Published: December 15, 2017
In this edition of Frontpage News we take a look back at some of the key moments of 2017, consider the impacts of the Havelock North Drinking Water Inquiry report, provide updates on our major water and climate change projects, and share some photos and outcomes from this month’s New Zealand China Mayoral Forum.
In this edition
From all the staff at LGNZ we would like to wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. 2017 proved to be a busy year and we would like to thank everyone who has worked with or contributed to LGNZ’s efforts this year.
No doubt 2018 will be another eventful one so we wish you all the best for a restful holiday.
2017 saw LGNZ launch two major projects across climate change and water, a new President and Vice President elected to lead the sector, and work begin on advocating for the policy changes we need with the new Government.
Our policy priorities of infrastructure, risk and resilience, the environment, social issues and the economy continue and there have been a number of positive steps taken which will help us progress our work to improve outcomes for our communities and New Zealand. There were positive outcomes in policing, with a commitment to lifting the number of officers in rural towns, and we saw co-funding for tourism infrastructure boosted from $12 million to $100 million.
We have met with a number of key ministers, including Housing and Transport Minister Hon Phil Twyford, Minister of Local Government Hon Nanaia Mahuta, Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Economic Development Hon Shane Jones, Minister for Building and Construction Hon Jenny Salesa and Climate Change Minister Hon James Shaw.
We have heard consistently from these Ministers that the new Government is keen to work in partnership with local government on addressing New Zealand’s major issues.
We are confident the new Government has understood the challenges we face, particularly around infrastructure funding which is a key issue for local government, and look forward to working with Ministers on alternative options.
Infrastructure has been a key area of focus for local government for several years and in 2017 was again confirmed as the highest priority for councils. Whether experiencing significant growth or other challenges, like booming tourism or a limited ratepayer base faced with expensive renewals, finding alternative ways of funding infrastructure is increasingly urgent. Growing demand for housing across the country is creating demand for new local transport and water infrastructure and adding pressure on existing infrastructure.
In 2017 we saw a number of initiatives introduced which responded to our concerns, including the establishment of the $100m Tourism Infrastructure Fund and the establishment of Crown Infrastructure Partners to co-invest up to $600 million alongside local councils and private investors for housing developments. But it is not enough and more needs to be done.
A long-term, sustainable funding line for infrastructure remains an important goal for local government. There have been encouraging signs from the new Government, including the establishment of the Regional Fuel Tax for Auckland and the commitment to reviewing the drivers of local government costs and its revenue base. While the Regional Fuel Tax for Auckland won’t be appropriate for all councils, its introduction has shown alternative options are on the table. The new Government is also exploring the possibility of a visitor levy to help support tourism infrastructure, and returning a share of GST to the regions is another option LGNZ will continue to raise.
Events like the Kaikoura earthquake and the Edgecumbe flooding further put the spotlight on the need to improve readiness for hazardous events to reduce community and economic risks. Given the substantial risks New Zealand faces, including from climate change, a more strategic and comprehensive approach across the country is needed.
In our communication with the new Government we have reiterated the need for climate change adaptation and mitigation work to be considered in tandem, and that local and central government need to develop a joint response to the risks, challenges and opportunities of climate change.
LGNZ’s proposed Local Government Risk Agency remains, in our view, critical for increasing local capacity and developing a consistent standard of risk management. We held positive talks with the previous Government on supporting the LGRA, and this has been has been flagged as an outstanding issue with the new Government.
Climate change and water are among the top priorities for local government. The climate change and Water 2050 projects launched in 2017 are key pieces of work that will make significant contributions to how councils and communities respond to the challenges posed by these connected issues, particularly to our infrastructure.
The climate change project comprises a number of pieces of work focused on both adaptation and mitigation. A primary aim of the project is to create a firm policy and legal base to support councils in their work.
Over the next year this will include a report on local government infrastructure and assets at risk from impacts of sea level rise, and quantification of replacement value, and a review of the state, value and management of river control, flood protection and drainage schemes managed by regional authorities.
The Water 2050 project is designed to highlight the important role councils play in water management and protection, and advocate for policy change that is integrated across water allocation, quality, infrastructure, cost and funding and governance.
Housing, always a key issue for local government, is becoming a concern for many councils across the country, whether they be metro, provincial or rural councils, and will be the subject of a new piece of work in 2018. The lack of affordable and social housing, and the overall poor quality of rental housing, is having a growing impact in our communities.
