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Tuesday
Feb182014

Economic Development Committee

The initial meeting of this Committee was held at 3.30pm yesterday. This followed its initial timing for 1pm. Two and one half hours were spent in a workshop when obviously everything of interest to the public was discussed behind closed doors.

By the way, the Committee comprises three outsiders all of whom appear on the surface to have definable conflict of interest. They are Grahame Christian who owns Smart Environmental (has long term waste contract with Council), Brent Paige - Chair of Destination Coromandel of which the Committee is charged with providing oversight, and Leigh Hopper who interests are legion, and conflict inevitable.

The two Council members are Peter French, and Glenn Leach who departed (see below). So here we have a Committee of Council that is dominated by three apparently conflicted unelected members who appear curious as to their actual role. All very Alice in Wonderland, but basically reflective of the apparent need for peer review and support from powerful people felt by Leach, and senior staff. 

But some surprises remained starting with the departure of Mayor Leach from the Chair, and the meeting, having installed Brent Paige without the benefit of an election - presumably this was decided within the preceding Workshop - just how permanent, or formal is not clear. Thereafter, staff appeared to participate at will, both asking and answering questions. 

Then we had the spectacle of Cormandel Mussel Farmers Chair Gilbert James at the table, ostensibly to represent the interests of the aquaculture people in regard to the Harbour Strategy, but he was not restrained from asking questions, and making statements about the Rail Trail and other matters. Any resemblance to a circus is purely coincidental - hopefully, future meetings will be run with a greater regard to procedure. 

Ben Day master-minded the meeting alongside Brent, and reiterated the three major tasks of the Committee. These included oversight on behalf of Council of Destination Coromandel and the 'I' Sites, the Coromandel Great Walks Project, and Coromandel Harbour Strategy. But he appeared to add Project Kopu and Events as matters requiring their attention.

It was very interesting to note the shifting of chairs around the position of Economic Development Manager - Day's current position, along with that of Deputy Chief Executive. Clearly Gary Towler's role is also changing, and he led a discussion on "What kind of person should be recruited for the position to be advertised this month"? When asked who the appointee would report to, he appeared to indicate himself, but I may have mis-heard that. If that is the case, it immediately raises the question regarding just what position is envisaged for Mr Towler.

I did not mis-hear Day's answer to another question regarding the level of salary attached to the position - "At a very high level" - another addition to the growing list of highly paid professionals feeding off the salary structure. But wait, there is more.

There was considerable confusion expressed (despite the Workshop!) as to the exact nature of the Committee's oversight. Members are not directors of a CCC (Council Controlled Company) and therefore they simply provide 'advice' to Council. Some confusion appeared to arise from Day's presentation of his $1.259m budget ($355k for Corporate Management) for the portfolio - Grahame Christian wanted to know whether this meant that they were responsible for the budget? Day appeared to fudge that one.

Reports were presented on the three major areas of concern to the Committee. What these showed in essence was that things are not going too well in regard  to the two apples in Glenn's eye (perhaps that is why he absented himself!) - the Walkways and the Harbour Project. 

When you boil it all down, this is the outcome:

The million dollar Lotteries Commission application for the Whitianga to Hot Water Beach Walkway has been withdrawn pending further work on the Hot Water Beach to Cathedral Cove section, and work suspended pending further investigation, and negotiation. If I could hazard a guess, I would suggest that may well relate to the previously 'gung-ho' attitude towards the ability of Gary Towler to persuade Rod Millan of the virtue of opening his land up for this purpose.

No explanation was provided to the meeting (presumably 'workshopped'). This major plank in Mayor Leach's plans for this Council has clearly suffered a substantial setback - possibly terminal. What a blow. It was reported that another $270,000 of OPEX has been added to the 2014/15 Annual Plan "to fund further investigation, and to fund a dedicated project manager" - that more or less confirms that Gary Towler is moving on. 

This is when I began to notice a uncomfortable atmosphere of relevancy hanging over the meeting.  

Then came the piece-de-resistance with the revelation that further sediment sampling in Coromandel Harbour demanded at the 18 December Council meeting is now not to proceed. I quote form Greg Hampton's Report to EDC:

"Council sees the critical risk to the Furey's Creek option as being the sediment quality and the effects of dredging on the receiving marine environment and local marine farms. There is substantial pressure placed on Council to determine the ecological impacts of the proposed dredging prior to completing any further concept development."

and                                                                                                             

"The cost of the geophysical study, sampling programme and lab analysis is in the region of
$300,000 to $350,000 and will take 18 weeks (weather and tide dependent) to deliver."
and
"This work package will therefore not necessarily provide a definitive answer as to the
environmental impact of dredging or if the concept is consentable." 
and
"The Project Control Group recommends a staged approach to minimise sunk costs and delays." 

