My Column 2021 - Moving forward together

16 December 2021

A challenging year in review

This is my final column for the year, and I think all of you will agree that 2021 has been a challenge on many fronts. Locally, our business sector continues to be tested. The loss of tourists, due firstly to the closure of our external borders and then internally as the Auckland lockdown continued week after week, has seen our tourism and hospitality sectors stretched to breaking point. Primary producers are also suffering. Growers have seen crops go unpicked due to a lack of seasonal workers locked out of our region. At the same time, our building industry is booming with record numbers of building consents issued.

Inevitably, most will remember 2021 as the year Delta arrived, Auckland went into an extended lockdown, and the nation joined a collective sprint to get 90% of the population vaccinated. While these events have dominated headlines, I think it is important to remember the many significant accomplishments our district has achieved over the past 12 months. Below, in no particular order, are 10 achievements I think all Far North residents can be proud of:

1/ In May, we completed the largest infrastructure project the Council has ever undertaken when we switched more than 1300 Kerikeri households and businesses over to the new $27.1 million Kerikeri Wastewater Project.
2/ We began work on the long-awaited Kaitaia Water Project that will significantly improve drought resilience for our second largest town.
3/ The Council delivered numerous infrastructure projects under the COVID-19 economic stimulus programme and boosted opportunities for local businesses and workers through a new focus on social procurement.
4/ We completed a record number of capital roading projects.
5/ A new $1.5 million Northern Area Animal Shelter was completed near Kaitaia.
6/ The Council supported the ongoing development of a fantastic sports hub for Te Hiku at Kaitaia and began work on a sports hub at Waipapa for the Bay of Islands. At the same time, Lindvart Park in Kaikohe, is also undergoing a major revamp.
7/ In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we adopted a very popular hybrid home/office working model for staff that is now up for a national award. We have also led the way within local government in getting frontline staff double vaccinated.
8/ Our Building Consents Authority Team was ranked among the top quarter of building consent authorities in New Zealand, processing 99.63% of applications between July 2020 and October 2021 within the 20-day limit.
9/ Efforts to ensure the Far North gets 100% connected to the digital world were recognised when our Nothing But Net campaign won the Martin Jenkins Award for Better Policy and Regulation.
10/ We adopted Maori Wards and reviewed the way our district is represented to ensure governance is fair and effective.

We can all be proud of these wins, achieved despite the many challenges we faced this year. Those challenges make it even more important that this holiday season we take a break and enjoy the company of friends and whanau. Please, drive carefully, look after each other and have a great Christmas and New Year.

9 December 2021

Accessing Council services under the Red setting

Last Friday, we all woke to life under the Government's new 'traffic light' COVID-19 Protection Framework. Like most other organisations, we have worked hard to understand exactly how the new Red setting will impact the way the Council does business and to ensure we can continue to deliver services to you.

Under the Red setting, most public facilities can open provided there are capacity limits based on 1-metre distancing between people and face coverings are used. Those rules apply whether or not My Vaccine Passes are used. We have delayed the introduction of My Vaccine Passes at most of our facilities until early 2022. We are working out the logistics of implementing this rule and will keep you informed. This is in line with guidance from the Ministry of Health and Local Government COVID Working Group and provides customers time to organise My Vaccine Passes. The exception is Te Ahu, which has the library, service centre, i-SITE Visitor Information Centre, and the Museum @ Te Ahu. These services share the building with a café and cinema. Under Government guidelines, My Vaccine Passes are mandatory for both cafés and cinemas. Given the open plan layout of Te Ahu, it is not possible to require vaccine passes for the café but not the library or service centre sharing that space. That is why we are currently asking customers and staff to show their My Vaccine Pass. Other councils around the country operating similar open-plan, multi-use facilities are also asking that My Vaccine Passes be shown.

We know that not everyone has access to the internet and that some customers do not have smart phones and that this makes getting your My Vaccine Pass difficult. Our library staff will help you print off your pass if you have proof you are fully vaccinated. Your vaccination card will do. If you cannot visit Council offices for some other reason, please contact us to find out how you can access our services online or via other contactless options.

Like all other organisations, we must ensure that our customers and staff are protected from COVID and to achieve that, we are following Government guidelines. Some of our customers cannot get vaccinated and some of you have made the decision not to. In both cases, we will do all we can to provide the services you need. However, we cannot reduce rates as some have demanded. Rates are levied to provide services for the entire community. We all pay for these services, some of which we may not use. For example, not everyone uses playgrounds, boat ramps or sports fields, but these are a collective good we all benefit from. It would be unworkable and unfair to levy rates only for those services that we choose to use.

