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Author/Moderator - William (Bill) Barclay 

Associate Member NZ Press Council.   

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Rod Oram Takes It To Fonterra

If you are in the camp that remains steadfastly dubious of Fonterra's claims, and goals for the future of New Zealand dairy farming, do not miss listening to this podcast of Cathrine Ryan's Rod Oram interview from yesterday.

It is an absolute classic that demonstrates Rod's uncanny ability to come to grips with scientific and PR gobbledygook designed for the specific purpose of pulling the wool over our eyes as to the actual situation our dairy industry if facing, and simply Ignoring. The subject relates to emissions, and carbon credits, and Rod's analysis is extremely disturbing.

I have in the past considered Rod far too closely aligned with the Dairy industry - I recall attending a meeting of dairy farmers that he addressed at Tarua in about 2009 when he appeared 'hugger-mugger' with a number of local dairying luminaries who would have been shocked to hear his most recent position on the future of the industry as outlined yesterday. In fact I would go so far as to say that the huge Fonterra PR machine will be hard at work today trying to pick holes in his arguments.

Take the time to listen - you will not regret it, but you may be shocked, and wonder just where we are heading with out major industry both in regard to both the carbon credits argument, and the disruption likely to be caused by the railway train coming at us called genetic plant based food production, including both milk, and beef.

Don't say you have not been warned.





Some Questions For Our Council!

It is always a downer when I need to nail our Council down on actions that it has failed to take on our behalf as rate-payers. The people who work there are without doubt the highest paid group of workers in this town, and a level of performance is expected that is by no means onerous – straight-forward in the main.

Non-performance, avoidance of responsibility, and worst of all – ‘passing the buck,’ is simply unacceptable, and once again I am moved to question the level of leadership that has led to this state of affairs. There are some major situations that have developed of late, that appear unlikely to be resolved by Christmas, and we all know what happens as we enter into the ‘silly season.’

Firstly, two intensely personal, and annoying failures that have resulted from the fact that my wife and I walk on most mornings to the bridge two kilometres up the Victoria St extension.. Six weeks ago I reported to ‘service’ that a car wreck was lying in the Tararu creek below the road – probably a result of a bad night out for a ‘boy-racer.’ It remains in exactly the same position today as the result of ‘duck-shoving’ between TCDC, WRC and the Police whose interest must surely be waning at this point.

WRC claimed that they were not told about it until two weeks after the initial report, but remain unmoved. TCDC are content to leave it to WRC who are responsible for rivers and creeks, and I indirectly received a lecture on ‘proper reporting process' when I finally checked with them. Too bad the victim had rolled into the creek - a point they were all anxious to establish.

A week ago we came across a substantial ‘fly-dump’ on the same stretch of road just above the second ford. It comprised a large trailer, or truck load of household detritus, including two mattresses. Despite reporting to TCDC on Tuesday, it remains in-situ today, but spread out as fossickers have attacked it.

My question – how many highly paid public servants does it take to deal with such matters in a timely manner? – a great number it seems.

Of greater importance are two other issues surrounding the Dry Court at the High School that appears to remain ‘in limbo’ as the various parties attempt to resolve who is to be held responsible for the repair of its faulty roof structure, and secondly, the illegal encampment that has grown up over three months at the southern end of the Thames Arts centre Carpark.

I have written previously on both these issues. (see:


I have checked several times in regard to the former, and there appears to be a real reluctance to share information on the grounds of ‘commercial sensitivity.’ In other words, the legal wheels are turning, and far from being settled, I would suggest that we are heading towards expensive litigation on top of the actual cost of repair (said to be  over $300k).

I have been approached by several people in the town, including some involved with the planning and oversight, who have expressed major concerns to me at their experience with people at all levels in the Council who have demonstrated incompetence, and failure to come to grips with the basic tenets of project management. This is very disturbing, and my latest enquiry remains unanswered.

Is anyone in this town taking notice of what is happening? I don’t know of anywhere else where there would be acceptance of such a situation without an uproar – we are indeed a placid bunch, clearly used to doing as we are told by our betters.

Then  there is the innovative “Freetown” at Tararu that hundreds of people drive past every day without apparently a glance sideways at what has been developing under our noses  on the neck of land above a tiny water course. A caravan appeared at the weekend on the  Arts Centre carpark to add to the collection of 10sq. metre shacks that have been thrown up over the past few weeks on land claimed as "Maori" but which is in fact Council Reserve adjacent to Maori land further up the water course.

The fact that it is apparently Ngati Maru manu whenua who are gathering here in substantial, if varying numbers is apparently all the excuse needed for such ‘uncontrolled’ development within the town boundary. All manner of outdoor activity is under way, along with what is evidently a ‘long-drop’ waste arrangement. Water is piped down from upper levels of the creek, and numbers come and go during the day and night.  Power arrangements, if any, are unknown. Domestic on-site altercations involving the Police have occured.

What on earth is going on? Council sought judgment at a court hearing on 8 November, but only for a ‘cease and desist’ order. The magistrate ‘reserved his decision,’ so we may wait a considerable time to find out the fate of this shambles. No one at the Council wants to talk about it, and they give every indication of being intimidated - who can blame them? It is clearly one for the ‘too-hard’ basket, even though they employ a full-time experienced lawyer on the staff.

Forgive me for being indignant about this state of affairs, along with the members and voluntary staff at the Arts Centre who with justification see the development of a permanent village of recovered materials on their door-step while using their facilities as deeply disturbing. It is unacceptable, regardless of the decision of the Court, and I say this in full knowledge of the likelihood of being labelled ‘racist’ as a result. That moniker is so easy to acquire these days, that it hardly has meaning.   



