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Author/Moderator - William (Bill) Barclay 

Associate Member NZ Press Council.   

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Monday
May292017

Total Failure on Gas Emissions

The Ministry of the Environment released figures today that show a .01% drop in Greenhouse Gas Emissions for the year 2015. The 2016 figures will be released in April 2018.

The relative drop for 2015 is from 56471 to 56372 Units <.01%> (net emissions including LULUCF), but a 5 year increase from 2010 of 18%, so I guess we are heading in the right direction, ewen if the figure is far short of the Government's self-imposed target of a 2% decrease to meet its Paris commitments. .

With almost no visible demonstartion of a will to tackle the major sources (LULUCFs), we can expect this slugged performanextend into the future, particularly if no specific action is taken control land-use intensification. The only upside is that the adverse weather conditions will certainly adversely affect production this year in the Waikato, and elsewhere.

The bland assurances given to the Civic Centre meeting by Scott Simpson two weeks ago will not 'cut the mustard.'




Wednesday
May242017

Trump 'Doubles Down on the Environment

If you for one moment thought that Trump was bluffing on his proposal t cut the Environmental Protection Agency budget, think again. He has simply 'double-downed' on the 31% cuts he proposed at the outset, his EPA head - Scott Pruitt is revelling in implementing the threats made earlier to cut oversight of all mining and oil exploration.

Here is the article in todays Washington Post by Dino Grandoni that outlines the details from Trump's budget that is to be presented later today. The only upside is that will it need the full raft of Republican Senate support to get it through, and the Democrats could still filibuster. 

What should be of major concern to us is the likely cutting of funding to the National Science Foundation Antarctic Program that could lead to the virtual 'moth-balling' of McMurdo operation - certainly a major reduction that would have a devastating effect on both Us and NZ research programs in the Antarctic. 

The sabotage of programs designed to reveal changes in the ice conditions, and consequences of climate change are the result of an extraordinary mindset that appears to permeate the upper levels of the current US Administration. There appears to be nothing we can do except watch this fast evolving train-wreck taking place in Washington, and that It appears to make any attempts at mitigating the effects of climate change futile.

Next comes the unveiling of the intention of the US to renege on the Paris Agreement, and depart, thus leaving other major polluting countries no choice but to follow suit.

It is going to be a very long four years.  

 

 

 

Tuesday
May232017

Cost of Carbon Units Revealed

An article that appeared today under Isobel Ewing's byline in Newshub reveals that the cost to our economy for carbon units that we will be required to purchase under the Paris Agreement targets will be $1.4 billion every year for ten years, and beyond.

"In documents released under the Official Information Act, a briefing to Judith Collins on her first day as energy minister says the cost to the economy of buying international carbon units to offset our own emissions will be $14.2 billion over ten years"

Green's Co-leader James Shaw reminds us that our Government has always claimed that it is too costly for us to reduce greenhouse emissions, but that they have failed up until now to reveal this incredible cost. Meanwhile Government fails to take any action to reverse climate change, and is prepared to defiantly support new coal mines, and subsidise dubious irrigation schemes for sectoral benefit.

"Businesses reliant on carbon-intensive transport will be required to buy international credits to account for their emissions, while the government will wear the cost of buying credits for industries exempt from the Emissions Trading Scheme such as agriculture. (my bold)

New Zealand’s pledge under the Paris Agreement is to reduce emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. Our domestic emissions are expected to increase overall by 2030."

Is it too much to hope that Government may review its commitment to farming to cover its carbon cost for ever, or may it finally get some balls, and make a stand against the farming lobby in the interests of overall equity. In the meantime this imposition is falling on every single taxpayer, and industrys like transport will be levied. It is really 'Alice in Wonderland' stuff. 

Scott Simpson's waffling at the Civic Centre meeting last Tuesday is cast in its true light by these revelations. I certainly cannot see him 'rocking the caucus boat.'

 

 

 

Monday
May222017

Board Meeting Today 22 May

It took all afternoon, and would have probably gone all say given the opportunity.

Their was a great deal of fluff about nothing with certain members who are starting to stand out as repeat offenders in the puffery stakes. No names - no pack-drill at this stage - I will give them a little longer to get over their initial need to make a name for themselves. 

In the end, the only decisions of note were related to the naming of the Zoom Zonee Indoor Stadium.

It is now to be officially known at the Thames Community Recreation Centre - probably the best of a bad bunch, but longer than all the others. I guess it will soon acquire a moniker that more befits its status and use. I simply cann ot imagine its users using the 'official' title for long. I bet 'Rec Centre' will take over without much delay. 

By the way, I have sought additional information regarding the $700,000 over-run that was revealed to Council in last weeks budget. A wee bird has told me that the Mayor has indicated that it is only $450,000  - that may indicate that the negotiations with the builder havce been completed. I have also asked for confirmation as to just how this is to be funded. 

The only other matter considered allocations form the $50000 Economic Development Fund - finally awarded to the Prospectors Association ($20,000), SteamPunk ($15,000, with conditions), and $15,000 to the Thames Art Trust for sculpture installations initially on the Thames/Kopu section of the Rail Trail. The details of the applictions are available at 2,.2 on the attachewd.

Some of these are beginning to appear with monotomous regularity - perhaps they have perfected the art of the applicatrion!

 

 

 

Monday
May222017

Winnie Really is in the Box Seat

Anyone who imagined that the Winnie threat to both sides of the spectrum was overstated need only look at Mathew Hooten's column in last week's National Business Review to understand just how real is the threat.

