Frontpage News - September 2019

Published: September 5, 2019

News type: National news   

Greetings from LGNZ

Conversations and proposals around freshwater, urban development, climate change, drinking-water, youth employment and waste management have dominated political conversations across the country over the last month, and rightly so.  We've got big decisions to make on all these areas.

And they're decisions that start local.

As the national voice for better local government, LGNZ has been at the forefront of these discussions, advocating for the rights of communities to have a greater say.  LGNZ wants to see the right legislation guiding our decision-makers, and where it's lacking, we're taking the initiative and developing tools to help communities and councils balance the wide array of social, economic and environmental trade-offs that arise in any issue.

Below, you'll find out where we stand and what we're doing about these big issues.

If you're one of the 2,076 mayoral or councillor candidates running this year, good luck. Do your research, and get out there among the electorate.  LGNZ commends you for putting your hand up. Voting papers arrive in letterboxes in from mid-September, so we're not far away - make sure you get out and vote before midday 12 October.

Stats show competitive local elections loom

With just five weeks until the final day of voting, the 2019 New Zealand Local Elections are shaping up to be hugely competitive with more than two candidates standing for every council seat on offer across the country (2,076 candidates standing for the 889 seats).

Reflecting the wide range of issues, debates and aspirations across New Zealand’s 78 District, City and Regional Councils, candidate numbers have varied, from the 14 candidates running for the Dunedin mayoralty, to the 33 candidates standing in Environment Canterbury’s first fully democratic election since 2010, with the number of unopposed mayoral races is the lowest in 10 years.

“The vast majority of the local elections are very well contested, both at the mayoral and councillor level.  It’s heartening to see the number and quality of candidates that have put their hand up and said ‘yes, I want to contribute to my community,” says LGNZ President Dave Cull.

“It also appears there are more under 40s standing than ever before, which is great to see. If young people want to see change in our political system, then both standing and voting in local elections is a way to do it. Their voice at the decision-making table is vital, particularly when it comes to long-term issues like climate change.”

Not surprisingly the Auckland Council race is the biggest, featuring 21 mayoral candidates and 52 more contesting the 16 available councillor spots – not including the influential local board seats within Auckland.

Similarly, the big centres of Christchurch (13 mayoral & 46 councillor candidates), Dunedin (14 & 25), Hamilton (8 & 38), Nelson (7 & 31) Tauranga (10 & 42) and Wellington (9 & 35) feature deep fields.

Among the smaller District councils, Far North District Council leads the way.  Their residents will be choosing from an 11 strong mayoral field, with a massive 42 candidates running for the 9 other seats at the table.  Residents of Thames-Coromandel, Rotorua Lakes, Upper Hutt, Whakatane, Westland, Whangarei, Timaru, Buller, Carterton, Gisborne, Horowhenua and Whanganui also have a wide array of candidates to choose from in their councillor seat contests.

“Local elections are special because unlike national elections, they focus on the services we all use multiple times a day –drinking water, roads, public transport, libraries, parks, sports facilities – the things that make our towns and cities vibrant and put New Zealand among the best places in the world to live.”

Where long-time mayors are standing down, big races have emerged.  The departures of Gisborne’s Meng Foon, Opotiki’s John Forbes, Dunedin’s Dave Cull, Waimakariri’s David Ayers, Whakatane’s Tony Bonne and Tasman’s Richard Kempthorne, have thrown the doors open to a wide array of candidates, both existing and former councillors, as well as political newcomers.

Among the Regional Councils, Greater Wellington Regional Council has the widest race, with 45 nominations for their table.  Regional Councils, primarily concerned with environmental resource management, flood control, air and water quality, biosecurity, regional parks, and in some cases, public transport, have an important role to play.  Horizons, Waikato, Hawke’s Bay and Northland also have two to three times more candidates than roles available.  Regional councillors will elect a chair to lead their council post-election.