Steampunk Parade - A Triumph!


The parade today. coming on top of a wonderful exhibition at the Tararu Art Gallery, and much vaunted the same venue, is a total vindication of the support that has been given this festival.

The town was humming today like on no other recent occasion. It is hard to estimate but it seemed to me that the attendees from outside this area vastly exceeded the locals attending. The level of 'dressing' was quite remarkable, and it seems to me that the extraordinary efforts of the Steampunk shop in Grahamstown over the last few months were visible every step of the way. But beyond that, hundreds of people went out of their was to dress appropriately for the occasion which fortunately stayed dry. 

The level of the machinery exhibits was extraordinarily high - what devotion, what ingenuity, what engineering miracles were on display, and some even worked! Remarkable - the impression was that some exhibitors had been working since the momentay that last parade was over to perfect their devices, and vehicles. The impression was that the entire town turned out to admire their handiwork, and everyone appeared to be on the end of some form of photographic device to record the day.

Great effort, and congratulations to all concerned. Photos courtesy of Chris Mayer Plummer.





Is It On, Or Is It Not?

Total confusion reigns as of this moment on the TPP.

After Canada's Trudeau pulled the plug late yesterday, Fox News is reporting that a is it all on again (as at 2.40pm), with Canada "back at the table." I cannot find this endorsed anywhere else, let alone the NZH.

I have no idea - Fox is adamant as you will see, but doubt seems to remain as to whether it is exactly the same agreement that was on the table last evening. Perhaps we will get clarification later this evening. The slant on the Fox article is related to the withdrawal of Trump, which is of course, ancient history.

The new title is a bit of a worry - sometimers such devices are used to disguise to the true nature of the document:

"Ministers are pleased to announce that they have agreed on the core elements of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership," the 11 nations said in a statement."




Long Term Plan - Due February

The three yearly Long (formerly Ten) Year Plan is the key document that determines the course of our Council's future direction, along with the intervening District plan. A great deal of work will be already uinderway behind the scenes, and we will get to see a summary in February. This may, or may not be made available to every ratepayer, or only at District libraries as determined by the previous Mayor Glenn Leach.

It may help to take a look back at this February 2012 post that outlined the course of events at that time.

I only suggest this because it may serve to remind us of the influence exercised by the redoubtable Dr Ganesh Nana - Executive Director of Berl economic consultants, who have for a long time provided economic advice to the Labour Party, and in doing so have always advocated for major changes to the  Reserve Bank Act.

This was exemplified in an on-air debate on Morning Report between Nana and Dr Don Brash. It was a debate between two diametrically opposed points of view regarding the Act, and in particular, Labour's (Grant Robertson's) requirement regarding expanding the Reserve Bank's responsibility in regard to reducing or removing unemployment. Nana would clearly like to see it expanded to other social areas.

I don't wish to enter into this argument but I would have to say that Dr Nana was expounding a radical viewpoint that were the Government to follow, would represent the 'pivot' that they are currently denying, while putting undeniable measures in place. I have no argument with the intent, but they do need to watch th downstream effects of some of these measures designed to correct inequality, and improve overall lifestyle. And inflation is by no means the only likely consequence.

Dr Nana has the habit of dredging up historical context at the expense of future reality - as with his personally delivered 2009 advice to Council on anticipated growth rates - I remember sitting and listening to what was his nothing short of 'bullish' advice on what we could expect - around 6% - a outlandishly optimistic figure that was incorporated into the then being prepared 2009-19 Ten Year Plan with disastrous consequences, and which needed to revert to the more realistic 1 - 2% at the next iteration in 2012 - a fact that Leach took full advantage of at the time in excoriating the previous Council, and consultants in general - a sentiment with which I generally concur.  I don't think that Berl, or Nana in particlar would or should ever be invited back after that performance.    

As I recall, we had sat mesmerised by this Berl  expert who extrapolated a fulsome future for all on the basis of what was clearly (to me at least) incorrect, or misinterpreted data. I attempted to engage with him on what I considered to be weaknesses in his argument, but was immediately closed down by Mayor Barriball, and we adopted the TYP put forward on the basis of the Berl projections being faithfully incorporated by the two Steves - Baker and Ruru. What a mistake!  I hasten to observe that the advice previously obtained from The University of Waikato was equally faulty.              

Why am telling this story? Simply because listening to Dr Ganesh Nana this morning vividly reminded me of the 2009 episode - he can be very persuasive, even erudite, but mesmerising rhetoric should always be closely analysed, and often 'taken with a grain of salt.' I was reminded of this particularly as I listened as Don Brash tried to get a word in edgeways in the face of the decidedly self-assured economic theory directed at him. And he is no tyro when it comes to that sort of thing, but Nana had a sympathetic  platform provided by Kim Hill.





TCB & Visitor Solutions Ltd - Waste, Again!

The arrangement whereby the TCB entered into a $90,000 Thames Promotion Project with Visitor Solutions Ltd again appears to have fallen on its face with minimum performance by the contractor, and clearly, inadequate oversight by the multifarious levels of management that our Council employs to manage our Area Office. 

It is extraordinary just how repetitive these reports have become, and the situation is certainly not improved by the Report that went to the TCB yesterday outlining the litany of failure surrounding this latest contract. 

Visitor Solutions either think our Board is a soft touch, or else it has simply failed to obtain the lkevel of support necessary to make the plans that were put in place at the outset actually work. 