And he really hasn't even started his campaign by any means. Next week's budget will be very telling in terms of his ability to attack the Government with much  greater authority and flair than Little and his cohort, particularly as Shane Jones is expected to shortly join him. Hooten thinks that it is Labour votes that he is after, but I suspect there is even greater fragility on the other side of the House - particularly on immigration and the environment.

He is already well ahead of the Greens, and it is only his continuing antipathy for both their policies and their leadership that would prevent a grand coalition with him as Prime Minister and Jacinta as Deputy. But as we all know, he is totally unpredictable, and will as in the past keep us all waiting in the event of a tight one - even for weeks on end - he has form in that regard.

As Hooten says "Under the circumstances in which Little appears to leading them, why on earth wouldn't Ms Adern and her colleagues go for it." Stephen Joyce had better be in a position to pull some rabbits from the hat come Thursday- particularly on Health, if his Party is to stand much a of a chance come September - that is my personal and rather depressing assessment, if only because of the consequences of a cliff-hanger result.

 

 

 

Friday
May192017

Martin Mathews Must Stand Down

Any reader of this blog will know that I have long been a critic, for good reason, of the 'See No Evil .............' Office of the Auditor General.

It seems that one has to be well qualified in this particular aspect of public service in order to be appointed as its head, and Martin Mathews appears to fill that description in spades.

The fact that those responsible for checking out his involvement in permitting the fraud of Joanne Harrison within the Transport Ministry, virtually right under his nose, leaves one gob-smacked as to what it actually takes in this country to disqualify you from any appointment to senior levels in the public service - particularly from within the comfortable confines of the Wellington Beltway.

The slow but sure emergence of further evidence involving the appointment of Ms Harrison's friends and relatives to high positions in the Department - one at least who failed to front for work for ten months only points to the total inability of Mr Mathews to exercise the level of control that should be expected of any high level executive, let alone that of Auditor General. He clearly has no concept of the role and the responsibility that it entails.

Based on evidence revealed to date, he must surely guilty of negligence, if not criminal negligence to have allowed these defalcations and manipulations to have taken place directly under his purview at MoT - the extent of his knowledge would need to be established in order to indicate which of the two, but colusion would certainly be criminal in these circumstances.

The fact the her activity was apparently reported to him on several occasions without him making the slightest effort to investigate, let alone confront her is relevant in this regard. The fact that Harrison was apparently permitted to engineer the removal of staff who she regarded as a danger to her activities points to culpibility of a high order.

What the hell was going on, and how on earth can this have possibly been kept even partially out of the assessment of the Public Service Commissioner in making his/her recommendation to the cross-bench Parliamentary Committee responsible for approving his appointment to the position of Auditor General?

After nigh on twenty five years in Australian Pubic Service, I can think of no set of circumstances even remotely approaching the level of incompetence, if not criminal neglect demonstrated in this particular occasion.  Such levels can only bring our public service into disrepute and scorn.

Step down Mr Mathews until this mess is sorted.

 

 

 

 

Thursday
May182017

Julie-Anne Genter In Town Monday

I have received this from my Green 'sources' - It would be interesting to hear what Julie-Anne has to say on this subject, particularly as we are about to enter new public transport era here in Thames.

"A Public meeting is being held to discuss local and regional public transport issues with Julie Anne Genter – Green MP and expert on public transport - Thames Civic Centre 5:30 PM Monday 22nd May

 A public bus trial is underway in Thames.

 What other possibilities are there for smaller rural towns like Thames, and around the Coromandel Peninsula? Come and join the conversation.

 Please share details of the meeting with your networks, on Facebook etc."

Make the effort - hopefully it will as useful as the excellent discussion involving Scott Simpson last Tuesday with around 50 attendees.

I am very happy to convey these public service messages on this site as a community service - we have so little means of communicating in this town that every little bit helps. Just email me.

 

 


Thursday
May182017

Sound Affairs

A commitment to taking every measure necessary to ensure that their decision-making processes are fair, square and above board is the very epitome of democratic institutions. Councils can assist this process by ensuring that at the very least, their deliberations are able to be heard by constituents who take the trouble to attend their meetings. 

Our Council has failed in this regard to date, not deliberately, but due mainly to the extraordinary layout of the Council Chamber making it almost impossible for the public to hear the contributions to debate, and decisions. Members appear to have been unaware of just how difficult it is to hear in the public gallery, and quite a number of Councillors and Board members have voices that completely fail to carry. Mumbling and whispers are often all that reach the gallery.

I have lost count of the number of people who have complained to me about this situation, and who have declared their total lack of interest in attending Council as a result. This is a great pity.

It was for this reason that I took a submission to Council this week seeking for consideration to be given to the installation of a high quality sound system to assist both councilors and the public in hearing what is going on.

Here is the content of the submission:

"Your Worship and Councillors:

"If you have not already noticed, the transmission of sound to the public gallery in particular during Council and Board meetings has become a major problem since the adoption of the new layout.

It has become almost impossible to hear some speakers (not all!) during debates, and the decision making process. Those with their back to the gallery are virtually impossible to hear.

I believe that Council has a duty to inform all who attend its meetings in an appropriate manner, but I have no intention of lecturing on your obligations in this regard. My submission is aimed primarily at informing you of the state of acoustics since the change of layout.

