We have an opportunity not to be missed. It’s an opportunity that I suspect will be the single coolest and possibly the most important project that I can get behind during my term on the Local Board. It’s a project that will meet the many varied needs of different parts of the community; it will bring people together, it will enable collaboration, it will change the way we use Takapuna Town Centre. It’s a new Library and Community hub for Takapuna.
The Takapuna Library and Council service buildings have been under review. A large collection of buildings sit behind Massimo on the Strand, and many of them, you wouldn't even know exist. Part of Council's job is to assess the state of all Council facilities and see if they're still meeting the changing needs of the community in their current form and in their operation. Included in this service assessment are the Takapuna Library, the Mary Thomas Centre behind the library, and the array of council offices and halls tucked in behind the library that house Plunket, Citizens’ Advice Bureau and the Takapuna War Memorial Hall (as well as an array of empty offices and other small organisations).
You’ll be forgiven if you don’t know much about the Mary Thomas Centre or the Takapuna Community Services Building beside the library. They’re obscure and out of the way. They’re degraded buildings, leaking and old and offer some significant barriers to those who use them; such as access, visibility, and poor design. But yet, the things that happen inside those buildings are incredibly important to our community and with those barriers removed, I suspect more people would want to make use of them.
The library (where I ironically sit right now typing) is far more than a library, it’s a place for people to connect, where chess matches are won, where history is researched, where intergenerational dialogue takes place. Rhymetimes, book talks, chess games, and harpsichord concerts; these are all activities that I’ve observed in the last two days of using this facility. In the Positive Ageing Centre the Older Women’s Network host their annual celebrations and the Senior Citizens come together to make friends and do what Senior Citz do. Our Citizen’s Advice Bureau continues to perform an essential service for people in need of guidance, and Plunket too plays an important role supporting new parents. Inside the Mary Thomas Centre our Takapuna North Community Trust operates, an organisation that supports and connects community through events, activations and ecological restoration. So too do the Auckland North Community & Development group who support not-for-profits with accounting, are incubators of innovation, and work towards minimising family violence on the Shore. These groups host multiple community meetings, and if it weren’t for the wet and mouldy smell and the tink-tink-sound of water dripping from the light fittings into the pot in the middle of the room, the lack of access and poor visibility, I'm sure the tenants would be very happy to stay.
Imagine if we could provide all these groups and all users of these services a beautifully designed, inspiring, and versatile premises in the heart of Takapuna where the new town centre will be, with good access to nearby bus stops, and a short walk from the new car park building? Luckily for us this very opportunity is here for the taking.
A couple of weeks ago we got to walk through Te Manawa, which is a new community hub, designed by Warren Mahoney in Westgate. It’s Auckland’s first fully integrated community facility incorporating community venues, a commercial kitchen for hire, library and Council services. There’s not much you can’t do at Te Manawa and when we were there, we saw loads and loads of people using the stunning building in a range of ways. At Te Manawa you can grab the bookable needles and thread and make use of the sewing machine in a maker’s space. You can 3D print anything you design. You can join in with all the kids activities, or find the quiet puzzle corner and complete your puzzles. You can work in the silent computer rooms, or book a collaboration space. There are two sound engineering rooms where you can produce your own music. There’s a roof-top terrace for events with great views, a massive hall for hire that can be divided in half for smaller groups or bookable quiet spaces. There’s a Citizens’ Advice Bureau and Council offices. There’re kitchenettes so you can heat up your lunch, and stay the day. There’s not much that can’t be achieved at Te Manawa and it sits beautifully in the middle of a vibrant and growing town centre – right in the place where people are, where space is plentiful and the experience is joyful. Te Manawa is a core community destination, and guess what? We can do the same in Takapuna.
By selling the existing facilities and using the funds, we’re able to deliver a benchmark civic building in Takapuna. One that is multi-functional, purposeful, modern and stylish. Very soon Takapuna is not going to be the same place that you see today. As more sites are snapped up by developers and the centre begins to grow up, we’re going to have a whole new set of people living in the area and loving the beachside-city-vibe lifestyle our Metropolitan Centre will offer.
I don’t know about you, but this sounds pretty dreamy, and best of all it's within reach. So keep your ear out for more developments, because all going well, good things are coming.
In this week’s Local Board Business Meeting the new Chair submitted a Notice of Motion to open the Local Board workshops. Three of us voted against this motion, three voted for. It was passed using the casting vote of the Chair. It’s a big decision for a Board to open their workshops and so it’s worth learning about why I didn’t want to see it happen.
The Local Board comes together every Tuesday for workshops. Every third Tuesday of the month we hold an open business meeting where decisions are made. The other 3 Tuesdays are set aside for various departments of Council or the CCOs such as Auckland Transport (AT) or Eke Panuku or Auckland Unlimited to come and present to us items of importance to our Local Board area. Community Groups too can come to us during this time to workshop any issues or concerns they may have.
Workshops are a tool for elected members to gain valuable insights and information on issues or projects happening in the area. We’re able to ask as many questions as we like and thrash out ideas on how to get the best outcomes for all. There is a free flow of information and this is important in supporting us to make good decisions when the Business Meeting comes around.
