Environment committee meeting (8 October)

The environment and planning committee meeting was held on 8 October 2015. All councillors were present (Crs Bouillir, Edgar, and King arriving late), with apologies from the mayor.

The agenda items included: (1) residential density project, (2) residential building coverage, (3) annual bio-security (pest management) report, (4) coastal settlements groundwater survey report, (5) Ruataniwha and Motupipi estuary report, (6) river water quality report, and (7) environment and planning activity report (manager’s report).

I will summarise the topics that received the most discussion.

A confidential session was also held (before considering the above agenda items) to consider the proposed Brightwater plan change. The meeting was followed by a short workshop on the Golden Bay recreation facility building.

Public forum

The public forum received three presentations from Ray Hellyer, Max Clarke, and Max Rogers.

Ray Hellyer has appeared before the council before in relation to aircraft and resource consent matters. He raised his concerns over matters noted in a resource consent report (which he thought should be omitted) and the cost of the consents process (ie unnecessary meetings and peer review costs).

In response to Ray’s presentation, I am of the opinion that the consents process (and costs) is something in need of further review and improvement.

Max Clarke spoke about the Dam. He asked why a copy of the Beca report (which was commissioned to re-appraise the Dam price) had not been made public yet. He also asked if council had received the irrigators business model proposal (which the mayor had suggested at a Nelson Chamber of Commerce meeting in August, would be available soon), and when it would be made public.

Max also suggested that there was little support on the plains for the dam, because many cannot afford it. He stated that a WCDL representative (Nick Paterson) had told a farmer that they would have to contribute $1.3 million based on the size of their farm. Apparently the farmer did not sign up.

Max emphasised that it was time for the promoters of WCDL to “show us the money” after all, the promoters had constantly reminded everyone during the hearings how much money they generated. He also questioned if WCDL complied with the solvency test (under the Companies Act).

Max also opposed Plan Change 54 to 56, which he considered was “nothing short of blackmail”. He also asked if councillors had seen or read the document authored by Ron Heath that was sent to the CEO and mayor, or Fred diCenzo’s report (that referred to weirs), that was authored while he was employed at TDC. Max stated that these documents suggest that, through the use of weirs, the aquifers were able to store the water needs of the irrigators without a dam.

Max Rogers briefly addressed council, clarifying Max Clarke’s observations in relation to Fred diCenzo’s report.

In response to Max’s 3 main questions:

1. Reports. I have asked staff to locate and provide councillors copies of the reports and documents referred too above. At the time of publishing this post, staff were still attempting to locate all these documents. However, I have received Ron Heath’s presentation and the staff’s response to the questions Ron raised.

2. The Beca report. Councils approach to dam costing is to use a P95 approach, whereas WCDL appear to favour a P50 approach. The previous estimate of roughly $40 million for the dam (which the previous council had used) was a P50 price estimate. A P50 estimate means that there would be a 50% chance that the price came in at that estimate. And a 50% chance it would exceed that price. In contrast, a P95 approach means that there would be a 95% chance that the price would not exceed the estimate. And a 5% chance that it would exceed the estimate. The shift from a P50 to P95 estimate also saw the estimated price of the Dam move from $42 million to $75 million. In my opinion, any price review is unlikely to drift far from this estimated P95 price.

Council’s new approach to Dam costings is to adopt a very prudent approach to spending public funds that ensures that any risk of cost overruns are minimised. This is probably contrary to the approach of business, who might be prepared to take on more risk. However, if WCDL want council to be a financial investor in the dam, then they have to realise that use of public funds comes with such conditions.

Council is also in the difficult position of having to hold back on the public release of some documents (or selected content of some documents) in order not to compromise any future potential procurement process. Council needs to ensure that it will get the very best price – should the dam proceed. Again, this is all part of acting as a prudent manager of public funds. For myself, who likes to be transparent, this is always a difficult tight rope to walk.