Could I please request that consideration be given to the installation of a suitable sound system in the Chamber based on wireless technology, or alternatively the cheaper wired version. The wireless version provides a proper conference style system.

I have taken the trouble to obtain quotes for both versions from Edwards Sound Systems Ltd – one of Auckland’s premier system installers, and have attached same to this submission for your consideration.

This is simply an indication of cost - I fully understand that it would be necessary to undertake a standard acquisition, if not tender process should you agree to proceed.

As you can see, the quote for the wireless system is under $10,000, so this should hopefully. fit somewhere within the Council administration budget. 

For your consideration."

I am pleased to be able to report that the submission received widespread support from around the table, and I am confident that the request will be dealt with favourably and promptly. Several members reported that even they could not hear other members at times.

Not one member questioned my age, and the possible necessity for me to visit a hearing clinic - for that I am grateful!

All very gratifying, and an indication of the new atmosphere around the Chamber, though I did notice that the Waikato Times representative who attends very infrequently was invited by staff to attend morning tea in the 'inner sanctum' - a privilege that has not been extended to me in the entire seven years I have been reporting.

I actually have a strong objection to reporters being present in that situation where members should be free to explore issues out of the Chamber without fear of being overheard - that is the reason for the 'Members Only' notice on the door.

And the only story under her byline in the WT yesterday was one on the Oputere tree vandalism. So that was a waste of time coming all the way over for that - the story was simply a re-hash of the PR release - a  further indication of the abysmal coverage of our Council affairs by our so-called news media.

 

 

 

Wednesday
May172017

Rundown of T3 Meeting Last Evening

Apart from Denis Tegg's excellent presentation late in the evening, the major part was taken up with what amounted to a political speech by Scott Simpson at the beginning and end - he did not answer any of the questions that were on the mind of those attending, and who may well have been unexpressed at the sheer politeness of the exchanges. Scott's boyish enthusiasm for Government policy can become trying at times. 

The Chair, whose name escapes me, exhorted us to remain civil, and proceeded to lay-out the discussions around energy, transport, and farming as identified in the Vivid Report, but few appeared ready to get deep into the farming issues and they mremained the 'elephant in the room.  - possibly due to the presence of several farmers. My discussion group had Andrew Goudie - a Plains dairy farmer leading the discussion, and he mounted a spirited defence of the industry. He was also prominent in promoting the EV industry about which he appeared to know a great deal, as did others around the table. 

Other groups also appeared to mainly get their teeth into the safe EV debate.  

That was perfectly satisfactory, but missed wider issues on carbon neutrality covered by the London consultancy - Vivid, on behalf of the Cross-Party Group which is replicated in other countries under the Globe umbrella. It is Government and privately funded here under the chairmanship of Dr Kennedy Graham - Scott was Gung-Ho about the joys of this 'Ccross-Party' relationship that enables wide-ranging discussion on the easy issues, but as our chair pointed out, they are probably too inhibited by their party policies and individual bias to get into the hard ones.

T3 appears to be playing a splendid role engaging various groups and individuals in community effort and discussion. I don't know about Mark Skeldings's influence, but I was dismayed to hear him refer to nationalisation of the fuel industry" as one of the solutions to current and future problems.

Good God, I thought we had left all that behind until I heeard Jeremy Corbyn  at midday today advocating for the nationalising of transport, fuel, post and Heaven knows what else as part of Labour's UK manifesto - I guess this still has an attraction for certain groups, but I would hope that we can surely avoid such simplistic socialist dogma.  

The 50 odd who attended last evening were probably mostly in the Green's camp, and well used to the rhetoric, but I found it all a bit contrived. I wish they could get past these supposed 'solutions' to something more generally acceptable to the majority of voters who are simply hanging in there awaiting the 'promised land.' 

The farmers, or ex-farmers in the room, may or may not have been organised by the Feds to defend the industry. loudly. On the other hand they may have been there to support Scott Simpson. It certainly kept the discussion about effluent and nitogen at a subdued level - after all, we were under orders to be polite! 

All in all, a worthwhile event - let us hope there are more, dealing with the wider issues of climate change, and perhaps not quite so politely!

 

 

 

Wednesday
May172017

Denis Tegg's Presentation Last Evening at the Civic

Here is Denis's presentation to last evening's meeting at the Civic Centre that caused some degree of consternation within the audience close to me, and I guess elsewhere in the room. Denis did not mince words in pointing out the deficiencies of our Council to date in meeting the requirements of the now 7 year old Coastal Policy Statement.

It is to be hoped that recent publicity of this situation has had the desired effect -certainly the announcement at yesterday's Council meeting on long term performance measures, and in particular, the completion of the Coastal and Hazard Management Plan:

"A district wide strategic framework is under development, however the dual focus of progressing both the practical programme and the district wide strategic framework has stretched resources. The scope of this strategy has widened, and the framework will now be completed in 2017-18, as part of the development of the 2018-2018 Long Term Plan, led by the Strategic Planning Team."

We will see!

But they would not have made that commitment in this Paper without being confident they could complete the task. They know that many are watching, and waiting.

 

 

 

Wednesday
May172017

Rate Increase Excites Some Interest

Rate increases (see below) usually excite considerable interest - particularly from those on fixed incomes, but I thought ours (4.55%) seems to have slipped though with barely a yawn - except at least from Russell Skeet who took up the cudgels yesterday, and demanded a response from our representatives.

