Environment and Planning Committee (27 February)

The Environment and Planning Committee meeting was held on 27 February 2014. All councillors were present, with Cr Mirfin sending apologies for being unable to attend, due to work commitments.

The meeting agenda included: (1) Nelson airport’s management of shorebirds, (2) residential density project, (3) Richmond west plan change, (4) rural land use and subdivision, (5) freedom camping update, and (6) the manager’s report (including; the use of weirs as water storage solution, airport bird-strike protection measures, gravel extraction, and earthquake strengthening standards). The meeting also considered feedback on the recent “rural land use and subdivision policy” which will be made public and success of the new freedom camping rules. The session also involved confidential consideration of legal proceedings and private requests for zone changes (ie Foodstuffs and Network Tasman).

For the purposes of this post, I will just examine some of the key topics that received most of the council’s attention.

Public forum

Several people were in attendance for the public forum. Unfortunately the period of time allocated to public forum is very short (3 minutes per person). But enough to make council aware of an issue or community feeling on an issue.

Paul Keown raised a question over the current rural subdivision policy which prevents land owners building additional small residences to enable at home care for those who live on rural land. He suggested greater flexibility was required around multiple dwellings for elder care.

Liz Thomas also spoke to this topic highlighting the growing grey wave appearing on the horizon that required more flexible planning and allowed land sharing.

Chris Laing spoke on the issue of affordable housing, highlighting development costs were to high, and suggesting that a more creative approach, that enabled cluster development, was required.

Richmond residential density projection

Council staff reported back on the recently held urban density forum (at which I had also participated). The report recommended that an advisory group be established and outlined the purpose and scope of such a group. For me the concern of advisory groups is one of staff support (and therefore costs to council, including opportunity costs, as staff get diverted from their current tasks).

From my own attendance at the urban density forum it became apparent to many at the forum that much of the urban density development that was happening was not due to developer participation. Rather, much of the increasing densification was coming from residents being able to subdivide existing properties and build a second home on them, either for their own retirement, or for sale. Major developers were more interested in large scale greenfield development. After all, this is where the higher financial gain lay. The concerns for developers were the costs associated with development and the degree of uncertainty that existed when entering the planning process. Providing certainty around costs and what could (and could not be done), would improve decision making and reduce costs. This invariably is a trade off between flexible rules and certainty. Overall developers appeared to favour certainty and lower costs.

In fact, I’m sure residents would prefer certainty as well, given the recent surprise of a commercial activity (ie a lifestyle village) being able to construct large multi-story buildings (some three stories high) on land designated for standard residential development. Especially, given earlier council statements in the recent urban density questionnaire that reassured residents that council would not allow multi-story buildings in high urban density areas. The actual words were “Council is not thinking about multi-level apartment buildings!”. Unfortunately another example of council saying one thing to residents, but providing rules that allow something else.

Whether an advisory group would provide anything more than what would come out of plan change hearings for revised urban density plans and rules was highly arguable. In my opinion, urban density development will happen when it is financially viable for developers. At present it is not. I also think that some developers have already realised that there is very little interest in widespread high density developments in Richmond. To be blunt, people don’t come to Richmond for the cramped Wellington city lifestyles. They come here to get away from that. Most people who live in Richmond come here for reasonably sized sections so their kids can enjoy them and the safe surroundings Richmond offers. It’s therefore no surprise that larger lifestyle blocks have begun to spring up out towards Redwood Valley and Mapua as sections in Richmond have begun to get smaller or less available. In my opinion, if Richmond wants high density residential development in the centre of the town (not the outer green fields) then it will need to provide the right economic incentives for the construction of such housing (so that its financially appealing to the purchaser), and also the lifestyle. In my mind, that requires much lower development costs in such areas, and much more defined rules about what can be done and what cannot, to avoid uncertainty and surprises for everyone. Until that happens, very little will happen.