While not everyone agrees with the Government's rules, I ask you to respect our staff. They are doing their best to ensure everyone is treated fairly and can access the services they need. Please be understanding and help them to help you.

2 December 2021

Good news comes with traffic light decision

Tomorrow, Northland will transition to the red setting of the new COVID-19 Protection Framework or 'traffic light' system. The decision, announced on Monday, was widely expected due to a combination of factors, such as the capacity of our hospital system and levels of contact tracing. However, the key reason is that roughly 20% of Northland remains unvaccinated. This setting, which applies restrictions similar to Alert Level 2, will be reviewed again in two weeks. Also announced on Monday is a one-off transition payment of up to $24,000 for Northland, Auckland and Waikato businesses badly impacted by heightened alert levels applied since August. This may be a lifeline for many Far North businesses and is on top of the latest round of Resurgence Support Payments.

Further good news for our tourism, accommodation and hospitality sector is the launch next week of a marketing campaign targeting New Zealand holiday makers. The goal of the Northland Inc campaign is to encourage Kiwis to make Te Tai Tokerau their holiday destination this summer. The campaign runs for 10 weeks and will be promoted widely on social media, through competitions, magazines, and television. The aim of the campaign, which targets Kiwis based from Taupo north, is to encourage visitors to stay with us for longer. These are visitors more likely to load up the car with camping and fishing gear, kayaks, bikes and even the boat, and commit to an extended holiday in our part of the world.

These visitors may already be familiar with the Twin Coast Discovery Highway and its attractions on both coasts. To encourage them to explore further, three new Northland Journeys will also be promoted. The Secret Coast Route, Ancient Kauri Trail and Where Giants Gather Northland Journeys aim to inspire visitors to dig deeper into our history and discover more about Te Tai Tokerau's unique attractions. These journeys will help promote our smaller operators outside the main tourism hubs who are also struggling from the loss of international tourism and being cut off from the rest of the country by the Auckland border.

While I hope Northlanders will welcome visitors to our region this summer, this should not be at any cost. The goal of the red traffic light setting is to protect at-risk people and our health system. All of us – locals and visitors alike - must continue to scan into the places we visit, wear face coverings in public venues, and elsewhere if we can. Retailers will be open, but with 1-metre distancing. Following these rules will be crucial. We cannot allow an influx of visitors to become a death sentence for our most vulnerable. This is underlined by news of the Omicron strain of COVID-19 infecting populations overseas. It also adds weight to the desire of iwi to protect their whanau by re-establishing border controls within their rohe. We all want to stay safe and enjoy the summer. I believe we can achieve that by showing respect for each other and by following the advice of health experts. Above all, let's achieve our 90% vaccination rate.

18 November 2021

Mayors ask PM for 3 waters meeting

In coming days, a letter signed by a significant number of the nation's mayors will be sent to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern asking for a meeting to discuss the Government's three waters reforms. My signature will be on that letter - a move endorsed by councillors at our most recent meeting on 4 November.

The letter will tell the Prime Minister that while most councils agree the way we deliver drinking water, wastewater and stormwater services across New Zealand needs to change, the solution proposed by the Government of merging council-owned assets into four water services entities is not supported by the communities we serve. We will be asking the Prime Minister to pause these reforms and to work with councils on an alternative model that ensures local control over these hugely important assets is retained.

Reaching out to the Prime Minister in this way is rare. While councils or mayors often discuss issues directly with ministers or MPs, it is unusual for mayors as a group to ask for intervention from the Prime Minister. This collective approach demonstrates just how strongly local leaders and their communities feel about the Three Waters Reform Programme. This concern was dramatically heightened when Local Government Minister, Nanaia Mahuta, announced late last month that the reforms would no longer be voluntary for councils and that legislation would be introduced to Parliament mandating the proposals.

That decision was very disappointing. All Councils had approached the review in good faith and on the basis that we could opt in or out of the reforms after consulting with our communities. Our letter to the Prime Minister will point out that the decision to take away that option indicated the Government was not serious about negotiating with local authorities and that the four entity-based model was already decided upon. This has angered communities and elected representatives around the country. We saw that anger demonstrated just last weekend when 150 locals from North Canterbury's Hurunui District gathered to voice their opposition to the reforms. Hurunui District Mayor Marie Black was there in support of the protest.

