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Frontpage News - November 2017

Good morning,

In this Frontpage News we outline the key issues to br progressed with the new Government, raise the issue of infrastructure funding for councils in growing areas and provide updates on LGNZ's Water 2050 and climate change projects.

We also include a short report on some of the key messages from the COP23 Climate Change Conference held in Bonn, Germany last month, present local government's committment to lifting water quality, and look ahead to next month’s New Zealand China Mayoral Forum.

In this edition

  • Issues and priorities under the new Government
  • Funding growth infrastructure high priority for councils
  • The LGNZ climate change and water 2050 projects
  • Climate change report from Bonn
  • Water declaration reaffirms commitment to quality and signals cost issues
  • NZ China Mayoral Forum to boost trade and cultural relationships
  • Biodiversity: a looming problem in need of a new approach
  • New CouncilMARK™ participants announced


Building rapport with the new Government

A new Government means a new policy direction and some new faces.  In recent years LGNZ has worked hard to build relationships across the whole parliament and is well placed to build a constructive and productive partnership with the Labour-led Government.  We have written to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and all new Ministers and will be shortly meeting to discuss shared priorities.

We hosted new Minister of Local Government Nanaia Mahuta and new Housing and Transport Minister Phil Twyford at the November meeting of the Rural and Provincial sector in Wellington, where we outlined areas for further discussion and heard more about their approach for the next three years.

Housing issues a growing concern for councils

LGNZ roadshows to introduce President Dave Cull and Vice President Stuart Crosby to councils around the country has so far seen over 50 visited.

These have been an excellent opportunity to hear first hand the issues being faced by communities from Northland to Invercargill

Social issues, particularly around housing, have been identified as an issue of growing importance.  Affordability, availability of suitable rentals and social and community housing have been identified as having an impact across many communities, which in turn impacts local government.  This will be a focus of a major piece of work for LGNZ in 2018.

Issues and priorities under the new Government

LGNZ has written to the Prime Minister and Ministers holding portfolios relevant to local government issues to offer our congratulations, outline some of the complex social, economic and environmental issues communities and councils face, and arrange to meet in person to continue building the relationship between the two arms of government. 

LGNZ President Dave Cull says local government and the new Government share many common goals and the sector is looking forward to seeing progress in a number of key areas.

“All parties that form the new Government have committed to a stronger relationship with local government and to addressing many of the key issues our communities face,” Mr Cull says.

We were pleased to welcome two of the key figures in the new Government to our recent Rural and Provincial Sector meeting in Local Government Minister Hon Nanaia Mahuta and Housing and Transport Minister Hon Phil Twyford.  Both reiterated the need to for central and local government to work in partnership on the key issues that face New Zealand

At the meeting Ms Mahuta said she was eager to work with local government across a range of issues.  She cited housing and related inequality, infrastructure and the challenge posed by the three waters, and the pressures associated with the funding and financing of local government as high priority.

LGNZ has been advocating for a number of important shifts in recent years and based on the policy platforms of the new Government anticipates a substantial step forward on many of these.

“The key focus for local government is ensuring our towns, cities, district and regions’ infrastructure and funding needs are met, so the country can continue to meet economic growth needs and pressures resulting from climate change, natural hazards and increased environmental standards,” Mr Cull says.  

“We need a wide range of tools to fund growth and maintenance across the three waters, housing and tourism in particular.  Related to this is a need for clear policy to deal with climate change adaptation and mitigation, risk and resilience, an approach to water quality and quantity that connects standards with infrastructure and cost, and addressing the social and affordable housing issues that become more acute every day.”

Councils highlight growth infrastructure as urgent issue

Growth pressures are raising the prospect of rates increases in the teens if alternative funding solutions aren’t found, councils says. 

At a meeting of Local Government New Zealand’s Metro Sector in October, mayors and deputy mayors from New Zealand’s largest and fastest growing cities agreed the biggest issue facing local government is the funding of growth infrastructure, and that councils are keen to work with the new Government to find alternative funding tools as a matter of urgency. 

