Auckland should be allowed congestion charges or tolls

October 31st, 2014 at 11:44 am by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

The Transport Minister, Simon Bridges, may not be as loud and brash in his pronouncements as his predecessors but the message yesterday remained the same. He was, he said, “very sceptical” about the options presented by an independent advisory board to the Auckland Council to plug a $12 billion transport funding gap over the next 30 years. Shorn of euphemism, that represented yet another Government thumbs-down for the recommended solutions to the city’s congestion woes.

The board suggested a toll of about $2 as drivers entered the city’s motorways, or a mixture of a rates rise of about 1 per cent and a 1.2 cents a litre higher regional fuel tax. The first would require Government approval which, clearly, will not be forthcoming. Mr Bridges said the motorway system was built by taxpayers, and any revenue raised from it would belong in the first instance to taxpayers. Never mind that the on-ramps are half-funded by ratepayers and offer an ideal and simple charging point. In the case of the second recommendation, the minister noted that rates were a matter for the council, but said the Government did not support new taxes or raising the national tax for the benefit of one region.

I support user pays for transport. A congestion charge is the best form of user pays – a market charge. A toll charge is also an efficient mechanism of making sure users of the transport system pay for the benefits they get from them.

So I don’t think the Government should rule out congestion charges or tolls for Auckland Council, or other councils.

However I do think their position that any charges should not apply to roads already paid for by the taxpayer is reasonable. They should ideally be used on new roads not existing ones. So the Government should allow tolls and congestion charges, but set down some rules for how they can be applied.

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Bob Jones on Auckland Council’s cultural impact requirements

September 10th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Sir Bob Jones writes:

Recently, a shop tenancy changed in a modern 17-storey Auckland CBD office building owned by my company. The previous tenant had blocked off some of its window which we now intended putting back to the conventional shop front.

At this stage, sit down with a stiff drink and accept my assurance I’m not making this up.

For we were then informed by a planner my Auckland office uses for council dealings (which can be laborious) that under the new council rules, changes to a building’s appearance require resource consent and we would be subject to penalty if we simply put back the window.

If that’s not outrageously absurd enough, things then became truly Kafkaesque and illustrate why the Government, against ill-considered opposition parties’ objections, wishes to tone down the Resource Management Act.

For we were then told that under the new Draft Unitary Plan, not yet enacted, our building being within 50 metres of a designated Maori heritage site, we needed RMA approval (for a new shop window, for God’s sake), this instantly forthcoming at a cost of $4500 plus the approval of 13 iwi.

$4,500 for a new window!

The council refused to advise the addresses of these iwi outfits, yet added that without their consent, we can’t put back the window.

So the planner located then wrote to the 13 iwi, ranging from Taranaki to Whangarei.

Five replied stating they had no concerns while others said they were considering the matter, presumably calling huis to weigh up this window crisis.

Unbelievable.

One respondent bearing that fine old Maori name of Jeff Lee, representing something called Ngai Tai Ki Tamaki, contacted the planner.

Look up their website if you have tolerance for Maori “sacred footstep in the earth” guff, although it’s 100 per cent on the mark with its proclamation: “Our vision is only limited by our imagination.”

I’m sceptical about Mr Lee’s vision but have no doubt about his imagination, for after advising the planners verbally that no Cultural Impact Assessment Report was required for the window, he nevertheless asked them to consider it – brace yourselves – given his ancestors, centuries ago, gathered in the vicinity.

Lee then wrote, outlining his terms for “assessing the window’s cultural impact” which, he said, would take him “a total of six to eight hours”.

For this he sought $90 per hour plus GST and “travel expenses of 0.77c p/km.”

Very reasonable!

The council has designated 61 sites across Auckland and nominated 3600 others “of interest”. Undertake earthworks (swimming pool, building foundations, a shed etc) within 50m of a scheduled site and one must engage (pay) iwi.

None are of Stonehenge moment but instead claptrap such as “our ancestors beached canoes nearby” and the “feather-gathering” ilk.

A candidate for Mayor in 2016 should pledge to get rid of this nonsense, and they’ll win in a landslide. Shane Jones attacked the policy when he was an MP as political correctness gone mad or something like it. It does nothing for actual cultural heritage – it is simply a massive compliance cost.