When I was the Business Improvement District Manager in Devonport I would come to workshops to discuss things happening in the town centre. Whilst my formal presentation was available to the public, as all workshop material is, it was the verbal exchange that was recorded by the sitting media who went straight to print with a story that I hadn’t expected, I hadn’t been interviewed for, and on content that hadn’t even been confirmed or decided upon. It had been a free and frank conversation that suddenly hit the headlines, because let’s face it, it’s always a slow news day in Devonport.
I was aggrieved, and it meant that I was unlikely to answer future questions in a workshop, or present the full picture, instead only focusing on the rosy news-worthy stories rather than engaging in a constructive conversation. This is a massive problem, because I know that I have not been the only person blind-sided by this ‘openness and transparency’ issue before. I told myself that if I was elected, I would close those workshops once again, and that’s what Aidan, George and I did. Aidan got some grief for this, particularly by the local media who had just had the free content tap turned off. You can see the satirical cartoon they did on Aidan above to get a gauge on their reaction. But for Aidan and me both, this gig is not a life-style choice. We don’t plan on being in this role a long time; all we ever cared about is doing a bloody good job for the community in the time that we are here. We need information to do that, and we don’t care about getting off-side with the noisy few in order to get that information.
The Devonport-Takapuna Local Board workshops were opened for the first time in 2013. Aidan Bennett, George Wood and I closed them again in 2019. Today there are only 3 of 21 Local Boards that have open workshops, and in no other case is there a local media sitting in the room writing down everything they hear.
There is a process, and the process is a democratic one. You elect your members. Those members do the work, learn what needs to be learned, set a direction and then we go out for consultation. This is the point where the public get involved. The public can attend a meeting and make a deputation, or speak in public forum. We host Community Meetings where anyone can ask to attend and speak to anything they are passionate about. There are online ‘have your say’ opportunities for renewals and policy changes. When that feedback is gathered, we then workshop the topic again, before taking it to an open meeting to make a decision.
But what will happen now, is we will stop seeing the officers. Hui with mana whenua will be less likely to take place. Having a journalist in attendance at every workshop and meeting is unnatural and compromises relationships. George Wood made a very good comment in relation to this Notice of Motion around our need to work constructively with Auckland Transport to get the Lake Road improvement back on track. If Auckland Transport come to workshop to discuss options, and the local paper goes to print on those options before they’re even refined, resulting in a tirade of rage directed at Auckland Transport (we’ve all seen the bullying that goes on FB) Auckland Transport are unlikely to bring us on the journey. We will have no influence on the end result. That's a loss to our community.
I also believe strongly that as elected members we need to do everything in our power to safeguard the wellbeing of Council staff. There has been a recent wellbeing review released that acknowledges the level of bullying Council Staff get from both elected members and members of the public. Very sadly two of our Council staff committed suicide before Christmas. One of them I knew. I once worked for her incredible father. She was my age and she was under pressure from the public and members because she was working on Auckland’s weed policy and the use of agrichemicals – a contentious topic to say the least. For her it got so bad she did what she needed to do to get some peace. It's a tragic story, and yet, it's not a story, it's a sad, sad truth. Why would I subject other Council Staff to a workshop where the angry mobs can come in and harass them? Why would they want to come in and work with us when we’re not protecting them? It’s negligence on our part if we think that’s okay.
My other issue is that it’s not ‘openness and transparent’ when the only people who do attend are the older set with time on their hands. Not one person in my own demographic attends workshops. Not one person from a minority culture attends workshops. Instead we get the same group (we know them all by name!) who come in every week, make tutting noises, interject, and distract. Once, before I was elected, I attended a workshop I was presenting at, and observed some of these people walking around the Council table handing out pieces of paper to various Board members whilst the meeting was in action. I couldn’t believe it. Workshops turn into a circus of bad behaviour. It's shambolic. But the new Chair and two other members campaigned together on this issue, so it was no surprise when the Notice of Motion was placed upon the agenda in their first Business Meeting.
I believe it’s a decision made to publicly look good, appease their noisy mates and feel like they're fighting for democracy. To me, that’s simply not good enough because the damage to the process is far greater than the accolades gained by looking like the good guys.
Now we can just watch and observe as our workshop content dries up and the opportunities we have to do good things for our community dry up with it. Workshops may be open, but Local Board business will start to close.
In this week’s DTLB Business Meeting we approved our feedback on the draft Long Term Plan (LTP). The LTP is the 10-year budget that sets the strategic direction for the city’s future investment. Through a special consultative procedure, the community was asked if they support key moves such as rates increases, extension of the water quality targeted rate, greater investment in climate action, and a more strategic approach to delivering our community services.
I’ve mentioned before that Auckland has a massive portfolio of Council assets and not all are created equal. Some are in poor condition, are poorly utilized, or serve no real purpose other than to cost the taxpayer in maintenance. Others are amazing, dynamic, loved and highly frequented assets in our community (think Devonport Library, Sunnynook Community Centre, Takapuna Pools etc).
