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Frontpage News - May 2018

Published: 7 May 2018

News type: National news   

This edition of Frontpage News features the release of the first Water 2050 discussion paper: Governance – A better framework for drinking water regulation.

We also advocate for the introduction of a tourist tax, cover the progress of freedom camping discussions including the recent LGNZ symposium, look at LGNZ's response to the Productivity Commission’s low emissions economy draft report and recognise the introduction of the Local Government (Community Well-being) Amendment Bill.

In this edition

  • LGNZ release first Water 2050 paper
  • It’s time that tourists paid their fair share
  • Key issues and solutions canvassed at freedom camping symposium
  • Four Well-beings to be restored to local communities
  • Productivity Commission draft report provides climate change strategy
  • Regional councils set targets for swimmable lakes and rivers
  • Register for the upcoming Water Summit, Housing Symposium and LGNZ Conference – earlybird sign ups closing soon

Greetings from LGNZ

The busy start to the year has continued with LGNZ progressing work on a number of policy priority areas, including the release of the first Water 2050 discussion paper, the LGNZ freedom camping symposium, as well as engagement with central government where we continue to advocate for local input into major issues including climate change, housing, tourism and water.

LGNZ release first Water 2050 paper

The release of the Government’s three waters review echoes many of the early findings of LGNZ’s Water 2050 Project work, which seeks outcomes to create an integrated approach to water policy setting.

Water 2050: Governance – A better framework for drinking water regulation, the first paper from LGNZ’s Water 2050 project, discusses both an independent regulator but with a co-regulatory entity for standards setting.

LGNZ’s Water 2050 work also identifies the need for infrastructure improvements and says new approaches to local government funding models are needed to deliver the standards of performance that a new regulatory regime may demand.

 “LGNZ and its members share the goal of safe and plentiful drinking water for New Zealand and this has by and large been delivered consistently for decades.  But there are challenges which need addressing such as population growth and aging infrastructure and as a result funding pressures for water infrastructure,” says LGNZ President Dave Cull.

“Addressing these challenges requires collaboration between central and local government for the benefit of all New Zealanders,” says Mr Cull.

“We have been leading work in three waters since 2015 when we released our 3 Waters position paper that and that’s developed into our Water 2050 work which discusses an integrated framework around five workstreams - water allocation, quality, infrastructure, funding models, and regulatory governance.”

The Government’s three waters review cabinet paper, released in late April, points to emerging risks around climate change, population growth and aging infrastructure and recommends a range of system-wide performance improvements to water infrastructure and regulatory governance for drinking water.

Anticipating the possible outcomes of the Havelock North Drinking-Water Inquiry, LGNZ has focused initially within the regulatory governance workstream on drinking water.  Water 2050: Governance – A better framework for drinking water regulation is the first of multiple papers across the Water 2050 workstreams which are intended to promote discussion and contribute to policy development by central and local government.

It’s time that tourists paid their fair share

If you’ve been to Europe or the US recently, or any number of tourist destinations around the world, chances are you’ve paid a tourist tax for the privilege.

New York and Chicago do it.  France, Spain, Germany and Switzerland do it.  They all have ways allowing tourists to contribute to the funding of infrastructure and attractions they use. 

And now the time has come to empower New Zealand’s local authorities to be able to charge tourists to help pay for the localised infrastructure they use.  Ratepayers pay more than their fair share.  It’s time that other users contributed too.

Last week in these pages, Wellington Chamber of Commerce chief executive John Milford expressed concern at the Wellington City Council’s proposal to add a special rate on hoteliers and moteliers in Wellington City.  He says it could affect willingness of businesses to build accommodation for the projected rise in tourist numbers and noted the significant contribution of tourism to the regional economy. 

LGNZ understands his concern, but his concerns are better directed at central government which has so far declined to allow local authorities the ability to levy tourists using facilities in their districts, although the new government appears to be open to considering the issue further and this is welcomed by LGNZ.

In the meantime and, in the absence of the ability to target tourists as users of infrastructure, councils must utilise the only tool they presently have.  That results in the use of targeted rates on sectors that visitors use, such as accommodation and hospitality sectors. 