However, councillors are regularly challenging any non-disclosure. I (and some other councillors), continue to ask for documents to be publicly released, so that staff have to justify any withholding of documents. This ensures documents will be released to the public as soon as it is prudent to do so.

3. Plan change 54 to 56. The essence of this plan change is to ensure there is no free riding from an enhanced water supply. The default position from earlier plan changes (if there is no dam) is that thresholds for water restrictions will begin earlier than before. Plan Change 54 to 56 provides that the restriction thresholds for dam funders will apply in a manner that allows them to obtain the water that they have flushed down the river from the dam (when restrictions have already been triggered).

In effect, the threshold for water restrictions will trigger at a later stage for funders, than non-funders. For that reason I cannot agree that it is blackmail or some form of funding coercion. Those who do not fund the dam, should be in no worse a position, than had a dam not been constructed. That is the fundamental premise of the plan change. My challenge to those who object to this plan change is to show where (and how) the rules do not meet this fundamental premise.

Submissions on the plan change will close shortly on 19 October 2015. Information on the plan change is located at www.tasman.govt.nz/policy/plans/tasman-resource-management-plan/current-plan-change-projects/proposed-changes-and-variations/proposed-changes-54-to-56-waimea-water-management-security-of-supply/.

Residential density project

The Richmond residential density project was a one year project to examine how a high density housing policy could be managed (and implemented). The panel report (enclosed in the agenda), makes a number of recommendations.

While I agreed with the first resolution (to receive the report), I did not agree with the second or third resolutions that appeared in the agenda. In my mind, given the importance of getting this planning change right, council needed more time to get its head around what the recommendations would mean, and whether there was an opportunity to address some of the regulatory constraints identified by the panel.

An area that did concern me (which was not unanimously supported by council) was the suggested use of greenfield areas for high density developments. In my opinion, greenfield development should be avoided. Rather, council should be providing incentives for the development of brownfield areas (ie land circling the CBD).

Greenfield development diverts investment away from urban brownfield sites, and deprives existing urban centres of the vitality they need. Brownfield development can be characterised as a move from suburban sprawl to urban regeneration (see www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jul/15/greenfield-sites-cities-commuter-central-brownfield-sites). Brownfield development has also been described as “garden grabbing” (where back gardens are redeveloped). What we would call “infill” development.

To place high density developments on the outer urban fringes that are open fields (greenfields) just invites future additional infrastructural costs (eg, storm water expansion, and more roads to build, maintain and manage). In my mind, high density development needs to be near the CBD, where existing infrastructure is already present. High density living, close to the CBD (where services are already located), benefits not only elderly residents who want to walk into the CBD, but would also liven inner city business, from an increase in people. Developing higher density housing around the CBD which was already developed (brownfields), also provides an opportunity to replace old or poor housing stock, with modern, warmer housing.

In my opinion, what became apparent from the panel’s recommendations, was developers seeing high density development as a continuation of single level, detached, houses. Yet, this is not what high density housing should be about. I certainly do not want to see the outer fringes of Richmond turn into a sea of roofs – and nor do residents.

SingleLevelDensity

What they want is a lifestyle. Its why they come to Richmond, rather than live in Wellington or Auckland. They want open spaces. It’s why we have witnessed a growth in lifestyle blocks.

Unfortunately, it became very clear that established developers in Richmond had not got their head around a different type of development. They still appeared to see homes as single level detached homes. And the only way to perpetuate that paradigm of thinking was to allow higher coverage percentages over land, so they could squeeze more single level homes within the same land area they were developing. This also meant they could keep the price of such houses within the band of affordability (and sale-ability). Which is probably what is driving developers to ask for smaller sections and higher coverage allowances.

In my mind, high density housing should not mean a sea of roofs (from housing being closer together) and a loss of useable open spaces (because there’s only a metre of land circling the home). Its not about just infill developments. As one councilor appeared to think it meant. Thats just bad town planning, brought about by a simplistic view of what high density living means.