LGNZ President Dave Cull says the Government’s commitments to reviewing the drivers of local government costs and its revenue base are timely and necessary and with councils now preparing long-term plans swift action is needed. 

“Councils in fast growing areas face serious issues with funding the infrastructure needed to accommodate new residents, such as roads and essential drinking, waste and storm water infrastructure,” Mr Cull says. 

“Relying primarily on property rates and the current development contributions regime to fund incredibly expensive new infrastructure for new residents is not sustainable or fair, and many councils are reaching their debt limits.  We are looking forward to working with the Government on finding alternative funding methods.” 

Mr Cull says the message about infrastructure funding has been heard time and again during a nationwide tour of councils he and LGNZ Vice President Stuart Crosby have undertaken in recent months. 

“It’s not just big cities that are experiencing this either, it is an issue for all councils as growth returns to the regions, in particular for councils with small rating bases needing to upgrade or renew infrastructure,” Mr Cull says.

Potential solutions could include further special purpose vehicles to allow councils to borrow off their balance sheets, visitor levies or user-pays systems. 

Hamilton City Council mayor Andrew King says growth councils, such as Hamilton, are doing everything they can to leverage the opportunities presented by growth. 

“These opportunities however come with a number of challenges, not least the costs of infrastructure to enable growth,” Mr King says. “The ability of individual councils to fund this infrastructure is limited. Councils and the new Government need to collaborate on new funding models so we can build infrastructure for new homes with urgency and ensure a supply of affordable housing.  Success will mean councils can better manage the future impact of growth-related costs for our ratepayers.” 

The Government appears to be sympathetic to this issue.  Speaking at the recent Rural and Provincial Sector meeting new Housing Minister Phil Twyford said funding of infrastructure for councils, especially those experiencing growth, is one of the top priorities for the new Government.

 “We need to get our towns and cities into a position where they can make room for growth, and not constantly choke it off,” Mr Twyford said.  “At the top of the list in that reform agenda is fixing what I believe is an issue for financing infrastructure which puts councils in very difficult situations – growth councils cannot borrow any more money, by and large, to finance their growth and accommodate all the growth pressures.”

Mr Twyford said the new Government plans to build on the work of the previous government in establishing Crown Infrastructure Partners as a balance sheet that is not local or central government.

“We understand that it is not realistic to expect local government to be a kind of bottomless well of finance for infrastructure and that you have real balance sheet limitations.

“This is going to be a priority in the coming months and because of your critical role in planning and managing the urban form we are going to work closely with you on this.”

Policy update: climate change and Water 2050 

This year LGNZ has launched two significant projects to address two of the biggest issues facing communities and the country as a whole – water and climate change.

These will make valuable contributions to the information base councils and communities need to address these significant and long-term issues. 

The climate change project comprises a number of pieces of work focused on both adaptation and mitigation, aimed at creating: 

  • an evidence base to support a comprehensive framework for risk reduction and/or retreat; and
  • a local government view on emission reduction targets and how to achieve these for New Zealand. 

Over the next year this will include research to determine the value of local government assets at risk from sea level rise, and work to identify the issues that councils face in delivering three waters services in low lying areas. 

The Water 2050 project is designed to highlight the important role councils play in water management and protection, and advocate for policy change to improve their ability to do this effectively and lift the outcomes for our communities and the country.  It has a focus on allocation, quality, infrastructure, cost and funding and governance. 

It aims to create a coherent framework that:

  1. Recognises the interlinked nature of all water;
  2. Leads to integration of policy across allocation, quality, infrastructure, cost and funding and governance, in particular reconciling the setting of standards with the cost of achieving those standards; and
  3. Identifies a suitable central and local government framework to govern water.

COP23 demonstrates need for step change on climate change

LGNZ President Dave Cull was at the recent COP23 Climate Conference in Bonn, Germany, and reports that the time for New Zealand to take real and visible action is well and truly here.

Local government is at the forefront of climate change, especially adaptation but also mitigation, and Mr Cull says COP23 provided an insight into where New Zealand is in comparison to the rest of the world, and what we need to do to catch up.