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Auckland rates to go up up up

August 29th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Auckland Mayor Len Brown is talking of selling council carparks and naming rights to swimming pools to help balance the books in his new 10-year budget.

Mr Brown released his first draft of the budget yesterday, which contains overall rates rises of 2.5 per cent in the first two years and 3.5 per cent thereafter.

But due to a plan to reduce business rates at the expense of households, residential rates will increase by about 3.5 per cent in the first two years and 4.5 per cent over the next six years.

A Mayoral candidate in 2016 pledging that rates will not increase faster than inflation will easily win I’d say.

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Labour’s Auckland Council policy

August 15th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Cameron Brewer points out:

Labour leader David Cunliffe’s tough talk today around future local government amalgamations does not hide the fact that Labour’s 2011 policies to overhaul Auckland’s “over centralised and corporatised  super city” have all been dropped, infuriating those on the Left hoping for further changes, says Auckland Councillor Cameron Brewer.

“Mr Cunliffe’s roaring like a lion about proposed and future local government amalgamations, but when it comes to further reforming the super city structure that Labour promised three years ago, he’s turned into a big pussycat.”

Mr Brewer said in 2011 Labour’s manifesto vowed to “fix the super city’s democracy” including enshrining local board powers, replacing the Independent Maori Statutory Board with elected Maori seats, abolishing “a corporatised” Auckland Transport, and reviewing all laws and structures pertaining to Auckland Council’s governance and democracy. Back in 2011 Labour was also promising to tie in central government plans with Auckland’s priorities by promising to establish a “Common Accountability Platform for Auckland”.

“Labour’s policy pertaining to Auckland Council this election has been watered down to absolutely nothing which rest assured will be upsetting a lot of centre-left local body elected representatives,” he says.

“Labour shouts that it does not want another Government-imposed corporate-like model like Auckland’s, however Mr Cunliffe is no longer prepared to change anything to do with the super city. 

“Rather, despite all the bravado, Labour is now standing completely aside when it comes to Auckland. The most Labour is now promising is to encourage the council to hold some kind of public inquiry into how Auckland should be governed in the future. No promises of greater powers for local boards, scrapping the IMSB, or repealing super city legislation this election.

“It’s embarrassing for Mr Cunliffe that all his tough talk on local government amalgamations nationwide completely excludes anything changing in the super city – a model that Labour still claims to despise,” says Cameron Brewer

Brewer provides the two policies to compare:

The Labour Party’s 2014 Auckland local government policy: “Restore the power to Auckland Council to decide on its own structures for the delivery of transport and roading services, on which CCOs it retains, affirmation of the roles of Pacific, Ethnic and others, and on land use and housing planning and provision.  We will encourage Auckland Council to hold a full public inquiry into how best Auckland should be governed in the future.”

The Labour Party’s 2011 manifesto: “Labour will fix the super city’s democracy: enshrine powers of local boards, transition from the appointed Maori Statutory board to elected Maori seats, repeal the law that imposes a corporatised transport agency, and review the governance and democracy laws and structures after two years. Labour will set up a Common Accountability Platform for Auckland – Ministers, officials, and representatives of central government will agree common priorities with Auckland Mayor and Council, and ensure better, fairer better alignment between Aucklanders’ voices and needs, council capabilities, national policy and budget commitments.”

So their policy now is to basically ask the Council to have a public inquiry!

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How many hours until business class is justified?

July 25th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

A group of Auckland councillors have managed to retain a business-class-travel perk, but a bid to give them free parking has been voted down.

The move comes as reduced library hours, street cleaning and an end to inorganic rubbish collections are on the table for sweeping budget cuts.

George Wood, Christine Fletcher, Denise Krum and Calum Penrose were among those who voted yesterday to defeat an amendment by councillor John Watson to restrict business-class air travel to health grounds only.

Councillors get to keep the perk of sitting in business class when taking flights of more than six hours and conducting council business within 24 hours of landing at an overseas destination.

It took the casting vote of finance committee chairman and Labour councillor Ross Clow to keep the status quo in the elected members’ expenses policy, despite many of his left-wing colleagues voting to tighten the rules.