As part of the consultation, in which just over 1000 people from our Local Board submitted on, there was an opportunity to support a new approach to how we deliver our community services. Ultimately the old method of building new buildings, then paying for their maintenance and operating costs is leaving Aucklanders with a massive operational bill each year. The new community investment proposal advocates for consolidating services in better designed, fit-for-purpose facilities that deliver better for more people.
With that in mind, and with the need to claw back $70 million worth of savings each year following the financial hit taken from COVID, some of these Council buildings need to be sold and there are two such buildings in our Local Board area in this category; 3 Victoria Road Devonport and 2 The Strand Takapuna.
Through the consultation mechanism 8 people voted in support of selling 3 Victoria with 6 against, and 9 people voted in favour of selling 2 Strand with 4 against. Of the 1000+ submissions, 58% supported a more strategic approach to managing our community assets, with 27% opposed to the new direction. So, from that we can deduce that the general public understand tough decisions need to be made to reduce overall costs and deliver better for our changing needs. Weirdly, despite this clear steer from the community, I found myself a minority voice for sensible decision making once again.
I featured it in a Devonport heritage podcast I produced that you can listen to here! The building however, is earthquake prone sitting at 25% new building standard (NBS). This makes it impossible for community groups to lease, for if anything happens (regardless of how unlikely that may be) that Community Group would carry the liability if anyone is hurt or the building is damaged. Assuming they’ve taken legal advice, no volunteer organization would accept that level of risk. It’s for this reason the Devonport Business Association couldn’t continue a lease of the building, and I lost my office, and the volunteer Devonport Information Centre was moved on.
Since then, the building has been locked up because no business wants to take on the cost of restoration or the risk associated. So there it sits, with a chain and a lock on the door, gathering dust and making a woeful impression on visitors coming to Devonport off the ferry.
There is no community requirement for this building, and so Council will not find the money to restore it, especially in these economic times. Some may argue with that point, as there was a consortium of local community groups who came together with a proposal to use it, but the truth is, none of those groups actually needed it. Devonport has a very good provision for community groups and facilities with venues for hire at The Community House, the Library, Friendly Societies Hall, Senior Citizen Hall, Whare Toi, Yacht Club, Sea Scouts Hall and more. The cost of improving and maintaining that building, to enable this type of purpose, is too much to justify. I (and many others) understand that. I’ll be vilified by some, I’m sure, for saying it, but it’s true.
What needs to happen is 3 Victoria Road needs to be sold. It needs to be sold to a heritage buff (because it’s a Category A Heritage Building) who sees the value in restoring it, making it safe to occupy, and opening its doors. Heritage buildings need to be lived in and instead of allowing demolition by neglect, we can enable someone with passion and money to breathe life into the building, find a new purpose for it, and bring footfall to our town centre.
Using a casting vote, and in ignoring the wishes of the community, our Board this week voted not to sell it. So I guess it will continue to sit there, a closed up heritage building sinking deeper into dereliction.
We’d have to throw more than a million taxpayer dollars at it to open its doors, and given there’s no community benefit from doing so, we probably shouldn’t.
2 Strand is a category B heritage scheduled building under the Auckland Unitary Plan and what makes this building particularly special is that it’s subject to an endowment. This means if we sell it on, the proceeds from the disposal must be used in accordance with the requirements of sections 140 & 141 of the Local Government Act 2002. In short, we can use the cash to deliver one of the many projects the community has been asking of us for a very long time. Aidan Bennett recommended buying the Firth Property on Kitchener Road to secure future access on the coastal walkway between Takapuna and Milford (a vital section of the Te Araroa walkway). I agree with him, but if there’s no universal support for that, we’re desperate to fund the Francis-Esmonde street shared path that will complete the green route from Devonport to Takapuna, or deliver on the estuary boardwalk project the community in Milford have been trying to get across the line.
Again, however, using a casting vote, our Board decided we should just keep that building locked up for longer, because let's be real, that's all that's going to happen.
Making Tough Decisions
The approach Aidan and I have always taken in this role is to get the facts, look for the opportunity, and make the tough decisions. All we can do is continue to advocate for sensible pragmatic decision making. We just don’t always get it over the line and this is where I wish more people took an interest in decisions made by our Local Board.
For now, we look forward to the continued updates on how long these two buildings remain locked up for in our local paper. What are we on now? 1024? What a shame.
Photos: Adorable Ella on her way to kindy & my neighbour Chris who has used AT Local over 600 times.
The day our third child finally starts primary school (in 67 days to be exact) my husband and I will be popping the bubbles. We have earned it.
Motherhood, in those early years, wasn’t something I was particularly adept at. I often envied those mums that made it look easy, knowing that I made it look like the most stressful job on the planet. I think my husband probably shed tears of relief when I conceded it was time to head back to work.
After my second child turned one I started to look through SEEK. I was after a part-time, flexible, engaging job (was I being too picky?). As the primary care giver (as women predominantly are) it would fall on me to be the one to drop off and pick up the children from their preschool, or rapidly drop what I was doing in response to a toddler-sized health crisis. This responsibility was something I willingly accepted because I still wanted to be as present as I could, meeting my children’s various needs.