What it should mean is that the large open spaces are more communal. It also means that housing is not single level or detached. Rather it means that housing would be multi-level and attached. By going up, it means there is still open green spaces to enjoy, and the coverage percentage does not need to increase to achieve this outcome. The comparison between low rise (single level) intensification (from increasing coverage), compared to medium rise (multi-level) intensification is illustrated in the following diagram.

DensityCoverageCompare1

It’s for this reason, that I believe council needs to workshop the recommendations and to see the different possibilities that high density development can be. If we are not on the same page, then it will be impossible for staff to deliver the right incentives for owners and developers.

In my opinion, the main problem in Richmond is the under use of existing housing stock. And the presence of quite old housing stock. There are many residents sitting on very large (old) homes that have empty bedrooms because the kids have left the nest. These owners often want to downsize to a nice modern property, but there are very few new homes that are the size they want, in the location they want.

Why can’t council provide the right financial levers for owners to redevelop their properties and land (we are talking about groups of 6 or more adjacent properties) into a high density development (that might contain 12 or 20 modern homes, with large floor space), that provides the owners an upgraded home, perhaps also an income from owning a second home within the developed complex, and a profit to the developer from developing the land for those owners (by means of a fee and\or money from the disposal of surplus units).

I have seen such complexes in Europe (and Wellington). In some, they have included private tennis courts and swimming pools. In some, car parking is below ground level (beneath the complex). These are high value, spacious homes, in very good proximity to CBD services. Why can’t we incentivise the development of these types of complexes near Elizabeth Street or Edward Street areas?

The added bonus of this type of development, is it also opens up the availability of other housing stock to new home owners, as the owner shifts from their empty nest to the new higher density development. This takes the pressure of an expansion of greenfield development, that would further encroach onto rural land. And makes the need to increase coverage redundant.

Council resolved to received the report and sought to align any public consultation with the forthcoming wider Richmond CBD consultation process (effectively replacing resolutions 2 and 3, with new resolutions). This hopefully will give councillors some time to workshop the panel’s recommendations and for staff to come back with additional recommendations.

Residential building coverage

I found this report interesting. First, it started off on the premise that council had requested a plan change to increase building coverage from 33% to 40%. I was not aware of such a request, unless the reference to council meant council staff, or there had been a workshop I was not aware of.

I suspect it was a staff initiative following up from one of the recommendations from the urban density panel (discussed above).

While I agree that standardising our rules with Nelson (who already has 40% coverage rule) is a good reason to do it, having a different coverage rate is not something that creates complexity or confusion. Which is the purpose of rule alignment between the two councils. For that reason standardising the rules is not overly compelling argument. Furthermore, just because they have not thought through the consequences of their planing rules, should not mean we should follow them like lemmings?

In my mind, coverage of land was not the problem, nor the panacea. Coverage was a tool to address a problem, and that problem was housing demand and the availability of suitable housing stock. And that problem was itself due in part to a large part of the population sitting in large homes that were partially empty. Essentially, empty bedrooms they did not use (the empty nest) .

In my opinion, increasing the coverage percentage was not addressing the issue. Although it was allowing the developers to continue to perpetuate the development of single level detached homes. Basically increasing the coverage percentage allowed them to squeeze more homes into the same area of development. Thus ensure they had a product that would appeal to the desired price range. All that this would bring about is a sea of roofs and more greenfield development into rural land, rather than ensuring developers first explored brownfield development opportunities.

A sea of roofs is hardly the lifestyle that people coming to the Tasman region were wanting. They could get that in Wellington or Auckland (which is where many residents in the region have come from). If anything people were coming to the Tasman region to get away from crammed living. They wanted open space.

I also did not agree with the urban density panel’s reported recommendation that low site coverage was a barrier to achieving higher density (para 4.8 of the agenda). Density can be increased without increasing coverage, by going up, instead of out. The illustration below again shows the contrast (as discussed above). Medium rise developments provide for more open space that single level (low rise) developments that require more coverage.