Right wingers Cameron Brewer and Dick Quax supported the left to tighten the rules.

Mr Clow justified his decision on the basis that elected representatives needed to turn up fresh and fully prepared to represent Auckland after long-haul travel beyond most of Australia.

I’m not an advocate of no business class travel ever for Councillors. If you are flying to London  for example, I think business class is appropriate, as otherwise it takes ages to recover from a 24 to 30 hour plane trip.

But a threshold of six hours seems too low for me. You don’t need business class to Perth or Hawaii or some of Asia. A fair policy I think might be:

  • Economy for flights up to six hours
  • Premium Economy for flights of six to 12 hours
  • Business for over 12 hours
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A $1.5 million sculpture funded by Auckland ratepayers

July 24th, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

Of all the plans for Queens Wharf, none has invited as much debate as the planned $1.5 million sculpture of a state house featuring a 4.5 tonne Venetian glass chandelier.

Yet any discussion can be no more than conjecture because the public is being denied images.

The Auckland Council says concept outlines are still being developed and will be released as soon as they are finalised.

That is not good enough.

Anything is better than nothing. The available images should be released if the council wants to avoid the suspicion that it is trying to put a lid on controversy.

There is much to be debated. Is the two-storey state house, to be built on a blue basalt plinth, a suitable object at the end of the wharf?

Or will it be, as the Waitemata Local Board contends, an out-of-place intrusion that will impede sea views? Would it, in fact, be better located at Wynyard Pt?

Why was the cost allowed to balloon out beyond the plentiful $1 million gifted by Barfoot & Thompson? And given the necessity for ratepayer funding, why has the project been fast-tracked with scant regard for normal council procedure?

It’s not clear if the $1.5 million is the ratepayer contribution, or just $500,000. But either amount is too much.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not a cultural philistine. I’m actually a member of the Wellington Sculpture Trust. When a Council has its books in order, and rates are not rising faster than inflation, then some investment in stuff such as sculptures can be okay. But Auckland Council is in a funding crisis. It is not business as normal. $100,000 on curtains and $1.5 million on a sculpture are luxuries that it can’t afford.

UPDATE: I understand that the Auckland Council has underwritten the Parekowhai sculpture to $500,000.

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Auckland Council costs

July 14th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Auckland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Michael Barnett says Brown has done what politicians have done to Auckland for years – offered low rates increases but not stuck to a spending plan that aligns with this.

He says if Auckland really wants to build a city that people want to live in there must be investment to attract people, investment and tourists.

Where the Auckland Council has gone wrong, he says, is not aggressively reviewing what it does with an eye on doing things better with less.

He asks: Does the council need 900 staff in planning and 600 in policy? Should Auckland Transport and the New Zealand Transport Agency combine in Auckland? Does Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (Ateed) need a $60 million budget?

“This is all stuff that should have been challenged over the last three years.”

900 planning staff? 6oo policy staff? My God.

And while some spending on tourism and events can be justifiable, $60 million is way over the top.

Quax said the mayor had shown no ability to say no to anyone who came knocking at his door, whether it be Maori, the Rescue Helicopter Trust, Holy Trinity Cathedral or Skypath.

Another right-wing opponent, Cameron Brewer, says the mayor has over-promised and rolled over to the wish lists of the former councils when he should have prioritised and cut projects at the outset.

Local body financial commentator Larry Mitchell, who produces annual “league tables” of council financial performance, said the council had substituted disciplined financial management with four years of “borrow and spend”.

Borrow, borrow and spend indeed.

UPDATE: Maybe a start could be made by not spending $100,000 for a silk curtain at the Devonport Library.

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Auckland Council facing reality

July 8th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Cutting back funding for park maintenance, reducing library hours and scrapping inorganic rubbish collections are among options being considered by a cash-strapped Auckland Council.

Its finances have reached crisis point where severe cuts are necessary in a black budget to put rates and debt back on an “affordable” and “sustainable” path. But families fear the proposals will leave the city’s youngsters worse off.

To rescue finances, slashing up to $2.8 billion of new spending is required, as well as stripping up to $486 million a year for each of the next 10 years.

