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Council Round-up

Today's Council meeting lasted just two hours Council met as the Mayor prepared to leave for a  six-week overseas holiday. He took leave and handed over to Deputy Mayor French who is apparently expecting a smooth passage during Glenn's absence.

There were no matters of any great significance on the agenda, but I will deal with some items that I consider require comment.

Freedom Camping: It should be acknowledged that Ben Day has done a good job putting together the by-law (though the drafting was the work of now redundant ESM Craig Birkett) , and today's follow-up was simply in order to add some further Schedule B sites for 'self-contained' vans on the western side of the Danby Field carpark. That appears entirely logical, and should meet the needs of half a dozen campers at a time. But the Mayor emphasized the need for Boards to get their act together and designate other suitable sites. This is urgent in order to keep ahead of the Motor Caravan Association that has employed Mai Chen to push their case. It is becoming noticeable that  several organisations are using the Mai Chen threat, or bludgeon where they think they may have a case - she has certainly proved effective, but the MCA should be careful because they are clearly beginning to put a number of councils offside, and Day indicated that he has been approached by several for advice as to how to handle them. Remember the time they sent one of Ms Chen's young suits  to bully the Council. (Note the Comment below - they must have a red flag system down there that pops up whenever I mention them!)

There is no doubt that the TCDC by-law and its implementation is proving effective, but Boards will have to bite the bullet and be ready to resist the pressure that will come on from camp-ground operators to keep Schedule B sites to the minimum. Ratepayer interests need to be protected (views and reserve access etc.), but other than that, the Act requires that 'reasonable' access be provided to adequate Schedule B sites. The main objective is to get non-serviced vans into the camp-grounds, but serviced vehicle owners have to be educated to understand that they have no God-given right to park wherever they please simply because they are serviced - not a concept they readily accept. 

Going by the reaction of local serviced van owners  to the new rules, there is still a way to go in that regard. But shows of defiance and threats of legal action will and should not get them far.

Pool Fencing - Another administrative headache that refuses to go away. The Judicial Committee has kicked the problem up to the full Council for guidance, and David Hammond has brought in the woman who helped get the process in place at Ruapehu. He may find the problem a little more complicated, and pronounced in this neck of the woods, but good luck to him as they go about getting community 'buy-in' on this issue.

Community Empowerment - Sam Marshall still has carriage of this, and he came to Council today with the delegations needed to put the empowerment decision into place. This is a barely disguised move to entrench the new measures so as to make it extremely difficult for any following council to dismantle the structure. This is obviously seen as necessary because of the expensive staffing changes that have been implemented, but this should not prevent any future council from implementing measures to rationalise this 'over the top' attempt at giving communities expensive 'made to measure' bureaucracy at their doorstep.

There appears to be a heavy emphasis on economic development as a means to get the Peninsula out of recession, and moving again. I suggest that it will take more than a bunch of highly paid bureaucrats running round in flash cars to achieve that objective, but I guess it is the intention that counts. I have made my views about this whole process clear, but I can tell you that there is total support for it around the table - not one councilor has a any stage questioned the need for, or the wisdom of this empowerment move. They have staked their political futures on it in other words, and there will considerable pressure on the appointees - particularly Community Development Officers to get things moving.

Quote from Key Projects and Priorities agreed at the Strategy Team meeting at the Thames Sailing Club on 16/17 July - "Making community empowerment work - everybody is to support and make it work" - you cannot be any clearer than that - drag your feet, and you are out of here!

If you wish to be reminded of all the functions that boards will now take over, go to the report that Sam gave today at Delegations.

CEO Report - It is gratifying to report that the CEO has seen fit this month to provide a comprehensive eight page report in contrast to the one and a half pages of skimpy 'once over lightly' that we were presented with last month. It was interesting to hear that he has established better relations with WRC, particularly over Moanataiari, and the Buffalo Beach erosion problem. It is also interesting to note that "budgets have been recast without under-investing in infrastructure or services in our view". I have already dealt with the manner in which capital works have been manipulated, and borrowing substantially increased to allow rates to held down artificially, and accordingly will make no further comment at this stage. It is all very clever - too clever by half in my view.

Buffalo Beach - dealt with orally due to late meeting (yesterday) on the subject. The most significant thing to come out this was his statement that "We are not ready to make a strategic retreat at Whitianga" - ie the District had better steel itself for a major financial commitment to bailing out those whose properties are likely to be effected by erosion. This will occur as the Annual Plan is put together later this year - and it appears that there will now be an attempt to "advance a joint TCDC/WRC coastal management strategy for the Peninsula's east coast sandy beaches" - that sounds like really substantial financial commitment, and on-going! There was a great deal of hand wringing over past failures to secure Resource Consents for work that has taken place - not to be repeated!.