DensityCoverageCompare1

For that reason, we should be putting policies in place to ensure open space is protected, not infilled. If the coverage percentage was not increased, developers would have to go up. And if we got our high density development rules sorted out, we would not need to change the coverage percentage.

Another argument raised by some councilors for raising the coverage percentage to 40% was the argument that the increase was not significant. However, if it was not significant, why do it?

In my opinion, increasing the coverage percentage was sending developers the wrong signals. Increasing the coverage percentage by 7% was just allowing a perpetuation of the current housing model into green fields (rural land) – but with something that looks like the low rise development picture above. Not doing anything would make development of Brownfields (existing residential land) a more compelling proposition. Especially if it was tied to additional planning incentives.

In my opinion, the coverage percentage issue needed to be considered in tandem with the council’s consideration of high density developments. They could not be considered in isolation. Because if we got the high density rules right, there would be no need to increase coverage percentages across the region. There would be enough housing stock for the 4,000 people projected to arrive over the next 10 years.

Council resolved to receive the report, and instructed staff to prepare a draft plan change on increased coverage, when the effects of increasing building coverage on storm water run off are understood.

While staff acknowledged that any increase in the coverage percentage was subject to better understanding of storm water run off (which is big concern for Richmond), I did not agree with this initiative, and I was the sole voter against it.

Annual bio-security (pest management) report

The decision for council was to receive the report and approve the council’s operational (pest management) plan for the 2015-16 year. Council unanimously did both.

The report identified councils: (1) pest eradication strategy (involving 13 plant pests, for example cathederal bells and african feather grass), (2) pest reduction (or progressive control) strategy (involving 18 plant pests, for example banana passion vine, old mans beard, and five species of fish), (3) pest containment strategy (involving 14 pests, for example ants, rabbits, feral cats, and magpies), and (4) boundary control strategy (involving 13 identified pests, most commonly weeds or horticultural disease, for example apple tree canker).

The report highlights a number of trends for each pest type. For example, trends in fish pest sites across the region show a resurgence of a number of identified pests in sites that were previously in decline.

FishPests

On behalf of Richmond residents I asked about the councils pest management strategy in relation to Ants. And for a trend graph for Ants (which I am still waiting on). And in particular, why the strategy was containment, rather than eradication.

Staff conceded that the ant problem was substantial and the cost of eradication was now, not only very expensive, but difficult to implement with any success. Its for this reason that the council no longer sprayed for ants along roadsides. The investment was not producing any substantive results to justify the expense. It was considered that the best strategy was to bait the ants during spring and that council would continue to inform the public on how best to do this.

I noted that recent news reports had showed that eradication had been successful in parts of the north island. Apparently, the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) had used a sniffer dog (called Rhys Jones) to identify nests as part of a highly targeted nest eradication strategy. (The welshman in me loves the dogs name). And that this strategy had proved successful in bringing about a substantive decline in the ant population (see www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11522943). Apparently this has also been done with some success in Australia with fire ants (see www.abc.net.au/news/2015-07-16/sniffer-dogs-help-fight-battle-against-fire-ants-in-queensland/6623876).

I asked if council staff were speaking with MPI. I was informed attempts had been made in the past to involve MPI in an eradication project, but MPI did not appear to be very interested. In my opinion, perhaps it was time to try again (with Richmond as a pilot project)?

River water quality report

This was an information only item (not requiring any decision).

Overall, water quality is good. With 13 of the 20 significant trends (eg pollution, water clarity, etc), showing improvement across the 57 river sites tested across the region. For example, the level of disease causing organisms has reduced in 4 of the 12 sites where such disease were present, water clarity has improved significantly in 8 sites, and concentrations of toxic nutrient ammonia has declined at 18 sites.

