No one is operating from a ‘business as usual’ model anymore. Bedrooms have been converted to offices by day, and businesses have quickly adopted new systems in order to be agile during this incredibly surreal time. Many, many have lost jobs, and the economy is taking a hit. Whilst some small businesses may weather this storm and open their doors again, they may not endure the following months as spending is influenced by tighter personal budgets and decreased household incomes. It’s truly a scary and uncertain time for many, and when things are uncertain, there are lots of questions that are being asked. Ultimately though, we’re wondering what will our future bring?
In preparation for a post-COVID economic stimulus, and in the pursuit of job-creation, Auckland Council’s Governing Body, along with Central Government are assessing what are called ‘shovel ready projects’ to launch into once we’re out of lock down. There was some debate around how we best prioritise these potential projects, with some Councillor’s leaning on job opportunity as the primary driver, whilst others counter they should respond to the environment and be designed for the future, not be projects designed for yesterday or today, but for tomorrow. The final set of criteria to assist project rating was resolved by the Emergency Committee as below:
In addition we supported the inclusion of two regional programmes for consideration as ‘shovel-ready’: a programme of sports field development and a local tracks programme.
It has long been held that ‘disruption’ leads to innovation. We saw it following the Christchurch Earthquakes where a horrendous natural disaster created opportunity for communities to strengthen, for urban design to flourish, be experimental and future-focused, where gaps were filled and neglected areas were beautified and activated. What has emerged in Christchurch is a far more dynamic city, home to incredibly empowered and engaged communities that have taken the opportunity to collaboratively redesign what they want to see in their neighbourhoods. Without disruption the landscape for reinvention would simply not have been there.
So too in our city (and the rest of NZ) will we see the opportunity to prepare our place for the future. Things don’t happen quickly, this is widely understood, but our decisions now, more than ever, must consider what we want our place to look like for future generations. Our decisions need to honour the environment and respond to the climate emergency, we must create a more equitable and liveable city where urban design is in harmony with the natural environment, rather than in opposition to it.
We need to be encouraging more active modes of transport; literally leaving the car behind in preference of connected cycleways, wider footpaths that are safe and accessible and can accommodate micro-mobility, strollers and wheelchairs (and our new need for greater personal space!). Public transport needs to be electric and clean, integrated and efficient. We need to be pushing for a sustainable city model where we grow up, not out, where commercial areas are pedestrianized and localized, so more of us can live and work in the same part of the city. Future buildings should employ regenerative design principals, not focusing solely on sustainability (or nothing at all – our BAU model!); we should see a large uptake on the incorporation of green roofs and skins, thermal efficiency and what should eventuate are inspiring places for work and education.
Town centres need civic squares that offer opportunity to connect, engage and be creative; and the design of civic space should reflect our cultural narratives and uniqueness, as well as meet our need for art creation and appreciation. Town centres and transport infrastructure should be well-lit and safe for use and barriers to access should be removed.
Let’s be leaders in this space, just as we were in our response to this pandemic, and take it as an opportunity to build a city that stands the test of time.
Two lock down birthdays (me 39, Sid 4), two failed attempts at bread making (both me), three nights of back to back Tiger King and three new family members, this is the van Tonder family lock down. With 3 kids, 1 husband, 1 schnoodle and now 3 chickens (Sylvie, Baxter and Slide who were, as it turns out, deemed ‘essential’), like everyone else we’ve been staying and struggling in our bubble, and whilst I may not have learned a new skill, read a million books, or become a fitter, faster version of myself; I have done a lot of thinking. So in the words of the DTLB Chair, I’ve been thinking…
The Tūpuna Maunga o Tāmaki Makaurau Authority was established to co-govern 14 Tūpuna Maunga following a 2014 treaty settlement. Two of those maunga are in the DTLB area and known by all as Takarunga / Mount Victoria and Maungauika / North Head. The authority is made up of equal representatives from Ngā Mana Whenua ō Tāmaki Makarau, representing 13 iwi, and Auckland Council, representing the wider community and all the users of ngā Tūpuna maunga.
I was selected to be one of the six Auckland Council members of the TMA rōpu and have been incredibly impressed by the vision and direction that has been set to administer the maunga on behalf of ngā mana whenua and all Aucklanders.