Aquaculture - The most significant matter arising from this report was not in the body of the report, but rather in a note from a meeting with Gilbert James of  the Marine Farmers Association where he (James) reported that "The industry was not a single voice at this time" - ie the small farmers are not prepared to commit to the cost of the proposed wharfing infrastructure. The Chief Executive told James that "unless the industry were of a common voice and funding commitment, a partnership was not possible, and Council would not be making any commitment". Well that is a relief, but since this was on 4 July I would have expected the outcome to have been reported in his CE Report dated 27 July - it was not!. The division at Te Kouma has been evident from the start, our new staff have taken a while to catch up with some of the more esoteric personal dynamics that drive the MFA.

District Plan  - Draft delayed until end October after sign-off by Council in September. It seems that the DPRC has established a "Plan User Group of people who have regular contact and usage of the District" who have provided "valuable input and largely endorsed the Plan as a very 'easy to use' document, and an improvement of the previous one". Well I wonder just who comprises this privileged group who "use the District". 

Clearly there remains a distinct divergence with the WRC over SNA's - our DPRC has removed 2,000 private property form its SNA purview (other than voluntary), but the WRC has not - it is still in their mapping, and the potential remains for a major 'blow-up' over this issue before it is finished. The WRC will not in my view just lie down on this - they believe that they have legislative backing for their stand, and the fact that our DPRC has taken fright at the local reaction does not faze them. This fundamental philosophical dimension will not be resolved until the unitary council concept gets more traction. Our planners (those that remain) are treading a delicate path at present, but this issue (along with the one that follows) will have to be resolved before the DP gets to first base. This Council has proven that it is quite adept at pigeon-holing the difficult issues that may disclose disharmony - watch this space!

Discussions with the 'Maori Working Group' are on-going, and there is no indication that an amicable resolution of this fraught area is likely or on the horizon. I have already noted the sanguine, but not quite believable comments in DPRC papers. Discussions on co-governance with the Iwi negotiators are also ongoing, and disturbingly, with no apparent  progress to report.

Economic Development - The CE reported on a workshop held in July to thrash out some strategies. It seems that that apart from "improving transport corridors from Auckland and Hamilton", and the need to "improve account management of business related transactions and reducing compliance and regulation burdon on business", that there was not a lot emerged. I can imagine councilors struggling away all day to arrive at those gems! But at least there is an indication of the need for employment opportunities arising from a meeting on 26 July with John Gaukroger to push the Coromandel Walkway - now there is a really positive move, and the CEO notes the need for a business case first up. That is progress, but the great emphasis on 'Economic Development' in all the documents surrounding the TYP and elsewhere has not come to much, but I guess again we have give a 'A' for good intentions.

Rail Trail - At last I see some recognition being given to the demand by Thames business not to give up on completion across the bridge into town that Ben Day seemed keen to sacrifice earlier. Staff are now working within the Community Board on the "preferred route". That is good.

Mangroves - Peter Wishart is to lead a project with WRC to "identify all the estuaries and stream mouths  that are currently mangrove free, and get a consent to manage, control and prevent spread into areas that are presently free of the species" - if you can make head or tail of that then you are a genius, but it reflects the general obfuscation that has continously surrounded this isue.  A workshop will "develop a critical path action plan in August" - boy! Jack Wells will be thrilled to hear that - he had a note of desperation in his voice today, particularly over WRC's avowed plan to have it all under control by 2024! - the CEO said that he will look into that!

Monanataiari - Nothing further to my earlier post other than the rather startling conclusion that "This project is expected to be wrapped up with all remediation works completed by December 2013." I would suggest from my limited knowledge of the situation that this is a rather optimistic expectation.

Building Business Unit - "The Business Plan and operating model are expected to be finalised for consideration in mid August with a start date to coincide with the in-sourcing of the bylaws activities on 1 September". But it appears that there is still considerable discussion going on internally as to how it will operate. Interesting to note that the CEO met with Elizabeth Goodwin of Hamilton City Council on 29 June to discuss the inclusion of the Building Unit into the Waikato Building Cluster ("one set of procedures attractive!") But no other outcome reported.

That is about all of interest, though other items not reported may be read here.




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Reader Comments (1)

Hi Bill,

I'm happy to share CP's freedom camping guide with you and your readers so that you can see it is merely a consolidation of existing advice (primarily through DOC and LGNZ) due to the fact some Council's seem unable to source relevant information themselves. There is no threat of legal action.

The fact some authorities are asking Ben how to "handle us" suggests they have some doubts as to the legitimacy of their bylaws. Why not have an open discussion with the affected stakeholder? What is there to hide?

All we ask for is honesty and transparency with decision making. If an authority shows they have conscientiously applied the principles of the Act and still conclude the most appropriate and proportionate response to the problem is to prohibit freedom camping in an area then there is no argument. There are authorities who have applied the tests one would expect and we have supported their outcomes because of this. If an authority intentionally ignores the required process and uses irrelevant issues to justify their position then there is a problem.

You and I may not see eye-to-eye on this issue, but surely you can sympathise with the blatant disregard for proper process and law that we must continuously put up with from some local authorities.

I like your comment that ratepayer interests should be protected (provided of course the decisions to do so were within the parameters of the law) because there is a groundswell of local support for Council to show more support for responsible freedom camping.

James Imlach (NZMCA)

August 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJames Imlach

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