Contrary to widespread reports, the number of uncontested mayoral seats has fallen, from 10 in 2016, to 6 this year. 

“We know that in some regions the electorate opts to change their council composition at longer intervals, which means both their candidate and voter turnout waxes and wanes greatly every second or third election.”

“While there are instances of councillors mayors being elected unopposed, they’re few and far between – this year we have 243 current and new candidates standing for the 61 sets of mayoral chains available.”

“I really encourage candidates to get out there and make themselves known – take clear policy positions, and make them known by getting around your neighbourhoods, sharing information on social media, attending meet the candidate events and also sharing your policy positions with policylocal.nz – so that voters can get a strong understanding of how you believe you can help your community.”

“If you love the place you live, a lot of that has to do with what council is doing, so it’s important you vote in October.”

All candidates are encouraged to inform voters of their policy positions through policylocal.nz, by contacting candidates@policy.nz.

Local election voting closes midday on 12 October 2019 – for more information on voting, visit vote.nz.

Fast Facts:

  • Top 3 largest city mayoral races: Auckland (21), Dunedin (14), Christchurch (13)
  • Top 3 largest city councillor races: Auckland (52), Christchurch (46), Tauranga (42)
  • Top 3 largest district mayoral races: Far North (11), Waimakariri (9), Opotiki (7) & Whakatane (7)
  • Top 3 largest district councillor races: Far North (42), New Plymouth (37), Horowhenua (36)
  • Top 3 largest regional council races: Greater Wellington (45), Environment Canterbury (39), Otago (28) 
  • Out of 67 Mayors, 16 are standing down, 6 elected unopposed and a further 45 re-standing for election
  • 243 current/new candidates are standing for Mayor
  • Out of 822 current members, 191 are standing down, and 56 have been elected unopposed
  • 1277 new candidates are standing at this year’s election, with 14 of them elected unopposed

LGNZ bring more tools to climate emergency fight

LGNZ is equipping councils with another key policy tool to help them gear their communities up for the impact of climate change with the release of the Exposed: Climate change and infrastructure guidance document.

Designed to provide councils with a consistent approach for assessing community asset exposure to sea level rise and inland flood risk, ‘Exposed,’ follows on from the ‘Vulnerable’ report, which highlighted the billions of dollars of local government infrastructure at risk from sea level rise.

“We’ve seen a number of councils declare climate emergencies, and this is another tool for them to use to better understand the impacts and prepare accordingly,” says LGNZ President Dave Cull.

“Some councils have been accused of overreacting to climate change and not having a plan of attack, which couldn’t be further from the truth. As a sector local government is leading the charge when it comes to climate change adaptation in New Zealand.”

“Our ‘Vulnerable’ report gave a clear picture of what is exposed to sea level rise risk, and both this report, as well as LGNZ’s previous resources have enabled more informed council decision making on climate change.”

“We know that the complexity of assessing the risks that climate change poses can be extremely daunting. That’s why this guidance document creates a step-by-step process for developing an exposure assessment.”

“This tool is a further step towards ensuring we have a complete and fit-for-purpose set of policy tools available to councils so that they can have evidence-based conversations with communities about how they adapt to the risks of climate change.

“Our goal with this work programme is to ensure that in 50 years’ time communities don’t regret the decisions that were made - or not made - today.”

The ‘Vulnerable’ report detailed the type, amount and replacement value of local government owned infrastructure exposed to sea level rise, revealing almost $8 billion at risk from 1.5 metres of sea level rise.

This followed the Climate Change and Natural Hazards Decision Making Toolkit released by LGNZ in May 2018, while Jack Hodder QC’s Climate change litigation – Who’s afraid of creative judges? legal opinion gave councils a gauge of the litigation risks that they face by choosing to recognise or ignore climate change-related risks in their decision-making.

“Communities have been vocal on the need for a national response to climate change, and councils across the country have recognised this in many ways.” 