Diane Connors responded in the following manner, and she must get credit for 'fronting' even if she is somewhat unconvincing about the reasons for the increase, and gives us concern about future increases at the same time. Note that she does not answer Russell's questioning of the need for such a substantial increase in borrowing.

As for her reference back to the 2007/2010 by way of comparison, all I can say is that that ancient history in different circumstances hardly justifies current increases. Get over it, Diane - you are beginning to sound like Leach!

Here is her response to Russell:

"Thanks for showing an interest in the workings of local government.   Yes, Bill Barclay has correctly reported the current forecasted rates increase for Thames in the 2017-18 year, as presented at yesterday's Council meeting.

To fully answer the question "why is the rates increase so high?' involves sitting down and going through our budget line by line with you.  Unfortunately I just don't have the time for that at this point. 

In simple terms the rates are increasing because Thames Community Board has been working hard to provide the services, facilities and amenities that our community has asked for.
I strongly believe that if all ratepayers wanted was a water supply, roading, stormwater, waste water and rubbish collection - then we wouldn't need elected representatives.  We have a team of highly qualified engineers and managers who could oversee the provision of the these services.
However, public consultation processes and satisfaction surveys constantly confirm that the people who live, work and own property/businesses in our area want more than that.

I am very proud of the things that the Thames Community Board has been working on, in response to our community (Thames Promotions Projects, Skatepark, Indoor Sports Facilities, the 150th commemorations, supporting local events and heritage).   Just take a look around and talk to people.  I am hearing lots of positive comments about how our town is growing in liveability status and also as a visitor destination.

All these things come at a price - however I can assure you that the Thames Community Board members are keeping a close eye on things.  We understand that rates need to be affordable and we are mindful of this is all our decision making.

The external debt will obviously rise with the number of larger capital projects that are planned for any year.  This is district wide of course.  I can tell you that Thames' ageing underground infrastruture is due to be replaced sometime soon and assessment of their condition has been carried out to ensure we are well informed about when this work needs to be scheduled.  These big projects can not just be added to the ratepayers bill in the year that the costs falls.  That would be totally unaffordtable and goes against the principle of sharing the costs of assets over the life of the asset and those you will receive the benefit of them (intergenerational).  

In conclusion, yes the 2017-18 Thames rate is increasing.  But lets balance that with what we are receiving in return for that investment in our community. 

We should also note that we consult on these proposed projects, levels of service and amenities every three years through the Long Term Plan (LTP) process to ensure we have community support.  The last one in 2015 signalled that  there would be a 4.88% increase in Thames Rates in the 2017-18 (Year 3 on the 2015-2025 LTP), so our current forecast of 4.55% is actually a decrease.

On that note, under previous Council management the 2009-2019 LTP signalled that the average Thames rates would be over $3,600 pa by 2017-18 year :  more than $700 more than expected now.  So I would have to say we (as a Council)  are doing a pretty good job of being prudent.
I hope this goes some way to answering your questions."

It is true that our proposed increase (that would have been approved at today's supplementary Council meeting) is not as great as that being proposed in Auckland and elsewhere, but it is still a major imposition of in the main elderly ratepayers, who (sorry Diane!) will have great difficulty in seeing just what increased benefit they will be seeing - an indoor stadium perhaps.

These decisions are made following a considerable ballyhoo about the "need for restraint," but invariably, staff recommendations prevail for one reason or another.  


 

Monday
May152017

Financial Results to 31 March 2017

The following is an overview of the budget revision outcome:

Readers will note that the most significant figure revealed in this table relates to Property Re-valuation – up from a budgeted $38m to $58m. This figure has increased year on year for some considerable time and reflects mainly increases in land values. Note that although this is hardly a cash item, it is significant inasmuch as it shows the performance of the Council in a far more favourable light that would otherwise be the case.

I commented on falsity of this net effect during the Leach years – he often made quite false claims about performance without apparently being fully cognizant of the actual situation of the Council. In this case the annual increase over budget for the 12 month period is $30m, or 110% - hardly good budgeting, when a total surplus of $30m over budget is disclosed.  

Other notable changes include $439k increase in fees and charges, balanced by a decrease in development contributions of $465. Clearly many developments have been postponed.

It appear that the famous Great Walks and Coromandel Harbour Projects have also been postponed – cancellation would better news, but at least they are off for another year while they sort out what they are going to do.

Personnel costs are down by $290k because of difficulty being experienced in filling positions.

Storm Damage is understandably up by $490k, and a further $415k allocated for 2017/18. Expect more to be necessary following more recent damage.

The only other significant figure previously undisclosed, is the $700k allocated for the Thames Indoor Sports Centre bringing the total budgeted cost to $4,847m. But this is still subject to finalisation of the negotiation with the builder. One can only hope that they have a decent handle on this, but I suspect not. Beware the brouhaha smokescreen as we approach the opening date.

Annual Plan 2017/18 - Update

Based on the March budget revision above and recent discussions with Council on the Annual Plan for 2017/18 the projected average rate increase is forecast to be 3.38%. Movements by individual Community Board Area are listed in the following table:

Community Board area

Local CB rates only

District plus CB area rates

Thames

9.88%

4.55%

Coromandel-Colville

-1.90%

1.61%

Mercury Bay

10.12%

4.22%

Tairua/Pauanui

1.28%

2.30%

Whangamata

1.53%

2.41%

 

In addition Councils external borrowings are forecast to rise from $40.7million to $47.3million over the 2017/18 financial year.

