roading. An early win was to persuade the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) to designate Mangakahia Road a State Highway. I will always remember the look of amazement on the faces of NZTA officials. I don't know if they had seen four councils speaking as one before, but they certainly hadn't seen it in Northland. That very clearly demonstrated how hugely powerful speaking with one voice can be.

The agreement signed last Thursday between Northland mayors and Te Kahu O Taonui means we can speak to Wellington and the nation with a united voice. Not all those involved in discussions have signed the agreement (although the door remains open if they change their minds). Some hapu believe it undercuts their mana whenua and sovereignty, while others fear it could limit local body decision making. I want to reassure Northlanders that the agreement won't replace existing relationships or agreements hapu have, nor will it replace statutory powers or strategic plans that councils operate under.

What the relationship agreement will do is improve communication and collaboration between local government and tangata whenua in Northland. As partners, we can more effectively tackle the social, economic, cultural and environmental issues facing us. That has to be good for everyone.



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