Here in the Far North, we know that most residents oppose the reforms. That was clearly demonstrated by results of a four-week survey we conducted in October and that asked whether the Council should opt in or out of the reform programme. Most respondents said we should opt out, with many saying they did not believe that the efficiencies or lower costs promised by the Government would be delivered. Many of you were also concerned at not having a voice in the four new entities. Not everyone felt that way. As many as 21% said the council should opt in. You can see the full survey results on our website.

I believe there is still an opportunity for the Government to find a better, more sustainable way to deliver three waters services across New Zealand that is supported by the people. It is my hope that the Prime Minister allows mayors to help find that solution.

11 November 2021

Job not over for reunited district

Tonight, the border that has bisected our district for over a week will be lifted. The alert level border that stretched from the Hokianga Harbour in the west to Kaeo Bridge and Whangaroa in the east was created after two cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in our district. These were not the first confirmed cases of the Delta variant that we had seen, but these could not be linked to other active cases in Northland. There were very real concerns that undetected community transmission of the virus was occurring within our communities.

Overnight, our district was divided into two with everywhere north of the line at Alert Level 3, while those to the south remaining at level 2. This was a huge challenge for residents, our business community, the Council and other agencies. In the west, the hospital at Rawene was in level 2, while many of its staff living on the other of the harbour were in level 3. Scenarios like this were repeated all along the alert level divide, with people cut off from schools, shops and jobs.

This has compounded the hardship and anxiety being felt by many, especially our business owners. I am in regular contact with business associations across our district, with representatives of our hospitality and tourism sectors, event promoters, community groups, iwi leaders, and regional organisations. All of them tell me the same thing.

People everywhere are fatigued by COVID-19. They want to see their loved ones and whanau, both here in New Zealand and overseas. But it is the tourism and hospitality sectors that are being hit the hardest. Some have already closed their doors and many others are wondering how much longer they can hold on. These are mostly small businesses owned by people you know. They are your next-door neighbours, family members, friends. These people have worked hard to build what they have and to provide the services that help make this district unique.

While I do hear some grumble about a lack of information from Government, about complex and sometimes contradictory rules, they do not question the need to protect our loved ones or our communities from COVID-19. They understand the need to stop this disease from spreading and the need to get 90% of the nation fully immunised. If we want to save these small businesses and if we want to see friends and whanau in Auckland this Christmas, we need to make sure all those who can get vaccinated do so as soon as possible.

I could almost hear the collective sigh of relief on Monday when we all learned that the Far North would be reunited again from tonight. Imagine how we will feel when we can reunite with Auckland and again travel freely across the country. The latest predictions are that Auckland will achieve its 90% vaccination rate by the end of this month. Let’s make sure we join them. Please get fully vaccinated. Protect our communities and help save our businesses. Make Christmas unstoppable.

4 November 2021

Far North voice must be heard on 3 waters

Last week, Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta announced that the Government is pressing ahead with reform plans to amalgamate council-owned drinking, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure across New Zealand into four water services entities. The Government says this will deliver better and lower-cost water services to New Zealanders. For the Far North, this will mean one entity providing water services across Auckland and Northland. The Minister also confirmed that Councils can no longer opt out of these reforms.

There had been strong hints that this decision was coming and was not a surprise. However, I am extremely disappointed for Far North ratepayers. I feel they have not been adequately consulted about such a fundamental change to the operation of to some of our most significant assets. I was also extremely annoyed that during her announcement, the Minister chose to cite the need to boil water provided by a private Far North water supplier as a justification for the reforms. The implication was that Far North District Council water supplies are at fault, which is a complete misrepresentation of the services this council provides.

On the same day of the announcement, the Council received results from the three waters public survey we launched in September. We asked independent research company, Key Research, to conduct the survey. It selected Far North residents randomly from the Maori and General Electoral Rolls and asked them to take part in an online survey. This asked whether the Council should opt in or opt out of the Government' water reforms. The same survey was also opened to the public and was promoted through newspaper and radio advertising, social media and our newsletters.

Key Research received 1047 survey responses in all, 168 from randomly selected electors and 879 from the public. The overwhelming majority of respondents said the Council should opt out of the reforms. Of those who took the public survey, 85% said we should opt out and 69% of those selected from electoral rolls said the same. Opting out is now off the table, but that does not mean the survey was a wasted exercise. Today, Councillors will be presented with an in-depth analysis of the results. This will help us understand your concerns about the reforms and what you support. It is important to acknowledge that councils and Local Government New Zealand are not opposed reforming the way three waters are delivered. However, I believe our community should have more say in what happens.