“LGNZ is still hoping to see national direction on climate change adaptation, but even without it, LGNZ will continue to step up the level of resourcing for councils, who are on the frontline of the battle against climate change,” continued Mr Cull.

Govt must take communities with them on freshwater

Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) has welcomed the launch of the Essential Freshwater package as an important step to cleaning up the country’s waterways, but says more work is needed to ensure that the Government right-sizes the package to take communities with them.

“Cleaning up New Zealand’s waterways is a goal that all New Zealanders can get behind, and something that both regional councils and territorial authorities have been working towards for many years,” said LGNZ President Dave Cull.

“The challenge in doing this has been the tools with which we’d had to do the job, which is why the Essential Freshwater package is a welcome announcement.  It will considerably sharpen these policy tools, and enable councils to progress the environmental outcomes that their communities want.”

“However, getting the detail and timeline settings right will be critical. We need to set our urban and rural communities up for success by right-sizing the new regulatory requirements and the deadlines so that they can meet them.”

“The reality is that the pace of freshwater change can only go as fast as a community’s ability to pay. This is particularly so when you consider the tsunami of regulatory costs that rural and provincial areas are staring at, as well as ageing infrastructure such as storm water and waste water treatment plants across the country.”

LGNZ’s Regional Sector Water Subgroup has worked closely with the Government and the Ministry for the Environment as one of the Essential Freshwater Sub-Groups to assess the feasibility of various policy tools to meet the Government’s environmental outcomes.

“The Regional Sector strongly supports the Government’s goal to improve water quality, and continues to be well positioned as part of the solution. We are committed to taking a lead role in implementing the reforms, but recognise there are major challenges ahead,” said Doug Leeder, Chair of LGNZ’s Regional Sector and Bay of Plenty Regional Council.

“We want to ensure that the likely impact of the new proposals on communities is well understood and factored into the pace of change, so that we can then lend the Government our full support when the final package comes out.”

“Improvement in freshwater is a long-term game. What changes behaviour faster is on-the-ground support and incentives for landowners and resource users to make the necessary changes. Regional councils are already working with landowners, tangata whenua and community groups to get action, but public and private affordability will always have constraints.”

The Regional Sector also highlighted the need for an all-of-system response from Government to ensure the package can be implemented in the projected timeframes.

“From a New Zealand Inc. perspective we know that there are significant capacity, capability, and data gaps that will need to be closed to implement this package. The technically skilled staff we need just aren’t there in the numbers we need to do our job,” said Mr Leeder. 

“That’s why we’re calling for an all-of-system response from Government. We need to ensure our tertiary institutions across the country are aligning their curriculums to the demand coming down the track for technical water skills. We also need to focus the National Science Challenges on freshwater, so that they’re actively closing the gaps in our scientific understanding of complex ecosystems.

“Ultimately, we all need to take responsibility to improve water quality, and that means everyone doing their part.”

Mayors team up with national groups to drive licence change

A recent hui has seen the Mayors Taskforce for Jobs (MTFJ), local and central government, iwi, business, community and philanthropy groups explore how more people can gain the benefits of a driver licence.

As a nationwide network of New Zealand’s mayors, MTFJ is working together towards the vision of all young people aged under 25 being engaged in appropriate education, training, work or other positive activity in their communities.

The hui - Driving Change – will see MTFJ, the Todd Foundation, Waikato Tainui, Vodafone Foundation, Ara Taiohi, Downer Group, the Road Transport Forum, Philanthropy New Zealand and central government delegates share ideas that could be implemented to improve the graduated driver licencing system (GDLS).

“Having a driver licence is important for social and economic success.  A driver licence is more than a legal ticket to drive – it’s a must have for many jobs, as well as a formal means of identity,” says MTFJ Chair and Ōtorohanga District Mayor Max Baxter.

“There are a number of issues for people trying to get licences, including cost, accessibility and training, which is borne out in stats that show 70 to 90,000 young people face these major barriers to progressing to a full licence.”

