Waitakere Ranges Local Board
Chairpersons Report – 11 September, 2014
File No.: CP2014/20459
The local board emerged from a long day hearing 35 oral submissions on the local board plan feeling surprisingly elated. Submissions were of a very high standard, well presented, and on a wide variety of subjects. We now have the task of deliberating on the 170 written and oral submissions to see how we want to modify and reshape our plan in the light of these representations.
We needed a boost after the nasty shock of deferrals of capex projects that the board was told about at very short notice. All local boards had proposals to defer capital projects unless they met some specific criteria. Unless these projects were well along the way, with contracts let, they were delayed to 15/16.
The purpose of the deferrals was to achieve the mayor’s target of a 2.5% rates increase, much lower than the 4.9% projected rates increase in the Long-term Plan.
When we pursued the list of our projects that were earmarked for deferral (which at first added up just over $3m), we were able to see that some projects were already in the process of being built, such as the new Piha changing rooms and toilets, but others had been cracking along at a nice pace and now they were to be halted. We were particularly disappointed to see that money that had been scraped together to do some works in Glen Eden, and $400,000 for the foothills walkway, were to be delayed. When these deferral proposals went before the governing body Finance and Performance Committee, committee members said they wanted to give local boards more chance to respond before they made a decision and so we won’t know the ultimate outcome until later in September.
An item on this agenda/details the local board projects which are earmarked for deferral.
Behind this immediate budget review, there is a larger project going on where the Mayor has proposed major savings for the Long-term Plan 2015-25.
The Mayor’s proposal is based on an ambition to deliver an average 2.5% rates increase for the rest of the term and an average 3.5% for the remaining eight years. This compares with the previous LTP where rates were capped at 4.9% for the remaining seven years.
The proposal involves big reductions in many areas, including a new level of $4.8 billion (over 10 years) operating expenditure for parks, community and lifestyle, compared to the previously budgeted $5.3 billion over 10 years, and environmental management and regulation down from $4.8 billion to $4.7 billion. Capex for the parks grouping decreases from $2.1billion to $1.3 billion.
With parks and environmental protection there’s a proposal to take up the slack by “empowering communities”. But it’s highly dubious whether mum and dad volunteers can do the hard work that goes into running parks or environmental protection. The new Auckland Council has never really understood or embraced its environmental protection role, inherited from the Auckland Regional Council. In my view we’ve gone backwards in the last four years.
The last State of the Environment Report (2009) said that in terms of environment, all the easy things had been done and now we were down to the hard nuts to crack: sedimentation, poor water quality, loss of species, seriously diminished fish and shellfish stocks, weed explosions, and on and on. These are not things volunteers can solve in the weekend. To add to our problems, the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan proposes development of some coastal areas which were the last pristine places in the region: eg Weiti.
The State of the Hauraki Gulf Report said the same thing in the last term of Council, and it’s hard to see what progress the Council has made addressing the issues highlighted in that report.
People out West will know the huge amount of community commitment, support from Council and funding that goes into a large project like Ark in the Park. To be effective, environmental projects need to be highly organised and have longevity. And it’s easy to under-estimate the cost to Council of supporting community action. I recall when I was on the Governing Body trying to get a handful of volunteer coordinators funded, to support community groups. I got funding for one for the whole region!
If you short-sell the environment, you will lose it, and our children and grand-children will face a future where they will not enjoy the things that make Auckland such a wonderful place to call home.