Finding a job with such specific requirements was not easy. In a city as big as Auckland, where 800 additional cars are added to the roads every week, transport and access was soon included to that list of criteria. In my case, I did get that particular job and was lucky to do so, but it dawned on me that my return-to-work-checklist was probably the same for many mothers (or primary caregivers) wanting to re-enter the workforce. And therein lies the rub.
Where local jobs are few and far between working women are forced to widen their search and their ability to do that is dependent upon transport and access. How easy is it to get to work, and how easy is it to respond to a daycare drama or sick-bay situation? Typically coupled with a strong desire to make more environmentally sustainable choices, what women are seeking from their work commute is often different to their male counterparts.
With that challenge in mind, it stands to reason that I want to meet the brains behind Auckland Transport’s AT Local trial and give them the best kind of high five. The sort of high five where every digit connects in the space in-between and the ‘clap’ leaves a warm prickle in the palm of your hand. This is rare indeed, but it indicates how awesome I found AT Local to be; and I was not alone.
AT Local ran as a 2-year trial offering locals on the Devonport Peninsula an unparalleled public transport service - an on-demand electric rideshare vehicle that collected individuals from anywhere within a designated area and delivered them to the ferry terminal (or other destination). It was rapid, reliable, comfortable and made the most of clean energy. At times I made friends and often caught rides with neighbours. It was social and it was community building. It was all kinds of awesome. Importantly, for many local parents, it was the portal through which they could access every employment opportunity our country’s biggest city could offer in the CBD.
From its inception the Local Board should have championed the concept because if it proved successful (which it did), Devonport Peninsula may have been able to retain it, and better still, it could have been replicated in other areas where access is lacking. It was an innovative solution that offered the type of public transport ease working parents are so in need of.
When consultation went out on whether or not to retain the AT Local in some form, the majority of responses were in favour of doing so. Majority too were women (55% + some who preferred not to say) and for the first time ever we saw massive engagement from the under 65s (76% with majority sitting in the 35-54-year groups) Sadly, due to the ongoing cost, and inability for the service to grow as demand grows, it was decided that AT Local would cease in favour of a better designed bus service. This leaves a bunch of AT Local users having to rethink the way they get to work, as not all in the AT Local area can access the new bus network, and indeed 188 of the 704 responses said they’ll now have to start driving their own private vehicle. One mother emailed me with her quandary:
"For environmental, financial and access to transit reasons my family made the conscious decision to be a single vehicle family. Having the AT Local available to us, was a factor in that decision. I rely heavily on the AT Local service to get to and from work as well as to and from my daughter’s Kindy (which is not directly accessible by bus) anywhere from 2-4 days per week.
As of February 27th, in order to get her to Kindy, we are going to have to drop our oldest daughter at school, wait for the 814 Bus which will take us only to the corner of Robertson Ave and Lake Road. We will then have to walk 15-20 minutes to the Kindy. We will be late. After drop-off, I will have to reverse the process in order to get to work in the village. While I understand that this is doable, the whole process ends up taking approximately 90 minutes for what is effectively a 2.6km journey with a pre-schooler. This therefore does not allow me to start work until 10am. If I have to repeat the process for pick-up, I am forced to finish work at around 1:45pm (bus schedule dependent) and have to pull my youngest out of Kindy early so that we can be on-time to pick up my oldest."
This genuine predicament that we’ve forced one family in to is not an isolated one, it’s one of many and I received plenty of emails, calls and messages from working parents whose households are mourning the loss of this enabling public transport service.
As an app-based public transport offer, AT Local was not widely used by those over 65 (who are in fairness, big public transport users). Many found the service to be overly complex, requiring a degree of digital literacy that some did not possess. Given my own 10-year refuses to let me use the remote because I keep pressing the wrong buttons, I’m increasingly understanding this dilemma. Auckland Council and Auckland Transport take access incredibly seriously (and rightly so), but I’d like to set a challenge and ask that ALL barriers that ALL individuals have in accessing public transport, be they real or perceived, are addressed in our public transport network design. Public transport shouldn’t be a ‘one size fits all’ model, because some barriers to transport impact not just an individual but at times whole families. Those barriers may be the difference between whether a parent works or not, or whether a child has a parent ready and waiting at school pick up. In my view, AT Local was a great success, and if it ever returns, I’ll have another reason to be popping the bubbles, and I'm sure many locals will want to join me.
On December 1st 2020, Mayor Goff released his proposal for the 2021-2031 10-Year Budget. This proposal is out for public consultation from today (22 Feb) until 22 March. Following public feedback the final decisions for the budget will be made in May and adopted by the Governing Body in June this year.
For those who are interested I thought I’d write a basic breakdown of what adoption of the budget in its current form means for us all, because if you care about investment in our infrastructure, if you're concerned about climate change, and you're a rate payer - this budget will affect you.
