Out and About After Lockdown

One year on – how has it been?

Bodecker Scientific of Alexandra has put together an event to help us increase engagement between ORC councillors and residents. It’s free, but you’ll need tickets. Hopefully it’s the first of many.

Out and about after lockdown

The events and subsequent actions of the past 6 months have made for a hectic time and have also required a bit of reflection as at ORC we changed chairs, struggled to deal with new policy statements and demands from central government, pulled together an approach for the Regional Policy Statement (RPS) and set up a new committee structure.

ORC current status

We have a new chair, Andrew Noone, a new annual plan, the Minister for the Environment overseeing our 3 water plans – Plan Changes 7, 8 and 1, work going on at pace towards a new RPS, work happening on the Long Term Plan, lots of regional transport planning, particularly in Dunedin and Queenstown and discussions beginning on inter-regional transport. We also have a new committee structure to work with and an active role in COVID recovery. I won’t discuss all of this here, but do be in touch if you want to know more.

Plan changes 7,8, and 1

Following notification from the Environmental Protection Agency, a summary of submissions has now been published and further submissions are open until October 2. This document is the summary of submissions. These plan changes will tide us over until the new Land and Water Plan is ready. If you need any help with a submission, ORC has a free ‘friend of submitter’ service available at friend@orc.govt.nz.

Regional Policy Statement

The RPS is top of mind for many planning staff who were breaking speed records trying to get this ready for a November notification date. Fortunately, the minister has agreed to give us another 6 months so notification is now June 2021. It’s no easy task creating this document given the last one was deemed ‘not-fit-for-purpose’ and its incredibly important for the people of our electorate. Earlier this year, expert reference groups were appointed to help inform the process. You can read about their thinking and recommendations in the agenda of our September Strategy and Planning Meeting.

Manuherekia announcement

The Manuherekia river catchment is to get some help from a government programme for ‘at risk’ catchments. If the overall project is successful, the Manuherekia will become an exemplar to inform the restoration of other catchments.

In his press release, Minister Parker says this about it: “… the river is under pressure, with water quality declining and over-allocation of water reducing the minimum flow needed for ecological processes, such as providing habitat for wildlife, and for recreational use.” 

While this is all wonderful stuff, isn’t it time to prevent the degradation of these catchments in the first place? I know there’s much work going on to do this, but I’m not sure enough is happening at the input level – both urban (eg development, wastewater) and rural (eg farm runoff, stock in waterways) – which is where the degradation starts.

I’ve enjoyed more tours of our region over the past few months to try and better understand how farmers are responding to what is asked of them by central and regional government. A big thank you to all those who have given time and energy to organise these and to get us out to look at what you deal with each day. It’s really appreciated.

A tour of the Wanaka Catchment showed us a group of landowners and managers working together to collectively lift their environmental efforts and address issues. This group employs a coordinator who is well qualified and independent. He gently works with those who can do better and ensures knowledge is well shared through the group. Their goal is simply to do better, to constantly improve.

Another day we toured the Thompson Creek catchment and looked at the high tech work of farmers in that area.

I’ve toured several catchments now, and notice they seem to organise themselves differently, but all seem to work really well. This organic way of developing catchment groups looks to be a strong model where people work together in different ways to address the issues of their specific catchment. Recognising the success of a local approach to local issues, ORC is to provide more support for these groups.

One dark-of-night tour was designed to show us the sheer scale of the rabbit issue which has become many times worse over the last several years. ORC’s approach of trying to plonk the problem fully onto landowners has been a fail as some landowners do heaps, some do nothing, and rabbits refuse to respect the borders between them. ORC does little in monitoring compliance or enforcement of the issue and I think we are well aware that the approach needs to change. At one point, out the back of Bendigo somewhere, we observed through a thermal imaging lens, a massive mob of rabbits taking off like a flock of birds when startled. The only thing protecting the neighbouring vineyard was a rabbit fence and vigilant controls. That was a sobering evening.

On a field trip we explored the Taieri flood scheme – another sobering moment as we explored the flood banks that are all that stand between many homes and inundation. How will this look 20 or 30 years on as our hydrology changes with the climate?

Long term plan

We’ve started work on the new Long Term Plan (LTP) exploring desired community outcomes and our roles in them. Funding is problematic as we deal with more and more issues and pick up more responsibility from central government. There is of course a limit to how much we can continue to dip into reserves as we have done for this year’s annual plan. We have to think about what we want to do (a whole lot more than we currently do) and how we fund that activity. I am always worried about the phrase ‘reprioritising existing budgets’ as an approach to finance some activity or another. It means some other project won’t get done. We have so much work to do and it needs to be correctly resourced. I was interested in the productivity commission report on funding of local government – we need to significantly lift our game in this area and be willing to fund the work we do. It’s well worth a quick read if you are interested.

QLDC Climate Reference Group

I’ve been appointed to the QLDC Climate Reference Group. The documentation of our GHG emissions is sobering. That will be the subject of a later post. In the meantime, I hope you are all coping well in this crazy world. It’s good to see how many people are working well together, long may it continue.

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Annual plan, your views on how we spend your money

Sounds dry, but is fascinating, educating, and humbling – Annual Plan hearings. Over 3 days in the last week, our council has heard people speaking about the areas they live in, their hopes, issues, and requests of the council. The thought and effort that’s gone into the preparation work is incredible. Amazing ideas, really strong presentations and a great education for me. If you’re keen to have a listen, it’s all recorded here.

This is the time we really get to hear what people care about in terms of land, water, soil, air, transport and urban development – and what they want us to fund. Below I draw your attention to some outstanding submissions around conservation and biodiversity that are well worth a read, watch or listen, and I try to summarise by theme what went on. I am not taking an objective approach and not covering complaints and negative feedback in equivalent ways. This is simply a place for me to share the stories that resonated with me throughout this process and to try and summarise key concerns people share. Hopefully, it might get a few more people to take an interest in this important area.

The page numbers below refer to the Annual Plan all submissions document which you can grab from here.

Key themes: Climate change, environmental restoration, pest control, more sustainable transport and that old perennial; rates.

The Wise Response submission on page 302 was led Dougall McTavish with support from a university researcher and an expert. This submission has one of the best articulations about why climate change is such a complex issue for governance to deal with. The entire submission is well worth a read for its thoughtful and considered approach. It argues that the tension between economy and environment creates a need for a bottom up, community led approach. They want ORC to work with our member councils to find the money to develop an everyday carbon calculator suitable for home use. Their argument around the need for carbon calculators is that individuals won’t take effective action until they understand their own impacts. Towards this goal, they have researched and analysed currently available calculators (you can see this analysis in the submission) to develop a recommendation of one (Future Fit) that could be customised with some of the features of another (Eco Footprint) is excellent. They also ask that ORC change its climate change policy from one almost exclusively focused on adaptation to one that puts focus also on mitigation.

Rhys Millar, on behalf of the Landscape Connections Trust and then later on behalf of Predator Free Dunedin articulated the superb community work going on to restore the environment. Their submission is on page 116. While the submission is strong (pg 116 of the annual plan submissions document), I would check out their webpages to see the marvellous work they are doing around regeneration. https://www.haloproject.org.nz/resources, https://www.predatorfreedunedin.org/. Rhys said there is nowhere near enough money in the biosecurity operational plan budget and that $95k for the all of Dunedin program is a paltry sum that doesn’t reflect the strategy. He highlighted an issue around OSPRI pulling out of its TB control programme next June (2021). This programme controls possums to control TB and offers a great opportunity toward possum eradication in the area. But this will only happen if pest control continues from where OSPRI leaves off to finish the job. This needs more cash and a greater performance indicator.

Wai Wanaka – page 90 of the submission document. Again, thoughtful, researched, and practical. They have completed a community catchment plan with three goals: deliver environmental plans and whole catchment plans, comms with community, nuanced projects. This is well worth a read, needs our support and I think is a necessary inclusion to our plans.

Friends of Lake Hayes (page 247) are another community group working hard to restore their environment and again it seems to me that they face barriers that ORC should be able to remove. The Lake has been declining for many years apart from a small period of regeneration when a 1995 management plan had some impact. It now needs that plan reinstated and implemented – with some updates. The group also pointed out the need to strengthen the Regional Policy Statement (currently being worked on and we’ll be looking for input on this too) so that there is a better framework for protecting the Lake. The group presented to council a prioritised strategy that ORC needs to support.

The Department of Conservation submission on page 225 gives a wonderful overview of the different land types and native species in our area while encouraging action around biodiversity, biosecurity and climate change.

On behalf of Dunedin City Council, Aaron Hawkins (page 290) submissions is a detailed discussion of the relationship between the two councils. Among other things, he asked for additional environmental monitoring in the marine environment, a fix for Tomahawk wetland and advised the Council to regulate the port to limit air pollution.