It is less than ideal, but it is the only option councils have to target users of council facilities that live outside the district.  The grumbling of the accommodation sector is nothing compared to the rumblings from ordinary citizens who jostle with tourists for use of overwhelmed facilities in our regions and tourist hotspots, and also pay for the privilege through increased rates.

What is at risk is the social licence of the tourism industry itself.  It would be far worse for the tourism industry to lose public support than bear a targeted local levy or even a new property rate. 

Throughout New Zealand the growth in tourism is pressuring local authorities to provide a scale and quality of facilities that surpasses the needs of the local population and its ability to pay.

We have passed the point at which the value to a ratepayer of tourists’ spending equals the cost of their demands on the local infrastructure, environment and standard of living.

A key problem is that the benefits and costs of tourism fall unevenly.  The $14.5 billion earned annually from tourists is claimed centrally (GST, income tax and company tax) but the cost is borne locally. 

In other words, local authorities receive no tax revenue from tourists but are expected to tax their locals to provide the facilities used by tourists for free.  Such facilities include public restrooms, water and sewage, parks, pedestrian boulevards, and beautified shopping precincts and sightseeing venues.  That is not a sustainable position from a ratepayer’s point of view. 

LGNZ has since 2015 asked central government repeatedly for a fundamental review of the local government funding model because of the increasing stress on rates affordability.  Business entities such as the New Zealand Initiative and Federated Farmers have also supported a call for greater localism and the ability for local councils to raise their revenue in new and different ways that will incentivise better performance and ensure all users pay for facilities in a fair and equitable manner.

LGNZ and its members want the ability to apply a local tourist levy, such as a bed tax or visitor fee, to fairly distribute the costs of the services its members provide. 

A local mechanism is the best solution.  Other options such as a border tax collect revenue centrally not locally, and will not change the present regime of councils having to ask central government to help fund their needs. 

Much better that the money is raised locally from everyone who uses facilities and then spent locally.  The ability to more closely target needs in each city and region is demonstrably the best way forward.  Just ask the citizens of Switzerland who have been successfully employing such a system for years.  After all which authority knows better where to build toilets, car parks, dump stations and freedom camping facilities to meet the latest tourist trend: central or local government?

Right now local government, ratepayers and businesses should be united in seeking a review of local government funding sources.  Asking ratepayers to pay for facilities used by others is not sustainable.

The stars are aligning on this debate and the next step is to identify ways of making this work.  Business appears more open to thinking about different ways to fund local government infrastructure and the new government is prepared to investigate the arguments.  Hopefully relief is on the way for ratepayers.

Key issues and solutions canvassed at freedom camping symposium

The freedom camping boom and its issues were at the centre of debate among over 50 delegates at the LGNZ freedom camping symposium in Nelson on 19 April.

Questions on how to tackle the lack of infrastructure, crowding at New Zealand’s most scenic spots and difficulties around enforcement have been at the forefront of discussion at the symposium, which was opened by Hon Nanaia Mahuta, Minister of Local Government, and Hon Eugenie Sage, Minister of Environment.

Discussions have confirmed that there isn’t a one size fits all solution to the issues, and that local approaches are needed to specific local issues – the differences between Rotorua’s needs and those further south in Queenstown a recurring topic.

Discussion will continue this afternoon around how to deal with the infrastructure deficit that many councils face around freedom camping, and creative ways to provide infrastructure. A presentation on mobile app solutions was popular, suggesting technology partnerships could be a way forward, to distribute key information to freedom campers around locations and infrastructure.

LGNZ National Council Member and Mayor of Tasman Richard Kempthorne also launched LGNZ’s good practice guide for freedom camping, which provides advice and resources for councils and tourism operators.

“The good practice guide will help councils address issues including littering, motor home self-containment, and public carpark use and presents a range of approaches through developing strategy, displaying signage, site assessments and visitor education.”

“It’s heartening to see such strong representation from local government on freedom camping issues, and to be joined by central government and the tourism industry to discuss solutions to those issues,” says Richard.

In her opening speech, Minister of Local Government Hon Nanaia Mahuta encouraged more cooperation between local and central government on solutions to freedom camping issues.