Last week, Minister Mahuta acknowledged this and committed to setting up a working group of council and iwi representatives to find solutions for the very real concerns we have about governance, representation, and accountability of the new entities. This will include opportunities for public consultation and participation. I look forward finding out more about the working group and public participation. In the meantime, I will continue advocating to ensure that your concerns are listened to and your rights are preserved.

21 October 2021

Closing our vaccination gap

Last Saturday, the nation stepped up and got vaccinated in record numbers. Around the country community groups, sporting organisations and local leaders rallied with District Health Boards to get Kiwis immunised against COVID-19. Their efforts paid off with the 100,000-jab target quickly surpassed before reaching a total of 130,002 vaccinations by the end of the day. Of those, 39,025 were first doses and 90,977 second doses. Maori stepped up in record numbers with 10,941 first doses and 10,874 second doses administered. Pacific communities also clocked up 4,223 first doses and 8,093 second doses. Here in Northland, 5,115 people, or 3.2 of the region’s population, got immunised. Over 85 per cent of New Zealand’s eligible population have received one vaccination and 65 per cent are fully immunised. This is a great result, but we still have work to do to reach our 90 per cent double dose target.

Like elsewhere in the country, vaccination rates in the Far North are uneven with some communities lagging behind others. There will be a range of reasons for this, but I know one factor will be how remote some of our communities are. Many of our residents live a long way from vaccination centres and a long way from places where Delta is spreading within the community. Unfortunately, experience here and overseas shows that those most vulnerable to Delta are unvaccinated. This group accounts for almost all of those now being hospitalised.

Community groups and health providers across our district are working hard to get everyone immunised, especially those in our remote communities. One example is Maori health provider, Whakawhiti Ora Pai, which is taking vaccinations to the people by running clinics at marae and community halls the length of Aupouri Peninsula. This approach works. The number of North Cape residents who have received their first vaccination now exceeds the national average.

We are all now familiar with the term vaccine hesitancy. One thing Super Saturday demonstrated is how effective the example of others can be. If you know someone with doubts about the vaccine, please encourage them to talk to someone they trust. Maybe that will be you or maybe a family member, friend, community leader or their doctor. Hundreds of millions of COVID vaccines have now been administered around the world. It is safe and effective.

We have been extremely lucky in the Far North. Despite some close calls, COVID-19 has not spread in our communities. Now we are now back at Alert Level 2, we can again enjoy greater freedoms and the opportunity to get our lives and economy back on track. Half of Northlanders are now fully vaccinated, and most of us have had one Pfizer shot. To ensure these gains are not squandered, we must continue vaccination efforts and reach the nation’s 90 per cent vaccination goal. Please do all you can to ensure those around you get their shot soon so we can all stay safe. That is the only way we can all get our lives back on track.

14 October 2021

Vaccination our best defence against COVID

Our district faces a challenge that will have very real consequences over coming weeks and months. Last Friday, we learned that someone who later tested positive for the extremely infectious Delta variant of COVID-19 had visited Whangarei, Paihia and Kawakawa. At the time of writing this column, it was unclear whether this person and her travelling companion had infected others. However, given their refusal to provide details of their contacts, the Government was right to act quickly and impose a snap Alert Level 3 lockdown.

Like Whangarei Mayor Sheryl Mai, I was frustrated and angry that the months of sacrifice Northlanders have gone through to keep our region COVID free had been squandered by the selfish acts of a few. This will affect us all, but particularly the many businesses that are struggling in our hospitality and tourism sectors. This latest lockdown has again put their plans to reopen on hold and I know some will be considering whether they can remain in business.

This will have implications right across the local economy. For example, many primary producers rely on sales to local hospitality and tourism businesses and they will also be out of pocket. That uncertainty will have flow-on effects, such as to our rangatahi who rely on summer jobs that these businesses provide. These economic ripples will impact us all in some way. As we all know, we cannot continue to use lockdowns as our only defence against COVID. Getting our population vaccinated is the one way we can do get back to normal without seeing hospitals swamped by COVID patients. How do we know? You only have to look overseas to see how easily the Delta variant spreads among the unvaccinated and how many of those patients end up needing hospital care.

