Published: February 2, 2017
In this edition of Frontpage News we share stories on the growing call from around the country for more funding for tourism infrastructure, comment on ACT’s new housing policies, why the current fluoridation legislation needs more work and LGNZ’s response to the Government’s proposal to ban products containing plastic microbeads.
We also bring you an interview with Wellington’s new Mayor and an article on the growing use of livestreaming of council meetings.
We also provide updates on current workstreams and share local government stories in the media.
Local Government Excellence Programme
A key piece of this is the Local Government Excellence Programme, an independent assessment tool available to help councils “show their value and grow their value”, which is now well underway.
The first four assessments of Upper Hutt City Council, Horowhenua District Council, Porirua City Council and Queenstown Lakes District Council are complete; assessments of the remaining Foundation Councils are underway, with Matamata-Piako District Council, Wairoa District Council, Ruapehu District Council, Napier City Council and South Waikato District Council to be assessed in February; further assessments continue in March and April; the second year intake will be called for around May.
For more information on the Programme, click here.
New National Council
LGNZ has a new National Council, the board which acts as the governing body of LGNZ and sets, guides and oversees its policy and advocacy work.
A number of contests for seats on the Council showed that people are keen to serve in the national capacity. New Vice President, Dunedin City Mayor Dave Cull, is an experienced and capable leader and in the wider National Council there is a strong mix of people to guide the strategic focus. You can read more about the National Council here.
For many of us the November earthquakes are still at the forefront of our work. There are several pieces of earthquake-related work and legislation underway which councils are implementing.
The Building (Earthquake-prone Buildings) Amendment Bill has been passed by Parliament and will take effect following consultation on supporting regulations. The current projected go live date for the Act is the first half of 2017. LGNZ has submitted in support of the regulations. Meanwhile Wellington and Hutt City, and Marlborough and Hurunui districts are working with building owners to secure parapets and facades by 2018.
Federated Farmers adding its voice to the call for more central government funding for tourism infrastructure is welcomed by Local Government New Zealand. Tourism is booming in New Zealand bringing with it a range of growth issues, most notably from the impacts of freedom camping.
Federated Farmers local government spokesperson Katie Milne said farmers were seeing an increasing impact from freedom campers using their properties. She says it is time for the Government to take the matter seriously and help communities fund the infrastructure needed to cope with large influxes of tourists.
Tourism Industry Aotearoa and a range of industry players have also called for new approaches to funding tourism.
LGNZ President Lawrence Yule says a decision on funding mechanisms and sources beyond property rates is becoming more and more urgent.
He says Federated Farmers is also right to note the Government is earning a significant amount of GST from tourism and in LGNZ’s view even a small share of GST could easily be allocated into a fund for local tourism infrastructure.
“Many tourist destinations have a small ratepayer base and the ability to pay for necessary facilities including carparks and toilets is limited,” Mr Yule says.
“We have been calling for greater tourism funding from central government for some time now – it is just not feasible for communities to pay for the costs associated with the tourism boom. The risks of not acting could be significant for both local communities and the tourism industry.”
A report commissioned by the chief executives of Air New Zealand, Auckland Airport, Christchurch Airport and Tourism Holdings Limited released in December highlights the tourism infrastructure gap faced by councils across New Zealand and its possible implications for the industry.
The report noted rapid growth in the industry has seen a local tourism infrastructure deficit emerge in some communities, valued at $100 million for 20 councils which have experienced above average growth.
LGNZ has welcomed the recommendations in the report and is currently in the process of quantifying this gap and identifying priority infrastructure needs around New Zealand.
Housing affordability continues to be a growing concern for an increasing number of our districts and cities. Recent real estate statistics show house prices continue to rise in many areas, including regional areas putting pressure on some local communities.
As housing and housing affordability is one of the most significant issues facing New Zealanders Local Government New Zealand agrees with ACT Party leader David Seymour that new approaches are needed to ensure better outcomes for Kiwis.
In his “State of the Nation” speech in January Mr Seymour highlighted the difficulty councils have in funding the vital infrastructure needed for housing development.
He called for new approaches to funding local government to help pay for essential infrastructure for housing developments like roads, water and sewerage systems, including through the sharing of a portion of GST revenue.
Local Government New Zealand President Lawrence Yule says changes to the way local government is funded are needed to address issues as important as housing infrastructure.
“We have been advocating for new funding approaches for some time and are pleased to see the issue of how councils pay for important infrastructure into the future are being increasingly raised by more political parties, including ACT,” Mr Yule says.
“Mr Seymour raised some pertinent points in his address. We are particularly interested in finding alternatives to property rates so councils and communities can have a broader range of funding mechanisms and sources available to use. We are seeing more and more cases of communities struggling to cope with new or growing pressures – funding tourism infrastructure is another example of this – and we need to think seriously about how to achieve better results without constantly tapping the ratepayer.”