Paul Pope of the Otago Peninsula Community Board reiterated the need for a concentrated effort on the Tomahawk lagoon. His community board’s detailed submission on page 233 offers the on-the-ground community knowledge, with images and discussion that is really helpful in our decisionmaking. He says work on the Tomahawk was underway at one point and then simply stopped. It needs community empowerment and resources and a commitment to see the project through. Paul said that we can’t keep relying on volunteers to clean up. He wants to see stormwater capture to keep rubbish out of the sea and a much bigger effort towards reducing pollution in all its forms. He also shared concerns about biodiversity and pest control.

Richard Bowman (page 284) is an expert in pest management and worked with Southland Regional Council for decades. He has huge concerns around pest control and biosecurity. He presented a detailed submission plus a management model. His submission is well worth a read by anyone interested in this subject – which should be all of us! Worryingly, he calls the wallaby the new rabbit, but even harder to control. He told us that ORC needs to support the landowners and communities who are willing to help themselves. He also made the clear point that it will never be cheaper than now to control pests, particularly wallabies. His submission was one of many pointing out that our pest control strategy is not working. We have a new plan and a new operations plan – sadly I’m not sure that this is going to do what its meant to.

Andy Barratt representing Dunedin Rural Development (page 242) told us there was not enough emphasis on soil management. By concentrating mainly on water, we are focusing only on the end point when soil management will result in better water management. His organisation sees carbon sequestration in soils as an answer to climate change and believes that much more could be done in this area. They also want to see farm environmental plans and suggest ORC should again become a member of the Willows and Poplar research trust to study impacts of trees on farms and waterways and that it should ensure the retention of high quality soils for primary production by preventing building development on those soils.

Colin Campbell-Hunt from Orokonui (page 139) talked about the work being done there. Like other community based conservation groups, Orokonui needs more support. It already has strong partnerships with other groups and is central to biodiversity recovery in Otago and beyond. Colin told us that conservationists are not interested in small centres of conservation where gene pools slowly get smaller, he said we need to think bigger and a key step for Orokonui is to extend beyond its fence into the greater Dunedin region. Orokonui provides a safe home base for species to grow before spilling out into the surrounding ‘halo’ area. They can support the entire range of programmes required for biodiversity restoration. Orokonui is largely self funded, but it needs help with significant financial demands coming up. Colin also pointed out that bigger places than Orokonui are needed to support sustainable populations (eg, for Kaka this would be a population of 500 – too many to be supported in the small area that is Orokonui) so he supports the idea of larger regional parks. But the immediate need is for capital funding to fix their predator preventing fence – a stoat or two can wipe out a generation of saddlebacks – they need around $350k to do that.

Dick Hubbard from the Wakatipu Wilding Conifer Group (page 269) told us that there are large areas where the wilding trees are getting away on them even though they’re spending 2m a year on removing them. He says we will slowly lose this battle if we don’t step up our involvement. The big concern in the Wakatipu is Douglas Fir covering large areas, the seeds can travel up to 40kms in seeding periods when the wind is strong. The tussock lands are under threat from this seed spread. The seeds are also heading into the Wanaka area and down into the Pisa Range. This is not just a Wakatipu problem. $500k a year from QLDC plus secretarial and financial reporting services. The decision has also been made to prematurely harvest (10 years early) the Coronet Forest. ORC contributes $100k per year plus an extra $30k as part of the Ecofund for a specific project. There is an argument for ORC to greatly increase its funding.

The story from the Central Otago Wilding Conifer Control Group (pg 83) was similar, but they had some stern advice for the council. “Community-led initiatives can collectively achieve far more than council led directives, however the council must be prepared to play its role as the regulator. This means supporting catchment groups, and having strong rules in place surrounding freshwater, based on science, with the health of the ecosystem at the forefront of our objectives.” This group also pointed out the huge water consumption of wilding conifers saying that getting these undercontrol would make more water available in the Otago catchments.

There is a huge amount of work done by many community groups towards much improved environmental management. Many many individuals submitted on better, more effective work around environmental and climate change issues. My view is similar to that expressed by many – our success will be in ensuring local groups are empowered and supported – that we don’t put barriers in front of them or impede their work in any way. These people know how to connect bottom up community effort to the available science. Our challenge is how we provide support – funds, expertise, science, feet-on-ground.

Transport (excluding Wakatipu Ferry consultation)

Transport is a big concern to many people, most of the submissions were about Public Transport and support for tracks and trails. Sarah Davie-Nitis (page 275) is putting together a trails trust for Dunedin that has an ambitious goal of connecting Dunedin North to Oamaru to meet the Alps to Ocean Trail, West to Waihola to connect with the inland trails and into the South towards the Catlins. Her group sees these trails as both a driver of a better form of tourism and also as a way of connecting the many small communities of the region.

Dunedin Mayor Aaron Hawkins is still clearly frustrated about the bus service in Dunedin. He wants flat fares – $2 – and is still considering taking Dunedin Public Transport into the DCC remit rather than ORC. I’m open on this, but would like to think we can run transport regionally towards inter-regional transport as well as ensuring consistency across the region. He’s keen for us to get going on regional public transport plan. Aaron made the point that Dunedin needs options for increasing housing development – that means increasing either density or spread. He thinks the city should be increasing density around the public transport hubs, but this is tricky when you don’t control the network.

Alasdair Morrison, Chairman, Waikouaiti Coast Community Board (pg 272) wants investment in the bus service between Palmerston and Dunedin including running the service along the coast road. Currently the service is inadequate in connecting the residential communities of Waikouaiti, Karitane, Seacliff and Warrington. This is not the first time this has come to our attention and it needs fixing.

Peter Dowden, (page 22) representing bus users groups as well as the tramways union, pointed out failures in the current Public Transport plan (no gradual improvement of the Palmerston to Dunedin service as articulated in the 2014 plan) and pointed out many discrepancies in the bus concession systems. He wants to see fairer, cheaper fares and access to those fares for poorer people. For example, a $10 minimum top up is a disincentive for people who can’t afford $10 so they don’t have the access they should have to a cheaper fare.

Chris Ford of the Disabled Persons Assembly (DPA) (page 251) joined Peter Dowden in his call for bus drivers to be paid a living wage as a minimum. Chris also recommended that ORC and DCC work together to get the proposed Central City Bus Loop in place and also to prioritise a single flat, low fare such as Queenstown’s $2 fare. The DPA also called for a ‘flattening of the curve’ on climate change.

Wakatipu Transport Management (TMA) (Pg 223) is a group that sees a role in supporting business, residents and visitors in transitioning to an increased range of transport options. This includes a wide range of activities that would have benefits from land use improvement through to congestion and pollution reduction. They’re asking for a $120k to employ a business manager to get started on this work which they see as fitting between existing structures such as Wakatipu Way 2 Go and the main agencies involved in transport planning. It’s a ground up approach that likely needs empowering in the same way, and for the same reasons that we empower environmental groups. At one level, this is an environmental group.

Wakatipu Ferry Trial

There was a lot of discussion around whether or not the trial should continue given the COVID-19 outcome of very few tourists. There was discussion about whether it would be appropriate to get the ferry happening, and remove the bus service which is not well used. Overall, I think there was support to get the trial underway even though it will only be serving local residents. The discussion in the submissions did raise a problematic issue for a group of Queenstown Bay operators and this needs to be sorted out. Basically, several operators (Kjet, HydroAttack, Million Dollar Cruise where the ones who talked to us) can’t renew their wharf leases because the QLDC wants to reserve the wharf spaces for more community, or passive recreation use. This includes a ferry service. The argument from these operators is that their operations are a major contribution to the vibrancy of the Bay and they do need a home in the Bay. This one will of course need to be worked out by the QLDC who has apparently offered short term lease extensions, but that’s not ok for those who need to finance their businesses and need long leases to do so. As always, every decision has impacts.

Rates, increases and targeted rates

On page 269, there is an extraordinary story of pre European history of flooding at West Taieri through to recent hapu loss of kaika, urupa and mahinga kai sites which were taken from them by various flood protection and drainage schemes. This story was presented by Ian Henare Bryant who said the schemes on the Taieri took place with no consultation with tangata whenua or the representing hapu. He made clear the unfairness of the targeted rating scheme in this area.

Many many people were concerned about rate increases. How do we keep rates low and do the work that needs to be done? I would suggest we need more focus on the future value of a restored environment rather than what it costs to get there given it will never be cheaper than it is now. For me it’s about spending where there are environmental gains to be had, while taking a good hard look at any other expenditure. Austerity is not a way forward. We will need to continue to invest, but we need to invest where the later value is greatest. For me that is in areas that support environmental regeneration and community restoration. I think zero rates is an easy thing to talk about… but how do we pay for what people are asking for without raising rates?