Medical experts agree that we need to get at least 90 per cent of our population immunised to ensure that the virus is under control and that our lives can return to as close to normal as possible. Our vaccination rates in the Far North need to increase significantly to achieve that goal, but I’m confident we can do it. Community vaccination centres are now operating in Kaitaia, Kaikohe, Moerewa and Kerikeri. No booking is required. Just turn up and get your jab. It’s free. It’s quick and it’s safe. Further clinics are being opened and hours extended, so check the Northland DHB website to find the one closest to you.

On Saturday, there will be a concerted push to get all New Zealanders vaccinated. Super Saturday will see more vaccination centres opened and for longer. If you’ve put off getting your first jab, do it on Super Saturday and get your second jab booked. Time is running out. We need all those eligible for vaccinations to do so now, so we can stop the spread of Delta. By achieving the 90 per cent vaccination goal, we can all enjoy a summer free from restrictions. Please, get vaccinated for the safety of your whanau, your community and yourself.

7 October 2021

Have your say on 3 waters reforms

Your council is currently grappling with one of the biggest decisions local government has faced in 30 years. What we decide in November will have a huge impact on how the Council operates and I am urging all residents to help us by sharing their views through an online survey we are running until 22 October.

Many readers will be aware of Government plans to change the way drinking water, wastewater and stormwater services are provided in New Zealand. If adopted, this will be the biggest change to local government since local authorities were amalgamated in 1989.

Currently, councils own and run most of New Zealand's three waters services. In the Far North, the Council owns and operates eight water supplies, 16 wastewater schemes and 22 urban stormwater drainage networks. The Government believes that these and all other three waters services in New Zealand would be provided more efficiently by four publicly owned entities. The aim is to fix systemic infrastructure problems across the country. These were highlighted in 2016 by a gastroenteritis outbreak linked to contaminated drinking water at Havelock North, but also include ageing water pipes in our capital and sewage spills in other areas. The Government believes that only system-wide reforms will ensure that these problems can be fully addressed.

Here in the Far North, the changes would see services delivered by one entity covering all of Northland and Auckland (Entity A). While Entity A would be collectively owned by the three Northland and Auckland councils, we would no longer be responsible for providing three waters services. Our Council would receive a one-off payment of $35 million for our three waters assets, with ownership of three waters infrastructure transferred to the new entities on 1 July 2024.

I have real concerns about the proposals. Department of Internal Affairs figures supporting the changes are only estimates of how three waters infrastructure investment will impact households. The forecast paints a positive outcome for the Far North ratepayers, but I worry that key issues have been missed. For example, the impacts of climate change on water infrastructure or the costs for councils that take over private water supplies failing to meet tougher water standards. The new entities will be run by governance boards, but voters have no direct say over these boards. Is that the best governance model?

For now, the Council has voted to provisionally opt out of the reforms. We will make a final decision once we have studied the details more closely and considered your feedback on the proposals. To help you decide, we have provided information about the reforms on our website at along with a link to the survey form.

Tell us whether we should opt in or out of the proposals and why. Over 400 of you have already done so, which is a great response and tells me how seriously many of you view the proposals. Feedback is open until 22 October, so please encourage friends and whanau to have their say. I also encourage you to contact your local Member of Parliament to share your views on the proposals.

23 September 2021

Clubbing together against COVID

Events this week in the Waikato have demonstrated very clearly the danger to public health posed by the Delta variant of COVID-19. Discovery of positive cases outside Auckland and revealed on Monday raised the very real possibility that Auckland would not only remain in Level 4 lockdown, but part of the Waikato might also join it. Thankfully, Aucklanders have won a reprieve and moved to Level 3. This underlines once again the need for all people who can get vaccinated to do so as quickly as possible.

So far, just over 32 per cent of New Zealanders are fully vaccinated. That lags behind other nations. The United Kingdom, France and Italy have approximately two thirds of their populations vaccinated, while Spain has 76 per cent. In Northland, we have a population of about 193,000. Of those, over 56,000 have received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine, while almost 100,000 have received their first jab. We need to do better.

I strongly support a new initiative from the Northland sporting community and Maori health providers that aims to do just that. The Take 2 for the Team initiative promises to pay participating sports clubs $10 for every vaccination shot their members and their families get. With the twin-dose Pfizer vaccination, that's potentially $20 for every unvaccinated member of Northland's 52 community rugby clubs, plus other sporting codes being encouraged to participate. This initiative could help get tens of thousands of Northlanders protected.