“It’s great that local government New Zealand has seen how important it is to hold a symposium like this, bringing people into the room and ensuring that we’re looking for local solutions, because there are several challenges.”

She identified the issues that smaller ratepaying bases have in providing infrastructure for freedom camping.

“As we tried to secure opportunity in our regions we probably weren’t geared as well as we could have been to the issue in front of us, and the challenge that small rural communities with a low ratepaying base have accommodating the impacts of freedom campers,” Ms Mahuta said.

Discussion from the symposium will inform the central and local government freedom camping working group which features four local government representatives alongside central government and tourism leaders announced by Minister of Tourism Kelvin Davis.

Four Well-beings to be restored to local communities

Local Government New Zealand is delighted to see the introduction of the Local Government (Community Well-being) Amendment Bill which restores the four aspects of community well-being along with the introduction of legislation which supports trials of online voting in the 2019 local authority elections.

The Bill passed its first reading on 11 April.

LGNZ President Dave Cull says LGNZ congratulates the Government for taking action to reinstate the four well-beings.

“Local government around New Zealand has been seeking reinstatement of the four well-beings in legislation to once again recognise the work to deliver social, economic, environmental and cultural outcomes for communities.  These importantly acknowledge that local authorities have a broader role in fostering liveable communities, than simply providing “core services”.

“LGNZ also welcomes the modification to development contributions, providing the ability to fund community infrastructure (ie swimming pools, libraries, sports fields etc) helping councils to support growth.”

LGNZ is also pleased to see the Local Electoral Matters Bill introduced which will enable a trial of online voting in the 2019 elections.  Postal services are on the decline and booth voting is poorly suited to the various needs of our communities.  It is important that voting methods can adapt in order to increase voter engagement.

LGNZ supports Productivity Commission’s work on a transition to a low emissions economy

Local Government New Zealand has welcomed the release of the Productivity Commission’s low emissions economy draft report as another step towards greater action on climate change.

LGNZ President Dave Cull says the draft report shows the Productivity Commission’s inquiry reflects LGNZ’s position in its local government position statement on climate change, and the Local Government Leaders’ Climate Change Declaration 2017.

“Climate change has been identified by local government as one of the highest priorities for the sector, with councils to play important roles in mitigating and particularly adapting to climate change impacts,” Mr Cull says.

“However we are going to need a joint approach between central and local government, industry and communities if we are to begin to see results on climate change, whether in reducing emissions or adapting for its impacts.

“Climate change is a problem of national scale in need of a collaborative, national response, and the Commission has addressed that in its draft report.”

In its position statement LGNZ seeks to establish clear guidelines on climate change responsibilities, for government at all levels, the private sector and individuals, including where the costs of adapting to climate change will fall.  It also highlights the need for a national education campaign to raise awareness and promote actions to support the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

Mr Cull says LGNZ supports a clearer pathway to a low carbon economy.

“We welcome the draft report which provides recommendations to promote changes to establish credible and stable climate policy.  Local government is ready to do its part and we welcome the opportunity to provide a submission on what is needed to aid New Zealand’s transition to a low emissions economy.”

The Commission’s inquiry has identified options for how New Zealand could reduce its domestic greenhouse gas emissions through a transition towards a lower emissions future, while at the same time continuing to grow incomes and wellbeing.

The Commission says the strategy for New Zealand involves replacing fossil-fuels, where feasible, with clean electricity (electric vehicles and lower grade process heat) together with substantial land use change in favour of large scale new forestry plantation and significant growth in horticulture. The report considers that this is the most efficient strategy for New Zealand with currently available technology.

Regional councils set targets for swimmable lakes and rivers

Regional councils have announced draft targets that are a step towards the goal of 90 per cent of rivers and lakes being swimmable by 2040.

The draft regional targets draw on information contained in a report prepared jointly by Regional Councils, the Ministry for the Environment and the Ministry of Primary Industries, with advice from technical experts.  Councils have until the end of this year to discuss the draft regional targets with their communities and finalise them.

