Published: 12 September 2018
In this edition of Frontpage News we take a look at the big issues in local government and round up recent media coverage across climate change, waste management, tourism infrastructure funding, council performance, the environment and more.
While this edition of Frontpage News largely focuses on climate change, waste management, tourism and CouncilMARK™, behind the scenes at LGNZ much of our focus is on our Water 2050 project and the Government’s Three Waters Review. LGNZ is continuing to build a proper evidence base through the Water 2050 project to inform central government policy discussions, as well as engaging with our members, officials and ministers to ensure that the review is properly informed ahead of the Government’s consideration of options in October.
New Zealand’s local government sector stands on the front line in the fight against climate change, according to the initial findings of a new report, which shows that billions of dollars of roading, water, and public transport infrastructure are at risk from as little as a half a metre sea level rise.
Today’s LGNZ Climate Change Symposium discussed the challenges posed by climate change and the work underway to identify the local government infrastructure and assets at risk from sea level rise, councils’ work to adapt to the changing climate, and council engagement with communities to manage the impacts of coastal hazards.
The research, currently underway by Local Government New Zealand with engineering and environment consultancy Tonkin + Taylor, has so far revealed that billions of dollars of local government infrastructure and assets are at risk from sea level rise, and that the impacts will be most significant for water infrastructure and roads. The completed report with full findings is expected to be released later this year.
“The initial findings demonstrate that councils will be significantly impacted by sea level rise, and that certain regions will experience more significant impacts than others. Councils need to start thinking now about what they can do in the short, medium and long-term to ensure that they understand the risks and begin building resilience for their communities” says Tonkin + Taylor Infrastructure Resilience Specialist James Hughes.
The potential financial impact of climate change is significant and the local government sector, at its Annual General Meeting in July, voted in favour of a remit that asks LGNZ to advocate to central government to establish a Climate Change Adaptation Fund to improve local level and community participation in responding to climate change.
“The impacts of climate change will continue to be experienced New Zealand-wide with increased frequency and intensity of extreme events such as flooding, droughts, and increased coastal inundation. Over the past year the impacts have been felt particularly keenly by local government in coastal areas,” commented LGNZ President Dave Cull.
“Adaptation to climate change is an absolutely necessary and ongoing process for decisions relating to infrastructure, urban development, and land and water management and the cost and affordability of adaptation for communities, iwi, businesses and councils is a significant issue and one that councils and ratepayers cannot fund alone.”
Mr Cull says LGNZ’s proposed Local Government Risk Agency would build on the research that has been undertaken and provide comprehensive and consistent risk management expertise, knowledge and tools to local authorities across the country. It would help to manage the risks presented and exacerbated by climate change, but also risks associated with other natural disasters such as earthquakes.
“It’s critical that we have these conversations about sensitive issues that we must address if our communities are to be resilient.”
LGNZ welcomes the Government's announcement to phase out single-use plastic bags.
“Local government have been pushing for action on single-use plastic bags since 2015, due to the significant impacts on the environment and that the costs of dealing with them are ultimately borne by ratepayers,” said LGNZ President Dave Cull.
That remit led to a campaign in 2017 asking the then Government to impose a point-of-sale levy on single-use plastic bags that received no response or action.
In July this year 95 per cent of LGNZ councils adopted a remit to advocate to central government to urgently develop and implement a plan to eliminate the use of single-use plastic bags and plastic straws, as well as encouraging LGNZ members to phase out the use of these items at their own council facilities.
Mayors and councillors from across the country also joined a petition earlier this year that collected 65,000 signatures, asking Government to ban single-use plastic bags.
LGNZ President Dave Cull says “Eliminating single-use plastic bags is an important step in removing waste that ends up in our environment and will assist the efficiency of our members’ recycling initiatives, as single-use bags often clog recycling machinery.”
“Today’s announcement is a step in the right direction, and LGNZ will be supporting further moves to also eliminate single-use plastic straws,” says Mr Cull.
The latest reports of council assessments through the local government excellence programme CouncilMARK™ have been released for Environment Canterbury and Upper Hutt City Council. All reports and more information on CouncilMARK™ can be found here.
