Not long after COVID hit and we emerged from our first lock down, the Government set up a fund to support tactical urbanism projects that trialed concepts aimed at increasing our public realm and encouraging active modes in slow-traffic neighborhoods. People had enjoyed their experience of walking and cycling and this change in need was reflected across the world. The fund was called the Innovating Streets for People Pilot Fund. Projects from across the country were put forward because the offer of a 90% funding to investment ratio from NZTA meant that for every dollar Council spent, NZTA would put $9 up.
Projects were submitted, and I too put forward an ‘Al Fresco Fridays’ concept that would see the main streets of Milford, Takapuna and Devonport closed off on a Friday so restaurants could spill out each night and we could dine beneath the stars in a socially distanced way.
The only project that did get selected in our neck of the woods was one submitted by Eke Panuku on Northcroft & Huron Streets. The project intent was to work with the community to co-design a temporary pilot that created a greater public realm, actively slowed traffic, and made the entry to Takapuna town centre from the Toka Puia carpark more welcome and less of a cold, soulless, windblown corridor.
In November and December 2020 Eke Panuku conducted community engagement with local residents, businesses and the Business Association. People discussed the need for pedestrian safety, slower vehicle speeds, wider and more even footpaths, a sense of connection to the town centre and more places to sit. This engagement has informed what is there today.
What is there today is temporary and many people have expressed their distaste for the brightly colored spots, the loss of carparking, and the concern for money spent on creating what we see. I understand all these concerns and also support the Business Association in their desire to see more parking reinstated. However, it’s important to remember that what is there is not permanent, and rather the feedback Panuku are asking for is intended to inform what will be there in the future. Do we want wider footpaths, more street trees, a more interesting and energizing street design? Or was it perfect just the way it was?
If you haven’t seen it yet, I encourage you to take a look and give your feedback online. There’s certainly no right or wrong feedback, but there is definitely constructive and destructive feedback, so click here to have your say.
We had a bit of a doozy last Tuesday at Local Board. If you ever wondered why some politicians are so mistrusted, then take a listen to the audio from last Tuesday’s Business Meeting (starting at 1.04 in the recording) and you’ll get a feel for the games and behaviour that take place behind closed doors (even when they’re, ironically, ‘open’).
This meeting was hands down, the biggest shocker of my last two years in the role, because not only did we experience some significant stretching of the truth by some, we also saw the misuse of power in the form of a casting vote by our Chair to push through a personal agenda – stopping progress and stalling the development of the Takapuna Town Centre yet again, in spite of all the advice and guidance provided by staff that what was taking place was simply wrong.
Not only did Chair Jackson and members Deans and O’Connor create their own new process, together they made use of their casting vote in order to muscle me out of my role as delegated authority on resource consents. Their clear plan was to ensure the ‘Board Views’ approved at the meeting on the new Takapuna Town Square Resource Consent application were their own and that no one else was provided an opportunity to input. In addition, when I attempt to table documents that reveal this poor process and present the full picture, they vote this down using their casting vote. Again, an abuse of the Chair's casting vote.
This little recount begins in November 2019 where it is resolved that Member Trish Deans and Toni van Tonder are the delegated authority on Resource Consents. When a prickly little consent comes through we work with staff to form our views on whether it be a notified, partially notified or non-notified consent and when it’s super challenging we canvass the full board for their views. This is our job.
July 5th 2021, the Takapuna Town Square development comes onto the radar. Let’s not forget how those same members campaigned on ‘saving the carpark’, this offers a hint to the level of prickliness the town centre consent possesses. Our Strategic Advisor emails Member Deans and I both with a recommended path forward. This is to share the consent files with the whole board, organise a meeting with the planner to answer any questions (all members can come), and then Member Deans and I can take the views of the Board, as well as our own, and write up our preferences. Our advisor states. ”While the project has been controversial or concerning for some members, the resource consent is actually pretty clear and straightforward.” Both Member Deans and I agree to this path forward. Member Deans actually replies, “Your suggested process will work well.”