 

What this amounts to is that staff have now decided that to proceed with further sediment study at this stage may be counter-productive to the whole project - clearly there is a suspicion that to proceed may put the whole ferry/wharfe/marina project at risk - read what you like into it.

The actual motion that was put to the meeting yesterday had the words "which includes further sediment testing" removed by hand from the first bullet-point:

  •  Approves the continuation of the business case for Fury's Creek development as outlined in the project plan. (Note - no further sediment testing!)
  • Endorses the staff recommendation to separate recreational fishing interests from aquacultural activities at Sugar Loaf, along with development of Furey's Creek boat launching facilities.  
  • Endorses the staff recommendation to remove commercial and charter operations from operating at Sugar Loaf. (Note that prosecution was mentioned as a likely method to be adopted should operators resist - that may raise a few hackles!). 

The whole rationale surrounding this decision appears to rest on the fact that there is apparently an existing Resource Consent covering the development of the recreational facilities without need for any further recourse to consenting. So there has been no need for any of this expensive exercise - they could well have accomplished the Furey's Creek recreational development without the need for any extravagent reports, and Cranleigh's example remains an expensive enigma. 

The consequences of this decision are far reaching, and show just how concerned staff are in regard to being able to obtain consents for the dredging and wharfe development that was earlier proposed. I suspect that these changes were crafted in a meeting at 9 am in Ben Day's Office attended by the three area managers. All very mysterious, and concerning. 

For all the rhetoric that surrounded this recommendation in the paper that went to the Committee yesterday, relevancy again remains the real question surrounding its operation, and I started to detect a real concern amongst its members in regard to just what they were there for. Fidgeting and stretching are sure indicators of this concern, and there was no shortage of that. And no amount of fancy flannel regarding how "progressive" our Council is could disguise the relevancy question.  

If I hear the expression "We need to get runs on the board" once again I think I will scream - it justifies all this further investigation and expensive reports that seem to lead no-where. Desperate measures are then paramount to achieve something - anything! And don't forget that we as rate-payers are paying for all of this hoo-haa, and the additional staff who appear anxious to justify their very existence.

Previous council's may have muddled through, but they never fell into the traps that this Council has set itself.

 

 

 

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Reader Comments (5)

Unbelievable, bloody unbelievable.
not one for writing in these blog things but feel compelled to voice my displeasure at such a council jack up as this committee appears to be-- a nice cosy job for Leach's mates one would suspect .
seriously what is Leach playing at - the council is being controlled by people with little or no understanding of things political or the long term costs to the poor suffering ratepayers.
And as for the budget of $355,000 for 'corporate mangement' - crazy- complete waste of ratepayers money and all being sanctioned by NON-ELECTED committee members!
Surely must be a case for the Auditor General to investigate -- shades of Kaipara District Council all over again!

February 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterToe rag

"Toe Rag's" comment about non-elected members bears further thought.
It might be that control of council is passing from elected members to non-elected members and consultants, the more-so when you consider that, more often than not I suspect, consultant and non-elected members recommendations are eagerly sought out by TCDC and TCB, offered up at meetings as recommendations, and passed on the vote.
And so it is that control slips from the hands of the community, through its elected members, and into the hands of people who are external to council (being neither staff nor elected members).
This needs to be considered especially in light of the power that resides in the function of Mayor. A Mayor with almost absolute power, supported by crony consultants, may materialise into an omnipotent threat to local community democracy.

As an aside, it is curious that elected members no longer have confidence in their own information gathering and analysis and decision making abilities - preferring rather to trust consultants... This further exacerbates the potential threat to democratic process.

February 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRussell

Another innacurate and misinformed blog once again Bill, let down perhaps by your poor hearing and lack of diligence (or willingness) to follow up and get the facts right. You're entitled to your opinions but your blog would provide a better public service if it was better researched and represented the facts accurately.

February 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterInformed

Clearly you are well informed, but as you are unwilling to identify yourself, I don't give credence to your opinion. If my post is inaccurate and misinformed, then perhaps you may condescend to indicate just where you believe this to be the case. I was there - I heard what took place. Any inaccuracy is primarily due to the fact that only snippets of information were provided outside of the closed-door workshop - Shame!
As for the general accuracy of my posts - it is surprising how few comments take issue with same. General tilts of this nature need to be treated accordingly.

February 21, 2014 | Registered CommenterBill Barclay

There is a very simple answer to your post 'Informed' -- tell us all where Bill has gone wrong, as they say Boyo, 'put your money where your mouth is!!'
Be interesting to see if you have the fortitude to put up the 'corrections' - till then go and play with your simpering friends.

February 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterToe rag

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