I leave it to you the reader, to read the full report here. It makes very depressing reading, but it is only two pages long, so there is little point in my publishing extracts here. Members of the Board must have been extremely frustrated at yesterday's meeting which I was unable to attend - I have no doubt that some expressed themselves in very unhappy terms about its contents. No wonder that the Area Manager (southern) - Gary Towler was only prepared to provide a verbal report for the month - he must be feeing somewhat chagrined, and wondering what has been going on.  

The final paragraph is however instructive:

"The 2017-18 work programme will be broken down into its component parts, internal and local delivery will be identified, and the remainder will be contracted to Visitor Solutions in a controlled manner."

What that tells us is that they are too heavily committed to Visitor Solutions Ltd to be able to do anything llike cancelling the entire contract due to lack of performance. I really do despair at the repeated examples of naive or incompetent business practice by this Council leading to waste. It is time that some hard-headed decisions were made, and executed.                     





It's Surf Life-Saving Time Again

In case you hadn't noticed, surf-lifesaving luminaries are out there again rattling their offering boxes for more funding. This is a perennial appeal that strikes almost exactly around Labour Day each year, and the story is basically the same each time - increased patrolling, costs, and decreasing volunteers meaning that more professionals need to be employed in order to bring safety to our increasingly used beaches. 

Because local government, and councils with popular beaches are generally targeted, this is of particular interest to councils such as ours. An attempt was made last year to overcome some of the angst that accompanies this by setting up a regional authority to levy councils and hand out grants based on established criteria to the various agencies that provide protection services, including surf-lifesaving. But this does not preclude further direct approaches being made it seems, and as reported in the previous post on the 31 October Council meeting. 

I am as aware as anyone else as to the excellent services provided by these people at all of our major beaches, but the total reluctance of Central Government - including its latest iteration, to adequately fund these services is simply another example of the manner in which local government has been left to pick up the tab for the balance of funding required for all manner of services. In the case of surf life-saving - all their requirements beyond sponsorship and donations. 

In addition, the SLSA is very adept at issuing "grim warnings" as in today's HH  and claiming a special need for funding "to save lives" - always an emotive claim when all else fails, but the overall tenure of the story completely overlooks the invidious situation in which councils such as ours are placed when it comes to funding these services.

It appears, according to Surf Life-Saviong's own statistics that use of our beaches, and consequent rescues, is increasing exponentially - Hot Water, and Whangamata in particular, while our rate-payer base remains virtually static. So from whence do all these additional sun-seekers come? - tourists of course, enthusiastically encouraged by a Government concerned about potentially decreased returns from other sources, and possibly additional city folk drawn to the sea with climate change lengthening the hours of available entertainment. 

Whatever the case, it is utterly foolish and unreasonable for rate-payers to annually come under pressure through their elected members to fund more and more surf life-saving activity. Perhaps it should also be pointed out that there appears to be little governance oversight of the operation of clubs that are funded in this manner to ensure that the services being provided are either adequate, or necessary. The clubs make a great play on the need to increase 'professional' services at considerable additional cost because of the drop-off in volunteer interest - this needs substantial oversight, of which there is little evidence. 

In the case of Whangamata, a hugely valuable block of land is provided to the club by the Council for what is virtually a 'pepper-corn' ($350) rental, and yet it operates a substantial number of bars, food, entertainment and pokie facilities that should provide profits more than adequate to meet any requirements of the surf life-saving fraternity - but you can bet that the hand is out for more local government funding just as in the case with all the others. 

It is high time that the additional funding required was met from other sources other than over-burdened rate-payers, the great majority of whom have no interest in surfing, let alone putting themselves in the position of needing the services of surf life-savers. 





Hauraki Rail Trail - Kaiaua Extension

Council heard an impassioned submission from the new (well hardly new, but too busy to have attended previously!) General Manager, Diane Drummond at its meeting on Tuesday.

She outlined her impressive background - especially that in Government where she actually worked in the area responsible for walkway, and cycleway development, and explained the changes that she had brought about since her arrival when she confronted the incredibly complicated structure put in place by the previous administration, and a financial mess.

Ms Drummond indicated that the Trail itself was on its last legs when she arrived - hardly new to those of us who had observed its progress over the last three years - a total disaster in other words, and an indictment on all those responsible for overseeing our investment in the enterprise.

We were given an extremely optimistic account of what she had managed to achieve in the eight or so months on board, and an excellent outline of the progress towards the opening on the Kaiaua extension on 18 November, about which you can read here.

I would have more impressed had the new GM been able to produce financial statements covering the last three years from which we have been separated in the past. You may recall that I drew attention to this absence right back in the time of Leach's Economic Development Committee that was supposed to have exercised oversight of the project on our behalf - unfortunately, they were otherwise engaged.

We remain totally ignorant of just how close this organisation sailed to oblivion - we do have Strat Peters on board as Council Appointed Trustee, and one can only hope that he has been exercising 'due diligence' in all respects, but it would certainly be a weight off our minds if we were allowed to observe the damage for ourselves - something that Rob Williams assured me would be the case "in the very near future." That is good, and re-assuring.

I just hope the 'gala' opening of the new extension is not used to over-shadow the vital information to which we are all entitled. The usage figures presented by Ms Drummond speak for themselves - !8,600 for Thames, and 29,000 for Paeroa, but the 'counters' that have been put in at various points on the Trail have failed in the main to give us accurate records, and they have to be replaced. I remain sceptical - I am not sure the period of this count, but 12,000 at Kopu would sounds somewhat fanciful, and along with the Thames figure more like extrapolated guess-work. 

So now we have to all get behind the new extension, and hope that it will balance things up a bit as far as Thames is concerned.