 

 

 

Saturday
May132017

Coastal & Hazard Management Performance Measures

A Paper goes to Council on Tuesday with the objective of establishing performance measures for Stategic Planning.

Here is the Paper, and here is the relevant extract on the subject of Coastal & Hazard Management:

Coastal and Hazard Management

The Coastal and Hazard Management Activity has in recent years focussed on the more immediate needs of east coast communities particularly in the Mercury Bay board area as a result of weather events and their impact on reserves and key infrastructure.

A district wide strategic framework is under development, however the dual focus of progressing both the practical programme and the district wide strategic framework has stretched resources. The scope of this strategy has widened, and the framework will now be completed in 2017-18, as part of the development of the 2018-2018 Long Term Plan, led by the Strategic Planning Team.

The other focus in 2017-2018 is to complete the practical actions in the Mercury Bay area identified in the five year programme recommended to Council which will span 16 beaches involving projects of varying scale. (My bold)

It is proposed that the following Coastal and Hazard Management work programme milestones for 2017/18 be ratified by Council and included in the 2017/18 Annual Plan:

Complete the dune planting programmes approved by the Mercury Bay Community Board and Council at:

  • ·                Whangapoua Beach
  • ·                Matarangi Beach
  • ·                Brophy's Beach
  • ·                Buffalo Beach
  •                  Cooks Beach

So there it is - the commitment to Mercury Bay restoration and protection will be beyond argument when this recommendation is adopted on Tuesday. On the other hand, the Paper commits the Planning Team to providing a Coastal Management Strategy as part of the District Plan for adoption by Council by 30 June 2018. It is to hoped that this will incorporate provision for all the scenarios listed under the 2010 National Coastal Policy Statement. 

Council has an obligation to make the necessary resources available - this is not optional, particularly as other councils facing far less danger than ours have managed to complete their plans. 

In the meantime, the proposed actions on Mercury Bay beaches that were the subject of debate in the Hauraki Herald over the last few weeks is now to become embedded through the recommendation.  The fact that over a million dollars is to be frittered away on District funded localised beach protection is frankly a disgrace, and the result the overbearing lobbying, and completely inadequate consultation with the entire population affected by the cost - not just Mercury Bay.

 

 

 

Saturday
May132017

Nuisances Bylaw 2005 Review

Well blow me down with a feather, talk about crashing into a brick wall with good intentions.

A recommendation will go to our Council from Scott Summerfield our Strategic Planning Team Leader on Tuesday to drop the review until 2019.

The reason for this sudden change of position appears toi arise from what staff perceive to be a misconception by the majority of submitters as to the reason for the proposed changes that were promulgated on 13 December 2016. 

This confusing situation is explained in the following way:

"The intention of the revised bylaw is primarily to give Council an effective tool for dealing with public health and safety risks arising from nuisances on private property, including from a lack of property maintenance.

The proposed bylaw has a high bar for what constitutes a nuisance that puts the health and safety or wellbeing of the public at risk.

The focus of the bylaw is explicitly around public health and safety. This does not seem to have been well understood by the public, with submissions in support of the bylaw referring to a range of situations where the bylaw will not give powers to act.

Following public consultation and consideration of submissions, staff consider that there is a widespread view that the proposed Property Maintenance and Nuisances bylaw will allow Council officers to take enforcement action against property owners who have property that is in a state that is considered to be a nuisance to a neighbour or the public based on its amenity value. Support for the bylaw from submissions seems to be mostly on this basis.

The proposed bylaw is not intended to apply to amenity-related perceived nuisances and Council officers would not have an ability to undertake enforcement action under the proposed bylaw for such perceived nuisances."

This staggering realisation that has led to the recommended withdrawal is based on the content of the submissions, the nature of complaints and requests for service under the  existing Bylaw, and the input of staff who are dealing with existing complaints.

So it would seem that the definition of the existing Bylaw relating to 'nuisances' is totally faulty, and that those of us who submitted were completely under mis-apprehension regarding exactly what the Bylaw was in place to achieve. I need not remind readers that the aggravation about the conduct, or non-performance of neighbours in regard to the maintenance of their properties is magnified beyond measure in a District with over 50% of properties unoccupied for substantial periods of time - generally between holidays.

But unless the presence of vermin can be proven, there is apparently no way that staff are able to take action regarding actual maintenance. I guess the interpretation of what constitutes 'adequate' upkeep revolves around subjective judgment that staff are considered incapable of exercising. Rats, mice and other vermin are easy to identify, but difficult to find, in the main.

Staff (led by Summerfield) have obviously had cold feet on this issue - a very embarrassing back-down that will cause considerable consternation amongst rate-payers (and submitters in particular, including myself!) who were looking forward to at last being able call on Council to take action against recalcitrant neighbours whose disregard for even moderate requirements regarding home maintenance, and respect for the rights of others. 

That "'nuisances' as defined in section 29 of the Health Act 1956, which primarily relates to issues which may pose a public health risk," is a reality with which we will all need to come to terms, and stoically face when the Review is revisited in 2019:

"Staff consider that a review of the existing bylaw is necessary even if only to tidy up definitions and make it less onerous on the community to enforce, however this can wait until a review is legislatively required in 2019." What a cop-out!

I don't know why staff could not have been more specific when they promulgated these proposals back in December - it would saved a great deal of time, and now angst. Perhaps they should recall the glee of certain councilors when the proposal was introduced - all on the basis of being able to bring house owners to book whose properties they considered a disgrace. No-one took the trouble to disabuse them, or me at the time. 