Lots of people felt that we needed to fully reexamine the plan in the light of COVID-19. And of course we are, however the plan was notified prior to COVID-19 impacts and so the reevaluation and reexamination is happening through this consultation process. Our investment may not be rate funded – we may need ways to leverage our balance sheet to get where we want to go – but to do that, we need to deliver real value for the future residents of the area.

Thank you to all those who took the time to write and to those who made the extra effort to speak to their submissions.

Annual plan submissions are here: https://www.orc.govt.nz/media/8483/orc-annual-plan-2020-21-submissions-final.pdf

ORC youtube channel. You can watch meetings in real time or later at this link. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC77y56iqIzQYFTyLKUHzQXg

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It’s all about the wai – again

The Strategy and Policy ORC meeting tomorrow (Wednesday 13th May, 1pm) is super important. We’ll consider the aims of the Regional Land and Water Plan, and an approach for its development along with noting several presentations and reports outlined a little below. Agenda is here. The new Plan is critically important because it is the first comprehensive overview of our water and waste plans since their inceptions.

This plan has to ‘give effect’ ie make happen, the government’s planning documents such as the RMA and National Policy Statement such as Freshwater Management. We have nearly four years to get it notified (Dec 2023) – sounds like plenty of time but in terms of all that needs to be achieved and agreed, it’s a massive piece of work that will supersede the operative regional plan for water, and the operative regional plan for waste. Both of these fail to manage the negative impacts of our activity on our natural resources (according to monitoring and staff feedback). Not only are they outdated, for some reason, neither have been reviewed since they became operative.

Under RMA section 79 plans need to be comprehensively reviewed every 10 years. The water plan was made operative 1 Jan 2004 (it has had plan changes, but no comprehensive review), and the Waste plan in April 1997.

These current plans also fail to comply with the government policy frameworks as outlined in the national policy statements so the changes are likely to be substantial.

As this work is undertaken, there are some real issues to discuss as a community. For example:

  • The existing water plan has no method for determining overallocation, or timeframes for phasing out over allocation. This makes properly stewarding the health of our waterways next to impossible. I need to add, this is not saying farmers or urban authorities do a bad job – of course many do a great job, but that’s through their own commitment, not a robust regulatory framework.
  • The current objectives in the plan don’t line up with the national policy frameworks. Again, there are no clear messages from our regulatory position. The health of our waterways is reliant on people ‘doing the right thing’ rather than a robust framework.
  • Many people have called for ‘more science’ and ‘more data’. A technical work and monitoring programme, that collects and analyses information will be developed and implemented as part of the Land and Water plan process. But if you read the Freshwater 2020 report, you’ll note that it is extremely wary of waiting on data and suspects there is more to the systems of water than we can accurately analyse.

The National Our Freshwater 2020 report and its key findings is also on the agenda for noting. This document is part of a series – Environment Aotearoa – that examines 9 critical environmental issues. Our Freshwater 2020 is a detailed dive into the state of our freshwater. It’s not pretty and gives us all the more reason to get our land and water plan well shaped up in a regenerative direction.

We will also have a presentation from the Manuherekia Reference Group – we’ll be updated by Alec Neill and Andrew Newman on the purpose, approach and progress of their work, plus an update on the RMA Amendment Bill (implications for ORC) and an update on the Three Waters Investigation.

If any of this sounds riveting – as I’m sure it does – you are very welcome to join us on our youtube channel. The meetings are livestreamed at this address.

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Another letter, calling time on ORC

The letter discussed at length in my last blog has further polarised people around their
views on water rights. Community groups and environmentalists lining up on one side and agriculturalists and irrigators on the other. The drums are now beating for ORC itself with Fish & Game at least ready to fire the council and bring in commissoners. Ray Grubb, a Fish & Game councillor of Wanaka clearly articulates this view in the following letter to the Otago Daily Times (not yet published). Below the letter, I cover my later discussion with Ray and what next.

The Editor


The ODT today records 7 Regional Councillors writing to the Regional Council Chair asking the new Water Plan process for Otago be cancelled so that Irrigators can continue to own and use as much of our Region’s water as they wish. The letter suggests Covid 19 requires the cancellation and that excuse is a clear nonsense. What the letter really means is that a majority of the Regional Councillors, 7 of 12, have now declared a bias in favour of Irrigators. That is untenable, an abuse of their elected positions, and the letter an abuse of process.

A little background is essential. 29 Years ago the Government passed Legislation that
required Deemed (Mining Rights) water permits to expire in 2021. Those permits, for every catchment I am aware of where they applied, allowed the Irrigators to take all the water. In the Manuherikia for example permits to take water totalled a ludicrous amount more than the usual flow, something like 250 times more. So effectively those who held the permits did, and still do, own all the water in the rivers. Some Irrigators will in fact tell you that. In many catchments the Irrigators trade water amongst themselves and decide at any given time how much will be left in a river. The general public has no part to play in this, nor does the Regional Council. The new Regional Water Plan is supposed to fix that.

The Regional Council, 29 years ago, realising it had to administer the changes, famously told the Irrigators “use it or lose it”. We have all seen the results; the most intensive water users, dairy farms, such as that up stream of Omakau in some of the driest low rainfall areas in NZ. Vast increases in irrigated land, massive investment in centre pivot irrigators.

The Regional Council also failed to adequately measure flows. Most catchments have
around 5 years records where science tells us 20 years is essential, and you cannot issue
accurate water permits without accurate records. The Council also delayed the process of replacing deemed permits with consents under the RMA and as a result we have a rushed process. The fault for the current system of temporary permits for 5 years, which most of us, Irrigators and interest groups alike, agree is unsatisfactory, can be laid squarely at the door of the Council.

It is fair to say that the majority of the groups and individuals interested in the new Water Plan process want a structured legal and fair representation of views and interests, and proper unbiased adjudication. Now that 7 of the 12 Regional Councillors have declared bias that will not be possible. The Otago Community deserves better. The only solution that presents itself is the appointment of Commissioners to replace the Council so that the Law can be properly and equitably applied.

R J Grubb
15 Jessies Crescent
E; raygrubb@gmail.com

After reading this letter, I called Ray to ask if he saw any way forward from this impasse.

Ray’s view was even clearer and more strident on the phone. Apart from his experience at Fish & Game, Ray has long and broad central government experience that brings political understanding.

Ray’s big issue in the context of this discussion is water ownership and ORC’s failure to
oversee it. He sees water as illegally owned by an individual lobby-group – irrigators who take what they want and leave what’s left for the public. He notes that when any group has ownership of a primary resource, they won’t give it up without a massive fight.

Ray reiterated that the 7 letter signatories have made the other 5 councillors powerless and that in this circumstance (water planning), ORC is now effectively being run by a lobby group and so can no longer perform its function under the law. He was clear that Covid-19 is no reason to delay any water planning. ORC in his view, is entirely unable to deliver a water plan when 7 people have already fixed their positions.

My view is a little different, although I fully agree that ORC has failed to deliver in the past 30 years and is set to fail again if one or more of those councillors don’t move their position. I think there is a bigger range of positions among the 7 than is made clear in the letter and that possibly all 7 are not seeing themselves as a voting block. This will become clear over time. However, what is clear now is that failure this time can’t be tolerated. All deemed permit water rights run out by October next year and cannot be renewed without a law change that the minister has ruled out. (ref: last para page 1).

Between Ray and irrigators, people are polarised and I don’t think any amount of
mediation or collaboration will help bring the groups closer together. This is a job for the Environment Court or a Board of Enquiry and our decision to request the Minister to ‘call in’ these plan changes was the right one given the view that this polarisation will not be sorted out locally.

The Minister for the Environment has played his hand. Council has to do certain things in a certain period of time – this is about his wishes and the law. You can read about that background in an earlier blog. The problem is, we can’t achieve these timelines and these requirements if at least one of those seven, don’t move their positions.

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The letter, should plans be delayed?

– 7 Councillors write a letter, excluding the other 5 (including the chair) and our treaty partner, Kāi tahu. The letter is read out on radio and otherwise distributed. Here’s the story.

Trying to sort out water planning has blasted open a division between the elected members of the council. This culminated on March 25 in a surprise letter from 7 councillors being sent to the chair and the other councillors before being made public on the morning of the 26th.

In early March, Council agreed (narrowly) to notify plan change 7, the latest plan change in an attempt to resolve the issues of deemed permits running out in 2021 and a framework unfit for dealing with those and other expiring and new water permits. You can explore that background in an earlier blog.

Submissions to this plan change were to close on Friday April 17 at the time the letter was written. The letter seeks that ORC stop all consultation and withdraw this plan change because of the circumstances of COVID-19. It also calls for us to review the logic and fundamentals of plan change 8 (ready for notification, but not yet signed off by the council) and of the 20/21 Annual Plan which is also out for consultation right now – Submissions close Friday, April 24.