Scott Simpson - Flavour of Cam Slater's Month

Look I did not make this up - it is a direct quote from Cam Slater's Whaleoil post today on Bill English's National reshuffle:

"I would have liked to see Scott Simpson, my longest standing friend in caucus, higher ranked. National needs someone with the sort of mongrel and dirty politics skills he has. He did teach me so much when I was just a kid in Eden electorate and he was in charge of Young Nats. There wasn’t a sign or a fight that couldn’t be knocked over."

We have long known of this embarrassing connection with Scott - for Scott at least, but it is unlikely to improve his chances of further promotion under Bill English. He ended up exactly where he was before with Planning (previously Statistics, Associate Environment and Associate Immigration. That is a long way from the centre of things, and he will struggle to make his voice heard.

But as the old story goes - you are known by who your friends are, and in this case, he is not well served by the Slater connection - innocent or otherwise at the time 'dirty politics' were in play. Scott would do well to consider dis-avowing the connection if he hopes to progress on the National ladder.

He has some major environment issues in this District with climate change in particular that he will need to show some heart for - so far lacking in every respect. He can't simply hide forever behind the skirts of his aging and devoted constituency. The next year will prove decisive in that respect, but I don't hold out much hope of any change.

Hard to imagine him as a "Mongrel, with dirty politics skills, knocking over signs and fights," - boy, he has certainly adapted to the demands of a more bourgeois electorate.





Council Meeting 31 October

I can report straight up that my complaints about the ability of those in the public gallery to hear what is going on in meetings have been heeded, and the layout of the Council has been altered to make full use of the acoustic characteristics of the inverted V of the ceiling as originally designed.

Each succeeding mayor has in turn, over the years altered the layout for their own purposes - often I suspect to avoid any form of public oversight. Leach placed the public as far from proceedings as he possibly could, and achieved the desired result. But the new council and governance people have reverted to the centre of the room to great effect.

I invested in a special hearing device - not 'aid' thank you, to overcome the problem. It is now redundant, but there are still some (you in particular Strat) who need voice production training to get heard, but some (yes, you Murray) are are too bloody loud for their own good, and my device if I happen to have it in. McLean's petulant performance over surf life-saving "double-dipping" was a sight to behold. Hot Water Beach Lifesavers apparently want a piece of the action from all the car-parking revenue, when they already get a substantial grant from the Regional Emergency Services Fund, which is in turn funded by all the councils - $88k in our case.  

The Kauaeranga Road seal extension was the source of real aggravation to Tony Brljevich who thought that DoC get far too much leeway, and show real contempt for this, and other councils. I don't like Docs chances of getting agreement for TCDC to complete the road and obtain recompense at a later date - not without an ironclad legal agreement, and that is hardly likely.

The Economic Development Agency is designed to partner with Government and the private sector to get a fund in place which may become available for substantial regional economic development projects. It all sounds terribly familiar, and we should be very wary, and not just leap in as appeared to be the case yesterday with a rather naive enthusiasm from around the table.The initial TCDC contribution proposed is $30k - not a big deal, but it is just the beginning.

It is clearly a well meant attempt to access government funds. What I question is the examples put forward from similar regional partnerships elsewhere:

  • $10m mineral research centre on Westport
  • $11m -offshore aquaculture development and wharf facilities-Opotiki
  • Major investments in tourism, primary industries & forestry -Northland
  • $30m Kiwifruit development-Bay of Plenty/Gisborne

Each and every one of these should be able to sustain itself without the need for public (Council) involvement. And now we have a Labour government in power how likely is it that this level of largesse will expand exponentially - very likely, I would suggest. Mineral research? - the Greens will have something to say about that I would also venture to suggest. 

As for Opotiki - that project is really contentious due to the well known adverse weather conditions in that area, that probably does create difficulty getting off the ground with private investment - call in the Government and Councils! Major investment in Northland - where have we heard that before? Northland suffers from inherent underlying problems that are unlikely to be overcome by public investment, or Shane Jones - despite best intentions. 

Kiwifruit development - why on earth would that need public investment in the face of the current buoyant state of the industry. Any public investment, you can bet, would only be necessary in marginal areas where private investment is wary.

Do you get my drift? I am extremely sceptical of the value of public investment agencies - no matter what the enthusiasm displayed by council boosters who think they know better than private investors. I doubt it, so don't get your hopes up by this move by ours and other councils. The whole proposal needs to be carefully watched as it develops. It reminds me of our late and unlamented Economic Development Committee whose major contribution to economic development in the District was to gift $40,000 to Leach's mate - Rod Millen, to help with his racing car 'sand-pit.'

There were no others matters that arose that warrant reporting here, but Rob Williams did indicate to me that the his staff changes were complete and that he was very happy with the results - things do seem to be settling down after what is always a traumatic period following reorganisation. He indicated that he was very pleased to have been able to get three new civil engineers on board after a long period of running down that resource.

Despite alleged unhappiness in the ranks, he really does seem to have been an excellent choice - that is my assessment. 





Billionaires To Save The World, Not!

Here is the laterst from the Dino Grandoni (Energy 202) file, just to cheer you up as we start to get some decent weather:

Shortly after the United States elected President Trump, Bill Gates, the richest man in the world, organized a group of fellow billionaires to commit to funding clean energy technology.

With Trump promising to distance himself from policies to reduce atmosphere-warming emissions, the high-profile executives announced they had started a fund of more than $1 billion to go toward low-emissions energy.

But a new report finds that such sums from the private sector aren't sufficient to prevent dire climate warming — not by a long shot.