Mr Seymour’s proposal to create a specific regime for urban areas to deal with housing affordability also warrants consideration, Mr Yule says.
“The resource management system is in need of change and LGNZ is advocating for a range of changes, including the introduction of special economic zones to enable tailored policy, regulatory and funding structures suited to local conditions.”
LGNZ says six areas in need of attention to improve provision of housing:
Submissions on the Health (Fluoridation of Drinking Water) Amendment Bill, which was introduced to Parliament last November by Hon Peter Dunne, closed last month and in Local Government New Zealand’s view the Bill in its current form still falls short of where it needs to be.
LGNZ has advocated for change to the way decisions are made about the fluoridation of water since 2014, when a remit called for the Government to amend the appropriate legislation so that the addition of fluoride to drinking water supplies is a decision made by the Director-General of Health rather than a local authority.
Fluoridation issues have always been strongly divisive in communities and as a result councils have been forced to make judgements about the validity, or otherwise, of complex scientific research. In recent years, many councils have had their decisions to fluoridate water supplies challenged in court, creating unnecessary costs for ratepayers and uncertainty for the councils themselves.
The Government’s decision last year to transfer decision-making about the fluoridation of drinking water supplies was welcome in part - fluoridation is an important health decision and one best made by health experts.
The resulting Bill enables DHBs to make decisions and give directions on the fluoridation of local government drinking water supplies in their areas.
However, under the Bill DHBs are not required to consider fluoridation. Consequently, local authorities could remain the de-facto decision-makers on the issue should the relevant DHB elect not to use the Bill’s new powers.
LGNZ’s submission argues that empowering the DHB is not sufficient as a DHB may decide not to consider the issue. As per the 2014 remit, LGNZ has submitted that the Director-General should consider and decide on fluoridation.
The legislation also is silent on who will bear the cost for fluoridation. LGNZ has made it clear to the Minister responsible, Hon Peter Dunne, and the Ministry of Health in feedback on the draft Bill that the cost of fluoridation should rest where the decisions are made.
The Bill is now before Health Committee which is due to report back in June 2017.
LGNZ’s recommendations for improving the Bill include:
For more information, please click here.
Passion is what drives Rachel Thomas in her work with local government, and after being awarded 2016 LGNZ Top Student for Local Government paper, she can now celebrate that passion with the recognition of her colleagues, local government and the industry at large.
Mrs Thomas, 28, has been a Policy Advisor at Ashburton District Council for two years. With an already thriving career in both central and local government, and having previously worked in Australia and New Zealand, she has discovered an insatiable thirst for the influence and responsibility of life at Ashburton District Council.
Mrs Thomas expressed an interest in furthering her knowledge of policy analysis and has now completed her first year of a Master of Public Policy. Mrs Thomas has been quick to succeed, winning the 2016 LGNZ Top Student award for Local Government paper.
She was presented the award on 24 November at the Victoria University School of Government prize-giving, and says she was very happy to hear she had won, having put such an immense effort into the paper.
As a Policy Advisor, Mrs Thomas’ role is focused on reviewing bylaws and policies with work extending to more strategic documents, such as Annual and Long Term Plans.
With a strong interest in community engagement, Mrs Thomas recalls a time when she was able to directly see the positive impact of her work. As part of the review for the Ashburton Dog Control Policy, engagement with dog owners in the community was important. Through focus groups and an online survey, a great response rate was achieved with 600 dog owners sharing their views.
“Collaborating with dog owners was invaluable as I was able to identify what the community actually wanted in the policy,” Mrs Thomas says. “It’s been so rewarding to hear great responses in the community since Council adopted the policy.”
Mrs Thomas says the LGNZ award has furthered her confidence to make a positive impact through her role in local government.
“The paper provided me with an invaluable theoretical understanding of local government in New Zealand. This understanding, coupled with work in practice enables me to have confidence in making strategic recommendations to our council,” she adds.
Helen Mexted, Deputy Chief Executive Advocacy for LGNZ was pleased to present the award to Mrs Thomas.
“Rachel has worked hard for this and entirely deserves the award. Ashburton can be pleased to have someone like her working on their behalf,” Ms Mexted says.
A growing number of councils are embracing change and have launched a live streaming service for council meetings to increase transparency and public participation.
The live streaming service for local councils allows the public to view meetings more accessibly, by watching live from their computer or following the broadcast through archived footage of the meetings.
At least 12 councils have begun live streaming their meetings for the public, the trend starting with Taupo District Council which streamed their first meeting in 2010.
Whanganui District Council Online Communications Officer Joe Salmon says the Council began live streaming in December 2016 and is already seeing improved engagement. The inaugural live stream reached a total of 1,400 unique views and each live stream currently attracts an average of 1,050 views, with an additional 150 views of the archived recordings.