This is how it works. Eight participating Northland Maori health providers will pay local sports clubs $10 for each jab that a player or member of their whanau gets. That payment will be a portion of the Government funding health providers receive to provide vaccinations. I think this is a great initiative. Many of our people, especially in the Far North, live in small or remote communities. We know that the best way to access these hard-to-reach groups is to go to the places where they already gather. For many, that will be to attend local games, whether it be netball, league, bowls or rugby. This initiative is being led by Rugby for Life, a programme that has already done great work promoting health, education and employment opportunities to our communities by tapping into Northland sporting networks.

More important for the success of the nation's vacination drive will be the ability of this initiative to influence our young people, especially Maori and Pasifika. These are among the least vaccinated groups in the country and we need to do all we can to help them get protected. Sports clubs are where these groups already gather in Northland with Maori and Pasifika players accounting for 63 per cent of club rugby players aged 12 years and older.

This is an initiative where everyone wins. Maori health providers can help vaccinate hard-to-reach communities, especially our young people. Sports clubs can get a much-needed financial boost, and our communities will get the protection they need against COVID-19. Go to to find out more.

16 September 2021

Bridging the COVID divide

On Monday, Air New Zealand began direct flights between Bay of Islands Airport and Wellington. This return service is providing Northland with an air bridge to the rest of the country, leapfrogging Auckland while that city remains under alert level lockdown. I want to thank my fellow Northland mayors and other regional leaders for presenting such a strong case for these flights. I also want to acknowledge Air New Zealand for quickly arranging the temporary service. It will help to support our communities and the local economy. It means students can return to their studies, business people and officials can represent Northland where and when they are needed, and tourists can visit our region.

Judging by the early rush on bookings, Kiwis on both sides of the Auckland lockdown divide have been keen to reopen these links and get life back to normal. Of course, 'normal' will not happen until alert level restrictions in Auckland are finally removed. While the flights to Wellington are very welcome, what we really need is for road links to be restored.

Through regular meetings I have with Far North business leaders, I know that this latest lockdown is pushing many to the limit. We are seeing shortages of basic materials, especially in the building sector, with the production and distribution of key goods seriously disrupted by the Auckland lockdown. But it's not only goods; our tourism and hospitality sectors are also struggling. As we head into the summer season, these businesses not only need the return of paying customers, they also more need staff. Unfortunately, air travel is not a practical option for many visitors nor for those looking for work.

Northland mayors and I have worked hard to get clarity from the Government on rules for road travel from or through Auckland. The Delta variant of COVID-19 has been a game-changer, requiring much stricter quarantine practices to reduce the spread of the virus. That means road travel across alert levels must be kept to a minimum. Through discussions with officials, we have ensured that these rules are as fair and consistent as possible. People can drive to and from Northland, through Auckland, for business and for personal reasons, like weddings and funerals. Unfortunately, we will not see holiday traffic streaming north of Auckland again until that city's alert level is reduced. These ongoing restrictions will be tough for our communities, for our economy and particularly for our tourism and hospitality sectors. While travel restrictions remain, I urge you to do all you can to support these businesses.

In the meantime, we need to remember that it would take just one case of Delta getting into Northland for the whole region to be locked down. None of us want that. What we want is for our elderly and most vulnerable residents to be protected. We want travel rules at our border to be followed. And most importantly, we need to get vaccinated. That is how we beat this virus and enjoy a summer free from restrictions.

2 September 2021

Keeping it local

Last month the Council voted to provisionally opt out of the Government’s Three Waters Reform Programme. We made that decision because we could not be certain that the Far North would be better off under the reform proposal. It was not an easy decision to make. There are compelling reasons to improve the way our nation collects, distributes, and disposes of water. Despite the financial benefits the Government is promising, we decided there were just too many unknowns to commit to the programme. We could not be certain that communities will have meaningful control over the proposed multi-regional three waters entities or that a future government would not privatise these services. This is not the end of the matter. We will continue to study the options and may re-join the programme when we have greater certainty about the outcomes.

The Three Waters Reform Programme is just one of several major changes that will affect the work of councils. There is, of course, the Future for Local Government initiative, which Deputy Mayor Ann Court highlighted to readers last week. This review could significantly change the way local government is delivered in New Zealand. Ann also discussed Government plans to revamp the Resource Management Act. Again, this will have an impact on the way we operate.