Before I begin however, I must first articulate the backdrop in which the 10 Year Budget has been formed; in 2020 Council was down $450million in forecasted revenue due to the impacts of Covid, add to that the unexpected $224mill cost in water supply & treatment needed to respond to the drought and water demands of the city, and an additional $500million increase in the City Rail Link project. It’s clear to see, Council is low on the dough. Not only that, the previous 10 year budget saw an unprecedented investment in Auckland’s infrastructure due to historic underfunding of roads, public transport, cleaning up waterways and protecting our natural environment; these are costs that can’t be easily delayed or deferred. Climate change and environmental degradation doesn’t just fix itself because we’re now responding to a global pandemic, continued investment in this area is critical. We also have a massive portfolio of community facilities that are ageing and not always meeting existing or future need. These facilities require significant investment so that they are fit for purpose, and this is more than we can afford. In a nutshell, it’s all a little bit grim.
The 10 Year Budget now out for consultation is about recovery, not austerity. We can’t simply slash & burn necessary projects that are in the pipeline, and nor can we keep cutting jobs. We must continue to invest in our city, get the things done that we’ve been crying out for, and stimulate the economy by creating employment. We need optimism and a shared understanding of how our collective action will best serve the place we call home.
The Mayoral Proposal itself is a decent 17 page read that is well worth a squizz if you have the time. For those that don’t, here are the main points:
This all sounds a bit painful to the average Aucklander, but the funding raised by lifting the debt to revenue ratio for 3 years and the one off 5% rate increase will enable Council to deliver up to $900 million more for infrastructure projects, priority renewals of transport assets and community facilities.
Climate action continues to be an important focus for Auckland Council as we know irrefutably that climate change is a significant threat to our economy, environment and way of life. In June 2019 Auckland Council unanimously declared a Climate Emergency, and so this Long Term Plan must speak strongly to the steps we want to take in response to this threat. NZ is behind in reducing its emissions targets under the Paris Agreement. On 31 Jan the Climate Change Commission released an important report on how we can decarbonize the economy and thankfully our Prime Minister has stated NZ will move full steam ahead to reach our climate change goals. It’s heartening to know that central government is on the same page as Auckland Council and that together we can start to make a meaningful difference.
Auckland Council has a goal of reducing greenhouse emissions by 50% by 2030 and be net zero by 2050. This budget will increase expenditure on climate action by around $150 million and some of the new actions include: the cessation of purchasing diesel buses from this year ensuring that we have 50% of our bus fleet electric or hydrogen by 2030. Planting 11,000 more street trees and establishing a nursery to grow 200,00 seedlings a year. Planting an additional 200 hectares of native forest to offset emissions. Expanding the resource recovery network. Increasing energy efficiency at Council’s facilities. Planning for coastal change and responding to natural hazards. These steps are only some of what is outlined in the proposal and are in addition to what is already happening at a Council and community level. My only concern here is that $150 million doesn't actually go that far, and I would want to ask Auckland Council to make an even greater pledge than what is contained in the plan.
Transport is also important for our communities. There are 800 new cars added to Auckland’s roads each week. Congestion sucks big time and it’s getting worse. The Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) is tasked with responding to this problem. The solutions, of course, rely on the delivery of a resilient, connected, public transport network that meets the needs of communities in all parts of Auckland. We all do our bit by making choices that allow us to localize – work, study, shop and play locally and embrace active modes and public transport. Remember, you're never stuck in traffic, you are traffic. So supporting inviduals to desired destinations by delivering a quality PT network is hugely important.
Community services and facilities is another area addressed in the Mayoral proposal. Council has always provided community services through building and then operating fixed assets. This means we have a very large network of community facilities. Sadly, some are ageing and no longer meeting the needs of the community where they are placed. As the portfolio grows, so does the level of funding required to meet the maintenance and operational costs of those assets. Local Boards were informed that for us to bring these assets up to standard, a 3.5% rates increase would be needed to meet this specific funding gap alone. Quite clearly that’s never going to happen, and so the Mayoral proposal recommends that Local Boards look closely at their community facilities, their usage, their gaps in provision and find ways to deliver things differently. This means disposing of underperforming assets and using those funds to deliver something better, more versatile and more responsive to current and future need. This is an approach I support, as I have seen many times Council assets that are degrading, under-utilized, ignored, unkempt. I believe we need to release the value of those assets and deliver better for our communities.
Other areas that are discussed in the proposal, but which I won’t go into any detail, are areas such as social investment, things like the community and environment grants and funds that Council make available so that communities and groups can be empowered to realise what they want to see in their neighbourhooods. Māori outcomes is another area discussed, whereby the Mayor rightly reasserts Council’s commitment to Treaty-based partnerships with Māori and in particular mana whenua.
Environmental protection is discussed. This covers our continuation of the Water Quality Targeted Rate and Natural Environment Targeted rate that funds the work going on in the Wairau catchment, Kaipara Harbour, and the central interceptor project that responds to the region-wide wastewater overflows. Water supply is discussed, as it should be after the major drought we experienced last year and will continue to experience as years go by.