The public opinion has been positive with many commenting on the how the live streams have been great for democracy and transparency.
“Live streaming provides a low-risk and accessible way for members of the public to take part in these meetings and familiarise themselves with how our councils make decisions,” Mr Salmon says.
Members of the local councils are also enjoying the positive impact live streaming has created, as people are able to contribute to the discussions at the council table via social media, he says.
The addition of live streaming to the meetings has also proved to be successful in Auckland. Principal Advisor Democracy Services Warwick McNaughton of Auckland Council says the public gallery has been doubled and occasionally tripled through online viewers. After a year of live streaming, Auckland Council reached its highest recorded number of 2,927 views in February 2016.
“We now see more people engaging with council meetings – viewing and commenting on the council’s social media pages,” Mr McNaughton says.
LGNZ President Lawrence Yule says local government is committed to being open and accessible.
“For people to be able to engage more freely with their local council is an important step towards furthering transparency and public involvement, taking meetings online is one way of making it easier for this to happen and we encourage more council, to look into doing this,” Mr Yule says.
Local Government New Zealand has welcomed the Government’s proposals to ban products containing plastic microbeads. However it is clear from the public sentiment around plastics that the populace is keen on further steps to remove single use plastics from the environment.
Along with banning products containing microbeads, and a recycling system to handle soft plastics like shopping bags, bread bags, frozen food bags and food wrap launched by the Government in 2015, LGNZ would also like to see a stronger effort to reduce the use of single use plastic bags and make it easier to recycle drink bottles and cans.
To this end LGNZ has asked the Government to impose a compulsory levy on plastic shopping bags at the point of sale, and to introduce a national beverage container deposit system designed to decrease the number of containers going to landfill or not being recycled.
It is clear to us that we need to do more to minimise the impact of plastic bags and bottles on our environment, and we think Kiwis are open to these sorts of initiatives. Plastic bags cause harm in their creation, when they go to landfill and when they are littered.
While efforts to make recycling bags easier are laudable, actually deterring people from using them in the first place has been shown to be successful overseas, with levies on plastic bags introduced in Denmark, Ireland and China leading to a dramatic reduction in plastic bag use.
It has been reported that a 5p (9c) levy on plastic bags introduced in the United Kingdom, with money collected going to charities, led to an 85 per cent reduction in plastic bag use and raised £29m ($50.4m) for charity in six months.
When launching the proposal Environment Minster Nick Smith told media: “Under current estimates, by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than there are fish.”
Removing microbeads is a good step, but as a country we should be doing much more to keep plastics out of our marine environment and landfills.
We catch up with Wellington’s new Mayor and LGNZ National Council member Justin Lester to get his thoughts on the direction he wants to take the capital, the importance of building resilience, his leadership style and how to engage communities in local government.
What is your vision for the city?
I want Wellington to be a place that everyone is proud to call home. A vibrant, lively, welcoming and quirky city that is truly the place of the possible.
We’re never going to be the largest city in New Zealand but we don’t want to be. We’re the San Francisco to Los Angeles, the Melbourne to its Sydney.
I want a city where everyone has a good job, where housing is affordable, it’s easy to get around, and where everyone is treated fairly and can live to their full potential.
After four months as a new mayor, what are the main issues that are informing your mayoralty?
For me, there are four main issues I want our city to tackle this year: Growing our local economy, addressing the issues we are having with housing, sorting out our transport, and making our city safer in the event of future earthquakes.
The earthquakes of late last year were a timely reminder of the precarious nature of Wellington’s geological setting (and New Zealand generally). How important is it for communities to prepare for these kinds of events, and what are the challenges in achieving this?
We were incredibly lucky last year. The city held up relatively well and no one was injured or killed in Wellington. But that doesn’t mean we are always going to be so lucky. We dodged a bullet, but we aren’t bulletproof.
It’s vitally important that we take this opportunity to prepare for future events. As damaging as this earthquake was, future events could be even worse.
That’s why we are urgently developing a list of resilience investments to make Wellington safer, and why we’ve taken swift action requiring invasive checks of buildings, and providing a fund to secure unreinforced masonry.
Communities and families need to be prepared as well – that means having an earthquake kit, getting to know your neighbours and making a plan as a family in the event of an emergency.
How would you describe your leadership style and what is making it successful? Where do you need to adapt?
I’m a big believer in servant leadership. As elected members, we are here to serve the city. It’s about being true to your word, having a clear vision and bringing people together to make it happen.
What do you think mayors, councillors and local government generally needs to do to improve public engagement and voter turnout in local elections?
If we want people to be more engaged, we need to do a better job of presenting a clear vision for the future of our towns and cities, and giving people a very clear choice in elections.
Here in Wellington, we had the highest turnout in a number of years, and a big part of that was a very hard fought election campaign where people were passionately presenting quite different visions for the city.