The report, Regional information for setting draft targets for swimmable lakes and rivers, outlines the work planned or underway in each region to improve water quality for swimming, including infrastructure provision, riparian planting and stock exclusion, enabling us to understand what to expect based on currently planned activity.

Local Government New Zealand Regional Sector Chair Doug Leeder says the report is a good step to further improving freshwater quality.

“Regional and unitary councils share the commitment to improve water quality and are already working hard on this,” Mr Leeder says.

“Achieving this is a long-term goal and this report is a good starting point for more discussion with territorial authorities, communities and other stakeholders before finalising goals later this year.”

Mr Leeder says agreeing the science behind the data used to assess “swimmability” is important.

Ministry for the Environment Deputy Secretary – Water, Cheryl Barnes, says this is a useful step forward.

“There is some excellent work already underway but improving water quality is complex as all of our 4,200 catchments across the country have different conditions and land use.

“This report helps communities understand what’s planned and explore where more needs to be done.

“These targets are expected to evolve as regional council’s progress with their planning and engage with communities about their expectations” Ms Barnes says.

LGNZ President Dave Cull says all councils are committed to working with central government and communities to meet water quality expectations.

“Water is a top priority for local government, and the subject of considerable ongoing work across both freshwater resources and the three waters through our Water 2050 project,” Mr Cull says.  “There will be costs associated with achieving improving freshwater quality, and we look forward to continuing to work constructively with the Government to make sure councils have the resources to do this.”

Coming up

LGNZ Conference, 15-17 July: early bird tickets closing soon

We are delighted to see many of you are registering for this year's conference hosted in Christchurch.  Early bird tickets are available for another 3 weeks only.  Click here to register before 25 May to secure your discounted tickets. We are excited about the quality keynote sessions on the programme this year, with speakers and thought leaders sharing best practice and practical experience and advice that will enable local government to effect positive, tangible change in communities around New Zealand.

LGNZ Water Summit, 30-31 May

LGNZ will also be holding a Water Summit on 30-31 May in Wellington. Registrations for the summit can be made here.

This Water Summit will explore possible changes to the regulatory framework for water, funding options on how to meet the challenges facing water services, discussions around alternative options councils can consider for the delivery of water services and changes we are seeing based on nutrient allocation. We will hear from speakers who will speak to different options around the regulation of water, including international perspectives, and from the Minister of Local Government. 

LGNZ Housing Symposium, 28 June

LGNZ will be holding a Housing Symposium in Wellington on Thursday 28 June. Registrations can be made here.

The LGNZ Housing 2030 symposium is an important step in establishing a collaborative discussion across central and local government and about local government's role in supporting the delivery of housing. It will be opened by Minister of Housing Hon Phil Twyford, and will cover land supply and infrastructure, and social and community housing.

Workstreams

Climate Change Project

LGNZ’s Climate Change and Natural Hazards Decision Making Legal Toolkit will be the first deliverable to be released under our Climate Change Project. This toolkit, to be released in mid-May, has been designed to support councils with their adaptation decision-making roles and responsibilities.

The Productivity Commission also recently released its low-emissions economy draft report, and LGNZ supports its goal of finding a path to a low carbon economy. LGNZ will make a submission on the report to help inform the commission of the sector’s position.

Water 2050

LGNZ has completed the first of its Water 2050 discussion papers, Water 2050: Governance – A better framework for drinking water regulation, which will add to future policy development of three waters and is available here.

The Water 2050 project has five workstreams, and calls for integrated policy across water allocation, water quality (health and environmental), infrastructure, its cost and funding, and the overarching governance framework for water related matters. Papers will be released on each of these workstreams, and are intended to promote discussion and contribute to policy development by central and local government.

Housing

LGNZ has created its Housing 2030 project in response to increasing pressures on housing. Unaffordable housing is having a negative impact on local economies, discretionary household expenditure and social well-being. As such, LGNZ is focusing project priority on three areas; issues of supply; how social and community housing needs are met; and the importance of healthy homes.

LGNZ will work with key government agencies and stakeholders to address these priorities and their underpinning issues, including the need for appropriate funding and financing tools to help better inform and equip councils to grow and improve their housing stocks.

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