I think the letter uses a narrative of fear to promote a kneejerk reaction. That sort of reaction in my view is unnecessary and unhelpful and in this case serves to try and get public support for the ORC taking its eye off the environmental ball. Rather than getting into a pointless argument about our codes of conduct or poor governance, I decided to try and respond to each point raised in the letter.

To test my own thinking and responses, I got some help. I called our treaty partner representative, Kāi Tahu’s Ed Ellison at Aukaha, because he too had been left out of this discussion, then I called an environmental scientist based in Southland and a farmer friend from Otago. Ed is a full voting member of the ORC’s Policy Committee so his view is vital in our work. He has kindly allowed me to write up my notes from our conversation and include them at the bottom of this post. His words are wise, timeless and meaningful. I also include a wider, contextual reading list.

The letter was signed by Michael Laws, Hilary Calvert, Gary Kelliher, Carmen Hope, Andrew Noone, Kevin Malcolm and Kate Wilson. It was read out by Michael Laws on Radio Central on the morning of March 26 after being sent to the chair and non-included councillors late arvo on the 25th. It was in the hands of the ODT likely later that day. You can read a confused and missing the point ODT article here.
Dealing with water planning has been contentious as we try and finally sort out the issue of water permits – a job that ORC has failed to complete in the 30 year time frame they’ve had to complete it – largely because agreement between public and private interests has not been able to be reached. The actions of the 7 in signing and sending this letter has brought to a head a rift, basically between the irrigators (at least as representatives) and the others, and solidified a disruptive air of mistrust at the Council. The ‘why’ of their approach is unknown. Was it a cynical desire to disrupt planning processes for narrow political reasons? Or do they truly feel that they are powerless to get their perspective across in the democratic process? In a healthy Council and under good governance process, any concerns about COVID-19 and its impact on our work would have come to the table for discussion. We would have gone back to our first principles and the primary outcomes – those that guide every decision we make – and decide whether, in our forever-changed world, those principles and outcomes were still valid. In considering the letter the place to start is our principles and outcomes. What we are here to actually do.

These from our Regional Plan (only partially operative):

  1. Resource management in Otago is integrated
  2. Kāi Tahu values, and interests are recognised and kaitiakitaka is expressed
  3. Otago has high quality natural resources and ecosystems
  4. Communities in Otago are resilient, safe and healthy
  5. People are able to use and enjoy our natural and built environment

These are broad and have a lot of scope for interpretation. My interpretation is that my job as Councillor is, first and foremost, to decide policies, in partnership with Kāi Tahu, and informed by our expert staff, that protect our environment. In my view, if we do that all other outcomes will follow and we will be able to maintain high quality ecosytems and resilient communities for now and into the future. The personal view I bring to this table looks for an even loftier outcome. I want regenerative ecosystems that will support better ways of production and stronger communities.

The original letter is in black type. I’ve split it into the constituent parts. My comments are displayed in italics. There is an update – Our CEO Sarah Gardner under delegated authority, has extended the consultation time to May 4.

26 March 2020

Dear Chairperson Marian

Withdrawal/Suspension of ORC Plans

Given the current COVID-19 emergency and its associated economic, social and political effects, we strongly believe that the Otago Regional Council needs to re-evaluate its policy and financial priorities for the next 12 months.

This assumes that the COVID-19 emergency would somehow affect our environmental and community outcomes and so we should re-evealuate policy and financial priorities. I accept that it’s always good practice to revisit principles, especially when the world has cha nged so radically since they were first accepted. A discussion around the table to see if they needed changing in response to this emergency is reasonable. Outcome four: 4. Communities in Otago are resilient, safe and healthy; seems to be the one that might need the most consideration – how do we ensure resilient, safe and healthy communities in the current environment?

We do so in the knowledge that the tourism economy in New Zealand has collapsed and that there will be no short-term recovery. The consequences will be particularly severe for the Otago region, especially the Dunstan districts. New Zealand’s primary export earner has effectively ceased.

It won’t be just the tourism economy! No sector will be unscathed. Threats and opportunities will present themselves in every sector. This will have severe impact on our entire fiscal system, distribution and supply systems and our communities. But COVID-19 will have no bearing on the environmental imperatives of our work or any of the outcomes other than outcome 4 as above.

We believe that any national or regional recovery will be based upon the agrarian economy and the production of food.

Our agrarian economy has a great opportunity here. But again, this has no bearing on the outcomes we seek except to reinforce their importance. Points worth discussing:

* How are our supply chains in and out impacted during and after this crisis?

* Do we return to a new version of business as usual, or will a post COVID-19 world demand a different approach? For example, could our markets become more conscious of the food they eat and therefore more questioning of production methods and environmental impacts? Are our environmental outcomes high enough if this could be the case?

* Is it possible that the biggest opportunity in a post COVID-19 world is to recognise how weak our global system is right now? If it is, the question would be; what’s our part in the redesign?

By circumstance, the Otago Regional Council is currently consulting on Plan Change 7 (deemed permits) and is also progressing an Omnibus Plan Change, and a review of the Regional Policy Statement (RPS). The latter has been suspended, we understand, until the current COVID-19 emergency has passed.

It is our view that all consultation upon Plan Change 7 should be halted, and that the plan should be entirely withdrawn. Similarly, we need to review the fundamentals and logic that led to the Omnibus Plan Change and the RPS.

COVID-19 is undeniably a massive global event. But it is an event, the mountains, air, rivers, seas, forests, soils will endure and continue to degrade if we fail to do our work. To impede the progress we have made towards our outcomes would be a terrible step backwards. Our only job in this scenario is to test that our outcomes remain valid and to stand firm in our progress. It’s prudent to put the principles of Omnibus
Plan Change to the test. Plan Change 7 is already notified and any change to that will come through the legal process it is now in.

If the principles of the other documents (or indeed PC 7) need to allow for more agriculture, and therefore less environmental protection, let’s have that discussion, in the case of PC7, that discussion will come through the process, as it should.

If we undertook such a suggestion (legally suspect so unlikely), a likely outcome would be to lower environmental outcomes to boost the economy. In my view this is a dangerous way forward and classic short term thinking causing long term cost.

I see no reason to halt consultation on PC 7. People are perfectly capable of making submissions on how the plan should be altered if they think it should be in response to COVID-19 or anything else. If the principles and outcomes need retesting, that will happen within the process.

Retesting the principles and outcomes of our organisation, within a strategy meeting setting (so we ensure our Kāi Tahu partners are at the table), is a good idea.

There are also ‘natural justice’ and social equity considerations that should accompany any discussion on the progress, or otherwise, of any ORC plan changes.

There is no explanation of what natural justice or social equity considerations there are to accompany the discussion here. The ability for people to have their say on the issues has not changed. Only the ability to meet in person has. No fundamental principles have been changed by COVID-19. We need to be resilient and flexible in how we consult, as do our constituents. Our phone numbers and email addresses are all available on the ORC website if people find other forms of consultation difficult.

We also wish to flag that the draft Annual Plan 2020/21 and its assumptions, including its financing, also requires immediate review. The Otago Regional Council needs to immediately withdraw the draft Annual Plan from consultation, to better consider a plan that meets our region’s current and likely needs.

Again, I don’t see how the assumptions of that plan have changed and they’re not outlined in the letter. I understand that people’s ability to absorb a 9% rate rise may be compromised. Let’s address that. The rises in rates are mostly to pay for science, data and better review of information. We have already agreed on the importance of this work and it may well be that it could attract government funding through COVID recovery programmes. Other vulnerable areas would be on climate action such as transport mode shift. We need now more than ever to keep moving forward on these programmes. The plan is out for consultation, people will make their own decisions and submissions and we will listen. If we need to find alternative means of funding, we will. Science, data, commitment to climate action, these are the things that will lead us out of our predicament. Compromising principles and outcomes and cutting costs will not.

We are aware of the advice from Chief Executive Sarah Gardner that the Ministry for the Environment (MfE) and relevant departments will continue to progress “RM Reform and the Freshwater Package”.

We consider that the Otago Regional Council should discuss whether we wish to make fresh submissions to central government, including the Minister for the Environment, in the wake of the COVID-19 emergency and its consequences upon our region and communities.

These submissions were based in principles and outcomes and unless those have changed, there is no reason to revisit. Our job is as kiatiaki of our environment, let’s get on and do our job.

If you require us to frame the suitable Notices of Motion for the Otago Regional Council’s formal discussion of the plan withdrawals and policy reconsiderations, please advise.