However, there is still room for improvement. Roughly 30% of streams in the region have low dissolved oxygen and high water temperatures. The presence of shade near rivers and streams would reduce this and improve water quality.

The full report on river water quality is available online (located at www.tasman.govt.nz/policy/reports/environmental/state-of-the-environment-river-water-quality-2015/).

Coastal settlements groundwater survey report

This was an information only item (not requiring any decision).

The report showed that overall, there was very little change from past surveys undertaken in the costal settlements north of Takaka. As most of the surveyed wells are shallow, they are considered unsecure.

Bacteria testing showed that (24 of 38 samples) 63% of samples exceeded water drinking standards (1cfu/100mL ecoli count). Only two samples showed a greater than 250 cfu/100mL limit. In 2004-05, 68% exceeded the 1cfu/100mL guideline, and in 2006-07, 42% exceeded the higher 5cfu/100mL guideline.

Environment and planning activity report

Highlights from the manager’s report are outlined below.

Aorere river project

Congratulations to NZ Landcare Trust’s Aorere river project, which recently won the inaugural Morgan Foundation NZ river prize at the international river symposium in Brisbane. The project came about due to high faecal bacteria counts in aquaculture. Research and monitoring identified that dairy farming (not black swans) was the primary source of the problem. Improved effluent management resulted in improvements in water quality and longer aquaculture harvesting periods. Congratulations also to the many landowners (and council staff) who stepped up and played their part. Well done to all!

Wetland project

Roughly 60% of (282 of the 474) wetlands have been surveyed to date. About 90 of the 206 landowners who have been notified of wetlands on their property, have requested visits. Of that group 60% (56 of the 90) have been surveyed.

Climate change

The fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC) has been received by council. Headline issues (based on measured data) include: increasing temperatures and sea levels.

Annual temperature for Nelson (1909 to 2014)

Temperature1

Relative sea level rise (1900 to 2007)

SeaLevel1

Rainfall and water

A recent NIWA report (see https://www.niwa.co.nz/climate/sco) has suggested that there could be a 10% reduction in rainfall over the eastern catchment (Waimea, Wai-iti, Motupiko) for next year. While there is a risk of drought (due to shallow aquifers), there is equally a chance aquifers will be replenished from a large storm. Generally, it takes 6 weeks for storage to be depleted before restrictions are imposed. Overall, aquifers are at a satisfactory level, with most at, or above, mean water levels.

Rainfall (January to August 2015)

Rainfall1

Aquifer status

AquiferStatus1

At this stage, given the wet spring and satisfactory aquifer levels, the irrigation season for the Waimea plains is in a good position.

Financials

We are 16% into the financial year. Overall, total operating income is ahead of budget (by $386,415). This is good. However, total operating expenses is above budgeted expenditure (by $4,626). Notably, the wage allocation is ($35,972 above budget), professional fees ($21,891 above budget) and overheads ($23,749 above budget). On the upside, operating costs are $81,466 below budgeted expenditure.

Agenda and minutes

The agenda and minutes are located at www.tasman.govt.nz/council/council-meetings/standing-committees-meetings/environment-and-planning-committee-meetings/?path=/EDMS/Public/Meetings/EnvironmentPlanningCommittee/2015/2015-10-08.

Media

(Nelson mail) www.stuff.co.nz/nelson-mail/news/72861781/el-nino-set-to-scorch-nelson.

(Nelson Live) nelsonlive.co.nz/news/2015/10/public-feedback-sought-richmonds-housing-density/.

 

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One comment

  1. Pete

    As a young Nelsonian, born and bred, I find your analysis very exciting and heart-warming. The topic of Nelson-Tasman region revitalization and using higher density city-centered models is incredibly thrilling, understandably, however, people I have discussed this issue within the region consider these ‘slums’ nonsensical. These ideologies seem to be cemented into public opinion, however, I implore NCC & TDC to visit and revisit this topic (hopefully with increasing public/private participation) for the greater good of the region’s vitality.

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