The first overview of the new 10-year budget discussed by Mayor Len Brown, councillors and decision makers yesterday included the $2.86 billion City Rail Link, which has an enormous flow-on effect.

The more you spend on one item, the less you have elsewhere. It is elementary.

“We’ve been looking at a situation where on one hand we’ve got this ambitious programme but on the other hand we’ve got this constrained funding envelope.”

Welcome to fiscal reality.

The council has also identified parks and community services for cuts of up to $60 million a year with talk of closing “under utilised” halls, recreation centres and swimming pools. Fewer arts and culture festivals and events are under consideration.

The proposed cuts are on a scale never witnessed in Auckland before, and are certainly bigger than those of Auckland City Mayor John Banks’ razor gang of 2001, headed by former Finance Minister Sir William Birch.

Ratepayers should not be used as a never-ending source of increased revenue. Rates increases should be no more than inflation.

Under his first four budgets – based on the budgets and assumptions of the former councils – debt soared from $3.9 billion to $7.3 billion and households were hit with cumulative rates increases of up to 38 per cent.

The more debt you have, the greater the interest payments are.

Mr Brown has not ruled out breaking a key election promise to hold rates to no more than 2.5 per cent this term.

It will be his final term if he does. He may of course realise he won’t be re-elected regardless, so decide he has nothing to lose by breaking his promise.

However Councillors who vote for higher rates increases may face a challenge with re-election if they do.

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Public transport is for everyone else, not us!

June 25th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

First it was the mayor catching the train while being followed by his ratepayer-funded chauffeur-driven car.

Now, Len Brown’s staff have been riding in special shuttles zipping around Auckland – apparently because it’s faster than the public transport they provide to ratepayers.

Oh they are far too important to catch public transport. Public transport is for everyone else to use, to leave the roads free for the elite!

It reminds me of interviewing Green MP Sue Kedgley a few years ago. She spent most of the interview going on about the importance of public transport. I then askeed her how she was enjoying using the Snapper card, and she said she didn’t have one – it was obvious she never actually used buses herself much!

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Unable to cut down his own dangerous tree!

June 25th, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Every time the wind blows Craig Newth and his family worry what will happen to a 25 metre gum tree that towers over their house.

The Beach Haven, Auckland, resident says he doesn’t understand why the council won’t allow it to be removed.

Because they’re the Tree Police. Despite Parliament passing several laws, they regard all trees as belonging to them!

Newth says gum trees, also known as widow makers, are notorious for dropping limbs.

A council arborist, Vector worker and private arborist have all on separate occasions said the branches from the tree could injure someone and it should be removed, he says.

But when Newth approached the council they told him resource consent was needed and then declined it on more than one occasion.

You should not need resource consent to chop down your own tree, especially when it is a danger.

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Get rid of 450 of them and Auckland might prosper!

June 10th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

About 500 planning staff at Auckland Council face an uncertain future in a major restructuring exercise announced today.

Chief planning officer Dr Roger Blakeley said the council planning office had undergone significant change since the chief planning office was designed by the agency that set up the Super City in 2009.

“Our world is very different today. We have moved from the development of major plans to their implementation. There is still much planning to be done such as the completion of the Unitary Plan, structure plans and area plans.

“Nevertheless, we need to prepare ourselves for the next three years to be fit for purpose,” Dr Blakeley said.

Town planners tend to be the biggest compliance cost on a city. I say get rid of 90% of them, and see if anyone complains.

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Herald on ashes bylaw

June 9th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

Now, the Auckland Council has ventured into this area. As part of a wider bylaw covering cemeteries and crematoriums, it wants to prevent people scattering ashes in any public place – including beaches and parks – unless they have written approval from the council or Wahi Tapu Maori Komiti, a Maori committee overseeing sacred areas. Even people wanting to scatter ashes in a public cemetery would need to fill in approval forms and pay an “applicable” fee to the council.

Predictably enough, the proposal has attracted a storm of protest.

That anger is justified on several grounds. The council documents on the issue provide no detailed background to suggest major problems are arising from the scattering of ashes, either in terms of health or other risk, cultural sensitivities, or the growing extent of the practice. While cremations have become more popular, there are still only about 3000 a year in Auckland, compared with 2200 burials. That is a long way from the situation in Britain, where problems have arisen from the 420,000 cremations annually.