To be notified or not to be notified? The town square has been in the planning process for 11 years. Council and the Board have consulted on the development so many times and Colmar Brunton also did a poll. We know that the public are in favour, the Local Board and Council have voted in favour, and the budget has been passed as part of the 10 year budget. Pushing for notification will achieve considerable delay, enormous cost, and result in diminished confidence for development partners. Construction time will be pushed out and Takapuna’s time as a construction zone will be longer than ever. No one will thank us for that. But regardless, I’m in favour of due process and am happy with what we’ve agreed to. I’m all about learning more from the planners and hearing the varied opinions around the table.
In terms of what’s actually on the table in the consent files, the development itself is genuinely straightforward. The consent is for earthworks to create the town square, the subdivision of the space into 7 lots that make up the 5 development sites and the civic spaces, the removal of a single bus canopy and the removal of the toilet block. We had approved the town centre design, so none of this was new or surprising.
As I wait for that meeting with the planners, something happens. Member Deans, alongside her two partners the Chair and Member O’Connor, decide to form their own views (that it be notified, amongst other points) and put them forward in a Notice of Motion, knowing that they’ll pass them on the casting vote of the Chair. They’re smart enough to know they can hijack the process and push forward their personal views, because with the casting vote, they don’t need Members Wood, Bennett or myself.
Little ol’ me, one half of the actual delegated authority, is not contacted about this intention or new direction, and am still waiting for the organisation of this meeting to learn more. Instead, what I do learn is that there’s been a to-ing and fro-ing between our advisory staff and these members who have been made very aware they are stepping outside of their governance role and ignoring process. In fact, they’re writing up their own process and excluding the other half of the Board. So concerned by the actions of these members, our Area Manager emails the whole Board the night before the business meeting articulating his concerns around the governance and process implications of what has been proposed.
I also learn, by way of being cc’d as a courtesy into an email from our advisor, that Members Deans & Jackson were provided advice on multiple occasions that if the Notice of Motion is passed, that it will form the Board’s views and preferences for this particular resource consent and no further meetings or opportunities to discuss it will occur. They are reminded that if they follow proper process, there will be ample time to form the Board’s views, that we are not constrained by any particular timeframe, and certainly don’t need to do anything for the Business Meeting. But do they take heed of that advice? As Member Deans says at the very start of her spiel, “I’m going to put that advice aside,” and concludes at (1.54 in the recording) “is it advice? Or is it opinion? I’m still wondering.” I can only imagine how those comments landed on staff who are employed to offer us expert advice.
So not only am I, the actual delegated authority, excluded from providing views and preferences, but so are Member Bennett and Member Wood, because they’ve not once been informed of what’s going on here and will never be given an opportunity to sit with the planners to learn more. And still the Notice of Motion makes it onto the agenda, because quite clearly, Member Deans, Member O’Connor, and Chair Jackson are hell bent on passing it through using their Chair’s casting vote. The other half of the Board are unnecessary and inconsequential.
This blatant misuse of power by Board members is justified by the Chair who states, “This was about expanding it out to have every member of the board to have input” (1.28). Let’s be real, the opposite has happened. It’s an unforgiveable use of the Chair’s casting vote. It’s a willful ignorance of proper process and massive a middle finger to our staff who have painstakingly attempted to advise them. It’s frustrating and its damaging.
You’ll hear Member Bennett articulate his feelings at 1.21 in the audio: So this just means you change the rules as you go does it?... The members here (Jackson, Deans, O’Connor) are all about process but when it comes to following process it goes all out the door… I live in Takapuna. I want Takapuna to be rejuvenated… this is just more shenanigans to stop the progress. It’s just shameful. I can’t believe this has happened.
I tried to table the documents, the advice and our email exchanges with staff on our public minutes to enable the public access to the full story. They voted that down preventing the transparency they continue to call for. This transparency mantra has its limits when it reveals a predetermined approach to decision making and a questioning of their moral code.
Que Será, Será, while my docs may not be in the minutes, there are links to them throughout this piece and below, because what more can I do than this, tell it like it is.