With even poor countries like Costa Rica and Fiji mounting all sorts of efforts to tackle the issue of climate change, New Zealand needs to move into action urgently.

A key step that needs to be taken is to move beyond talking about carbon reduction targets and onto measuring progress against those targets, and making the results public.

“In New Zealand we talk, quite rightly, about the need for carbon reduction targets,” Mr Cull says.

“However, the international discussion has moved onto actual measures of progress against those targets.  Progress against goals need to be measured and made public.  Contracts with Government agencies will have to include carbon budgets and energy audit systems that need to be met as much as financial budgets.  Those results will allow for comparisons of national per capita achievement, and while they appear initially to be a way of publicising achievement, it won’t be long before they are used to highlight the lack of it.”

Mr Cull says there are a number of other actions required, including:

  • Identifying how each of New Zealand’s councils, and each type of council, could contribute to carbon reduction;
  • Changing the building code to require carbon efficient houses and buildings; and
  • Encourage indigenous knowledge platforms to combat climate change effects.  Is that an opportunity under our Treaty of Waitangi obligations.

“The bigger picture is that local government must work hand in hand with central government to address the issues of climate change,” Mr Cull says.  “The question is how local government works with the Government - it cannot just be on the terms that the Government decides.  To achieve the reductions New Zealand needs, we need to be ‘sharing the driving wheel’.” 

Water declaration reaffirms commitment to quality and signals cost issues

A local government leaders’ water declaration launched to further reiterate the sector’s commitment to lifting water quality and call on the new Government for greater action has been signed by over 50 council mayors and chairs, signalling the sector’s commitment to this pressing issue.

Water is a key issue for New Zealanders.  Lifting the quality of freshwater resources and improving our drinking, waste and stormwater will require a huge effort.  The Local Government Leaders’ Water Declaration is local government’s commitment to playing its part in achieving these goals.

The Declaration acknowledges the increasing importance of water to New Zealanders.  It follows a climate change declaration launched in July and recognises the interlinked nature of what are two major issues for New Zealand.

Local Government New Zealand President Dave Cull says councils manage freshwater quality and quantity, the delivery of drinking water and the provision of waste and storm water services, and because of this is well-placed to lead improvement efforts.  

“There is no doubt water is a challenging and complex area to address,” Mr Cull says.

“Local government is already working with its communities to lift the outcomes for all of our waters and is seeing good success in some areas.  But we face a number of challenges in achieving this, particularly around funding to deliver investment in the improvement our communities want to see.”

Lifting the quality of freshwater resources and improving our drinking, waste and stormwater provision will require a collaborative effort and will come at a significant cost.  Additional funding tools will be needed to ensure this work can be carried out and councils are very likely to need financial support from the Government in some areas to make real gains.

The Declaration builds on the Water 2050 project started this year by local government to scope the costs of maintaining and improving water quality and its continued supply.  Water 2050 will underpin the need to think about water in a holistic way, raising the cost implications of investment in drinking, waste and stormwater assets and services to meet increased standards for water quality, and outlining the need for a national conversation on costs and new funding tools.

“Water, along with climate change, is a top priority for local government.  As a nation we need to take significant steps towards making improvement, and this declaration is a commitment to action from local government,” Mr Cull says.

The Declaration outlines a number of local government commitments.  These include:

  • improving the water in our regions with, and for, our people and future generations;
  • ensuring that those people who have the privilege of using our water do so responsibly; and
  • working with our communities so that the costs and priorities for investment in infrastructure to provide a secure supply of water and maintain and improve water quality are clearly understood.

The Declaration also outlines key steps for the new Government, including:

  • recognising the interlinked nature of all water, whether natural rivers, lakes, streams or groundwater and drinking water, stormwater or wastewater, and reflecting this in coherent, integrated water policy;
  • acknowledging the impact climate change will have on our water resources and developing policy options to address these; and
  • working with local government on a plan to meet these costs and develop new tools for funding and financing infrastructure.

Click here to read the Local Government Leaders’ Water Declaration.