This suggests that, in the main, the council is looking for a solution where no significant problem exists. 

Exactly. And if there is a problem in a couple of discrete areas, then all you need is a couple of signs there asking people not to spread ashes there. What you don’t need is a law requiring you to gain permission to spread ashes anywhere in Auckland – let alone pay a fee for it.

A funeral celebrant described the council’s proposals as “crass”. That is apt. On an issue that demanded subtlety, it has employed a sledgehammer. Its proposal warrants the most rapid of burials.

It seems Wellington City already has such a policy. It should also be scrapped. I imagine almost everyone just ignores it anyway.

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Why is there a need for any bylaw on ashes?

June 5th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Plans to make grieving families apply for permission to scatter their loved ones’ ashes in public have been labelled crass and insensitive.

As part of a wider bylaw covering cemeteries and crematoria, Auckland Council wants to prevent people from scattering ashes in any public place – including beaches and reserves – unless they have written approval from the council or Wahi Tapu Maori Kimiti (a Maori committee that oversees sacred areas).

Even people wanting to scatter the ashes in a public cemetery would need to fill in forms for approval and pay “applicable fees” to the council.

The proposal, which could come into effect as early as November, has angered many people who feel the act doesn’t harm anyone and often helps grieving families to find closure by honouring a loved one’s final wish.

It’s ridiculous. Having to apply in writing and pay a fee to scatter ashes.

The Council should scrap its proposed bylaw. What need is there for one? What is the problem they are trying to fix?

If they do pass one, then everyone should ignore it. Dare the Council to prosecute you for scattering the ashes of a loved one at a local beach (for example), and watch the community rise up in outrage.

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How about funding neither?

May 27th, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reported:

The Auckland Council has money for the Parnell cathedral and Lopdell House in Titirangi but no money to upgrade marae, says Independent Maori Statutory Board member John Tamihere.

I’ve got an idea.

How about ratepayers don’t fund either, and instead the Anglican Church funds the Holy Trinity Cathedral and Ngati Whatua fund local marae?

Mr Tamihere criticised the “tyranny of the majority around the council table” for funding projects like Parnell cathedral while ignoring spending on marae.

Fair enough. So do neither.

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Nanny Auckland

May 12th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Auckland risks becoming a “nanny city” compared to party-friendly Wellington if a proposal to cut bar hours is adopted, a city councillor has warned.

Hot on the heels of new national 4am closing hours for bars, the Auckland Council wants to close Auckland pubs and clubs even earlier – at 3am in the city and Ponsonby, and 1am everywhere else.

Bars would not be able to sell shooters, shots or many cocktails after midnight throughout most of the city and not after 1am in city and Ponsonby bars.

The council’s proposed local alcohol policy, set to be approved for public consultation tomorrow, also specifies more restrictive hours for off-licences by limiting alcohol sales to not before 9am and not after 10pm.

National laws that began in December 2013 set off-licence hours from 7am to 11pm.

Auckland city councillor Cameron Brewer lashed out at the proposals and said Wellington would be the biggest winner from the proposed policy.

“This policy will make a joke of council’s latest marketing campaign that promotes Auckland as ‘the show that never stops’.”

Auckland has also made the same mistake as many other Councils and not distingished between types of off-licenses.  There’s a difference between people going into a bottle store to buy more spirits for a party and people wanting to buy a bottle of wine at the same time as they are doing their weekly groceries shopping. The proposed Auckland policy will inconvenience many responsible shoppers and drinkers – while not actually reducing alcohol abuse. A more targeted policy could reduce the inconvenience with no trade off in terms of reducing alcohol abuse.

Brewer said Auckland’s “puritan” laws had taken the new powers “to the extreme”. Events like champagne breakfasts for the Rugby World Cup or Commonwealth Games would become illegal with new minimum opening hours of 9am, he said.

Brewer said the limiting of off-licence hours would annoy a lot of people.

“Wine and beer will be roped off like we used to have in the old days when you couldn’t buy alcohol from supermarkets on Sundays. It’s ‘back to the future’ stuff,” he said.