The maunga are a cornerstone of Auckland’s identity and if, like me, you live near one, you will love what it offers to your community; history, wairua, culture, peace. They’re stunning open spaces that connect us to the whenua (land), offering refuse from our busy urban environment, and rewarding us with unparalleled views of our city. Each one is individual and tells its own cultural and historical story through the remaining archealogical features such as rua (pits used for food storage), historic pā terraces once occupied by māori, and middens beneath the ground. For mana whenua they’re a vital link to their cultural heritage and the maunga will feature significantly in whakapapa. The word ‘tūpuna’ means ancestor, and indeed these volcanic cones are the ancestral mountains to our māori people. It is for this reason that the Tūpuna Maunga Integrated Management Plan isn’t a standard reserves management plan.
The principals that underpin the management and activity that takes place on our Tūpuna Maunga must take into consideration (with examples):
From my observations, where things can go awry in the execution of the integrated management plan, is when members of the community don’t understand these unique values that are applied to all decision making. A good example is when road access to Takarunga was stopped. When privileges that people have had for some time are removed, many will react. The tihi (top) of the maunga are sacred, and having vehicles drive to the tihi of the maunga is in total opposition to the values established in the integrated management strategy.
The other ‘hot’ topic with regards to the management strategy of the TMA is the removal of pest and exotic trees from the network of maunga. The intention of the TMA is to see maunga cloaked in native planting to support indigenous biodiversity. If accomplished they’ll be the only reserves in Tāmaki Makarau that are entirely native. To support this there has been huge amounts of work eliminating pests on the maunga, rats, plague skink & rabbits, so that maybe in the future, we could reintroduce endangered native species, and even experience moments like this.
In 2019 the TMA planted nearly 44,000 plants and trees across the network of maunga. Following what has been a long dry summer survival rates have been approximately 70%, which is just a bit shy of standard (typically 20-25% loss). In addition to the drought, the planting conditions presented by the maunga (often rocky areas) can make it more challenging for plants to survive. At times a unique planting methodology has had to be adopted to protect the archaeological features. This method is called ‘mound planting’ which involves cutting the bottom out of plastic plant containers and pegging the plants directly to the ground to take root. Once they’ve taken root the containers are cut away and covered in mulch. The plants that are selected for this process are natives that have less invasive roots, so that archaeological features are not compromised. This year 30,000 new natives will be planted and remedial works on the tracks will continue on a number of maunga. The mahi is good, and the long-term outcomes will be excellent.
At a later stage, when appropriate to do so, the TMA supports progressing a bid for UNESCO World Heritage status. This would be a globally recognized acknowledgment that the cultural and natural heritage of the Tūpuna Maunga are irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration for all people of Auckland, be they mana whenua, matawaka, or any other person residing in our diverse and wonderful city.
Six months into the job, I thought that it’s a good time to give you an update on how life is going as a Local Board Member. Truth is, unless you’ve seen our Local Boards in action, you probably don’t know much about what the Local Board does or how they do it. Judging by the lack of voter turn out, that is probably the truth for the majority.
I decided to stand for election towards the end of July last year. A few people that I had been working alongside in my previous role, and others in the community had given me a few prods and for the first time I started to seriously consider it. There were lots of reasons why I didn’t want to do it. I was worried that I’d cop abuse about decision making by people who don’t actually understand the issues or the processes taken to come to a decision, I was worried about the demand on my family (two working parents and 3 young children is not a recipe for stress-free living, especially when there’re a lot of community meetings taking place when the bedtime routine is in full swing), I was also worried that I wouldn’t get in! (Ego at play?). But then the more I looked at the system, and the lack of diversity on the Board and how I genuinely felt that no one represented my interests (or to be honest, the interests of my children, of all children; the ones who will be most impacted by decisions made today) I started to really think, if not me, then who?
The truth is, there are a lot of barriers to standing for election. One might argue it’s only a $200 deposit to throw your hat in the ring, but it’s a lot more than that. If you hope to stand a chance, you need a lot of people behind you – so you need to be reasonably well known. You need to have a name that is synonymous with community action, as that’s what people will remember you for. You need to be in a position to accept a part-time job with no real set hours (so if you already hold a demanding job, this might be a challenge), you also need to bank roll a marketing campaign and be prepared to stand up in front of a heckling crowd. I doubt this criteria is adequate in enticing many to stand, and as a result we often get the same people in the role each year, as voter apathy tends to defer to choosing whoever’s in the role already. In some places around the country the position can go uncontested, as no one wants the job!