NZ China Mayoral Forum set to boost trade and cultural relationships

Kiwi mayors are keenly awaiting the opportunity to promote their regions and build relationships with counterparts from 12 Chinese cities at the New Zealand China Mayoral Forum in Wellington. 

The 12 Chinese mayors and vice-mayors from mid to large sized cities will be joined by 36 mayors from across New Zealand, from our biggest city Auckland to some of our smaller regional centres.   

The Forum, hosted by Local Government New Zealand and Wellington City Council, is the second time Mayors from China and New Zealand will meet, following the inaugural 2015 Forum in Xiamen. 

Trade and investment opportunities in tourism, education and primary industries will be central to discussions at this year’s Forum.  China is New Zealand’s largest source of foreign students, with 34,000 in 2016, second largest source of tourists, with over 400,000 visitors in 2016, and in 2016 took $9.4 billion of export goods with primary products top of the list.   

A business forum and matching session will also provide an opportunity for businesses from both countries to engage in discussions on future trade and investment opportunities. 

LGNZ President Dave Cull says the Forum is an excellent opportunity for both the country as a whole and the regions to enhance relationships with New Zealand’s largest trading partner. 

“There is much to be gained for our communities in developing a greater understanding and appreciation of how China operates,” Mr Cull says.  “Face to face meetings at the sub-national level provide the opportunity for the representatives of our cities, districts and regions to engage directly and look for mutually-beneficial economic development opportunities.” 

Host Mayor Justin Lester says the capital is proud to welcome the Forum, and he will be looking to share the Wellington story with the visiting contingent. 

“China is a hugely important partner and destination for Wellington business. I’m very excited that such a major forum is being hosted in the capital,” Mr Lester says.  “This will be a great opportunity to show off what we love about Wellington to an important international audience.” 

Christchurch City Mayor Lianne Dalziel, who attended the inaugural Forum in Xiamen in 2015 and will speak about tourism at this year’s event, says relationship building is critical for successfully leveraging opportunities with China. 

“This forum is all about relationship building,” Ms Dalziel says.  “Local government has a role to play in building relationships with China that can benefit a range of sectors.  For example, the introduction of the direct flight from Guangzhou to Christchurch can be put down to strong relationships which took time to establish and build.”  

Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan will also speak on tourism at the Forum.  Mr Cadogan says bringing civic leaders from New Zealand’s largest export market is an incredible opportunity to present New Zealand’s offering to what are very influential individuals and a chance to further build the relationships that will lead to greater trade. 

“Central Otago is only starting to realise the potential it has within the Chinese market,” Mr Cadogan says. 

“There is so much more that Central Otago, and New Zealand, has to offer the Chinese consumer, including a unique tourism experience enjoying great New Zealand landscapes and experiences as well as our shared history.  All of this translates into income for our communities and the people in them.” 

The Forum is supported by platinum sponsor the China Chamber of Commerce in New Zealand and Bank of China, with additional support from sponsors China Travel Services Ltd, Fonterra, Huawei, the University of Otago, Victoria University of Wellington, Silver Fern Express Ltd, the University of Auckland’s Centre for Asia-Pacific Excellence and the New Zealand China Council and Hastings District Council. 

The talks will include mayors, vice mayors and officials from the following Chinese cities: Baoji City, Dunhuang City, Guangzhou City, Heihe City, Hohhot City, Huaibei City, Liaoyang City,

Qingdao City, Qingyuan City, Shenzhen City, Weinan City and Xiamen City. 

The talks will include mayors and officials from the following New Zealand towns, cities and districts: Auckland, Ashburton, Central Hawke’s Bay, Central Otago, Christchurch, Clutha, Dunedin, Far North, Gisborne, Gore, Hamilton, Hastings, Hauraki, Hutt City, Invercargill, Kapiti, Kawerau, Manawatu, Marlborough, Matamata-Piako, Napier, Nelson, Opotiki, Otorohanga, Palmerston North, Porirua, Queenstown Lakes, Rangitikei, Rotorua, Selwyn, Tararua, Taupo, Tauranga, Timaru, Upper Hutt, Wellington and Whanganui. 