MTFJ has long advocated for the importance of a free universal driver licencing programme for all secondary students after a remit was passed with overwhelming support at the 2017 LGNZ Conference, which was influenced by a successful high school driver licencing pilot programme launched in Central Hawkes Bay in 2016, led by Kelly Annand from Connecting for Youth Employment (CYE). 

“It’s clear that the interest and demand for systems change within the GDLS remains strong, which is evident by the groups, from every walk of life, participating at this hui,” says Mr Baxter.

“Improving the pathway to obtaining a driver licence is a key step in the journey towards reducing the 88,000 NEETs (youth not in employment, education or training).”

Geographical isolation is a major challenge for progressing more drivers through the system, as licencing providers are few and far between and without access to transport, access is an issue for many.  Those who are seeking a driver licence in Ōpōtiki now have to travel to Whakatāne to sit their licence, as there are no longer testing stations locally. 

“Driving infringements are often the first contact that many people have with the criminal justice system, and MTFJ hopes a system that better incentivises driver licences will reduce this.”

“Youth are also overrepresented in crashes.  There’s no one solution to this and other issues, but we’re hoping with everyone pulling in the same direction that we can start developing solutions,” concluded Mr Baxter.

LGNZ cautious as central government pits potatoes against houses

LGNZ will be cautiously assessing the wider implications of the newly proposed National Position Statement on Highly Productive Land (NPS-HPL), noting that that it traverses a number of highly complex policy areas including housing affordability and property rights.

Released by the Government, the NPS-HPL is intended to protect agricultural land from development, by requiring councils to consider the productive capacity of land in their planning and consenting decisions.

LGNZ supports the policy intent of this NPS, particularly as it relates to future food security, but notes it has the potential to conflict with the Government’s urban growth agenda, which is encouraging fast growing councils to expand house building to tackle New Zealand’s housing affordability crisis. Central Government is expected to release its proposed National Policy Statement on Urban Development next week.

“We need to carefully assess and balance the trade-offs between protecting highly productive land and enabling cities to grow, because at first glance these two policy frameworks appear to work against each other,” said LGNZ president Dave Cull.

“In places like Auckland and Hamilton, where New Zealand’s housing affordability crisis is most severe, the only place these cities can meaningfully expand greenfield development is in the areas that the NPS is looking to protect.”

“The Government is effectively pitting potatoes against houses, and at first blush we don’t think the discussion document has considered the implications of this sufficiently.”

LGNZ is also calling for clarity on the Government’s forestry policy, as tree planting also has the potential to lock up highly productive land for many decades.

A further concern is the implications that the NPS-HPL could have for property rights and regulatory takings.

“New Zealand is a democracy built upon property rights, which are one of the key pillars that underpin our open economy,” continued Cull.

“The detail that we’ll want to see is how central government compensates landowners for the loss of their property rights through an instrument such an NPS, or at least lays out a check and balance to ensure natural justice is served.” 

“If there is no compensation for these regulatory takings, it could have severe implications for investment confidence around cities.”

“This is a highly complex area and any misstep could have long-lasting implications for ordinary New Zealanders for decades to come, which is why we’re urging the Government to proceed with extreme caution.”

Move to put pressure on waste producers welcomed by LGNZ

The launch of a public consultation by the Ministry for the Environment to identify products that should be included in product stewardship schemes is being welcomed by LGNZ, who say that it’s time for a mandatory scheme to incentivise waste minimisation and diversion from landfill.

“The New Zealand public are subsidising waste producers who churn out cheap, largely unrecyclable packaging, plastics, e-waste and other materials which have a limited future in a circular economy,” says LGNZ president Dave Cull.

“The old saying is ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ – we need to focus on that first one to make the biggest dent in New Zealand’s waste problem.”

“Mandatory product stewardship means there’s a plan for the safe disposal or recycling of goods.  It puts in place a plan, particularly for the most harmful or voluminous products, that will create new business opportunities and deliver better environmental outcomes.”