According to the analysis from the Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford, to keep the planet under 2 degrees Celsius warmer compared to pre-industrial levels, the global economy needs to triple its annual investment in low-emissions technology — from $750 billion per year between 2010 and 2015 to $2.3 trillion per year going forward until 2040.

That’s trillion — with a “t.”

“The magnitude is just enormous,” said Jeffrey Brown, a lecturer at Stanford and co-writer of the paper.

Maintaining the planet's temperature under that threshold is an aim of the Paris climate accord, an international emissions-reduction agreement between nearly every nation in the world. Though brokered by the United States under President Obama, his successor has vowed to withdraw the country from the accord. 

Although the cost of alternative energy technologies — in particular, solar panels — has plummeted in recent years, another crucial resource needed to deploy renewables — financial capital — has proven to be, unlike sunlight, exhaustible.

"This work is within the mainstream," said Mark Muro, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, who was not involved in the analysis. To decarbonize the world economy, Muro said, "on all kinds of measures there needs to be an astronomical increase" in investment.

In the first half of the decade, private institutional investors — which include pension, mutual and sovereign wealth funds alongside billionaires — invested a total of $3.4 trillion in the world economy per year, the analysis found. That means at current investment levels, two out of every three dollars invested per year would need to go toward clean energy to halt catastrophic warming — a tall order investors for which they seem to have little appetitie.

The arithmetic is not the only issue. Not every investable dollar is created equally. Pension and mutual funds, which together held more than half of all assets among institutional investors in 2015, tend to invest money conservatively because they, unlike high-net-worth individuals, aim to protect the retirement accounts of middle-class workers.

“It’s their view of their fiduciary duty,” said Chris Davis, senior director of the Ceres Investor Network on Climate Risk and Sustainability. “Their mission is not to save the world from climate change.”

There are, of course, exceptions among those risk-averse funds, such as the pension funds for public employees in Washington state and for teachers in California that have chosen to put their retirement portfolios toward low-emissions energy sources. “Unfortunately, it’s not happening so much in the red states,” Davis added.

The categories of "clean energy" technology requiring investment include not just wind, solar and nuclear power, but less high-profile work like making the electric grid and buildings move and use electricity more efficiently.

Energy efficiency is "not as exciting -- it's not as covered in the media," said Dan Reicher of Stanford, one of the co-authors of the analysis. "People are a lot more intrigued by solar panels on the roof than by an efficient furnace in the basement."

Another issue is geography. Unsurprisingly, much of the investable money globally comes from developed countries that are already weaning themselves off coal, the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel.

Investing U.S. and European capital in foreign developing energy markets is not frictionless. For example, wild currency fluctuations relative to the U.S. dollar, such as changes in the rupee in India, make calculating the return on investment even more difficult for investors.

The Stanford researchers released their report over the weekend in the hopes that climate negotiators gathering in Bonn, Germany next month — facing a leadership vacuum after the United States announced its withdrawal from the Paris accord — consider addressing the international financing problem for clean energy projects.

"These dynamics should be front-and-center for ministers meeting soon in Bonn," Reicher said.

There you are - I told you it would cheer you up!





Developers Get A $46.6m Bonus From TCDC

There is little doubt that Whitianga has become a ‘company town’ - Hoppers, and that the residents of Whitianga have every reason to be grateful to that company for the level of amenities that are provided, but the triumphant note present in the article in the Whitianga Informer last week relating the new and exciting Hopper/Abrahamson development on an island in the Whitianga Waterways gave pause for thought about the timeline of events surrounding Hopper’s involvement in the town, and the effect on the District as a whole.

Ever since Chris Lux fell into line over the demand by Waterways for the modern, and expensive wastewater treatment plant – a standard later extended to all three plants on the eastern seaboard for reasons of supposed “economy of scale” that ended up costing over $100m, our Council has been subjected the suborning of almost every aspect of its development policies by incredibly effective lobbying. This in the end, has put all rate-payers at a disadvantage, while Hoppers, and others are left looking squeaky clean, and hugely advantaged.

The wastewater project became very controversial in 2006 when the Barriball Council decided, with little or no consultation, to spread the enormously increased financial load to the entire District, on the grounds of  “un-affordability,” and thus commenced the inevitable move towards the ‘three waters’ (waste, water and storm) becoming a ‘common’ charge on our rates bill, rather than the previous ‘area of benefit’ rule that had applied since the outset of this Council.

These facts were obfuscated when certain decisions were made by the Leach Council in preparing the 2015-2025 Plan based on the following logic (see Page 15 of the adopted and printed document, that does not appear on the Website - only in abbreviated form):

“When the Council agreed to build the wastewater plants in 2006 the eastern seaboard had been experiencing very high growth for several years. Projections for future growth were also high. The debt for the wastewater plants was to be repaid by existing and new ratepayers through their wastewater rate and from developers through development contributions. Given the growth projected at that time, the majority of debt to build the wastewater plants would have been repaid over the following 10 years…… The proportion of the cost to be paid from development contributions was approximately two-thirds of the total cost. As such, Council would borrow in the short term to cover these costs.

The global recession in 2008 changed the situation and stalled development. In 2009, based on external advice, the Council reduced the growth projections for the next several years. In its 2012 Plan, the projections were again slowed, but we now know that even this advice was overly optimistic.

In 2014 (the Leach) Council recognised that the interest accumulating on debt to be repaid by future development contributions was not sustainable, and funded the interest on the debt in part through wastewater retained earnings (rates collected in previous years). As a result of the detailed review that followed for the Long Term Plan, the Council moved $46.6m of future development related debt to be repaid by rates……

The movement of debt from development to rates meant the wastewater rate would increase significantly in 2015/16 and thereafter from $674+GST in 2014/15 to $765+GST in 2017/18.”