Yours sincerely

Cr Hilary Calvert Cr Carmen Hope Cr Gary Kelliher
Cr Michael Laws Cr Kevin Malcolm Cr Andrew Noone Cr Kate Wilson

Notes from my discussion with Edward Ellison (Aukura – Kāi Tahu and member of ORC Strategy Committee)

  • If ORC is serious about its role, it won’t look to stop, or slow down process, but would look at finding government support (COVID funding) to help clean up its act.
  • ORC over the past 30 years has had every opportunity to put good process in place, but has failed to do so. The politics around the issue have been self-serving and narrow. It would be a shame to rock the boat and divert the progress that has been made.
  • There is a nervousness among farmers about what’s coming out of Wellington. But this is overdue and won’t change with government. It must be addressed, but is a balancing act.
  • People don’t want to give up their historic rights to use all the water they want (deemed permit paper allocations).
  • Catchment groups have managed the waterways but they’re essentially managing a resource through private interests when the duty of guardianship lies with the public. This isn’t right. Catchment groups have managed this, but they’re managing a public resource through private interests. Individuals and people on committees working out there are working within their own frameworks, that’s not a suitable way to go forward. Water is a public resource with a public duty of guardianship. It’s bigger and broader than farmers managing their catchments.
  • This lobby (the Seven) is doing its damnedest to divert the course of justice. It’s about addressing historic rights with public and tangata whenua involvement.
  • ORC is scrambling because it hasn’t been able to sort this public/private issue.
  • ORC mustn’t knee jerk because of COVID-19.
  • Change is always difficult. It causes stress. Change in Otago has been accelerated. There will be an economic downturn and government bailouts need to look at this as well. At the end of the day quality products from a quality environment is a very good place to sit.

Reading list

A-study-in-global-systemic-collapse – Source: feasta.org

What-will-the-world-be-like-after-coronavirus – Source: theconversation.com

Dame-anne-salmond-a-better-way-to-kickstart-the-economy – Source: stuff.co.nz

We-are-waves-of-the-same-sea – Source: futurecrunch.substack.com

It’s-time-to-abandon-ship – Source: interest.co.nz

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Water everywhere – councillor update #3

This update is all about water and what’s happened since Minister David Parker and Judge Peter Skelton put a metaphorical bomb under ORC’s water planning processes. If you’re new to this, you’ll find the information – a press release, the Ministerial letter and the ORC response to it, and the Skelton report here.  Basically, the Minister says the ORC framework for consenting wateruse (specifically the conversion of deemed mining permits to resource consents) is not fit-for-purpose and an interim plan change needs to be put in place until a new framework is sorted out.  This interim plan change needs to be notified by March 30, 2020 – that is an incredibly tight timeframe at the best of times, but very tight given the high stakes around water use.  The council has a tricky job, it must try and put together a plan change that will satisfy the competing interests well enough to stay out of the Environment Court. On January 7, the council held a public forum (summary below) inviting people to let it know what it would like to see included in that plan change.

As a Dunstan ward councillor for ORC, I see my role as understanding as many viewpoints as possible and critically analysing the information in front of me. As part of this, I met two groups – one on each side of the debate, though not necessarily completely in disagreement – in the first days of January. I’d like to sincerely thank these groups for taking considerable time to help me understand their perspectives and for hosting me generously. The situation we find ourselves in is fraught, and has been kicked down the road by various governments and councils. We now need to deal with it as fairly as we can for the best future outcomes for our environment and people.

Coal Creek Catchment Group

On January 5, I met members of the Coal Creek Catchment Group on site near Roxburgh and had an informative tour of their irrigation scheme and how they work collaboratively to maintain excellent water quality while meeting their irrigation needs.   They’ve worked together for many years to ensure the continued health of the waterways and also to ensure that all users get the water they need on a prioritised basis. Priorities are sorted out by seasons (cherry growers need water at different times than say, the beef and sheep farmers, domestic water is always needed) and flows are monitored.  This group, like many other similar groups across Otago, are finding it difficult to plan ahead given the uncertainty of the regional council’s planning framework, a government policy statement that requires improving water quality (difficult, given the incredibly high quality of this water right now) and bureaucratic assumptions that they don’t feel apply to their situations.

Their specific concerns are:

  1. The five year consent terms proposed is expensive and untenable. 5 years provides no certainty so disables investment. Farmers need clarity of process – goalpost moving is expensive and doesn’t serve anyone.
  2. There needs to be consideration of downstream users, where there is no one downstream, a different approach is needed from where a stream goes past 20 farmers. One size doesn’t fit all.
  3. The entire approach of the National Policy Statement Freshwater Management is around improving water quality, where water quality cannot be substantially improved because it is already of an extremely high quality, higher than presumed by the government, this becomes an impossible thing to do.
  4. There is a wealth of knowledge in the catchments, that isn’t well acknowledged and that doesn’t necessarily inform process, but should.
  5. The huge costs of process encourage amalgamation and corporatisation of farms – they can exclude the smaller, more local blocks and ownerships – this in itself has poorer environmental outcomes because the priority moves to profit before environment. The costs also mean consultants are the big winners in the process – at the cost of farmers.
  6. Grandfathering favours the poorest practices and disadvantages those operating best practice.
  7. Land values are impacted by irrigation permits.  This leads to unintended outcomes as people put in uneconomic irrigation because it increases land value.

Tarras residents wanting high minimum flows for protection of the Lindis

On January 8, I called in at Tarras to meet some people who had requested I do so.  They hadn’t known about the public forum, which concerned them, but they held much local knowledge about their catchment and had taken part in the Lindis Environment Court hearing as affected parties. They wanted to update me on their position as ORC considered what might be included in the new Water Plan.

They are concerned about the ongoing degradation they observe, particularly as a result of low flows in the Lindis, caused by the increasing irrigation happening around them. They also worry about the link between irrigation and economic development and how this negatively impacts the river and the community. Their specific concerns are:

  1. You used to be able to swim in the Lindis all summer.   Now it regularly dries out in the lower reaches and sometimes even above the bridge. This drying out does not support improving river health and is a result of too much water being taken out of the river.
  2. Irrigation (whether from the Lindis or the Clutha) has increased farming land value and enabled intensification which in turn has enabled some farmers to sell part of their blocks because they no longer need such large holdings as irrigation enables intensification. Over the past decade irrigation has crept from the lower terraces, to higher ones and even to the tops. This has allowed pivots to march across the countryside. Climate change will include unreliability of supply.  Pivot irrigators require absolute reliability.  They may not be as efficient as they seem right now.
  3. The argument around water (Tarras scheme) has split the community, you can’t talk about it and the scars are deep.
  4. The health of the river must come first, the national policy statement reiterates this, yet farmers are still in the economic mindset despite poor health outcomes for the river.
  5. Trout have become the last man standing.  Trout are holding the key to minimum flows but if the Lindis decision holds, it hinges on trout being pests, the minimum flow will be too low to support good river health.
  6. Allowing existing poor practice to continue by allowing existing use is not ok. The fact that the lower Lindis is already degraded is no reason to allow further degradation.
  7. Planning must start with the health of the rivers, not with the needs of the farmers.  Minimum flow setting should start with the receiving environment then head up the tributaries.
  8. Farmers will make it work even with greatly increased minimum flows. Farmers are asking already for more than they truly need.  Allowing now for current use will not incentivise good practice.  And we don’t even know what farmers are truly taking.
  9. Insecure water rights has not limited or slowed investment.
  10. There has been no landuse discussion.  There is no discussion around what is the best use of a litre of water?  

Between these two informal meetings, we had an intense ORC meeting in Dunedin which was essentially the public forum on how we should approach the Water Use Plan Change.

The forum

Of the 22 who made 5-minute presentations, the vast majority were farmers and their consultants.  This group and those who represent them are the most immediately affected group so no real surprise there.  The other presenters were mostly from environmental groups. Ngai Tahu representatives also spoke.

The farmers and their representatives were not always fully aligned, but my interpretation of the key areas of thinking were:

  1. Irrigation is essential to farming in Otago.
  2. Short-term consents (5 years) would prevent investment – people wanting to upgrade infrastructure (eg to more efficient irrigation) would not have a ‘bankable’ timeframe to do it. 
  3. If 5 year permits go ahead, they need to be very simple and focused and ORC should expect them to be challenged.  This perspective believed alternative pathways to long term consents need to remain open.  An issue was that the information needed for these short- term consents was just as costly to obtain as that for long term consents.
  4. Some thought that short-term consents (5 years only) would destroy rural NZ by preventing investment and damaging security. This view tended to also think ORC had been on the right track and should continue its existing process by rolling over consents.
  5. A huge amount of work has been done by farmers over the past decades towards the 2021 deemed permits expiry date.  These farmers, particularly in priority catchments (Manuherekia, Arrow and Cardrona) have been working with affected parties, they are ready for the changeover and need the paperwork to catch up. Shifting goalposts is not ok.
  6. There were errors in the Skelton report and some of its broad assumptions. These need to be addressed.
  7. Lack of fairness as some consents are already through and many more have been lodged or are ready or almost ready to lodge.
  8. There is a battle between environmental and farming interests, the balance shouldn’t tip too far towards environmentalists.

The thinking from the environmental groups Forest and Bird, Fish and Game and DOC, plus that of some individuals representing environmental viewpoints was different. 