I am not opposed to these changes per se. It is important that our legislation and the way we manage our resources reflect our changing priorities as population grows and we face issues such as climate change. What does worry me is meeting these challenges by centralising decision making. I fear that the "local" is being steadily eroded from local government and many of our other institutions. For example, health reforms will see all 20 District Health Boards abolished and a single, national health organisation created in its place. The risk is that community voices will no longer be considered in the delivery of vital health services. Our tertiary education sector is also losing local input. Our polytechnics are now being merged into one organisation called Te Pukenga. This process will be completed in 2023. Moves to centralise decision making are evident elsewhere, such as in freshwater management, climate change and conservation.

I think it is vital that our residents - the ones who pay for local services through their rates and taxes – have a say in how these are delivered. They know what their communities need and what specific issues must be addressed. Ensuring that our communities are engaged in the decision-making process is not easy. Participation in elections has declined steadily over the decades and we often struggle to find leaders to represent their communities. Further removing opportunities for communities to have a meaningful say on the services they receive will only make disengagement from the political process worse.

If you share my concerns, I urge you to make these known to your local MP and to provide feedback on these proposals whenever you can. The Far North is a unique place to live. We need to work together to preserve it.

19 August 2021

Representation changes ahead

Three months ago, the Far North District Council joined other Northland councils in voting to establish Maori wards for the 2022 and 2025 local elections. Since then, we have been busy working out how to deliver Maori representation.

We are now seeking public feedback on a proposal to increase the number of councillors from nine to 10 and elect four of these from a new, district-wide Maori ward called Nga Tai o Tokerau. The proposal is part of a proposed governance structure that aims to ensure that our communities are represented fairly and effectively.

Councils are required to undertake a representation review at least every six years or if Maori wards are introduced. We last reviewed our representation arrangements in 2015 and made minimal changes to the governance structure we adopted after an earlier review in 2009. The changes we are proposing this time are designed to improve Maori representation, reflect population growth since 2015 and reunite previously divided communities of interest.

The proposal to elect six councillors from general wards and four councillors from a new Maori Ward complies with legislation, which sets the ratio of general and Maori ward seats. It is also a progressive step for the Council and Maori. Some people may wonder why we didn’t create two or more Maori wards. First, it is important to point out that Maori ward councillors are elected to represent the values and perspectives of te ao Maori rather than the interests of specific iwi or hapu. There also wasn’t enough time to consult with iwi and hapu about the location of ward boundaries which would need to respect tribal boundaries. We may consider establishing more than one Maori ward after the 2022 local body elections if it is deemed necessary.

Electing four councillors from a Maori ward means the other three general wards will each have one less councillor than at present. We are also proposing to change the name of Bay of Islands-Whangaroa Ward to Te Pewhairangi-Whangaroa Ward and establish a new Waipapa Subdivision, which will elect one member to the seven-member Te Pewhairangi-Whangaroa Community Board. Other proposals include changing the boundaries of wards and subdivisions to integrate communities of interest.

We have followed Local Government Commission guidelines and tried to ensure that the proposed arrangements reflect communities of interest, are effective given the district’s population and provide fair representation to wards and subdivisions. We also voted in 2020 to change to the single transferable voting (STV) system after consulting the community.

The 2022 elections will therefore be unlike any we have held in the district. We are inviting feedback on the proposed representation arrangements from 20 August until 1 October, so please go to our website at when the consultation opens to find out more and to tell us what you think.

12 August 2021

Protecting our heritage

Historic places and resources are things that everyone seems to value. They are a physical reminder of our history, they reinforce our sense of who we are and they help us to define what is unique about our towns and villages.

Local authorities have a legal duty under the Resource Management Act to protect heritage from inappropriate development. To do this effectively, we identify historic heritage areas and establish suitable rules under the District Plan.

In 2016, we launched a community engagement project called Let’s Plan Together as the first step in a review of our District Plan. One of the things we sought community feedback on was heritage management. Two years later, we invited community feedback on the Draft District Plan framework, which also addressed heritage management.

Earlier this year, we released the Draft District ePlan as part of the Navigating Our Course consultation. In the Draft District Plan, we proposed changes to heritage precincts and associated rules after commissioning an independent heritage consultant to review the existing precincts and rules.

The consultant found that many of the existing heritage precincts were European focused or concentrated on the built environment and did not recognise the broader context, such as Maori heritage and associations to a place. They recommended that these be changed to better protect significant heritage values.

We are preparing to begin another round of community engagement about how to protect heritage values in the District in the lead up to notifying the Proposed District Plan later this year. People who provided feedback during Navigating Our Course told us that we needed to do more targeted engagement with people affected by the changes.