“Mum and dad shoppers won’t be able to buy wine or beer with their weekly groceries before 9am and after 10pm.

“It makes no sense, particularly the morning ban . . . These grocery shoppers are not the problem.”

Exactly.

But councillor George Wood, who supported the proposal, said on-licence operators would be able to apply for extensions after a 12-month trial.

George is of course a former Police commander, and the Police view is that nothing good ever happens at 3 am. That’s an appalling view. I’ve been in town many times after 3 am with friends – and none of us have ever caused problems.

Wood said the Wellington City Council proposed 3am in its draft but 5am was adopted after consultation.

So will the Auckland Council listen, like Wellington did?

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18,000 new houses for Auckland

May 8th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Auckland mayor Len Brown and Housing Minister Nick Smith have this afternoon announced a third tranche of “Special Housing Areas” for 18,000 new residences under the Auckland Housing Accord.

The announcement was made at a site at 11 Akepiro Street, Mt Eden, set to be developed into 18 units by Ockham Residential.

Big parts of Great North Rd, Otahu Coast, Flat Bush, New Lynn, Northcote, Albany East and Takanini are ear-marked as strategic areas, for big-scale redevelopment.

The Auckland Housing Accord, agreed to last year by Smith and Brown, provides for the creation of SHAs by Auckland Council with the approval of the Government. Qualifying developments in these areas are able to be streamlined and fast-tracked but the areas are raising alarm in areas from Takapuna to Newmarket, as people suddenly realise their streets will change dramatically.

Auckland needs more land and more houses (and more apartment buildings), it’s that simple.

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A win for the Helicopter Trust

March 14th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Auckland Mayor Len Brown has called for a funding board at the centre of a row with the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust to be scrapped following its recommendation to slash funding for the trust by half. …

“It is difficult for Aucklanders to make sense of a decision to cut the rescue helicopter’s funding by 70 per cent in the last five years, while increasing funding for the nine other regional organisations it funds by between 30 and 150 per cent,” the mayor said.

“I think we have to be upfront and say this funding model is not working for Auckland and it’s time that council worked with central government to fix it.”

The first step, he said, would be to work with Auckland councillors to come up with a plan to fill the $900,000 gap in the trust’s finances.

Brown’s doing the right thing here. He’s basically saying the Board is making decisions that defy common sense, and they should be abolished. Until such time the Auckland council directly will step in and restore funding to the Helicopter Trust.

 

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Auckland sites needing a cultural assessment grow to 5,500

March 10th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Bernard Orsman writes:

The Auckland Council has confirmed that an extra 2000 or so properties are covered by a controversial rule requiring owners to seek iwi approval to work on their land.

A rule in the council’s draft Unitary Plan requires applicants carrying out work on 3661 sites of significance and value to mana whenua to obtain a “cultural impact assessment” from one or more of 19 iwi groups.

Now the council has told the Herald the rule applies to “significant ecological areas (SEA)”, of which more than 2000 were in the plan.

Maybe it would be easier for the Council to just provide a list of sites which don’t need a cultural assessment in order to remove vegetation etc. Eventually that will be the shorter list.

Politicians are divided on the iwi consent rule, which Auckland University associate law professor Ken Palmer said must be seen as invalid.

In a letter to the Herald on Friday, Professor Palmer, an expert on the Resource Management Act, said Labour amended the act in 2005 to clarify doubts over consultation, especially with iwi.

“The section unequivocally states ‘neither [an applicant nor a council] has a duty under this act to consult any person about the application’.”

Council chief planning officer Dr Roger Blakeley disputed Dr Palmer’s interpretation, saying a cultural impact assessment was not equivalent to consultation, but similar to a requirement to supply specialist reports, such as from an engineer.

Semantics. It is another step towards town planners undermining the rights of owners.

Professor Palmer did not agree with Dr Blakeley’s view, saying a specialist report might be justified on matters of land risk, noise and air pollution, etc, but any obligation to consult mana whenua on cultural concerns went beyond this “and impinges on normal rights of freehold ownership”.

Indeed.

Labour’s Maori affairs spokesman, Shane Jones, said the council should assure itself it was taking account of Maori criteria in the act because the average Kiwi would recoil when asked to engage in a long and expensive cultural impact assessment.