  1. Ecosystems underpin all economic activity so must be prioritised.
  2. Concern that biodiversity values are being eroded by allocation regime. Need to address biodiversity crisis.
  3. Short-term consents should be preferred until a framework that can provide for proper waterway restoration was in place.
  4. The planning framework doesn’t reflect the national policy statements and it must.
  5. Any framework must reflect current environmental principles and keep its eye on the long term.  
  6. Existing use rights favoured poor practice.
  7. Allocations should be based on sustainability principles and sinking lid on carbon.  Not on existing use. Allocations will need to be reduced.

Ngai Tahu thinking was generally aligned with the environmental viewpoints but added this perspective:

  1. It’s not about the past, our interests derive from there and they need to be recognised, but we need to look to the future.
  2. In 30 years, the understanding of our values and what we need has not been achieved.

Now what?

I think all these people are committed to the same outcomes of waterway health, but what is good water health and how do we get there? Clearly we have accepted declining water health for decades, so trust is low towards those who want to continue as before – so there will be change. However, change has been happening and may not be well acknowledged yet. Also there seem to be some real issues with the Minister’s plan to improve – what to do about existing rights (see below)? Grandfathering for polluters – noone thinks this is right. What irrigation is ok, and what isn’t? What is measured and what isn’t and what should be? What are the impacts of climate change (the NIWA CC risk assessment report is here) in all this and how should they be mitigated and adapted to?

The focus of the proposed plan change is the processing of applications for water permits (including those to replace deemed permits)until the new planning framework can be adopted. The key principles that should inform this work are: a. The focus must remain on the bigger picture – the Water Plan review – the Water Permit plan change should be as concise as required to achieve a fit for purpose management regime. b. Water allocation should be based on existing water use not paper allocation. c. Consideration of potential impacts on existing water abstractors, and existing priorities in deemed permits. d. Efficiency of time and cost for both Council applicants and other parties. e. Opportunities for data gathering that will inform the Water Plan review should be pursued.

The next step is that ORC technical staff will bring to council a plan change that has considered all these various positions and the principles that must inform it.

I’ve got several concerns in all this, some of which go back to the draft NPS FM:

  1. ‘Grandfathering’ clauses that allow those who currently pollute to continue to pollute while those who’ve made solid improvements over the years may not be rewarded for doing so. There should be absolutely no right to continue polluting just because you have always done so.  This stifles new and better landuse because existing use will have huge economic value and huge environmental cost. We need to find a way around this even if it means clawing back existing rights.
  2. We should be working together with our environmentalists and farmers to prioritise the health of rivers rather than arguing over ways to preserve and enhance investments. This may need some sorting out.
  3. Minimum flows are critical to river health, but we talk more about ‘allocations’. 
  4. I don’t believe we should be worried about any effective moratorium on investment, but we should be concerned about the costs imposed if those lodging consents have to redo all their information 5 years down the track. This needs to be streamlined.
  5. I was concerned to hear comments such as ‘we don’t want to be sitting here in 5 years time talking about how to rebuild Otago’, without thought to the possibility of ‘sitting here in 5 years time having failed to address further degradation to the environment

I was concerned at the forum to hear comments such as ‘we don’t want to be sitting here in 5 years time talking about how to rebuild Otago’, without thought to the possibility of ‘sitting here in 5 years time having failed to address further degradation to the environment’. All power to our staff who will be working to find their way through the maze of interests in the next wee while.

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Wind down report – councillor update #2

Before things wind down (or up) for Christmas, and in the spirit of openness and transparency, I’ve detailed below my activities over the past month or so. It’s a broad outline of some of the issues that we are facing and I’m working with. I’ve written it chronologically but you may want to scroll through to find the subjects you’re specifically interested in.   You’ll find info and links to meeting agenda, news stories, Council Meetings, the Skelton Report on Deemed Permits, Friends of Lake Hayes concerns, Bullock Creek concerns, Lake Dunstan concerns, transport conversations in Queenstown and Alexandra ranging from ferries to stock effluent discharge, discussions about bores and septic tanks in small communities… and more. There’s a good action list in here, but feel free to add to it by contacting me directly.

Early November – water and buses

  • Informal meeting in Clyde to discuss environmental concerns about water. These range from worries about Queenstown spilling sewage that flows their way, to rural activities that have resulted in degradation of some swimming areas.  It’s about quality and quantity.
  • Fernhill resident contacted me about the noise of buses reverse alarms as buses turn around in Fernhill. People living in audible range of that irritating beep, beep, beep are fed up with two years of interuptions to activity and sleep every 20 minutes.  I am hoping that is now sorted out with a simple, drive –around-the-block fix.

12/13 November – Council meeting

  • Council meeting, strategy workshop and Port Otago site visit. The strategy workshop gave us the opportunity to discuss the future direction of ORC.

14 November – Transport

  • Shaping Future Dunedin Transport meeting. This was a planning and visioning meeting.  As chair of the Regional Transport Committee, this was my first opportunity to understand the issues and aspirations of transport in Dunedin, and yes, there are many of both.

21 November – Wānaka

  • Wānaka Community Board meeting. I was interested in this because the Wānaka Masterplan was presented and key to that plan is the Integrated Transport Business Case.  This was noted and the business case was endorsed for progession to the next stage.
  • Friends of Bullock Creek took time out of their day to guide me along the Bullock Creek walkway and to look at the issues created by the Alpha Series and Studholme subdivision. Bullock Creek is being swamped by consented stormwater which is threatening vulnerable young fish and other biodiversity that has been painstakingly encouraged through community effort.  Basically the stormwater system that the developer was allowed to install doesn’t work as expected, and the result is the creek, which is also home to a Fish & Game hatchery, is being used for stormwater discharge – apparently all consented by QLDC. This has and continues to cause environmental damage in heavy rain. Plus the actual system at the base of the subdivision is a complete mess with pumps and hoses, natural and unnatural hazards.
    Pump in wet dry pond wide shot
Pic by Andrew Waterworth
  • The Friends think that ORC should have been involved in this subdivision, highlighting concern for, and defence of, the creek at the consenting stage.  To me, the ORC needs to ensure that the creek is protected from subdivision and other impacts. My job is to figure out how to make this happen.

26 / 27 November – Eco Fund and Emergency Meeting

  • Back in Dunedin for council meetings the first was the Ecofund There were a huge number of wonderful projects, many doing ORC’s work in protecting the natural environment.  It was a joy to work through the applications and make sure the best of them are able to continue their work or develop their projects.  It was interesting to see how knowledgeable staff were able to work through the proposals and illustrate how some showed longevity while others looked as though they couldn’t last the distance.  I think the key for people planning to apply to this fund (two rounds a year, $125k in each round) is to talk to those staff members to shape ideas into a robust project that has a strong chance of success.  I’d love to see much more money in this fund and much more support for the people doing the work (including financial).
  • A more sobering task. An Emergency Council meeting where we considered the failure of ORC’s framework for converting deemed permits to resource consents.  Peter Skelton presented his report and recommendations and took questions from councillors.  The task ahead is massive.  The entire planning framework at ORC has been deemed not-fit-for-purpose from the Regional Policy Statement down.  There is a big job ahead.  Apart from the concerns around water – quality and quantity – I also have concerns about how to keep the regional transport committee, of which i’m chair, high on the agenda.  However, it’s very good that water, is being valued and that we may finally actually address what hasn’t been addressed over the past 30 years. A quick way to get your head around this is to read the Minister’s letter to the ORC.  The council has accepted the recommendations, decided a way forward and is getting on with resolving this untenable situation.  At that link you’ll also find answers to questions such as – what about plan change 6AA and the omnibus plan change, and what about the Manuherekia, Arrow and Cardrona catchments.

28 November – Transport Dunedin

  • Mayoral transport informal meeting. Chair Marian Hobbs and I were invited to meet with Dunedin Mayor Aaron Hawkins and Councillor Jim O’Malley to discuss public transport.  They, like Queenstown Lakes District Council are disappointed at the lack of responsiveness and agility of Otago Regional Council Transport Planning. As in Queenstown, Dunedin feels helpless to improve its public transport and find it difficult that they have no oversight or understanding of the opportunities and limitations built into the bus delivery contract.

29 November – Lake Hayes

  • Received a wonderful education on freshwater lakes from Dr Marc Shallenburg who kindly gave me a lift from Dunedin to Queenstown as we both headed to a Friends of Lake Hayes meeting. (I generally use the bus, but sometimes get rides with people as I travel between Queenstown and Dunedin).
  • Friends of Lake Hayes walk around and meeting with Councillor Michael Laws, Marc Shallenburg and members of the friends. The Lake is badly affected by algae, giving it a reddish brown tinge. We also checked out an offending culvert – it was built too small when the road was realigned some years ago and prevents the lake from draining properly which leads to other problems.  The culvert is a contributor to some Lake Hayes issues, but not a cause.  However, it needs fixing and may be key to resolving issues of flooding and any flushing.  Development in the catchment and issues of phosphates and nitrates are the real causes which need serious attention.  (See earlier blog). FOLH want a simple water plan written and instigated.