For some engaged citizens this Long Term Plan won't go down well. Council does get a strong response from rate payer lobbyists who prefer not to pay any more into the city. I get it. Rates are not fun to pay. The truth is, we all have a role to play in shaping Auckland into the city we want to live in. Rates account for about 40% of Council revenue and without them, we wouldn’t get the investment we need in our services and infrastructure. Auckland Council, whether you know it or not, has a massive impact on your daily life; just look at your roads, are they sealed, are potholes repaired? Is traffic moving (not always!)? Is there public transport? Is there a library or swimming pool or community house nearby and what’s the cost to you of using that facility? Are there galleries you can go to, or museum exhibitions to attend? Are there events you love? Music in the parks, movies in the parks, out and about sports programmes for kids. Are your streets swept? Are the trees along the road corridor maintained to prevent powerline faults and are the weeds kept at bay? Do you have water flowing from your taps and showers? Are there cycleways and walking paths in your neighbourhood, and do your children love playing at local playgrounds? I’m yet to live in a city where all these services come for free. Paying our rates and fees is our way of making Auckland work and if we can keep pushing forward together then I know that what will emerge is a city we’re all proud to call home.
So please have your say here.
A new year. After a much-needed break I’ve finally caught my breath and had a chance to reflect on the year that has just been, as well as what’s up ahead. This coming April we will have a change of Chair for the Devonport-Takapuna Local Board, as we switch from Aidan Bennett as current Chair and George Wood as Deputy to Ruth Jackson as Chair and Jan O’Conner as Deputy. I’m looking forward to another 18 months of progressing important issues for the community, working as best as we can in the tough financial climate and continued uncertainty that COVID has brought to all.
After nearly 18 months I definitely feel like I’m better equipped to manage the ol’ game of politics better than I did when I started. If I was honest, I put my hand up for this gig quite naively as I saw it simply as a community role, a natural segue from my previous job as Business District Manager for Devonport. Truly I was shocked when someone referred to me as a politician; a name I thought was singularly reserved for central government. Strangely (to me) there’s plenty of politics that go on at a local level, and when you’re not a political animal yourself, this can be a massive challenge to overcome and I expect is one of the primary reasons why so few people stand for the role. I’ve been doing my best to allay fears and encourage some other fantastic people to stand alongside Aidan and myself next time round – so watch that space. The truth is, the role is such a privilege and actually brings me much joy. As my 40th birthday inches closer in March, it does bother me that I’m the youngest Member sitting at the table and I hope that next time round we can bring an even more youthful voice to the mix.
From the very beginning Aidan and I wanted to bring a ‘fresh approach’ which in a nutshell is about taking the politics out of it and just getting good stuff done for the community. I think we’ve done that and have managed to progress a few great things that I wanted to share with you below:
The PT Picture for Devonport
In light of the imminent cut to the Stanley Bay Ferry and the question in the air over whether we stick with the 807/806 buses or include AT Local, this post is looking at elements of our PT picture for the Devonport Peninsula.
Auckland is growing at an exponential rate. It’s a city of 1.7mill and stretches from Wellsford to Pukekohe. If there are two cars on average per household, that’s a massive demand being placed upon our roads. The Auckland Harbour Bridge is the most travelled route in NZ with 171,000 vehicles taken on it daily, and 30,000 public transport trips. Current and future growth is already placing a strain on the crossing and so a business case has been developed by Waka Kotahi to create a more resilient transport network. This will eventually include a new rapid transit connection from the CBD to the North Shore that supplements and integrates with an upgraded Northern Busway and PT network.
You may wonder why a rapid transit connection rather than a new bridge for cars? I think in this case it’s a bit more than simply responding to the climate crises. Ultimately we’re a city that lacks good public transport. Until we adequately invest in this area, we will never see behaviour change. We’ve already learned that building more roads just leads to an increase in single occupancy vehicles, and that this infrastructure and transport model is not sustainable. A city such as Perth is smaller than Auckland and yet PT use is higher. Why? Because in Perth, they built the network, they prioritized it. We need to accept that this is the future for Auckland’s transport investment. We’re a growing city and we simply can’t accommodate that many more cars on the road.
This is why I have been really disappointed with the cuts to the PT system on the Peninsula and I know many others have too. It’s important though, to understand why these cuts are being made and what some of the solutions and improvements may be.
Let’s start with the Stanley Bay Ferry, which, from early next year, will no longer run. The decision to suspend this service was influenced by the following points:
On the bright side, $150,000 of the $ saved from this service is going into improving the 806/807 bus service which will better connect people in Stanley Bay and Cheltenham to the Devonport Ferry Terminal.
In my opinion the AT Local got some bad political press when it first launched. Some LB Members from the previous term considered it was an elitist taxi service for the well-heeled Devonport. However, the intention for the pilot was to see if an on-demand ride share service could successfully reduce the number of cars on the road. If yes, then ideally it would be rolled out in other areas. Influencers should have reserved their judgement until the end of the trail to give it the best conditions to roll out.
Devonport was an ideal location to test its success, because of the user dependency on the Lake Road corridor, the key Ferry destinations that commuters were wanting to be connected to, and the 3km radius that captured a large number of dwellings.