It’s because of all these reasons I would argue we have never seen a genuinely representative board since the Local Board model was introduced 10 years ago. A great article was published on Stuff that noted there were more Councillor’s named John than there are Councillors born after 1980.
So what is the role of any Board? It’s governance. Governance is direction setting and decision making. It’s not the doing. Every one of the 21 Local Boards adopts a Local Board Plan for their 3 year term which is a high-level document that sets direction for how we spend rate-payer money for the benefit of the community. Auckland Council has so many smart, passionate and skilled employees who present at our workshops material and information that support us to set direction and make the right decisions. We ask many questions to get a full understanding and what we learn, coupled with our own research and investigation, and speaking and working alongside community groups, we're able to make decisions in the monthly business meetings. In theory it should work to good effect and our decisions should illustrate that we understand the needs and wants of our community.
Local Boards should be working hard to get great outcomes for the area they represent and this is what I am absolutely focused on, as previously we saw a lot of opposition to change (this being one of the reasons why I stood). When budgets are tight (and even more so in a post-COVID future) we need to be innovative leaders who can forge quality relationships and find creative solutions to getting things done. In our Governance role when we set direction, we should back it and when good opportunities are presented to us, we should seize them.
Every year we adopt a Local Board Agreement that sets out the work programme for the next financial year. The work programme is massive and outlines where money is going. It includes things like playground and toilet renewals, operational grants to our galleries and theatres, funding for environmental and pest control programmes, community leases of council buildings, funding for maintenance of our public spaces and reserves, contestable grants to support community groups achieve more, funding for the Business Improvement Districts to deliver activations that support the local economy, and funding for our Leisure Centre and our Libraries. This isn’t even the half of what the DTLB fund; our rates are being spent to meet all the needs of our citizens the best it can. If there’re any significant and new projects that we need additional funding for then we can lobby the Governing Body to unlock those funds, or work alongside Auckland Transport, Panuku, Healthy Waters or other CCO.
Reflecting on the role, six months in, I still think there are serious barriers to getting good things done in our community and a lot has to do with stalling; stalling because issues get thrown around like political hotcakes, stalling because elected members focus on petty politics and forget what they've been elected to do, stalling because sometimes the minority of loud angry voices are the only thing we hear. I’ve deduced that this can all be remedied by greater community engagement, and a bit more faith by the naysayers. We don’t live in a world where the best possible outcome is always possible; or where money is unlimited. We have to balance the needs of the community with the strong opposition to paying rates. We can’t have it both ways. I’ve noticed that there are a lot of “city planners” that seem to lack the qualifications or the experience in city planning but enjoy sitting behind their keyboards criticizing Council. I’ve received emails from all sorts of people and witnessed on social media frenzied conversation threads slamming council. Council isn’t some ‘faceless organisation’ it’s a massive organization that employs some of the most skilled amongst us to see that the city operates as well as it can. It will never be perfect, because a decision that is good for some, may not be good for others, but on the whole, it does very well.
What I would like to see are more people who typically aren’t the ‘squeaky wheels’ start to find their voice. Those of you out there who have an opinion, but don’t find the time to express it. Those of you out there who care about the need to redesign our city for the benefit of the next generation, and generations to come. You’re the ones who can tip the balance in favour of progress, mindful, sustainable, innovative progress, even if your opinion is ‘great work, keep it up’ put it out there. Get it out there. Because if not you, then who?
One of the biggest issues that affects all of us is the quality of our water. We’ve seen an enormous push from the Milford and Castor Bay communities to ‘cut the crap’ and work harder to ensure our oceans are swimmable 365 days of the year. There has been a perfect storm of aging and degrading storm water infrastructure, poorly connected waste water systems, hydro-chemicals and pollutants being washed from roads into our storm water drains as well as commercial contaminants from the Wairau Valley industrial area that have fed down the Wairau Estuary and into our oceans. Rightly so, we’ve all called enough and the new Local Board is united in their desire to more rapidly progress the work that is being done to address water quality issues.
To date the following has begun:
A couple of weeks ago the State of the Gulf report was published and the findings are grim. The Hauraki Gulf Marine Park is overfished and there is now eco-system collapse. Sea Urchins are proliferating because our Crayfish population is almost entirely gone. The snapper population is down to about 20% of what it was pre-fishing. In 2000 4% of seabird species were threatened, today it’s 22%. It’s pretty bleak. And what or who is to blame? Us, of course. It’s always us. It’s the stormwater and sewage overflows. It’s the overfishing. It’s the dredging. It’s the dairy industry on the Hauraki Plains where the rivers still shift fertiliser and effluent into our ocean. It’s intensification, poorly managed building sites where sediments stream into our waste water systems and our rivers get choked.