2 December – Transport Queenstown

  • Queenstown Transport Governance Group This group is a collaboration between NZTA, ORC, QLDC and Queenstown Airport Corporation, Business cases are ready for implementation and Queenstown is frustrated at delays in implementation.  As in Dunedin there is low confidence in ORC ability to respond to public transport needs.  Queenstown is particularly worried about this because efficient public transport delivering 40% modeshift by 2028 underpins its business cases.  This is an ambitious plan and ORC needs to show it can play its part in delivery.

6 December – Communication

  • A meeting of the ORC Communications Working Group. This is an intiative from Councillor Michael Laws in response to communication issues.  The idea is to vastly improve engagement between ORC and the communities it serves.

10 December – Transport Queenstown

  • Councillor Kate Wilson (deputy chair Regional Transport Committee) and I did a wee bit of a road trip to get a better understanding of the issues and aspirations around transport and, as it happened, also small community sewage issues. First up was a meeting in Queenstown with QLDC staff to discuss our combined ability to drive mode shift (that is, alternative ways to travel – bus, bike, feet, maybe rapid transit of some sort). We later met the ferry operator to talk about how we might keep that service going.  Interestingly, the cost of congestion is around $30m a year – that’s before we consider environmental costs which currently aren’t counted.  Imagine if that $30m was able to be accessed to spend on public transport?
  • It’s clear from those discussions that contracts secured on lowest price will  not provide the level of service Queenstown needs.  This is all a work in progress and I’ll report back as progress is made.

10 December – Sewage Small Communities

  • Met with QLDC councillors from Glenorchy and Kingston, plus infrastructure, to discuss issues around septic systems, and in the case of Kingston, drinking water. Septic systems and drinking water bores are not well separated in Kingston. Hopefully this will be fixed by a new bore, but it is currently not a good situation.  There are also problems around people putting off proper maintenance because they’re waiting for reticulation.  This is a major issue with our system of infrastructural development – communities cannot afford the infrastructure until there is enough development to pay for it meaning they can wait years while a development goes through processes, with a highly uncertain outcome.  Resisting infrastructural development can  also can be used as a tool to put off necessary reticulation as a way of stalling growth (as soon as you reticulate, you no longer need a large section as a disposal field, so it can be subdivided).  All in all it doesn’t add up to good landuse or infrastructural planning.  A systemic issue, again a work in progess.

10 December – Transport, Sewage, Central Otago

  • Met with the Central Otago District Council representative on the Regional Transport Committee. The issues and concerns are quite different there. A primary concern is the Stock Effluent Disposal areas.  Currently the costs of these are on the CODC ratepayer – should they not be on the transport operator?
  • Airports are big business and Queenstown is seen here as one of the fastest growing destinations in the world.  Central Otago is affected by this growth and needs its concerns considered.
  • There is potential for reconsidering rail for freight.    Currently the land transport plan doesn’t consider rail, but it needs to. An inland port in Balclutha is worth investigation. This council also feels that dedicated freight routes need separating from tourism and bike routes.  There is also concern about the resilience of road bridges.  Big floods mean broken tress (particularly willows) can seriously damage or destroy infrastructure.  Roxburgh is particularly at risk. Preemptive work on rivers to maintain clear water on the upside of bridges is key work to be done.
  • There is potential for reconsidering rail for freight.    Currently the land transport plan doesn’t consider rail, but it needs to. An inland port in Balclutha is worth investigation. This council also feels that dedicated freight routes need separating from tourism and bike routes.  There is also concern about the resilience of road bridges.  Big floods mean broken tress (particularly willows) can seriously damage or destroy infrastructure.  Roxburgh is particularly at risk. Preemptive work on rivers to maintain clear water on the upside of bridges is key work to be done.

This busy day finished with me riding the train from Pukerangi to Dunedin through the Taiere Gorge. An absolutely marvellous trip.  If you haven’t done it, time to board. Toot toot!

11 December – Council Meeting

  • A workshop around the annual plan and how we will approach it, followed by a Council meeting – all in Dunedin. At the meeting we approved meeting structures, terms of references and delegations, approved the Eco-fund recipients and approved the establishment of the Communications Working Party.

16 December – Lake Dunstan

  • Guardians of Lake Dunstan Councillor Gary Kelliher and I attended.  The purpose of the meeting was to understand the roles and responsibilities of the agencies involved in the management of the Lake  – CODC, LINZ, ORC and Contact Energy were all represented.  The Guardians were looking for opportunities to create an integrated approach to lake management – they rightly want all the agencies to work together to improve both the health of Lake Dunstan and its recreational potential.  
  • The Guardians have identified that the Lake is an underutilised, under-recognised asset that has been neglected over the years.  They’re looking for funding to research the scope of the opportunity. There has been no research since 1987 when the Dam was completed. The Guardians are also keen to engage with ORC scientists for a conversation around water quality.  Do they require a monitoring buoy?  What knowledge could be gathered that would be useful?  What baseline metrics do we have now? What do we need and what would ‘good’ look like?
  • Gary and I committed to finding some information and arrange a further conversation.

This has been a big download.  Congratulations if you’ve made it to the end.  I hope it’s been useful for you.  If you would like to talk to me at all about what’s going on in your area of the community, connect with me on facebook, twitter, or by phone – 021 296 4255 or email. In the meantime, I’m off for a lie down til about January 6. Meri Kirihimete to you – see you on the other side.

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ORC councillor update #1

My first weeks on the Otago Regional Council (ORC) have been an intense learning curve.  As the first Queenstown based councillor on the council, there’s a backlog of Queenstown issues that have landed in my inbox.  I’m working through them and will use this blog to keep you updated on progress on those issues and also generally on what’s happening at the council.

Committee structures, who’s on what and iwi representation were on the agenda at Wednesday’s (November 13) full Council meeting.

As a result, I’m the newly minted chair of the Regional Transport Committee with Councillor Kate Wilson as deputy.  This committee is responsible for preparing and monitoring the progress of the Regional Land Transport plan.  Members of the committee include the New Zealand Transport Agency, Dunedin City Council, Clutha District Council, Central Otago District Council, Queenstown Lakes District Council and Waitaki District Council.  This committee meets with its Southland counterpart as a combined committee so that the wider regional transport network can be considered in totality.   I also have related portfolios including Urban Development/Transport, Climate Change/Coast/Air Quality, the Connecting Dunedin and the Queenstown Transport Governance Group. Key to this role for me is a good understanding of the National Policy Statement: Transport, along with the issues and aspirations of each community within the region.

So, a lot of my focused work will be around transport – particularly public and active transport – and working to resolve the issues that both Dunedin and Queenstown have with their public transport systems.  I’ll also be working on long term transport planning for the region and contributing at sessions such as Thursday’s (14 November) Shaping Dunedin’s Future and Queenstown Lakes Spatial Planning meetings. Transport is of course integrally related to land use, climate change and carbon emission issues so I’ll be working in these areas as well.

My number one priority (because I think it’s how we will begin to solve the issues we face), is to build community engagement with ORC.  That means knowing who’s doing what and figuring out how ORC can support initiatives that align with council purpose – that is, managing Otago’s land, air and water resources on behalf of the community.

From this perspective, I want to be engaged with all environmental groups, ranging from catchment management through to community regenerative groups.  So, please do get in touch with me if you think I can help.

Currently I am specifically working on:


  1. Problems with the bus turning around at Fernhill. Residents near the bus turn around are being driven nuts by the reversing beeps that happen every 20 minutes from 6am ish to sometime after 11.  Seems like there should be a quick and easy fix, but they’ve been putting up with this since the start of the bus service.  Grrr, working on it.
  2. Getting to the bottom of why we can’t seem to get the Lake Hayes Estate direct bus service underway. This has been approved for some time.  When I enquired, I was told Ritchies can’t provide the bus drivers.  I was then told (by someone else) that they could.  Then I read this in Thursday’s Mountain Scene which says it’s about the wages Ritchies are prepared to pay.  Interested in the comments made in the article around immigration – in my mind, using visas as a way of cheapening labour costs is a race for the bottom.
  3. Connecting Dunedin governance meeting on Tues 26th. Am getting my head around Dunedin transport network and its issues.  There seems to be a lot of desire for a similar-to-Queenstown’s $2 fare. Apparently the average cost of a trip in the city is about $2.50, but many fares are much higher.  In my mind, the simplicity of the $2 fare and the way it shares the cost of transport evenly across users, makes it well worth pursuing. Whether there are any budgeting issues will depend on how much patronage goes up as a result.  Will hear the arguments next week.  There’s also a lot of planning going on in Dunedin about the network itself and how it can be improved to enable a more liveable, easily traversable city.
  4. Queenstown Ferry, a private operator (Go Orange) currently provides this service at a loss. It expects a similar subsidy to the buses but ORC has not yet come to the party.  The service will stop in February if the situation can’t be rectified.