The CouncilMARK™ report for Environment Canterbury shows the region is being served well by Environment Canterbury. The report shows the council manages its finances prudently, has implemented its water management strategy well and has a good relationship with local iwi.
Upper Hutt City Council’s CouncilMARK™ report shows the council is responsive to its community’s needs by balancing short and long-term priorities, with a strong vision for the future.
CouncilMARK™ was launched in August 2016 with 18 councils signed up for the inaugural year. These reports are the twentieth and twenty-first reports to be released.
Each of the 21 reports released to date reflect the different issues and circumstances faced by councils but common findings highlight the linkage between sound governance, overall performance and prudent financial planning across the sector.
Reports also identified councils’ focus on improvement through stronger training for elected members and embedding stronger compliance monitoring and enforcement for environmental issues.
LGNZ President Dave Cull says CouncilMARK™ offers councils and communities an independent assessment of how a council is performing, including areas of excellence and where it could find improvements.
“CouncilMARK™ provides incredibly valuable information that can help councils with how they operate, what they’re getting right and where they could afford to put greater energy. And it gives communities the same information, allowing them an independent view of the work their local councils are doing,” Mr Cull says.
“As a sector we understand we need to constantly show and grow our performance, and CouncilMARK™ offers an excellent opportunity to work towards that. LGNZ congratulates all councils to have participated in the programme so far and looks forward to the participation of all remaining councils.”
LGNZ President Dave Cull congratulated the Government on recognising that tourists should contribute to the costs of the infrastructure they use at the most recent Quarterly Media Briefing. However, LGNZ says the proposed border levy is only part of the solution.
LGNZ has recently made a submission on the International Visitor Conservation and Tourism Levy, which proposes a border levy on some overseas visitors entering New Zealand, to fund mixed-use infrastructure used by tourists such as toilets, car parking, access ways, local transport, drinking water supply, wastewater services and solid waste refuse.
LGNZ’s submission supports a border levy, but notes that it will only partially address the issue of funding mixed-use infrastructure used by tourists as a significant number of tourists will be exempt from the levy. Instead, LGNZ says a Local Tourist Levy needs to be included as part of a package of funding options.
“A levy collected at the border will provide a much-needed revenue stream for some tourism infrastructure projects, but has its limitations. In its proposed state it will continue to allow Australian, domestic and Pacific Island visitors to use mixed-use infrastructure, funded by local ratepayers, for free,” says Mr Cull.
“However, in places like Queenstown and the West Coast, where they have large numbers of Australian visitors that is forecast to grow, this is an issue which threatens the social licence of the tourism industry to operate in areas of New Zealand that are critical for our international tourism offering.”
“That’s why we’re proposing an additional funding option called a Local Tourist Levy, which is used throughout Europe, the United States, Canada and Japan. A local levy would assist councils to alleviate the unfair burden on local ratepayers from continuing to subsidise the tourism industry.”
“It would provide a number a benefits for New Zealand – a fair distribution of the costs and less red tape and distribution issues than associated with a central tax, alignment with the principles of localism and it would incentivise councils to provide quality mixed-use infrastructure, which isn’t the case right now.”
“Currently, New Zealand is an outlier in respect of its lack of a local tourist levy.”
“The combined investment of LGNZ’s 78 member councils on infrastructure make local government the largest contributor to the tourism industry in New Zealand, but while central government gets all the GST revenue from tourism, local government are picking up the majority of the costs.”
“This is not a sustainable position from a ratepayer’s point of view, which is why LGNZ are proposing a Local Tourist Levy to achieve a solution to local mixed-use infrastructure provision and maintenance and allow councils to allocate scarce ratepayer funds to projects of more direct benefit to local citizens,” continued Mr Cull.
The Productivity Commission's final report reflects Local Government New Zealand's submission that good quality compact urban form, combined with good public transport, can contribute to the reduction of emissions.
“LGNZ supports the Productivity Commission's recommendation that councils should review, and if justified, remove barriers to higher-density development, and LGNZ will continue to work with councils to support them to do this,” says LGNZ President Dave Cull.