They need to think before they venture into the unknown, or inadequately understood territory of Bylaws - indeed, there lies wild woods!  

 

 

Friday
May122017

Cross-Party Committee on Carbon Neutrality

It has come to my attention that Transition Town Thames are having a public meeting with Scott Simpson as guest next Tuesday to discuss the report on pathways to NZ being carbon neutral by 2050. It will be at the Civic Centre at 7.30pm.

This is an excellent initiative by T3 to get the issue in the open locally. And Scott will provide an excellent foil to open the discussion on a wide front having now been appointed associate Minister for the Environment.

I am normally a sceptic of Government intentions in dealing with these issues - they have shown little enthusiasm to date, and some of the statements that have emanated from Scott's colleagues in the past have certainly given no cause to think this attitude is about to change.

But let us give them the benefit of the doubt and front up to take part in the discussion on Tuesday. Anything that has cross-party support has my support, and this looks particularly worthwhile.

Try and get there!

 

 

 

Thursday
May112017

"Extremist"

Here is the Collins Dictionary definition of "extremist" (noun)

"If you describe someone as an extremist, you disapprove of them because they try to bring about political change by using violent or extreme methods." 

Here is the Oxford definition:

"A person who holds extreme political or religious views, especially one who advocates illegal, violent, or other extreme action." 

I mention this because over the last week, well known rural commentator Jamie MacKay referred to highly respected environmental scientist, Dr Mile Joy in his 'Country' column in the following terms: 

"Speaking of the Sunday programme, which appears to be on an anti-farming crusade, it was good to see Dr. Mike Joy taken to task over some of his extremist views on the same show a few weeks earlier. Dr. Jacqueline Rowarth, the Environmental Protection Authority's chief scientist and soil scientist Dr. Doug Edmeades joined forces to have a crack at their fellow academic. While you can admire Mike Joy's passion, I can't take seriously any academic who reckons we have to completely rid the Canterbury Plains of dairy cows and remove animals from the food chain. Is this really the stuff we should be feeding the nation's best young agricultural minds at Massey University?"

There is clearly an element within the dairy industry who will not be satisfied iuntil Dr Joy ir removed from any posible position of influence, and Jamie Mackay is simply an extension of this concerted attempt to destroy his credibility. There were even implied threats on the URL article from the Country that suggested that perhaps Mike Joy should be removed from his position at Massey.

Fortunately, these people are in no position to achieve this, but don't be surprised to see political pressure applied on Massey to have him censured or removed. Neither presented a single fact to dispute what Dr Joy had said, and they were of course encouraged by Mackay who questioned the effect that he was "having on young minds at Massey." 

It is a great shame when those from whom we should expect reasonable debate refer to respected scientists in this manner. Dr Joy may not qualify as the dairy industry's best friend, but to put even "some of his views" in the category of "extremist" is nothing more than objectionable, and reinforces the effect of long-standing personal attacks from within the industry that have been mounted on Dr Joy who has consistently, and with scientific rigour highlighted its shortcomings.

For one thing, they have quoted Dr Joy out of context. What he pointed out, that is obvious to all who are not blinded by the chimera of short term gain - the Canterbury soil structure, and aquifer system is totally unsuitable for intensive dairying - the unprecedented change from sheep and beef pastoral, and cropping farming over the past ten years, and consequential reliance on unsustainable irrigation, will have far-reaching consequences. Yes Jamie - that is exactly what needs to be taught to "the best young agricultural minds at Massey University". 

We should remember that both Mackay and  Dr. Jacqueline Rowarth, the Environmental Protection Authority's chief scientist are far from being unbiased observers. Mackay part owns a substantial dairy farm in Southland, and Rowarth likewise in the Waikato where she was a director of Fonterra before being appointed to her current position - surely one of the most puzzling potential conflicts of interest that our current Government has perpetrated during its term of office. 

The attempts to undermine Dr Joy's credibility are endless, and a poor reflection on an industry whose defensive reaction to any criticism from any quarter, has reached ludicrous proportions. It is simply unable to respond to the charges that are levelled against its practices in any other way than by personal attack, and Mackay's column consistently represents an unfortunate extension of this practice.

Farmers may gain confidence from reading and listening to Jamie Mackays bucholic, and often comical commentary about every subject under the sun, but if they think the remainder of the population is convinced. they should think again. We are not so easily taken in. Shock-jock Hosking, he is not - more a 'try-hard.'

 

 


Thursday
May112017

Denis Tegg & the Hauraki Herald

My article for the HH was not published last week because of "lack of space." And fair enough, except that the letter of climate denier Alastair Brickell was published in full as a reminder to us all of the almost surreal arguments proffered by deniers generally.

I decided to approach Denis to establish more specifically the basis for his arguments about the need for our councils to get on with the work required under the National Coastal Policy Statement, and just how that relates to the current action by our Council to 'District' fund beach restoration at Mercury Bay - a matter of some unnecessary dispute between us, that really amounted to no more than the direction from which we were coming.

Denis was able to demonstrate to me the need for urgent action on the NCPS - action that appears to have been avoided either because of the lack of resources, or concern at the loud and adverse reaction already being experienced from property owners affected by maps of hazard lines.