In 2018, councils passed a remit asking LGNZ to advocate for the government to declare tyres, e-waste, agricultural chemicals and plastics as priority products under the Waste Minimisation Act 2008, as well as another remit urging a mandatory product stewardship scheme for tyres. 

“Local government is at the forefront of dealing with waste and recycling, but it’s vital that the legislation incentivises the best possible onshore facilities and outcomes.”

“We see mandatory product stewardship as being one piece of the puzzle, along with the adoption of a nationwide, strategic approach for recyclables and for the waste disposal levy to cover more landfills, so that there is more funding for onshore recycling facilities.”

Govt opts for harshest polytech medicine – LGNZ

LGNZ is disappointed central government has opted for the harshest medicine to help a minority of ailing polytechs by creating an untested and uncosted mega-institute to run all vocational training in New Zealand.

The move to merge the country’s 16 polytechs and on-the-job training programmes into a single entity was announced today after a six week consultation period.

“LGNZ recognises that a number of polytechs were facing financial challenges, and that some form of intervention was needed to ensure that these institutes could continue to service their current and future students,” said LGNZ President Dave Cull.

“However, these failing institutes represent only small subset of the total sector, with the Government’s own financial analysis showing that nine out of the country’s sixteen polytechs are operating just fine.”

“Surely a better path forward would have been to focus on the underperformers, and then engage on a programme of wider reform, particularly when the financial pressures have been caused by the Government not increasing funding for some ten years?”

“Instead Minister Hipkins has opted for the strongest intervention, one that also looks likely to pose the most risk in terms of disruption to the system.”

LGNZ is also concerned over the inclusion of on-the-job-training programmes in the overhaul, particularly as advice to the Government on vocational training reform did not recommend merging on and off-job training.

Taken as a total package, Mr Cull said local government is concerned that the voice of communities and local employers would be lost in favour of four to seven Workforce Development Councils. 

“Contrary to the view from the Beehive, New Zealand’s regional economies are highly diverse, each with differing skills needs that local polytechs and on-the-job training programmes filled,” said Dave Cull.

“New Zealand’s communities are increasingly looking for localist policies – ones that are shaped by local voices. In this light a fit for purpose vocational training system would encourage this diversity, instead of merging it out of existence.”

LGNZ welcomes a fresh look on urban development policy

LGNZ will carefully consider the proposed National Policy Statement on Urban Development (NPS-UD) to assess if it meets the Government’s aim of enabling urban development or simply adds more red tape to the planning process.

Councils currently provide urban planning information in their long-term plans, as well as through the National Policy Statement on Urban Development Capacity (NPS-UDC), which the new guidance will replace.

However, LGNZ research, based on a detailed and in depth survey of 23 medium and high growth councils, showed the NPS-UDC was not fit-for-purpose, having been built on a flawed economic model, and the complexity of the reporting requirements meant councils incurred an estimated $4 million in costs for little to no benefit.

“We’re pleased that the Government is reviewing the flawed NPS-UDC, which achieved little more than filling out a dashboard for central government officials,” said LGNZ Vice President Stuart Crosby.

“However, we need to ensure that its replacement is fit-for-purpose, and not another academic white elephant that is imposed on local government.”

“It also needs to synch with a number of other policy workstreams that influence urban development, including how councils fund the infrastructure to open land for development, and how the NPS-UD will work with recently proposed guidance on protecting highly productive land at the end of cities.”

“Delivering land for future urban growth is a complex process which involves careful decision making and ultimately trade-offs, and we strongly support policy tools which enable communities to balance those trade-offs for themselves.”

Given the flaws with the previous policy statement, Crosby said it is highly likely that LGNZ would be calling for a cycle of mandatory reviews to be built into the proposed NPS-UD to ensure that it continues to deliver value.

“This NPS-UD is an opportunity to develop an economic model that delivers greater benefit, with more equitable cost-sharing and outcomes.”

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