The other complaint I often heard about the Local service was the concern about its level of subsidy. Obviously as it began, the subsidy was higher, because it takes time for people to try new things out. Now, though, its daily trips surpass their target and the subsidy is $9.75 per ride vs $9.28 for a bus ride.
It’s worth too, looking at AT’s measurements of success.
I personally love the convenience of the AT Local, and given its reliability, ease of use, and comfort many locals have taken to making it their PT option of choice. My neighbour, in fact, uses it every morning and every night, connecting him to the ferry and back again. Like our family of 5, his family of 4 only have one car. When PT is that good, you don’t need another. I will be waiting with great anticipation on whether or not we get to retain this innovative, electrically-charged PT solution.
Water storage dams, which form a key source of municipal water supply, are at an historic low. This should not be news to anyone, and if the education campaign is working, you’re beginning to value your water as being more precious than ever before.
Auckland’s population is estimated to grow by 720,000 by 2048, so we need to be putting in place a range of strategies that address this water crises. One such strategy is making it more permissive to install rainwater tanks in urban and rural parts of Auckland, as well as in areas with special character overlay. Being able to water the vege garden to support household food resilience should be a given, but if you're in the same boat as me, the only people rejoicing at the shriveled up silver beet are the kids. I need water.
On 25 June the Governing Body agreed in principle to remove unnecessary restrictions on the installation of rainwater tanks through a change to the Auckland Unitary Plan (AUP). The Governing Body also requested staff investigate how rainwater tanks be made mandatory in a number of situations including the construction of new dwellings.
One of the problems with the AUP is that it unintentionally discourages the use of rainwater tanks because it defines tanks over 1m in height as a building. This means installation of rainwater tanks must follow development standards which limit where a tank can be placed on a site. In space-constrained sites, there are side and rear boundary rules that require a 1m distance for where a tank is placed, and if this is breached, a resource consent is then required. Another issue is building coverage. A rainwater tank counts towards the building footprint and if that goes over a certain percentage, a resource consent is once again needed.
Whilst there has always been the option to underground tanks, this requires excavation and earthworks and makes it difficult to identify future leaks. This means its more costly and challenging.
Auckland Council is now asking for your feedback on this proposed change. Please note however, if you intend to connect a tank to household plumbing, this will likely still need a building consent.
FILL IN YOUR FEEDBACK HERE (Closes 23 September).
Whenever I bump into people I know, the first question I get asked is, ‘How’s the Local Board going?’ My answer is always a bit cagey, because being on the Local Board is a huge privilege and something I really enjoy, but it’s also a massive frustration. As elected members we’re given the opportunity to enable amazing things to happen for the people in our community, but when the concept of ‘amazing things’ differs from person to person that sit at the table, my idea of a good opportunity can pretty quickly slip through my fingers, and I hate to say it, but the older set are the ones that get what they want more than us “younger ones” (read middle-aged & in the thick of the family stage).
The August Local Board Business Meeting, for me, was a great example of this. It was a good representation of how proper process and advice can be ignored, resulting in poor decision making. Who loses out? You. Me. Our neighbours. Our friends. Our community.
In this month’s meeting our job was to approve the annual work programme: it’s all the work budgeted to be achieved in our area for this financial year. As a Local Board we workshop the programme (multiple times), juggle the numbers, and receive guidance and insights by various subject matter experts who know what’s happening on the ground. Weirdly though, in this business meeting, all that previous work, all those meetings and expert guidance got thrown out the window as members of our Local Board dropped three environment and family-focused activities in favour of stuff that we were clearly told were an unnecessary spend of our rate payer dollar.
Of the 21 Local Boards ours spends the least amount of budget on environmental initiatives. Through public consultation we heard loud and clear that the community wants to see this change. At the beginning of the term the new Board stood united in their intention to respond to this issue. We were presented with some fantastic options that included a Bike Hub feasibility study, that would soon pave the way for a hub in our area, and an Eco-neighbourhoods project that would aim to support community resilience and low-carbon lifestyles. Along with Movies in the Park (another family appropriate and much-loved event) these new projects were ditched at the eleventh hour.
To fill you in on the details, there are 3 Bike Hubs in Auckland: Henderson, Massey and New Lynn and each hub has had on average 4250 people making use of the service each year. The intention is to get more kids on bikes, more people in the community with skills to maintain their bikes, and more bikes diverted from landfill. Bike hubs give those less privileged in the community access to super cheap serviced bikes (about 10% are gifted to those that need them), and mechanical skills are gained in an easy-going and inclusive environment. It provides opportunities for inter-generational connection as older volunteers support the operation by servicing the bikes and teaching important skills to young children. Funding the feasibility study was important for us to start the ball rolling, because we all know good things take time. It was only $10,000. Sadly however, it’s now dead in the water.