We achieved agreement entirely on these issues, and I took advantage of the delay in the publication of my initial article to withdraw it and replace with the following:

Denis Tegg has highlighted another embarrassing failure in regard to the response of both our Councils to the reality of sea-level rise. Many other councils are well advanced with mapping of coastal hazards and engagement with affected communities.  Denis correctly draws attention to the particular dangers facing our Peninsula over the long term, that may or may not be exceeded. They will certainly not be insignificant for Thames over the next few decades.

It is my contention that the current action of TCDC in support of the Mercury Bay Board’s appeal for ‘District’ funding of their immediate million dollar beach erosion problem is a short term solution separate from, if related to the requirements of the 2010 National Coastal Policy Statement, and that it confuses the wider NCPS issues, while establishing an unnecessary and difficult precedent to overturn while the wider issues are under consideration.

Denis has pointed out that this is an ideal opportunity to establish which parts of the entire District coast are most at risk, and that only when this work is done should fair funding arrangements for Mercury Bay beach erosion be worked through, particularly as far as they vary established policy.  

He is rightly concerned that the entire discussion is taking place in an information and policy vacuum, without proper consideration of sea-level rise and climate change. Alastair Brickell’s attempt last week to dismiss his article for failing to provide ‘evidence’ of climate change must surely rate as the ‘deniers’ favourite bleat - demanding ‘evidence.’ Repeating evidence is surely by now superfluous when it is there for all to see on a daily basis. Just because we recently dodged a major cyclone bullet is no reason for complacency.

Denis correctly berates our Council and the WRC for failing to produce the required coastal hazard documents, and failing to consult widely with those affected.  So far, all that has emerged in the six years since the requirement was mandated are inadequate inundation maps. They alone have inspired outrage amongst many of those affected, and this appears to have caused an overly cautious approach in both our Councils, not helped by news reports (including one on 29 April) that insurance companies would deny protection for property below the 1.5m High Water Mark by 2025.  

Every community on this Peninsula is entitled to be fully informed of the risks we face, and for councils to plan accordingly in accordance with the Government’s mandated requirements. This is not panic, but simple prudence in the face of the absence of a nation-wide response. Government, regardless of its composition will simply continue to pass this responsibility to councils - our Boards and Councils should recognise this, and get on with the job.

In the meantime, piecemeal decisions on Mercury Bay beach protection and restoration should await a District wide policy on how we adapt to erosion, sea-flooding (inundation), and the many other possible hazard events outlined in the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement.

We should be grateful to Denis Tegg for bringing this issue to the fore, and support his efforts to get Council and community action moving – delay is no longer an option. 

I hope this demonstrates my willingness to modify my position on important issues when provided with appropriate evidence, and Denis certainly managed that with aplomb.

I acknowledge his extensive research and primary concern for this District and its inhabitants. More notice should be taken of his writing, and the assumption of superior knowledge by Council staff required to implement the provisions of the Statement avoided. We are all in this together, and neither complacency, nor ignorance should be allowed to interfere with the fulfilment of our obligations.

 

 

 

Sunday
May072017

Auckland Youth Orchestra

The Thames Music Group excelled itself today with a wonderful concert in St Georges by the 80 player Auckland Youth Orchestra - back here for the first time since 1998.

The 100 or so who attended were entertained to a varied programme including the Tchaikovsky's  Romeo & Juliet Overture, and Stravinski's Firebird Suite. This was accompanied by a most accomplished oboe solo by Noel Rudd. Music Director Antun Poljanich conducted with amazing flair demonstrating his strong attachment to the Leningrad tradition, where he trained. 

It was a shame that more were not informed about the concert - for the umpteenth time the HH failed to publish provided editorial to publicise the concert even though the Group paid for advertising. The Informer showed its superior commitment to local events by giving full page publicity to yesterday's concert in Whitianga. We certainly need a similar 'journal of record' in this town, but sadly, while Fairfax retains control, that is unlikely to happen.

The refusal of the Commerce Commission to allow the Fairfax merger last week will hopefully bring about some major changes that may allow a local owner to emerge as in Whitianga with the Informer. 

Here is a photo of the performance by Peter Kampenhout (thanks Peter!)

Wednesday
May032017

Denis Tegg on Whitianga Beach Erosion.

Denis wrote a good article published in the Hauraki Herald on 28 April.

However, as you will see from the response below that I submitted yesterday to the HH, I take issue with the manner in which he attempts to expand this simple issue of beach remediation and protection into criticism of both our councils for having failed to meet the requirements of National Coastal Policy Statement. I dispute that assertion, but that is not the main issue that concerns me.

I agree that there are far wider issues ("big picture" is Denis's desciption), but to conflate the two detracts from the immediacy of the situation that has been extant on our eastern coast beaches for a very long time. The attempt by Eastern Seaboard councillors to secure District funding of beach remediation and protection is in my view a simple piece of sophistry designed to pull the wool over the eyes of our Western brethren, and ensure that we all meet the cost of storm damage into the future on the mistaken assertion that our risk is just as great.

The problem arises as time goes on and the events foreshadowed by Denis in regard to sea level rise materialise - that is a different 'kettle of fish,' and needs a national response, let alone a widespread local plan that may or may not justify the 'settling' of costs in the manner he suggests. 

A far greater risk if I am not mistaken lies in the fact that Whitianga, or rather Mercury Bay constitutes the highest risk of tsunami damage than anywhere in the country. Is that eventuality to be confused with sea level rise? - I sincerely hope not - Whitianga residents have made their own choices  in the face of widespread knowledge of the tsunami danger, and I fail to see that anyone here has greater responsibility for a consequential 'bail-out' than any other home-owner anywhere in the country.