Further explanation follows regarding the slowing the increase in plant capacity to align with the new growth rates, but the real effect remained to take the load off the shoulders of developers. At no point anywhere in this analysis is it suggested that this new policy may later be re-visited in the light of the changing fortunes of developers. Thus Leach, and his Council achieved a magnificent $46.6m pay-day for developers, and created an equivalent burden for rate-payers for plants widely regarded as over-engineered, and with excess, or ill-balanced capacity.    

These actions came to mind last week when I read about the glorious new development at Whitianga Waters, along with the extensive campaign advertising the luxury, and the success of the entire development. Now I don’t wish to denigrate Leigh Hopper and his associates who have achieved remarkable success, but I would hope that our Council has retained some of its cards in such a manner that it can re-visit the 2015 decision during the soon to commence 2018/28 Long Term Plan deliberations with a view to bringing the relevant developers back into the fold, and restoring the share of the wastewater development interest cost that they were previously required to shoulder.

Anything short of that should be totally unacceptable to ratepayers in view of what are clearly the changing fortunes of developers over the past 18 months as evidenced by the building and sub-division applications currently before Council. Our representatives may need a gentle reminder of their reponsibilities in this regard.

For those who are unfamiliar with all of the Hopper successes with our Council over the years, I will in a future post recap some of the events surrounding the building of the Whitianga Sports Facility, and the proposed Waterways Health Centre. That should raise a few hackles!





CEO Report For October

It is a remarkable, and unique experience to be able to complement Rob Williams on the new format for his Report to Council. It is transparent, and comprehensive, and a distinct improvement on the previous load of verbiage that left wide open the opportunity for obfuscation.

The new format provides for:

  • Our financial performance How projects are progressing with respect to time, budget and delivery
  • Whether services are meeting the desired performance measures
  • Any emerging challenges or opportunities

What else do we need to know - take a look - you may be impressed.





TCDC Annual Report

The final draft will go before Council on Tuesday. It bis a good document that shows that Council has met all all its financial, most of its physical targets, but stuff-all of its economic development tragets.

It is interesting to note that the incorporated Auditor General Report is dated 25 October 2016 - it covers the year to 30 June 2016. and states inta alia that his Report "is the date at which our opinion is expressed." 

This is quite extraordinary - the Report itself relates to the 2016/2017 year, but the Audit Report relates to the previous year. I guess this standard practice, but nevertheless, comment that the Audit Report is virtually useless as a check on the current year to 30 June 2017.

Another section of the Report that I find quite extraordinary is the comment on "Economic Development" in the following terms:

"We were successful n our application to the Government for its extension of the Ultra-Fast Broadband programme. Six of our communities were included in 151 areas chosen. These include Thames, Te Puru, Coromandel Town, Whitianga, Whangamata and Tairua-Pauanui. Thames is one of the first areasto havethis installed with the others following over the next seven years.

Funding was provided for a stall at the Auckland Food show where five artisan food businesses paid to sell their wares. The stand was designed and dressed as a "Coromandel Bach" and each exhibitor had their own space to showcase their products with tastings and sales. More than 30,000 foodies flocked to the show this year. Attendance at the show helps to promote the 2017 Coromandel Food Trail Guide which aims to attract tourists to the array of cafes, restaurants and artisans food producers on offer around peninsula.

We also opened a newly built track as part of our Coromandel Walks project which branches off the existing Cathedral Cove  Walk and provides a loop return, with a viewing platform about halfway down the track."

That is the full extent of what has been achieved and that our Council feels necessary to report after all the Leach ballyhoo, and Economic Development Committee on which so much of our precious resources were expended with literally nothing to show for the effort. Sandra did well to get rid of it, and all its appendages, but the fact remains that our economic development achievement has been nothing short of abysmal. A new staff member has been appointed to oversee the process - we are yet to see any results from that.

Another notable entry that will bring about wry smiles around the town, and continuing concern as to the competence of Council staff who have overseen the disaster:

"We have also almost completed the Indoor Sports Facility at Thames High School. For many years, sports clubs and the high school have been constrained by the limited facilities available in the Thames area for indoor sports. High school teams and community sports clubs have been competing for the limited space and time available and this situation has not allowed for programme growth. The $5.5 million facility is a joint project of between Council, Thames High School and the Thames Sport and Education Community Trust."

I won't go on about this debacle - it must be sufficiently embarrassing for all concerned without me adding to their misery.

The remainder of the Report in ineffably upbeat, and their is not much to argue with on that score, but the failure to open projects like the Kopu - Miranda section of the Railtrail on time must be causing conniptions. Hopefully that will not be too far away, but we remain totally ignorant as to the financial performance of the Railtrail, which Council will again confirm as an "exempted" Council Controlled Organisation" on Tuesday. We will continue to be kept in the dark, I guess. 





The Climate Change Price Tag

Just a reminder - the 'climate change' argument still proceeds on - relentlessly, and while Donald Trump would prefer to ignore it, a congressional watchdog has issued a warning about its rapidly becoming inevitable price tag.

This Report relates to the US, but is easily extrapolated to our situation - we are all in this, and it is interesting that lal recent US reports on the subject draw attention to the Antarctic Ice Shelf melting as the major danger facing the entire planet. 

I urge you to read Dino Grandoni's report on this bipartisan Congressional warning to Trump.