Mr Jones said no one doubted the need to embrace obligations to respect sacred sites, but the issue had morphed into something else.

I’m still waiting for someone in the media to pin Nanaia Mahuta down and ask her if she agrees with Shane Jones in his opposition to the cultural assessments. Or Phil Twyford. Or David Cunliffe.

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Stopping the double dippers

March 4th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

MP Maggie Barry is labelling a Shore politician’s claims she is trying to remove him from office as “ridiculous”.

But Devonport-Takapuna Local Board member Grant Gillon says it’s no conspiracy theory.

Ms Barry, National MP for North Shore, had her bill to stop people serving on two or more Auckland local boards drawn from the member’s bill ballot.

Very sensible. You can’t be the MP for Wellington Central and say the MP for Mana. Your job is to represent one locality.

Among the few politicians this would affect is Mr Gillon who serves on both Devonport-Takapuna and Kaipatiki local boards.

Mr Gillon believes it’s motivated by his support for stopping housing at Bayswater Marina and opposition to closing Takapuna Beach Holiday Park to make way for a national sailing centre.

“There can be no other reason why the local MP considers removing me from office as the most important issue for the North Shore in an election year.”

He says the bill is poorly drafted and will force at least six costly by-elections across Auckland.

There is an SOP with the bill to clarify it is not retrospective. There will be no by-elections. The issue is whether politicians such as Gillon should be allowed to serve on two or more local boards concurrently.

Ms Barry says double dipping opens up the “real potential for conflicts of interest”.

“This has allowed local board power to be concentrated in the hands of a few people, many of whom don’t even live in the area they represent.”

The idea of local boards is that they are, well local.

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Jones v taniwha

March 3rd, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Another good quote from Shane Jones:

A couple have been told to apply to 14 different iwi to keep the water running to their home.

Brent and Jennifer Tassell will need approval to renew resource consent on a bore hole that has been operating for 10 years, supplying water to eight Puhoi homes.

The bore draws water from 305m underground and is the only source of water for the properties in Slowater Lane, on the northern outskirts of greater Auckland.

“It’s a hole in the ground that’s been there for 10 years,” said Jennifer. “It’s completely over the top for our situation.”

Under the draft Auckland Unitary Plan, all applicants for resource consent for new or existing developments must apply to iwi for them to assess whether it would have an adverse effect on mana whenua.

Taking or using groundwater is on the list of activities that could have a cultural impact, so iwi may insist on a cultural impact assessment – at the applicant’s cost.

Applicants may also have to foot the bill for the “costs of engagement” in the process.

The Tassells will meet Labour MP Shane Jones, who has been vocal in his disagreement with iwi approval rules.

He warned the new Auckland Council lacked safeguards.

“Maori heritage, while it’s important, it must never be used as a basis for divisiveness – and I fear that’s a consequence in this case,” he said.

Iwi should not be allowed to intervene to “test whether there’s a taniwha down a 10-year-old bore”.

What a great quote. Any other MP saying it would probably get bashed, but Jones can get away with it.

Jones has transformed himself from one of the laziest Labour MPs to one of the most effective. It is great to see.

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A resignation offence

March 3rd, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

An Auckland politician has admitted making threatening comments about getting a restaurant’s liquor licence pulled after being refused a free bottle of wine.

Howick local board member Steve Udy faces a formal complaint, after the incident last week at the Porterhouse Grill, a popular new family-owned restaurant in Pakuranga.

Resident Peter Barclay, who is related to one of the staff, has lodged a complaint with Auckland Council chief executive Stephen Town, demanding Udy be censured for using his position to solicit a gift.

“When this was politely refused by management he became abusive and claimed that because of his position as a Howick board member he had the power to close the restaurant down,” the complaint alleges.

That’s so far beyond acceptable behaviour that I think it is a resignation offence. You should not hold positions like that, if you think it allows you to bully local restaurants.

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Is the Maori Party calling Shane Jones racist?

March 2nd, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Maori Party have said:

The Maori Party say a cultural impact assessment clause in Auckland’s Draft Unitary Plan is a good idea, and that people focusing on race and cost are missing the big picture.