Biodiversity: a looming problem in need of a new approach 

A national body incorporating both public and private interests to oversee New Zealand’s work to protect and improve our biodiversity could ensure efforts are coordinated and as effective as possible, regional and unitary councils say. 

Local Government New Zealand’s Regional Sector has today released a report into the future of biodiversity management in the country, calling for clarification of roles and responsibilities and the creation of a clear biodiversity goal and a plan to achieve it. 

It makes five recommendations for change: 

  • The need for strong leadership and clarity of roles and responsibilities;
  • The need to agree where we should focus our efforts at national, regional
  • and local level;
  • The importance of a national plan and delivering joined-up action across all players;
  • The need to understand what success looks like, and how to measure it; and
  • The need for modern, fit-for-purpose frameworks, including legislation, to help to achieve our goals.
  • LGNZ Regional Sector Chair Doug Leeder says the commitment to biodiversity protection has grown substantially in recent times, including through the Predator Free 2050 project, increasing philanthropic investment and significant community effort. 

Mr Leeder says with biodiversity efforts from so many quarters strong leadership is required to ensure the best use of resources and outcomes. 

“Biodiversity, through habitat protection and pest management, is core business for regional and unitary councils and we see a need for a more coordinated approach to this work,” Mr Leeder says. 

“There is a lot of positive action and focus on our precious biodiversity and we are keen to ensure all parties are working to a consistent and coherent plan.  The current system is unclear, with multiple players and few mechanisms to allow parties to work together. 

“Being smarter and more strategic in our efforts, with a clear battle plan for ‘NZ inc’ focusing on active management like pest control across all parties, will make the greatest difference to accelerating the protection of our biodiversity.  Put simply, we need to make sure we are all paddling the waka in the right direction.” 

The report also outlines the role of regional and unitary councils in biodiversity, the challenges facing biodiversity in New Zealand, new technologies being utilised and the need for further new tools and approaches. 

To view the report and the five recommendations click here. 

More councils to take CouncilMARK™ opportunity in programme’s second year 

Following a successful first year of the CouncilMARK™ local government excellence programme further councils have already signed up to begin the process. 

The inaugural CouncilMARK™ year had 18 Foundations Councils sign up, with 15 reports released so far. Greater Wellington Regional Council, Wairoa District Council and Upper Hutt City Council in the process of completing the programme.   

Councils signed up to the programme in 2018 are Bay of Plenty Regional Council, Dunedin City Council, Hauraki District Council, Mackenzie District Council, Manawatu District Council, Tararua District Council and Taupo District Council.  

A number of other councils have indicated their intention to participate pending full council support. 

LGNZ president Dave Cull says CouncilMARK™ is an important component towards an ongoing goal of lifting the perceptions and performance of local government. 

“The CouncilMARK™ process has proved to be a valuable tool, with a number of councils reporting they are using the findings to help them make improvements and to provide a benchmark for their current level of performance.  It is great to see more councils getting on board and I urge other councils to consider when they join the programme,” Mr Cull says. 

“CouncilMARK™ provides incredibly valuable information that can help councils with how they operate, what they’re getting right and areas for improvement.  And it gives communities the same information, allowing them an independent view of the work their local councils are doing. 

“As a sector we understand we need to constantly show and grow our performance, and CouncilMARK™ offers an excellent opportunity to work towards that.  I congratulate all those councils to have already completed the programme and those about to embark on the journey.” 

There is capacity for more councils to participate in CouncilMARK™ and LGNZ will be making further calls for expressions of interest in 2018.

Local wins

Big restoration and recreation project planned for Queen Elizabeth Park

Waterfront development plan welcomed

Proposal to give Lower Hutt room to grow gets Council approval

Local government in the media

Local Government New Zealand keen to work with the new Government as a 'matter of urgency' to find alternative methods of funding new infrastructure

Tourism investment on agenda for Chinese mayors’ visit

Water solutions now 'number one issue' for NZ councils

Regions want fair slice of the pie

Mayors say Auckland's fuel tax creates options for other NZ cities

The Big Read: Our slow-moving disaster as sea level rises

Big support for Auckland's pest-free mission