Two weeks ago I attended the opening of Te Wānanga, the reimagined and rebuilt waterfront by the Ferry Terminal in downtown Auckland. I'm not sure I was actually invited, but made the Harbour crossing and pleaded for entry because this is the kind of thing I love about working for Council.
Auckland is transforming and all the learning, all the mātauranga māori, all the collaboration, the creativity and passion is starting to be read in every detail of our city. The future of Auckland is in good hands and sometimes, as an elected member, you need to attend the ribbon cutting ceremony to be reminded that all the loud voices of naysayers and Council haters can be put to the side, because if we placed too much stock in them, nothing would be achieved and our city would be a bleak place indeed.
In 2015 I completed a paper on Creating Living Buildings through Otago Polytechnic. This study has significantly influenced my thinking around what we need from our built environment. The paper focused solely upon the design of sustainable buildings, but the same principals discussed can be applied to our cities. The Living Building Challenge is organized into 7 performance areas; place - restoring a healthy relationship with nature, water - creating developments that operate within the water balance of a given place, energy - relying on solar income, health & happiness - creating environments that optimize physical and psychological health and well-being, materials - endorsing products that are safe for all species through time, equity - supporting a just and equitable world, and beauty - celebrating design that uplifts the human spirit.
When I look at the creation of new infrastructure, new spaces and places, I think about these seven principals of sustainable design and mentally check off how they’re applied.
In terms of how Te Wānanga responds to these criteria you can see many of these design principals being met in this new public realm. Place – Te Wānanga is a brand new coastal ‘shelf’ that blends the boundary between land and sea, it’s a meeting place for people to connect to the wide blue ocean and feel restored. Water – with the addition of 50 new gardens and 19 rain gardens, Quay street will be home to 200 new native trees that provide shelter and storm water filtration, before the water hits the harbour. Beneath the floating coastal shelf you’ll see 38 seeded kūtai/mussel lines that provide 600 metres of organic water filters. Each kūtai will filter between 150-200 litres of seawater a day, removing pollutants and acting as bioindicators of aquatic health in the harbour. A little further out there is a floating ecology pontoon and kelp garden that will also help to restore the mauri of the water. Energy – given that this is a public realm the need for energy, other than the LED street lights, is negligible. Health & happiness – with the city growing at an exponential rate, people need more space. Apartment living is growing to be the norm and those city dwellers need to feel that the city is designed for them. Making a walkable, liveable city, with excellent cycle connections is hugely important, because if we boil it all down, what we want for every human being is health and happiness, and creating an accessible and vibrant waterfront achieves those goals.
Materials – whilst I can’t comment on the hard materials, the planting has been selected to ensure endemic species are reinstated so support healthy native habitats. The incorporation of rongoa (medicinal) and raranga (weaving) species are also included to encourage the practice of kaitiakitanga. Equity – the space is fully accessible and will be enjoyed by the tens of thousands of public transport users, residents and cyclists who come to the city daily. The collaboration with mana whenua has made the space distinctly māori in design with evidence found in the haumi binding on the balustrade rail, the kupenga (public aperture nets, still to be installed), the indigenous planting and the naming of the place Te Wānanga. All of this is evidence of Council’s commitment to a treaty-based partnership with mana whenua and a staunch desire to create and celebrate Tāmaki as distinctly Māori in design. We don’t want you to feel like you could be anywhere else in the world, we want you to open your eyes and know you’re in Tāmaki.
The last Living Building principal is one I really love, it’s beauty. To enable Aucklanders to live in a place where beautiful design is read in every material choice, every civic space composition, and in every building façade, is one of the best gifts a Council can give to its people. To create spaces that are uplifting, thoughtful, stunningly designed and innovatively put together, is something that every citizen should wish for. It’s this particular principal that will make us proud to live in our city by the water, Tāmaki Makaurau.
This is what it is to design for our future.
Last month we enjoyed a very exciting Local Board meeting where a known citizen of Devonport spoke with passion in public forum about why Lake Road is as bad as it is; it’s the bike lanes, of course. They need to go. There was the raising of voices and the banging of fists as the point was forcefully made. Someone came to film it and we all tried really hard to ignore the staging of it all, orchestrated, I suspect, by one of our elected members in possession of a similar transport persuasion. We were told that we had to demand that Auckland Transport remove the lanes immediately and get on with making the road for cars.