Te Ururoa Flavell, Maori Party Co-leader says “the provision in the plan to seek a cultural impact assessment from mana whenua on certain sites tagged for development is a good thing. It’s good because Maori have knowledge, history and a unique cultural perspective that can and will add value to our resource management decisions.”

“We are, however, shocked and disappointed with some of the reactions to the proposal. It tells us that our Maori culture, our knowledge, and our history are still treated as second class here in Aotearoa.”

Shane Jones is opposed. Does this mean they are saying Shane Jones is treating Maori as second class citizens? Surely not.

I’m with Shane on this one. But am still waiting to hear if even a single other Labour MP agrees with Shane.

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How can you sue to demand a higher donation?

February 25th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

In terms of fundraising, few organisations are in such a favoured position as the Westpac rescue helicopter service. Such is the high profile and obvious value of its work that Aucklanders respond readily and generously whenever money is sought. This degree of public goodwill should never be taken for granted, however. There will always be the strong risk of a backlash when ratepayers learn they can expect a $500,000 legal bill to defend a court case brought by the helicopter service.

That situation has arisen because the Auckland Regional Rescue Helicopter Trust is challenging plans to cut its annual operating grant from ratepayers from $900,000 to $450,000. Both the Auckland Council and the council-funded Auckland Regional Amenities Funding Board, which determines the grants allotted to 10 rescue, safety, arts and cultural groups, are standing firm. The helicopter service, they say, has been incredibly successful at fundraising and is in an exceptionally sound financial position. It is ready to stand more on its own two feet.

I don’t have a particular view on what the level of funding should be. But I do have a strong view that this is effectively a donation, and that the recipients of a donation should not go to court to try and force a higher level of donation.

The Trust provides a valued service and does much good. But this lawsuit risks a lot of goodwill.

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Brown inquiry cost ratepayers $250,000

February 4th, 2014 at 6:50 pm by David Farrar

Simon Wilson at Metro reports:

The cost of the EY report into mayor Len Brown’s affair with Bevan Chuang has come in at around $250,000. That’s the word from reliable, well-placed sources close to the council.

It’s an outrageous amount, and the reason it is so high can be traced directly back to the council’s then-CEO, Doug McKay. It was McKay who ordered the inquiry and then allowed it to blossom into an investigation far in excess of what was originally intended.

He earlier stated the inquiry would cost around $75,000. Then in December, he told the council the final figure was not yet known but it would be “over $100,000”. The final figure of a quarter of a million dollars is so far above these estimates, it begs the question: why did he provide such low earlier estimates?

The answer to that is obvious, and I suspect Simon is being spun a line from Len’s office.

Len lawyered up and hired QCs and the like to try and derail the report.  Because Len was refusing to co-operate initially and threatening legal review, the Council was forced to hire a top QC also.

This inquiry would not have been needed if Len kept his private life away from the Council. If his affair had not occurred with a Council board member and contractor, had not used Council resources, had not involved liaisons in Council offices, and not had him getting free hotel rooms for the affair – then there would have been no Council investigation.

If Brown’s affair had been with Mrs Smith-Jones of Papakura and they met in their own time, in private residences or hotel rooms they paid for, then there is no way there would have been a Council inquiry.

Having Metro blame the poor Chief Executive for trying to save the reputation of the Council is obvious spin from Camp Len.

The only question now is how much of the $250,000 cost will Len pay, and how much will be left for ratepayers to pay. I think 50/50 would be equitable.

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Berms being mowed again

February 3rd, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Auckland Transport has quietly backed down on mowing berms, but is skimping on the quality of grass-cutting.

After months of controversy and scruffy verges, the Auckland Council’s transport arm has resumed mowing berms where residents cannot do so, or refuse to.

But Auckland Transport will cut the grass only periodically, and to a lower standard than previously.

A quiet partial backdown.

Orakei councillor Cameron Brewer said he planned an amendment for the proper reinstatement of berm mowing, which could be funded from a special $101 million dividend from Auckland Airport, or internal savings.

“The policy has failed dismally and saved nothing. The silliness and constant fighting with the elderly, sick, migrants and those who don’t have a lawn mower has to stop,” he said.

My view is that the owner of the berm should be responsible for its mowing.

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