In the meantime, we have the problem of storm damage to eastern beaches - a 'local' problem, and cost - always has been, always should be, but Crs McLean, Fox and Chair Kelly would have us believe otherwise, and come to their party. With Council recently committing a further $365,000 of our money to their cause, I submit that that should be the end of what was meant to be a 'temporary' solution, last year. And 'rhubarb' to Denis's "parochial" claim.

Here is my response to Denis:

Denis Tegg has as usual highlighted another embarrassing issue facing this District and Region, along with many others that are in the same firing line of sea level rise. Dennis correctly warns us of the long term effects that may or may not be exceeded. They will certainly not be insignificant for Thames over the next few decades.

But Denis conflates the current situation facing Mercury Bay, and other beaches on the Eastern Seaboard with the overall strategy required under the 2010 National Coastal Policy         Statement to deal with sea-level rise and consequent inundation.

Denis berates our Council and the WRC for failing to produce the required coastal hazard documents, failing to restrict development within the defined hazard zones, and failing to consult widely with those affected.  These claims are simply untrue, and unfair. The plan proposed under the Coastal Policy Statement has been developed, and includes measures to deal with both coastal erosion and inundation.

The Coastal Inundation Model (http://coastalinundation.waikatoregion.govt.nz) provides a very clear indication of the likely effects of inundation at various levels above high water mark, subject to further monitoring and calibration. The work to date has inspired an indignant outcry from many affected landowners, as is to be expected, but the hazard plans are a requirement. Threats of legal action are hardly likely to deter the establishment of the hazard zone maps, and will proceed even should insurance companies deny protection - a news report today (29 April) indicated that property below the 1.5m High Water Mark will be uninsurable by 2025.  

But regardless, it is critically important that Denis’s overall hypothesis is challenged because the issues currently being faced by our Council in regard to East Coast beach amenities, while related, are substantially different from Coastal policy, when considered in the light of his opening sentence – “Who should pay over $1m to protect a few east coast beaches from coastal erosion?”

This issue has been before Council last year and this, and becomes even more important as we approach the time then our Council’s Long Term Plan is developed later this year, and the issue of who pays – Local, or District rate-payers, becomes moot. The policy in this regard has always been that it is a local charge, but in 2016 the Mercury Bay Board sought a change to enable the immediate cost of beach remediation – nothing to do with Coastal Policy, to be spread over the entire rate-payer base.

This was adopted by the previous Council as a purely ‘temporary’ measure – recently extended by the current Council to cover a further cost of $363,000 to 30 June 2018 on top of $700,000 for the current year. Erosion has been going on for hundreds of years one way or another – what is happening at Mercury Bay has been dealt with over a very long period, with the argument generally surrounding ‘hard’ or ‘soft options – walls, or sand filled bags in other words.

Confusing these two issues is disingenuous, and there is simply no justification for prudent ratepayers in other Board areas to be forced by clever politicking by East Coast councillors, albeit operating in the best interests of their own constituents, to succeed in persuading Council as a whole to accept that restoration, and indeed protection of their beach amenities should be anything other than a ‘local’ charge, as it always has been in the past.

Sharing the cost of fixing up eroded East Coast beaches is just the ‘stalking horse’ for permanent and substantial risk sharing that we should avoid at all costs. After all, the average value of West Coast housing assets is substantially lower than that of the East, yet we all pay basically the same rates because of the peculiarities of our inequitable land-value based rating system.      

I believe we should be grateful to Denis for bringing this issue to the fore, but I do not accept his view – expressed directly on my own blog (billbarc.squarespace.com) that my argument is ‘parochial.’ It is anything but when considered in the light of all the facts, and attempts to spread the beach restoration and protection burden over the entire Council should be resisted when the LTP is developed, and goes for public consultation.

 

 


Wednesday
May032017

Derek Thompson Takes Over Thames Area Office

I mention Derek Thompson for the second time in just a few days to report that he has been appointed to take over the Thames Area Manager position previously occupied by Greg Hampton.

Derek and Greg come from the same Parks & Reserves background, but Derek has always been  the 'back-room' type - the quiet achiever who has beavered away getting Parks & Reserves up to scratch. He has always impressed me with his knowledge of the subject, and the results he achieved in the role.

It will be interesting to see how he handles the more public Area Manager role - he is a different 'kettle of fish' to Greg who tended to be 'out there,' and somewhat defensive when any of his bright ideas were questioned - he was nevertheless effective and achieved a great deal in the role. It is simply, in my view at least, that he went overboard with some of his more ambitious schemes hatched with the connivance of Strat Peters, and latterly with Dianne Connors, involving utterly dispensable consultants.

It is to be hoped that having secured the major (and extremely expensive) projects currently under way  that the Area Office can settle back into the somnolence that we once appreciated and respected. This town, with its extremely low average income needs major new projects like a hole in the head - with the exception of the swimming pool renewal of course! Rates are already ridiculous, and only likely to get worse as the result of the current Dry Court debacle become transparent, and broguht to account.

It would be as well for Rob Williams to to now take the opportunity to reduce staff at the Area Office to remove the temptation to invent new 'make-work' schemes requiring 'project managers' and the like. Derek will very adequately manage a smaller office to achieve more modest goals, and quiet satisfaction amongst our put upon constituents. The same goes for all the other offices.