Lake Hayes

  1. The culvert under SH6 needs to be bigger. This will allow the lake to drain more efficiently.
  2. There are options to help this lake heal itself. Implementation is key!

Eco fund

This one is fun. I am on the committee that gets to consider the community benefit of projects.  The Eco fund is $250k granted in two funding rounds a year.  In the next round, we will have $125k to allocate towards work that community groups are undertaking.  I am very interested in how much this fund is oversubscribed – ie, how much more money is asked for (to support eligible projects) than we have to give. Standby…


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It’s time to vote

Voting for regional rouncil is super important.  It is where the government’s broad national policy statements such as for freshwater, transport, urban development, soil quality and others, are managed.  Regional councils are responsible for the integrated management of the natural and physical resources of a region.  This means working with local councils and communities to ‘give effect’ or implement those policies.  After 2 terms on the Queenstown Lakes District Council, I am standing for Otago Regional Council because:

  • Our economy in this region is based on two industries which are both really heavy emitters – tourism and farming.  These industries have had dire consequences on our environment and change is far from easy.
  • I want to work on the change that’s needed to solve some of the intense issues we face around pollution and climate change.
  • ORC is where the responsibility and opportunity lies to resolve issues of water quality and quantity, particularly as the new National Policy Statement for Fresh Water Management comes into being.
  • Limitations to public transport in Queenstown needs change at ORC level. We need to consider the future connectivity of our entire region in terms of drastically cutting our carbon footprint.
  • Air quality is inexcusably poor in many of the towns in our district, particularly in winter.  This needs serious attention.
  • Pest control.  Wallabies in the east, wilding pines mainly in the west, lake and river weed and diatom infestations,and rabbits everywhere.
  • We need now a collective approach, to all of these issues, bottom up and top down, to get fast results.  This will come from investing in science, measuring and monitoring our rivers and land and importantly, empowering community and catchment groups with funds and expertise.

Apart from governance experience on QLDC, I bring expertise in communication (I have worked as a journalist and as a PR company director in past careers – I still have an interest in Scope Media), I have studied change and work as a facilitator in sustainable practice and leadership for change programmes and I am a 33 year resident of the headwaters of our district.

You can check out all the candidates here.  And please, fill in your voting form and post it in.

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Queenstown Airport Corporation Statement of Intent – the clock is ticking

Photo credit: Crux.org

There is no time to lose. Queenstown airport is within 3 years (depending on tourism slowdown) of reaching its noise boundaries.  The Queenstown community has unequivocally said NO to any expansion of those boundaries. Wanaka appears similarly opposed to expansion at its airport. Yet, a third version of the Queenstown Airport Corporation (QAC) Statement of Intent (SOI) which Queenstown Lakes District Council will consider tomorrow (August 26), attempts to ‘push pause’ on its development plans while further reports and plans are considered.

The airport has known since last August that it has no community support for noise boundary extension in Queenstown, (Wanaka views are not as well surveyed yet – more on that below).  Yet in the year that has passed, the airport has failed to come up with any alternative strategic direction to its two airport growth strategy.  It is now reliant on a market slow down to give it some time to figure out what happens next and how it might mollify its communities.

In March, as a councillor, I expected to receive an SOI which addressed how it would cope with the constraint of its noise boundaries in Queenstown and rising community opposition to airport growth in Wanaka. I had some of my own ideas and looked forward to innovative and creative solutions that would take us forward as community, maybe partner with neighbours and certainly give genuine consideration to environmental concerns. But no such thinking came our way.  The first version was little more than business as usual and was rightfully sent back for revision from Council. Version two, is covered in my earlier blog. This third version, while much shorter, is still noise boundary in Queenstown and jet capability in Wanaka focused and so has still failed to address the fundamental issues of the first.

It was suggested to me that ‘many people wanted to see expansion but were afraid to say so’.  My answer is; arguing anecdotes isn’t helpful. Giving voice to the facts is:

  1. The airport’s own August 2018 survey – 95% opposition to noise bounday expansion (1500 responses). A result described by Mountain Scene as ‘staggering’ and a ‘shockingly low level of support’. Here is the airport’s full report on its consultation.
  2. Crux survey. 84% against any further expansion to noise boundaries.
  3. 82% of 1294 respondents to a Frankton Community Association survey responded negatively to the Queenstown Airport’s expansion proposals.
  4. 75% of 149 people who took part at two Wanaka workshops and online were supportive of scheduled services being reintroduced to the town’s airport.
  5. Lobby groups, Queenstown Stakeholders Group, Protect Wanaka, Protect Queenstown and Flightplan 2050  have sprung up in opposition to the airport’s expansion plans.
  6. Queenstown Stakeholders Group –36 signatories  including schools, big and small businesses and all seven local community associations. The submission opposes any extension to noise boundaries and says 12,000 people and 80% of track and trail amenity would be affected by the then proposal.
  7. The Wanaka Stakeholders (aka Protect Wanaka – claim: 2500 members) are  threatening judicial review  saying council is in ‘breach of the act’.
  8. QLDC Quality of Life Survey 2018 shows 63% of respondents unhappy with growth and 75% worried about climate change.
  9. Public Health Office Marion Poore has warned against increased noise boundaries at the Queenstown airport with data about the health impacts of noise.

There is plenty here to draw the conclusion that Queenstown has no appetite at all for any extension of noise boundaries while Wanaka may well be happy with the reintroduction of scheduled air services and some increase in visitor numbers, but looks increasingly unhappy to play host to any overspill from Queenstown.

There is plenty in these numbers to direct the airport to go back and urgently produce a plan that excludes noise boundary extension, has a meaningful discussion with Wanaka, and most importantly, looks at how a new approach will respect the views of the Lakes District community.

Read on for further thoughts, considerations, background and links to add context:

It is difficult for community lobby groups to maintain momentum and commit funds to legal challenges, but opposition in both towns has been in place for a year and continues to grow rather than subside. In my view, this opposition reflects a loss of trust in the airport to consider the aspirations of its main owner, the community, and a loss of trust in the Council to act in the community’s best interests as expressed and defined by the community and council planning processes.

A request for an independent survey for Upper Clutha was declined on the grounds of airport decisions needing to be district wide.

I was at the meeting at a Kelvin Peninsula Golf Club in September 2018 when the Queenstown Stakeholders Group formed – an interesting, but comprehensive mix of residential communities and tourism businesses – asking council to consider growth with ‘genuine community based consultation’. The spokesperson for that group, and now council candidate, Glyn Lewers stated in the group’s press release that:

“The Airport’s intention …to focus first on expanding Wanaka airport, is not an appropriate alternative to having a strategic, district-wide plan, in the views of the QSG,” 

Nearly a year later, and this is exactly what is happening and now Wanaka has its own stakeholders’ group which is increasingly unhappy at being seen as the potential overflow receptacle for Queenstown Airport.

I was also at the biggest ever Frankton Community Association meeting in August which was informed with presentation from an RMA lawyer, the Medical Director of Public Health and Destination Queenstown and where people overwhelmingly opposed any expansion to the noise boundaries.

Why is our Council not responding to all of this with a clear directive to the airport through the SOI to find another way? To look to other airports in the wider southern region to pick up some of the load?  To respect the community and business view that further expansion would put at serious risk both community and visitor amenity?  Is the airport not listening? Are our staff not translating the requests for change?

I believe the community feels stood over instead of stood with. I expect a huge public forum at Monday’s meeting.  I am concerned that people in our community are spending huge time, money and energy on getting us to say a firm and permanent no to noise boundaries in Queenstown, and no to the perceived Wanaka plans.

Wearyingly, I reiterate my key points of concern in the current SOI presented.

  1. As in previous versions, this version is carefully worded to skirt responsibility to community and community wellbeing.
  2. As in previous versions, the situational overview intentionally ignores the community feedback received in the Queenstown master planning process, and entirely ignores the opposition from the Wanaka community (currently measured through a lobby group in the absence of completed consultation)
  3. As in previous versions, this SOI has unsubstantiated, loaded, non-independent opinions about the consequences of constraining airport growth (more road transport, less flight choice, more expensive flights) and no reference at all to the well referenced independent opinions about, for example Community Health.
  4. As in previous versions, this SOI swerves around putting a lid on noise boundaries Again, why can we not get a plan to run a profitable airport within current boundaries.
  5. The strategic direction is entirely unclear.  I want to know straight-up what the direction is for the next three years.

A Crux article refers to tomorrow’s meeting as a ‘showdown’ and ‘defining moment’ for our Mayor and this council.  Best we get it right.

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