The eco-neighbourhoods programme is a fantastic initiative that encourages community connection and resilience. It’s been running for 5 years in the Albert-Eden local board area with 93% of participants expressing a desire to continue it beyond the programme. Eco-neighbourhoods bring like-minded neighbours together to learn new sustainable skills and share resources with one another. Examples of success can be found in neighbourhood food swaps, neighbourhood chicken coops, communal vege gardens, neighbourhood pollinator pathways, and loads more. In a time where neighbourhood connection and food resilience is important, this proposed project would have been widely taken up. Cost was $30,000. Sadly however, it’s now dead in the water.
The last intended activity that had been included in our work programme was Milford’s Movie’s in the Park which too, got the chop. ($15,000 event delivery cost).
So with the $55,000 budget clawed back, where did it go?
It went to topping up the hours of Takapuna Library to its current level of service. All libraries across Auckland are funded to be opened 56 hours each. The DTLB has historically topped up those hours by adding an additional 2 to Devonport Library and 4 to Takapuna to create a late-night Thursday. We are one of the few Local Boards that do this, and we are the one that invests the most in those additional hours. When we workshopped this, the Head of Community Libraries provided us with the hard data that those late-night hours simply weren’t being used in a valuable way. Visitation dropped from an average of 49 visitors per half an hour to 18, and at the cost of approximately $10,000 per hour per annum, this was not an effective spend of taxpayer dollar. Instead in our workshop we had in theory agreed to 2 additional hours in Devonport and 1.5 in Takapuna and 8 x 3hour study nights for students when exam time rolls in. This would have saved $30k to put to other projects, like the environmental ones that would meet the needs of more people in our community.
The other place where money was topped up was in our resilience planning for Civil Defence. Following what has been a challenging year it became apparent that the Local Board needs a clearer road map to respond to our community in times of crises. When we’re locked down, there are many vulnerable and isolated people in our community who need to be considered and responded to in a more localized way. Our support staff had scoped a programme that would complete a resilience plan. It would be the first step and the investigation would include a summary of next steps. It was going to cost $4000. Some of our members felt this wasn’t enough money, despite being informed it was. Attaching additional budget is a poor decision unless we’re given clarity on what that money will achieve – what are the deliverables, and who is doing the delivery? The advice we received was that “no further LDI operational funding is required for this project. If additional funds were allocated at this phase of the work programme process, they will unlikely get spent.” And yet, four members of the LB voted to increase the $4,000 to $30,000.
Now, you may think the Local Board had to make some hard decisions, pitting one priority against the next. You’ll hear members say that budgets are so tight not everything can be achieved. This is a red herring. You see, in our limited budget we have also set aside $249,000 for contestable grants. Grants are an important part of the budget because they allow community groups to deliver fantastic events and programmes for their community. I know its value, because I’ve been a recipient of those grants for the Devonport Arts Festival in the past. But our grants budget is big. It’s 20% of our Locally Driven Initiative budget and is far in excess of other Local Boards. (ie. Henderson-Massey, a local board with double our population allocates 7%). It was possible for our Local Board to keep all these projects in the work programme, top up the library hours, throw more money at Civil Defence resilience and still have a massive $194,000 in grants. So, when you hear members decry that there wasn’t enough money to do it all, don’t be misled. There was, there is. They simply decided that these projects were not valuable enough to them to have delivered in our Local Board area.
But when your voice is a minority at the table, it counts for nothing. I’m sad that we’ve lost those projects. That, to me, was a missed opportunity and I believe it’s time to question whether decisions being made are primarily to ensure the status quo, or are actually responding to the demand for change?
Is there a local sports ground or playground that you and your family use over and again? Do you care about how it's maintained and made use of?
We are now asking park and reserve users for feedback to support a new parks management plan in our Local Board area. There are currently 130 parks and reserves from Devonport up to Castor Bay and only 65 of them have plans; many of which are dated, such as the Bryan Byrnes Reserve 1983, or the Devonport Domain Reserve Plan 1993.
The new omnibus Devonport-Takapuna parks management plan will guide the management of local parks and reserves within the area, and current users of each reserve will be in a position to support the Council in identifying what’s important to each reserve.
The level of detail in the omnibus Local Parks Management Plan will be customised, according to the unique geographic, cultural, heritage, social and sporting values each park has. The content will be supported by bringing forward key information from the existing plans, and fleshing out details that speak to current use.
For instance, key parks such as Sylvan park are likely to have far more information and management direction than a standard pocket park, so whilst it’s an omnibus plan, each park will be treated differently and this will be reflected through the document.
One of the benefits of having a reserve management plan is that leases can be provided for (or contemplated) in the plan. If a lease is contemplated and is in conformity with an existing management plan, then this lease does not need to be publicly notified, meaning there is a cost and time saving. Individual plans can be easily amended and adapted, according to current use or newly identified values, as time goes on - so in essence, it will be a living document.
The online consultation is easy and quite fun. You can cruise across an interactive map dropping suggestions and comments at various locations, telling us what you love, what you want us to consider, what assets need to be included in the plan, and what conditions lease holders should have.
Alternatively you can join an online drop in session on August 4th 6-7pm.
Find out more here.
Elected member of the Devonport-Takapuna Local Board for the 2019-2022 Election Term.