No one could describe Mathew Hooten as a Labour Party lackey - he has pushed the National Government line at most opportunities over the years - both in the NBR and on RNZ where he is the regular National foil to a series of Labour commentators.

On 20 October, he put the following on Facebook:

"On 18 August, I wrote in the NBR that the outgoing National government "has proven itself over nine years to be lazy, visionless, arrogant, complacent, dishonest and house-trained by the ... Wellington bureaucracy.” I stand by that. It has been a wasted nine years with ministers mostly acting as PR spokespeople for their departments rather than leaders.* I am surprised by how pleased I am to see the back of them.

One of the things the Lange government did after 1984, which I hope the new government still supports, is abolish the Muldoon regime's farm subsidy and other corporate welfare schemes. It led to farmers having to respond to the extent they are now among the most commercially successful people in New Zealand, and new land-based industries emerged including high-quality wine.

Over nine years, the outgoing government reversed that historic work, establishing the MBIE monstrosity, expanding corporate welfare, reintroducing subsidies for the dairy industry and corrupting government procurement.

Pretty much everyone in the business community except welfare beneficiaries like RocketLab will applaud the new government if it tackles these issues."

You have to believe that whatever Mathew writes is closely analysed by the National hierarchy, and this piece of analysis will cut deep into the psyche of the entire upper echelon. One comment that arose was that the final nail in any arrangement with National was Bill English's intransigence in relation to Nick Smith who for long has been his blind spot and now his downfall. Winston simply refused to have him back in Cabinet - a step too far for Nick's old mate - end of story!

"I am surprised by how pleased I am to see the back of them," will I suspect be a reaction echoed widely throughout the business community - even those who dutifully ticked the 'blue' box. 




A New Day Dawns 

The moment I head Mike Hosking's tirade on the NZH this morning, it became clear that everything he had predicted had fallen flat, much to his chagrin, and that he was determined to paint the new situation in the worst possible light.

His views are as relevant as those of the Australian's Greg Sheridan who has shouldered the unhappy task of translating Rupert Murdoch's views ro the Australian people for some twenty years. His headline this morning -

"Trust the kiwis. The thought of perhaps 10 years of good government was ultimately unbearable for them."

The total inability of Australian writers to come to grips with the intricacies of MMP, let alone the length of National's rule is very evident throughout both Fairfax and Murdoch papers this morning, along with their fascination with "Jacindarmania" a term that seems to have thankfully disappeared on this tide of the Tasman. 

Jacinda would do well to let Julie Bishop stew in her own juice while she sorts out how to put her initial reaction to the Barnaby Joyce affair behind her - just deal with Turnbull in the meantime, and ignore her until she seeks to display a little contrition. That may take some time, as suggested by the Australian's other leading writer, and former head of Foreign Affairs - Dennis Shanahan.  

In fact, despite all the wildly inaccurate predictions in the media, Winston has displayed a totally consistent tendency to favour disruption - he has done so every time in the past when he has had the opportunity, and he has done it again now to very good effect.

I expect him to take the Deputy job, and fill in for Jacinda during the term when she does what comes naturally and takes time off to have a child - that is not sexism, simply reality, and would satisfy both their natural desires - his to retire with a period as PM under his belt, and hers to  beat the time-clock that every young woman faces at this stage of life.

I thought Jacinda's performance last evening was remarkable, even out-shining Winston's delayed exposition on the state of the World's, and by extension, New Zealand's economy. Some may consider her experience level totally inadequate in dealing with Winston, but I formed exactly the opposite view. I think that she displayed an almost faultless performance in dealing with both NZF and the Greens.

Who would have guessed that only three of the Greens 150 delegates would have opposed the  Agreement last evening -  I would have expected a far greater level of opposition  from the hard left Metiria group, determined to 'hold the line.' Their invidious position 'outside of Cabinet' will restrict their ability to get their most important policies implemented, but 'half-in' is still far better than 'all-out.'   They will get frustrated, but at least there will be greater acknowledgement of climate change, and the environment around the Cabinet table, and that should keep them on side.

There are very interesting times ahead, but overall, I think we can expect better and fairer outcomes, and a performance from Jacinda that will make us all proud to be New Zealanders once again. Comments on portfolio allocations later!





Scottish Farmed Salmon Industry - A Warning!

This story from the magazine of the Atlantic Salmon Federation is extremely instructive.

This is the industry organisation's own magazine, and the story relates to the fact that a quarter of the salmon farmed in Scotland this year - 10million in all, have had to be destroyed - "because of diseases, parasites and other problems."

Read the story to to get the full picture - it is extremely disturbing, and indicative of the consequences of inadequate oversight, and appalling management practices by the owners of the farms involved.  

“The salmon farming industry has lost the ability to control fish diseases and this results in escalating quantities of toxic chemicals being poured into the sea in an increasingly fruitless attempt to control them. It also inevitably leads to the release of an infectious soup of disease organisms into our coastal waters.”

“This is something which the industry takes very seriously and is working hard to minimise. Disposal of mortalities is managed in line with the government’s approved methods and legislation.”

Marine Harvest insisted it had been “very transparent” about the issues it had been facing with sea lice and amoebic gill disease (AGD). “We would clearly prefer if we had not had this level of mortalities,” said the company’s business support manager, Steve Bracken.

This is just another example of the inadequacy of current marine farming methods - it is something that the team of boosters at Waikato Regional Authority, and the Department of Primary Industry should be prepared to explain as they set about establishing such an industry in the northern Gulf. 





Does Anyone Understand Conflict Of Interest?