This much-aggrieved (retired) gentleman described the 40 minutes it took to get to Takapuna to attend the meeting. I quite unhelpfully informed him that my ebike ride into Takapuna, from the same starting point, took me 8 minutes. If you opened the door of the Council chambers, you’d see my bike parked right outside it. Yes, I was a bit smug, and no, I don’t think my response won any awards, but I’m not sure why we’re still having this stupid argument over the place of cycle lanes on our roads. It’s been pretty well documented, you make more space for cars, more cars will fill it. That to me, would be an embarrassing fail, when it comes to “improving Lake Road.”
I find it remarkable that some folk vehemently believe cyclists are not worthy of accessing direct routes. If we unpick the argument that cycle-lanes need to be off main roads, then what I’m really hearing is that a car driver’s journey is more urgent, more important, and far more necessary than the journey of a cyclist. We are learning here that a car journey is of higher value than a bike journey. And yet, if you weighed the value of this gentleman’s journey against my own: me, busy mother of 3 with days that start in the 5’s walking the dog before making 3 different flavoured sandwiches, dropping kids off to school before heading to a day at the Local Board Office vs. a retired gentleman who presumably has less dependents to care for, and possibly has more time to make travel choices (did the Gold Card not arrive in his letterbox?). Call me presumptuous, but I would suggest that the need for expediency on my journey outweighs the need for speed on his. So, in spite of his plea, the day that I write a recommendation requesting that Auckland Transport remove the bike lanes from Lake Road, is the day I know I’ve lost myself. My children will find me meandering aimlessly down tree-lined paths made for bikes; and whilst it may be a more pleasant journey, I certainly won’t be going anywhere fast.
When I shared this experience with my husband later that night he prodded me in the ribs and told me to be careful lest people give me grief for the large diesel truck I drive when I can’t make (or at times choose not to make) my journey by bike. He’s not wrong. I (we) do have a diesel-guzzling ute that we use as a family vehicle. It’s good for summer camp trips and our DIY days. The surfboards get strapped to the back and the sandy wet togs get thrown into the trailer. I love our ute and until there’s an electric equivalent made that has a range of at least 300km (and I can afford it), I won’t be trading in any time soon. But the truth is, this is not a car vs bike debate because I’d hazard a guess that about 99% of bike users are also car users. This is a travel-choice debate. This is a debate that leads us to reduced emissions, healthier lifestyles and slower paced neighbourhoods. It’s a debate that results in a mind-set shift, and an equal value placed on every road-corridor user.
In May this year the Ministry of Transport released a discussion document called Hīkina te Kohupara – Kia mauri ora ai te iwi / Transport Emissions: Pathways to Net Zero by 2050. I’m going to write a more fulsome post on this one later, but it’s worth noting here some of the damning facts about the role transport plays in our emissions profile. Transport accounts for 47 percent of our carbon dioxide emissions and would you believe it, this trend is still going up. This places us as the fifth highest per capita producer of CO2 emissions from road transport in the 43 OECD countries. Wow, what an achievement! Baseline modelling indicates that transport emissions in our country will be 9% above the 2005 levels by 2030. But hang on, didn’t our Government declare a climate emergency on 2 December 2020? If these little nuggets of hard truth aren’t enough to convince people of the need for reprioritizing our road corridor space, so that the bike journey or the bus journey become a genuinely viable option for getting around, then I simply don’t know what will do it.
Sadly though, this type of attitude is not unique to my area. A day later I open FB and see a friend in Glen Eden has shared a photo of an anonymous “creepy note” left in her letterbox. A welcome invite to protest the proposed cycle-path on Captain Scott Road – a bike lane that leads to the train station, town and schools in Glen Eden. It reads, The more people that protest the cycleway, the more likely it will be removed. There’s only one place for this kind of creepy note to go, and that’s the hungry bin where worms will make a meal of it.
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:
Elected member of the Devonport-Takapuna Local Board for the 2019-2022 Election Term.