Another key issue affecting many rural and regional councils has been a loss of community policing and reduction in police availability for less serious crime and safety issues. In response to these concerns the previous government committed in 2017 to increasing police resourcing for rural and provincial New Zealand by 140 officers. However, this is not enough and the promise of a further 1,800 officers by the new Government is welcomed.
LGNZ is working with its member councils to develop a better understanding of the state of local government economic development services so we can ensure these services deliver strong value to local regions and communities. As councils are starting to see stronger growth, economic development presents new challenges, and the key concern for many councils now is ensuring any growth is sustainable and ongoing. Work on this will progress in 2018.
In late 2017 LGNZ and Wellington City Council hosted the second New Zealand China Mayoral Forum, following the inaugural event in Xiamen in 2015.
This brought together 10 Chinese Mayors and Vice Mayors form large and mid-sized cities and 38 New Zealand Mayors and Chairs for trade and cultural discussions. Education, tourism and primary industries were the key discussion topics. You can see a selection of images and videos from the Forum here.
The report from stage two of the Havelock North Drinking Water Inquiry will have implications on the future supply and management of water.
The Inquiry’s report is a helpful addition to the ongoing debate about the state of New Zealand’s water quality and water infrastructure. However, while it makes many suggestions for change it does not address the infrastructure and implementation costs associated with some of its suggestions.
The report recommends the creation of an independent drinking water regulator and calls for the treatment of all drinking water.
LGNZ President Dave Cull says 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 to New Zealanders. But there are challenges on the horizon which need addressing. This is best done through collaboration between central and local government for the benefit of all New Zealanders.
“There are already challenges for some communities in paying to upgrade and maintain three waters infrastructure, so any conversation about standards needs to be accompanied by a discussion about the costs to communities of meeting those standards, and how these costs can be equitably shared by all users of water services,” Mr Cull says.
Mr Cull says some communities will be happy with the systems they have and the level of risk that comes with untreated water, and if they are making informed decisions then this should be supported, not overridden, by central government.”
LGNZ continues to favour the establishment of a co-regulatory body to work with water asset owners to improve outcomes over time, a recommendation made following a major 3 Waters project that concluded in 2015.
The report also favours the creation of corporate entities to provide water services. LGNZ does not oppose such entities and in the appropriate circumstances believe that they can add value.
“However, these decisions are for the communities who own the assets to make after balancing the need to meet appropriate standards,” Mr Cull says.
The findings of the climate change adaptation report released today confirm Local Government New Zealand’s longstanding position that there is an urgent need for strong joint action to minimise the risks to the natural and built environment, the economy, and communities as a result of climate change.
The Climate Change Adaptation Technical Working Group’s Stocktake Report provides a record of work underway by local and central government, and other stakeholders, towards building resilience to the effects of climate change, including across infrastructure, finance and health.
The Coastal Hazards and Climate Change Guidance 2017, also released today, notes there are 68,170 buildings, including 43,680 houses, at risk of sea level rise, with a replacement cost of $19 billion. Key infrastructure across the country including five regional airports, 46km of railway and 1,121km of roads are also exposed to risk.
The Stocktake Report finds that New Zealand has been slow in developing adaptation planning and identifies gaps that will need to be filled if New Zealand is to successfully adapt to climate change. These include a lack of an overarching plan for how New Zealand can adapt to climate change, a lack of role clarity and scarce funding and expertise. It also highlights knowledge gaps, including about what the impacts of climate change will be on the environment and for communities.
Local Government New Zealand agrees with the report’s points that effective climate change adaptation – whether by investing in infrastructure to protect communities or planning for retreat – requires coordination and collaboration between central and local government, and across other sectors and society.
LGNZ President Dave Cull says while much of the work required to ensure communities are positioned to cope with climate change impacts including sea level rise, greater frequency of intense storms and drought will happen at a local level, a clear plan developed by local and central government is critical.
“I congratulate the new Government and Climate Change Minister James Shaw for addressing this issue with honesty, transparency and alacrity,” Mr Cull says.
“This report reinforces the need for something LGNZ has been highlighting for some time, which is that adapting to the inevitable impacts of climate change requires strong leadership from both central and local government and a clear, joint plan of attack.
“Many councils have started adaptation work and want to do more, but need central leadership and support, community buy-in and resourcing. Local government would benefit from working collaboratively with the Government to develop a plan for adaptation which clearly allocates roles and responsibilities, and addresses the costs associated with climate change adaptation.”