The last TCB meeting on 9 October was remarkable for the manner in which the failure to adhere to conflict on interest rules that are inherant and specific under the Local Authorities (Members Interests) Act 1968 was demonstrated in the most blatant manner. It demonstrates the manner in which adherence to the rules deteriorated under Leach, and now it appears to have become 'par for the course.'

Standing Orders are not optional' - Council, Boards and Committees are all required to adhere to them, and the two Acts - LGA and LA(MI)A and the senior Council officer present is required to have a full knowledge as to how they operate in order to be able to advise the Chairperson as to their application. Such did not appear to be the case on Tuesday when 'Rafferty's Rules' appeared to apply on several occasions during the meeting, and no one around the table objected - I suspect because all are equally ignorant of their application.

Two examples that come to mind was during the deliberation on the Kauaeranga Road Seal Extension. When the Board debated the funding of the DoC share of the work, Lester Yates, who is employed by DoC, and sits on the Board mumbled something about a possible 'conflict of interest,' that was immediately discounted by at least two others at the table, and sad to say, Lester then proceeded to weigh in with his views on the matter.

It was totally inappropriate for Lester to place himself in this position - it may have improved his standing with the local DoC manager who made the DoC submission, but it is totally wrong - an abrogation of the Chairperson's role, and a sad reflection on the ability of Area Manager - Gary Towler, who sat mute during the discussion.

This infringement was doubled down by the Chairperson herself when she decided to take the submitters seat to support the application for funding for the Steampunk Festival - an orgaisation that she appears to run, along with a number of other organisations - a testament to her skill, and energy.

But it does not gainsay the inappropriateness of her submitting to the Board in this manner when she had alongside her the manager of the Festival who appeared perfectly capable of making the submission, while Dianne recused herself from the deliberations. The allocation was made, by the way!

Eventually meetings can become chaotic when Standing Orders are ignored, and conflict of interest situations are no different.

For the record, conflict is defined under Section 6(1) of the Local Authorities (Members Interests) Act 1968 and:

"prohibits a member of a local authority or its committees from discussing or voting on a matter before the authority in which the member has a pecuniary interest other than an interest in common with the public."

That is clear, and fairly wide ranging, and should be applied in any situation such as those described above. This was not done, and there have been many other examples over recent meetings. Staff need to take a stronger hand in ensuring that the rules are followed. 



Coastal Stategy Workshops

Our Council advisors walk a tightrope when it comes to coastal hazards. Writing reports, projecting scenarios and holding workshops to discuss the possible effects covers all the angles, and preserves them from any suggestion that they have not ‘done their job.’

This is not a criticism – simply a factual representation of the difficulty of working with a Council on which powerful ‘climate sceptics’ clearly hold sway, and who appear to do all in their power to suppress the true state of coastal risk.

It was pointed out by Waikato Regional Council Hazard Advisor – Nick Liefting at today’s version of the Workshop that only one council was prepared to acknowledge ‘climate change' to his knowledge – that being Bay of Plenty, and only that Council has undertaken the necessary work to establish risk profiles, and ensure that all real estate and infrastructure  in the risk areas is appropriately identified.

What a disgraceful state of affairs,  and one that our Council appears determined to circumvent rather than ‘frighten the horses.’ Of course there are a huge number of ‘sceptics’ out there who are far more concerned about the value of their properties than to face the facts – all helped by perennial letter witter – Alistair Brickell, whose unsubstantiated  rubbish appears to have quite a following amongst this group.

To avoid dealing directly with the ‘elephant in the room’ that constitutes the risk from coastal inundation, storm surge and sea-level rise, our Council has presented the current Workshops as a bland Strategy designed to deal with five “themes”:

  •  Natural environment/amenity. Looking at how we maintain our estuaries, rivers and the health of our aquifers (groundwater). We also want to focus on healthy rivers and streams.
  • Coastal hazards, physical processes and community resilience. This is about making informed choices around how we respond to changes to our natural coastal systems including erosion, accretion, inundation and tsunami. It’s also about looking at our preparedness for natural disasters. We need to work closely with Civil Defence, DOC, NZTA, Waikato Regional Council, iwi and other stakeholders.
  • Maori values. This is about recognising tangata whenua’s special relationship with the coast.
  • Recreation, open spaces and access. Ensuring public access to our coastline and rivers is well-maintained, while balancing the impact on the natural environment. This also takes into account events and commercial activities in coastal open spaces.
  • Community assets and infrastructure. Ensuring we have high quality, fit-for-purpose infrastructure that is in keeping with the coastal environment and takes into account climate change and coastal hazards. It’s also about having a sound understanding of our existing infrastructure assets around the coast.

Note how the hazard “theme” has been buried amonst the range of other issues that while important have no relevance to the major concern facing all of us who live in this District.

They cover this in this manner:

“That’s why we are developing a Coastal Management Strategy, which will also help us advocate on your behalf when we’re dealing with other agencies (including regional council and central government) on policy and funding of coastal management practices into the future.”

A discussion with Nick Liefting today showed that there is no lack of understanding as to the issues and the measures that need to be taken – unfortunately, our Council staff appear to be tied into the straitjacket imposed by our raft of dinosaur councillors, and I am sad to say, our Mayor, who appear to have imposed a framework beyond which staff are unable to work.

This was sadly reflected by the comment of Cr Fox after Denis Tegg submitted to a recent meeting that the $6m Whitianga Town Centre renewal should be re-thought in the light of the latest sea-level rise information that the Council had available to it. Fox rubbished the idea, but only after Tegg left the meeting, saying that his community had “finished with consultation on the matter.”

That more or less sums it up!