Full council meeting (16 April)

The full council meeting was held on 16 April 2015. All councillors were in attendance, with apologies from Cr Mirfin and Cr Sangster.

The meeting agenda included: (1) receipt of the final regional land transport plan, (2) an update on the Waimea community dam, (3) amendments to the delegations register, and (4) the mayors report.

I will summarise below what I consider to be the main discussion points from the meeting, together with my opinions.

Regional transport plan

The regional land transport plan (a 70 page document) contains the regions strategic road transport projects and funding requirements for the next 10 years. The plan was developed in conjunction with the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) and collectively with Nelson and Marlborough councils.

Why do we produce such a plan? The council is required under the Land Transport Management Act 2003 to adopt a regional land transport plan every 6 years. However, the work programme is reviewed every 3 years.

Just because the council commits to the plan does not mean that everything in the plan will be done. Councils can change their mind, as they often do. Especially in response to feedback from the long term plan process. Clearly anything not in the regional plan is unlikely to be done.

In setting the scene, the plan document makes a number of economic and statistical observations. These included: (1) Tasman has 47,157 residents, Richmond has 14,036 residents, Motueka has 6,590 residents, (2) Tasman covers 14,812 sq kms and has 812km of coastline, (3) 58% of Tasman is conservation estate (which include Nelson lakes, Kahurangi and Abel Tasman national parks), (4) Tasman receives 2,450 hours of sunshine annually, (5) Tasman has 55 wineries (out of a total of 692 in NZ, Marlborough has 145), horticulture and grapes contribute to 15% of Tasman’s economy (and 14% of Marlborough’s), (6) Tasman has one of the highest export road freight levels in New Zealand per capita. Other statistics mixes Nelson in with Tasman.

Interestingly, the biggest impact for Tasman could be the substantial growth in people over 65 years. While this might drive an increase in public transport options (like buses), it also appears to make it even more important to ensure that high density developments, and those other urban environments, in which the elderly can be expected to reside, are closely aligned to public transport services.

In my opinion, councils planning in this regard has been poor. For example, compact density developments have not been aligned to roads, where public transport is currently available, but have instead driven council (excuse the pun) towards spending more money on widening roads to enable public transport to get access. For example, the Olive estate development (a lifestyle village for people over 55 years) is on the outer area of Richmond, rather than the centre, and is also on the opposite side of Richmond to where medial and other retirement service providers are located. Rather than providing easy transport access for visitors from the main highway, visitors now have to weave their way through Richmond South’s residential areas. In my opinion, this is poor planning and only invites increasing pressure on ratepayers to fund road widening projects.

It has also been suggested that Oxford Street should be widened. This is a very expensive thing to do. In my opinion, it should not be widened, as it would make the road more dangerous (inviting people to drive faster) and is an unnecessary expense.

The road could just as easily be made a clear way during peak traffic hours, if peak hour traffic is a problem. This is a far more cost effective solution, and is a solution used in other districts. If parking on Oxford Street is required then other areas for parking need to be explored, before road widening projects are undertaken.

Unfortunately, it appears that previous councils have been buying up land either side of the road with road widening in mind. While this might make it cheaper going forward, the sad reality is that much of the cost, has already been sustained by ratepayers in earlier years. In my opinion, such expenses that should not have been allowed to occur at all.

Finally, it is worth noting the recent changes to the governments roading subsidy. After the long term plan went out for public consultation (in October 2014), the NZTA informed council that the co-investment rate (effectively a government subsidy for eligible road work projects) would be reduced from 52% to 51% from 1 July 2016. The change is generally the result of the government’s emphasis on re-deploying road investment in more highly populated (and used) areas of New Zealand.

Waimea community dam

If you have been following this blog you will be aware of my ongoing opposition (since the December round of consultation) to council funding the establishment of a council controlled organisation (CCO). This is because I do not believe we have enough certainty at this time (or earlier times) to know if we actually need to establish a CCO. Why put the cart, before the horse?

At this meeting, council staff also shared a similar concern and recommended to councilors that a CCO should not be formed at this time. It appears that at least council staff have been listening to what I have been saying. On the basis of that recommendation, those councillors who had earlier objected to my earlier suggestion in December (not to support the establishment of a CCO), now supported the idea. A small victory in common sense prevails.

Of course, this does not prevent a CCO being formed at some future date. But that was never the point of my objection. My point was why spend money setting up a company (or other ownership vehicle) until you have determined whether you intend to support a dam, or know the financial and ownership make-up of such an enterprise. It might eventuate, that a CCO is not the type of vehicle that can actually be used, or what investors want.

So what does this all mean?

Well, we are now left with a privately owned company (Dam Co Ltd) that is now the investment vehicle for any interested irrigators, and the council (which represents ratepayers interests). You might recall that Dam Co Ltd was also used (and funded) by council to secure a resource consent on council’s behalf. That role has now ended and the resource consent will revert (pursuant to a written agreement) to the council.

Council can still pursue the purchase of land for a dam if it thinks that it wants to pursue a dam, or piggy back off the irrigators building one. Given a number of ratepayers are objecting to the dam, it might be that council does not actively pursue a dam. However, it might also be a-miss of council not to piggy back off a privately led dam project, if such a project provided a more cost effective investment for securing Richmond’s future urban water needs ($8 million), than other plan B options.

Whether this is where council finally lands its financial contribution remains unknown territory. Perhaps this is an outcome that even some of the “can the dam” supporters might be able to live with?

Furthermore, in my opinion, there is still an ongoing debate to have over the level of council’s financial contribution. At present council is proposing to fund $25 million of the dam – essentially comprising $8 million to secure Richmond’s urban water supply, and $14 million for environmental benefits. I still remain unconvinced that the proposed financial mix is a fair or equitable one.

I can understand why Richmond might want to secure its future urban water, but why should ratepayers want to pay for the environmental benefit of a river having more water in it? And are the benefits worth $14 million? Is that money (all or part) better spent on other environmental benefits? Surely, without water being extracted from the river, the river would be fine – providing all the benefits, nature intended. Why then should ratepayers be asked to fund the return of the environmental benefit, that has been depleted by water extractors. I cannot see the equity in such an argument.

Some have even suggested its just another subsidy for irrigators, re-worded and re-packaged to ensure ratepayers (not irrigators) are the ones providing most of the money? In the immortal words of President Underwood (in House of Cards), “I could not possibly comment”. But if it smells like a duck and looks like a duck, there is a good chance it is a duck.

I think the council needs to pause and reflect.

That might mean further consultation – which might include an expanded brief. I think the community would support such an approach. It would also give the irrigators the opportunity to see if they can actually raise the $50 + million they will need to find. Because if they don’t, then a dam option, will be a dead duck before it even gets off the water – with or without support from council.

Delegation amendments

Most, if not all of council’s powers come from legislation. For people to act validly, with the authority of council, they must first be given that power by council. Without such authority, their actions would be invalid and unenforceable. The delegations register records not only who has received such powers, but the scope of those powers.

Accordingly, council resolved to make a number of amendments to its delegations register. These amendments updated changes to staff roles and permitted thresholds, and clarified any ambiguity that might have existed before.

Agenda and minutes

The agenda and minutes are located at http://www.tasman.govt.nz/council/council-meetings/standing-committees-meetings/full-council-meetings/?path=/EDMS/Public/Meetings/FullCouncil/2015/2015-04-13.

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