We all need to change our behaviour, we need strong leadership and a society that is prepared to make genuine and meaningful change to see this trend reverse immediately. It is time to clean up our waters, and it’s time to clean up our act.
Our open spaces are incredibly important to all of us. They provide places for us to convene, places to explore, places where we are active and can feel removed from our urban environment. They're places where we can be connected with the elements. Our open spaces include our significant maunga and fresh water Lake Pupuke, they are our coastal areas, beaches, inlets, estuaries, headlands and cliffs, and they are the sports grounds and green routes where we can participate in organised sport.
The DTLB were recently presented with a new Open Space Network Plan which is a research document that assesses our open spaces and evaluates how they’re meeting the needs of a growing and changing population.
When compared against our AC open space provision targets, there are gaps in our open space provision in the Devonport-Takapuna Local Board area. Interestingly too, it turns out there’s lower sport and recreation participation levels compared to the rest of Auckland. The document identifies the need for additional sports grounds as demand for open space increases. The big question is how do we do this with no new budgets, and very little spare land?
Opportunity lies in improving the existing network whilst looking too for opportunities to optimise. The DTLB has 123 council owned open spaces spread across the LB area. As residential back yards start to diminish and the city builds up, the need for greater provision of open space become imperative. This is in all types of open space – pocket parks, destination parks, native bush, civic squares in town centres and sports grounds.
A review of the sports capacity and demand shows that by 2028 our area will have a significant shortfall of training hours per week on sports fields (26 hours) as well as a 21 hour shortfall of sports grounds for weekend competitions. Most of this shortfall is within the Takapuna area.
With childhood obesity rates on the increase, and lives growing more sedentary, ensuring we have the appropriate facilities that meet the needs and desires of our diverse communities is really very important. There are massive links between exercise and mental health and for us to raise the next generation to be strong, resilient and healthy humans, we need to offer them every opportunity to get out into our open spaces and be active.
The Open Spaces Network Plan, which is an excellent document, sets out a list of short, medium and long-term actions to ensure the gaps in our area are being closed and that we all have access and opportunity to enjoy our open spaces.
One of the most common requests I hear in my neighbourhood is to ‘fix Lake Road’. For those that live on the Peninsula, Lake Road is a very real problem. With 30,000 cars that move down, what is actually a residential road, every day, it’s no wonder it’s congested. It’s difficult for deliveries to make it to Devonport businesses, and it’s difficult for locals simply trying to get around.
In June 2017 an Indicative Business Case was written up identifying the problems and some of the solutions proposed by the public from the consultation process. The problems include:
Following public consultation, it was agreed that the road corridor should not be widened, but that we should rather work with what we’ve got. This means that for those who see ‘fixing Lake Road’ as adding four lanes, dedicated and unbroken public transport lanes, dynamic lighting, parking restrictions or any such measure will be, I’m afraid, left wanting.
Instead the focus will be on dedicated and separated cycleways, a T2 & PT Lane (wherever possible), some greater safety measures with the removal of slip lanes at Belmont Shops, better organized light phasing, a zebra crossing to assist children getting across Lake Road to get to school by foot, a dedicated cycle lane down Bayswater Ave, and a Belmont Town Centre upgrade. Technology will also be made use of so that you can check how long a trip will take before you take it, and it will compare trips times between cars, buses and bikes.
Whilst this may not seem like the dramatic silver bullet to congestion on the road that some may be hoping for, what it will achieve is an average 9 minute savings in travel time down the corridor; this is actually very good. In addition, with separated cycle-ways, and safer crossings for kids, we might see more children get themselves to school by foot, scooter or bike, saving unnecessary trips made by parents. Approximately 50% of Lake Road trips are local trips where drivers don’t leave the Peninsula. If we can get those people moving around using other means, then this frees up the road for those who have no alternative than to use their vehicles. Remember, we have declared a climate crises and the majority of Aucklanders who submitted on the Climate Action Framework wanted to see bolder and more accelerated action by Auckland Council to respond to this emergency. We need to embrace the opportunity to change our behaviour.