The report clearly recognises the importance of taking a long-term approach to transitioning to a low-emissions economy, balanced with the need to take action as a matter of urgency. LGNZ’s view has long been that such an approach is critical for ensuring widespread support for, and the sustainability of, the framework and policy settings for such a transition.
However, LGNZ is disappointed that the Productivity Commission has not placed greater emphasis on regional spatial plans as a tool that would assist councils to contribute to delivering emissions reductions.
“Spatial plans are a powerful tool for achieving integrated land use, infrastructure and transport planning, and consequently, emissions reductions,” says Mr Cull.
The Productivity Commission's final report also recognises the opportunities that the transition to a low emissions economy presents, including opportunities for research and development, new economic activities and to share New Zealand’s experiences with the global community, and better reflects the impacts that the transition is likely to have on communities and their well-being, and in particular vulnerable communities.
“The Productivity Commission has reinforced the critical need for the Government to take into account the impacts on communities and their well-being when it makes any policy decisions aimed at transitioning New Zealand to a low emissions economy.”
The Productivity Commission has recognised that local government will play an important role in any national emissions reduction strategy, given the responsibilities it has for regulating land use and managing land transport.
“We're pleased that the Productivity Commission has recognised local government's important role, and agree with the Productivity Commission's finding that the transition presents a good opportunity to establish new and more effective arrangements for local and central government to work together on issues of common interest,” says Mr Cull.
LGNZ welcomes the Government’s response on delivering better responses to natural disasters and other emergencies, having taken the Technical Advisory Group’s (TAG) recommendations to put safety and wellbeing of New Zealanders at the heart of the emergency management system.
“The majority of emergency preparation and response is delivered at a local level, from first responders to regional coordination, as well as ensuring on-going community preparedness and resilience in the event of an emergency,” says LGNZ President Dave Cull.
“As part of the TAG, LGNZ have worked to develop local and national recommendations for improved emergency management and we are pleased the Government has adopted many of them to advance stronger, more effective emergency and disaster management across New Zealand.”
The wide range of recommendations include building capability and capacity of emergency management workforce, better public and strategic communications, better understanding of national and local responsibilities and improved information and intelligence systems for decision making.
“Our emergency management workforce do an outstanding job, and the Government have endorsed providing further development opportunities for them, many of who are volunteering or in a part time role as well as an increase in workforce capacity. Professionalising the Controller positions through a development programme is also focus in the area of building the capability of the workforce.”
“The response recognises that mayors should have primary authority to declare states of local emergency, be able to utilise the speed of modern communication to let the public know what is going on and what to do, as well as share strategic information with controllers and decision makers.
Other areas LGNZ is pleased to see agreement on is the recognition of the significant capability that iwi bring to emergency management, the development of rapidly deployable ‘fly-in’ teams, and clarification of responsibilities nationally and locally.
“As a major provider of emergency management it’s important that local government are involved in the work to implement and develop the actions above, and we look forward to working with central government and key stakeholders on them,” concluded Mr Cull.
A Water 2050 paper on infrastructure, informed by a survey of all 78 councils, is being finalised. It will for the first time provide a total value of waters assets, flood protection and storm water schemes and infrastructure. It will also provide information on the challenges that councils across the country are facing around funding, new regulation, renewals requirements and integration of storm water decision making to maintain and develop their storm water networks. LGNZ are committed to building a strong shared evidence base for three waters policy development, and this paper will be a significant contributor to that base.
LGNZ will soon be starting work to identify changes needed to legislative and policy frameworks to better enable and support councils to both adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change. Legal advice for councils on the liability risks of failing to take steps to address climate change will also soon be commissioned.
LGNZ expects to release its report on the exposure of local government owned assets and infrastructure to sea level rise towards the end of the year. Initial findings indicate that significant amounts of infrastructure are at risk, and that councils need to start thinking about how they can improve the resilience of existing and future infrastructure.
Feedback has recently been received from 21 councils on LGNZ’s draft sector position on climate change mitigation. LGNZ is in the process of considering this feedback, and will be releasing its final sector position shortly. For more information on that work, click here.