We will be writing to these property-owners this month. Property-owners in the nine heritage areas (Kerikeri, Kohukohu, Mangonui and Rangitoto Peninsula, Paihia, Pouerua, Rangihoua, Rawene, Russell and Te Waimate) will receive a letter that outlines the changes we are proposing, along with a brochure that explains the legal obligation the Council has to protect heritage from inappropriate development.

This approach will ensure that all property-owners are aware of the changes and have access to information that is tailored to their situation. We will also hold information sessions in communities, notify tangata whenua and stakeholders and publicise the proposals via the media so the wider community is aware of the opportunity to provide feedback.

We are asking people if they think the areas and rules we are proposing will protect the Far North’s historic heritage? Are there other methods for achieving the same outcome? We must protect heritage, but we’re not locked in to doing it in a particular way if the community believes there are better means of achieving the outcomes. I encourage people to have their say on this issue before we invite submissions on our Proposed District Plan in December.

5 August 2021

Investing where it counts

There was great news for Northland and the Far North last month. According to ASB bank’s Regional Economic Scoreboard, the Northland economy was New Zealand’s best performing for the third quarter in a row. The bank says our economy is being fuelled by a residential construction boom (Northland had the most consents granted in the country), and this is driving jobs - up nearly 5 per cent year on year.

We know our district is a great place to live and last month one of the most recognisable magazines in the world agreed. In its August double issue, Time magazine names three Far North tourist attractions among its list of the 100 greatest places for 2021. It says the recently re-opened hot springs at Ngawha, the refurbished Te Ahurea Maori village in Kerikeri, and Opononi’s Manea Footprints of Kupe cultural centre are "extraordinary attractions to explore". While the future of international tourism may still be uncertain, this exposure will attract more domestic visitors. Being named by Time is a huge win for these businesses.

Helping to ensure that all visitors have a great experience received a $642,000 boost last month with project funding confirmed for Round Five of the Tourism Infrastructure Fund. The Far North has benefitted more than most from this fund over the years, but we weren’t confident of doing well this time. The Government had warned applicants that funding would favour South Island regions where tourism had been heavily impacted by COVID-19. Despite that, I am very happy to say all the projects the Council nominated will be funded. This will see high-tech lighting added to Paihia and Russell, deliver smart rubbish bins to Paihia, Russell, and Karikari Peninsula, build new toilets at Lake Manuwai and Te Paki Stream, add a dump station at Te Paki Stream Road, and seal Bayly Road at Waitangi Mountain Bike Park.

Improving amenities will always be important, but we cannot ignore the district’s most valuable asset - our natural environment. Last month, the Government announced a $20 million investment in Far North conservation projects. This is a huge win for iwi and community groups that have worked tirelessly over many years to control predators, protect our forests, restore coasts and wetlands, control weeds, and preserve endangered species. The Government’s Jobs for Nature programme will contribute between $700,000 and $3 million each to 12 community or iwi-led projects and create 324 jobs over the next three years.

This will be a game changer for these conservation groups. For example, Bay Bush Action has relied on donations to control pests in Opua Forest. This new funding will see it expand the area it protects from 500 hectares to 2000 hectares. Every one of the 12 projects will have a similar story. This is great news for the groups that so often struggle for funding. It is also great news for communities that find it difficult to provide long-term employment opportunities. This is an investment that will keep paying dividends for our environment and our district.

22 July 2021

Providing clarity on SNAs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15 July 2021

Setting the right road speeds

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

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

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

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

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

8 July 2021

The challenges of water reform

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 July 2021

Planning for the next decade

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

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

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

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

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

17 June 2021

What next for SNAs?

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 June 2021

Honouring our community advocates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 June 2021

Industrial park investment pays off

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

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

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

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

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

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

20 May 2021

Updating you on SNAs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13 May 2021

Time has come for Mãori wards

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

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

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

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

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

6 May 2021

Hard work paying off

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

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

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

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

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

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

22 April 2021

Major change to rating Maori land

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

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

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

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

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

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

15 April 2021

Remembering the Duke

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 April 2021

A lot at stake in three waters reform

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 April 2021

Tackling the housing crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

18 March 2021

Protecting Significant Natural Areas

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

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

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

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

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

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

11 March 2021

Lessons from the tsunami

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 March 2021

A lot happening in Te Hiku

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

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

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

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

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

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

18 February 2021

Future proofing transport links

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

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

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

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

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

11 February 2021

Creating great places

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 February 2021

Challenges and opportunities

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

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

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

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

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



My Columns
Media Reports
Photo Gallery
Press Releases