Mr Cull says given the emphasis the new Government has placed on climate change, and the messages to date from Climate Change Minister James Shaw, we can expect to see movement soon. He says there is also a lack of understanding among communities about what the impacts of climate change will actually be, and a nationwide education and information campaign is needed.
“This is critical as the impacts of climate change are already evident in New Zealand and will only become more pronounced in years to come.”
The Coastal Hazards and Climate Change Guidance will help councils make decisions about coastal areas.
“We welcome this new guidance, but again we think there needs to be a nationwide conversation in New Zealand about what the impacts of this sea level rise will be on communities – to buildings, infrastructure and land,” Mr Cull says.
“Climate change is a problem with both national and local implications, and needs both national and local solutions.”
Local Government New Zealand says sustainable and sufficient funding source for tourism infrastructure is vital and strongly supports a visitor levy as an equitable option for achieving this.
During the election the Labour party campaigned on charging international visitors a $25 per trip levy and Tourism Minister Hon Kelvin Davis has now asked officials to prepare advice on implementing a levy.
LGNZ President Dave Cull says a visitor levy is essential to help support the tourism industry and councils and communities facing pressure from booming tourism numbers to meet the infrastructure needs that come with an influx of people.
“A sustainable funding source that is fairly raised and allocated and applied to capital and operational expenditure, and maintenance, of tourism infrastructure is vital,” Mr Cull says. “Whatever its form, either a levy or portion of GST, we are now urging the government to partner with local government on details around how a new, sustainable funding mechanism will work, and variations of this for places like Queenstown where the need is different.
“There are many benefits for much of New Zealand from the growing tourism sector but its continued growth also brings a range of challenges, not least of which is paying for the infrastructure used by visitors but funded by local communities. Asking visitors who spend on average more than $3,000 over 19 days when they visit to contribute $25 to go towards the infrastructure they use when they are here is not unreasonable. LGNZ’s members have called for a share of GST be returned to the region it was earned as a possible solution.”
Mr Cull says many of New Zealand’s tourism hotspots have small ratepayer bases and funding water systems, roads, toilets, pathways and other infrastructure used by numbers much greater than the resident population should not fall solely on them.
Queenstown is a key example and Queenstown Lakes mayor Jim Boult says a contribution from its visitors to help fund key infrastructure used by tourists is becoming urgent.
“We've got a massive infrastructure spend in front of us created largely by burgeoning tourism and the district’s small ratepayer population needs some form of new model to meet this challenge,” Mr Boult says.
“We urgently need new legislative tools, such as a visitor levy, to help build the infrastructure Queenstown needs.”
LGNZ looks forward to working with the Government to develop the form and allocation of funding for tourism infrastructure.
Councils have planted more than 1.5 million native trees in the past year. This is the number of new trees registered with Trees That Count by regional and local councils in 2017.
Trees That Count maintains a running total of native trees planted in New Zealand and encourages New Zealanders to plant millions more to mitigate climate change and to enhance our natural environment. So far this year over 8 million new trees have been counted, bringing the total to 11.2 million since counting began last year.
Regional Councils are the biggest contributors in local government. Waikato heads the leader board with 500,000 trees, followed by Taranaki and the Bay of Plenty. Auckland started its One Million Trees programme (over and above existing planting programmes) and will be planting increased numbers over the next two years.
Wellington and Christchurch were the biggest city council planters, each planting over 60,000 trees. Some district councils also planted high numbers relative to their size.
Trees That Count Ambassador Joris de Bres says local government is a key partner in achieving its goal for New Zealanders to plant 200 million trees by 2030. “Forty three Councils have registered a total of 2.5 million new trees with us in 2016 and 2017. The actual number of trees planted by local government is likely higher still, as only 55 per cent of councils have registered their plantings with us to date. We urge the remainder to get in touch with us so we can highlight the full contribution of local government.
Plantings can still be registered at www.treesthatcount.co.nz.
SAVE THE DATE: LGNZ Conference, 15-17 July 2018
Hosted in Christchurch, the 2018 conference will take place in the heart of Christchurch’s arts precinct, held in the auditorium and historical buildings in and around Christ’s College from Sunday 15 July to Tuesday 17 July 2018.
Conference registrations will open in February 2018.
Māori Wards for Manawatū District