However, after an impassioned speech by the mayor for the establishment of the group (and some other councillors), the majority of council considered there was merit in an advisory group. I am afraid I was not one of them and remain unconvinced. While I support urban density done well, I remain unconvinced another advisory group will add much more to what we already know. Its an additional cost we do not need. I suspect we will get nothing more in urban design knowledge and guidelines than what is already on offer in the UK and what we have already.

Cr Higgins was appointed the chair of the advisory group. The group’s term is fixed to just one year.

Manager’s report

Weirs

Of particular interest to myself was a “brief” report on the use of weirs as a water augmentation solution for the Waimea plains (page 69 at para [6.1]). This report came from requests from myself for more information on the use of weirs, due to a lack of any rigorous analysis being published in other reports from the Waimea Water Augmentation Committee (WWAC). In particular, the use of weirs as an alternative option, or used in conjunction with a dam, and their associated costs. Unfortunately, the report was very brief on any detail and detailed questioning of the report was derailed by the Mayor’s request to defer any detailed examination to a forthcoming workshop on water augmentation options before council. Accordingly, I highlight some points in the report with my own observations and questions.

First, the report notes that Tasman needs a solution that provides at least 13 million m3 litres of water. On further enquiry it appears, 13 million m3 of water is required to cater for drought security and growth (for Tasman and Nelson). Discounting this growth would reduce the amount needed for drought security to 9.2 million m3 of water. This seems a very large amount of water for what is a 2-3 month period of drought risk (that might happen every 10 years). When one considers that only 50% of the dam is being funded by irrigators, it would seem in my opinion, that the actual amount required for drought security for the Waimea plains is probably more likely to be 4.6 million m3 of water (or possibly less).

A weir of 1.0 metre height in the Waimea river (comprising 2.8 hectares of river) would provide approx 20,000 m3 litres of water. No information is provided for a higher weir or for multiple mixed height weirs. Secondly, the report acknowledges a combination of weirs and dams had not been specifically addressed by WWAC as they had found a solution that had met the desired water need (ie 13m m3 of water). Further, its states that installing downstream weirs at additional cost and no further benefit would not have been a realistic option. However, given no costings for a weir have been undertaken, its difficult to understand how such a conclusion could have been reached. I am left to assume that the TDC is aware of the cost of other weirs it has constructed, that have proved to be quite successful. So, perhaps some “very” rough comparison was made? Again this is not clear in the report. The report also points out that a 13.4 m3 dam was considered the most cost effective option even though the capital cost difference between a high and low dam was about $5 million. Again it is not clear how this comparison was made – as the cost of a dam is very much dependent on the thickness of its foundations. I would have thought a smaller dam required smaller foundations?

Overall, I found the report disappointingly brief given the importance of the issue and the level of interest in the use of weirs from the community. Especially when other topics of lesser importance received more attention (and words) in the report. It is very important that all councillors turn their minds adequately to all water augmentation options (including weirs) before deciding on a preferred solution. I intend to follow up this report with more questions and I invite the public to submit further questions as well, in order to aid councillors in their deliberations.

Gravel extraction

A report was requested on gravel extraction from rivers in the Tasman district. The report identified nine applications lodged since November 2011. It appears very few applications have been made for gravel extraction from the Motueka river.

Earthquake strengthening

A Bill before parliament seeks to reduce the threshold for determining if a building is earthquake prone from 67% to 34% of the national building standard. The bill aims to strike a balance between protecting people from harm in an earthquake and managing the cost of strengthening or removing buildings. It is expected the Building (Earthquake-prone buildings) Amendment Bill 2013 will become law in 2015. See http://www.parliament.nz/en-nz/pb/legislation/bills/00DBHOH_BILL12960_1/building-earthquake-prone-buildings-amendment-bill.

 Agenda and minutes

The agenda and minutes can be found at http://www.tasman.govt.nz/council/council-meetings/standing-committees-meetings/environment-and-planning-committee-meetings/?path=/EDMS/Public/Meetings/EnvironmentPlanningCommittee/2014/2014-02-27.

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