That said, there are a couple of areas that we absolutely need to feed into the design. The first is the Belmont Town Centre. The town centre design has been led by Auckland Council with the support of a very active and engaged community group made up of local residents, youth, businesses and members of the Peninsula Transport Alliance. Creating a more attractive town centre in Belmont which encourages locals to shop there instead of using cars to go elsewhere, is a really important element to the success of the Lake Road upgrades. If we can do a good job of this then we will start attracting businesses that we need in our community to fill the shops and spaces. Showing support for this element of the proposal will help to ensure we get the budget required to transform the town centre. If you would like to see Belmont get some love with increased public space, planting, public seating, bike parking, and perhaps a road surface treatment that reads as different to the rest of Lake Road, then you need to show your support for this in the consultation. We do not want the businesses to suffer because of the road corridor improvements. Otherwise we'll be left with derelict and empty properties and we'll be forced back into our cars to get the things we need in life.
The other area that I think Auckland Transport needs to address is the proposed lights/crossing on Lake Road opposite Ngataringa Reserve to Seabreeze. The proposed location for these lights (where there is currently a traffic island in place for crossings) is the safest place for them to go. However, the fact it connects people to a footpath that ends only meters away, I think is a problem. For children that live on the Western side of Lake Road that want to access Woodall Park or connect on to Vauxhall School or Narrow Neck Beach, we need a new footpath along the Eastern side of Seabreeze when heading to the beach. The more people who raise this, the more likely AT will respond.
The last place I think we need to look at carefully is the right turn that Northbound traffic take into School Road, just after the Belmont Shops. In the mornings, when traffic is at its worst, having these cars stopping to turn right seriously impedes the flow of traffic. With a new proposed zebra crossing further up by Devonport Cars, parents can easily park their cars anywhere on the West of Lake road and walk their children safely across the crossing and then on to school. There should no longer be a right hand turn onto School road.
Public consultation is open now until Sunday 12 April - so have your say now.
Hurstmere road is about to get an upgrade with construction beginning in April. The development, which will take just over a year to complete, is an incredibly important undertaking to set the bar not just for the future development of Takapuna town centre, but for the work that is needed to make Takapuna Beach swimmable 365 days a year.
What will eventuate is an open and vibrant pedestrian-focused retail destination, with better tree selection, bio retention through the incorporation of rain gardens that will see 100% of storm water filtered before it ends out on the beach, dedicated cycleways, single-lane northbound traffic, loads of public seating and a better and more integrated connection between the beach, Hurstmere Green, 38 Hurstmere Road and what will be the new town centre/civic square.
It will be a lengthy, albeit important, upgrade for the businesses on Hurstmere road who will no doubt be anxious about the disruption it may cause for their customers and clients. As members of the public the best way to support those business owners is to keep shopping there ; keep their doors open. In addition some of the great events that Takapuna hosts may have to take place in different locations, or be reshaped to work around the construction. What we need is to be flexible, agile and supportive at all times, finding solutions, not problems, and getting excited for what Takapuna will soon become.
How many times have you fed into your Local Board Plan? My guess is not many. Auckland’s 21 Local Boards re-write their Plan every 3 years. These high-level documents set the direction for what happens in our area and if the things that are meaningful to you are not somehow captured in that document, then chances are, it won’t happen.
For instance, if you want to see your rates go towards better connected cycleways, then this must feature in the plan. If you want to see focus and funds on improved water quality, more tree planting, public art, safer school routes, more community events, or a focus on our cultural diversity with perhaps māori / English place names that feature in our parks and open spaces. Maybe you’d like to see more funds given to our volunteer groups who restore, monitor and enhance our natural environments, or perhaps you feel our community houses, libraries and facilities can do with improving. Do we need new sports facilities? Do you want to see more trees planted? Are we in need of an environment centre where we can grow natives and be educated in ways to reduce our own environmental impact?
I’ve already hit up a bunch of people about what they’d like to see in our Local Board area and I’m hearing things like:
Getting quality engagement is often a major challenge and the low voter turn out at last year's local elections are a good indicator of how engaged people are (or are not, as the case may be). The problem is, when the vast majority puts faith in the system, and only those with surplus time, or who are hot under the collar over a particular issue, are the only ones that feed into the consultation documents, then we're not really given a full snapshot of what the community sentiment is over an issue.
So I encourage you all to feed into this year's Local Board plan - help set the direction for the new Local Board and have your say. It's easy, follow the links here:
Elected member of the Devonport-Takapuna Local Board for the 2019-2022 Election Term.