Tagged: Urban density

Environment and planning (19 November)

Environment and planning (19 November)

The environment and planning committee meeting was held on 19 November 2015. Apologies were received from Cr Edgar. All councillors were in attendance (with Cr Bouillir and Cr Sangster arriving late from their drive over the Takaka hill).

Cr Mirfin noted that the minutes from the last meeting were “a bit light”. I certainly share this concern. This is also a growing concern for a number of residents who show an interest in issues that council debates.

The agenda included: (1) national policy statement freshwater management, (2) private plan change for Wainui Bay (spat catching), (3) Alcohol licensing costs, (4) Food Act, (5) Annual Biodiversity report, (6) environment and planning services activity report, and (7) the chairs report. There were no public forum presentations. Much of the meeting was deciding to receive reports and approve public notification of them. I intend to highlight the main topics of interest.

A confidential (in committee) session was also held in relation to: (1) proposed rural land use subdivision plan change, and (2) building claim settlement. Workshops followed.

National policy statement freshwater management

The Freshwater Management national policy statement (NPS) was first introduced in 2011 and amended in 2014. The Freshwater Management NPS is being progressively implemented with full implementation by 2030. The work programme includes: completion of water allocation and flow management for the Waimea Plains water management zones, establishing community based advisory groups (FLAG groups) to develop water quality and quantity management provisions for Takaka and the Waimea Plains, scoping a land disturbance review )sediment and erosion control guidelines), and mapping of all wetlands.

Concerns were raised about the cost (and progress) of the FLAG groups. Some wondered if it was more cost effective (and timely) to just drive the process through public consultation, rather than engage stakeholders through the FLAG groups. While there was some merit in upfront timeliness, there was always the risk of downstream costs arising through appeal processes.

From my own experience, it is much more efficient to engage (and address issues) before going over the cliff edge, than addressing them on beach (under pressure). It also provides greater community engagement and transparency, as its all on the web to read (see http://www.tasman.govt.nz/environment/water/water-resource-management/water-catchment-management/water-management-partnerships-flags/). That said, it is incumbent on staff to ensure delivery expectations are met and any slippage (or scope creep) is avoided. Which is always hard when dealing with unpaid stakeholders.

Wainui Bay mussel spat catching

Wainui Bay mussel spat catching farms are considered nationally and regionally significant for quality and quantity of mussel spat. The private proposal seeks to extend the current resource consent in Wainui Bay beyond 2024, in order to provide commercial certainty. Council resolved to notify the public of the proposed plan change. The proposal is located on the councils webpage at www.tasman.govt.nz/council/council-meetings/standing-committees-meetings/environment-and-planning-committee-meetings/?path=/EDMS/Public/Meetings/EnvironmentPlanningCommittee/2015/2015-11-19/PrivatePlanChangeRequestWainuiBaySpatCatching.

Alcohol licensing costs

Council is required by law to publicly report the costs of providing alcohol licensing (see Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012). Alcohol charges are set by statute (and regulation). Council is authorised to make bylaws for fee setting (see Sale and Supply of Alcohol (Fee-setting Bylaws) Order 2013), but has chosen to adopt by default the national regulation (see Sale and Supply of Alcohol (Fees) Regulations 2013). This is because it is considered that establishing a bylaw would be a “significant cost” and council is better to just adopt the fees in the regulations.

In my opinion, the fee setting in the regulations could do with some serious fine tuning. Clubs and community events are given higher risk ratings than perhaps seems justifiable and this results in higher fees for these activities. If there is a trade off in the risk rating process, it needs to be for activities that have resulted in public nuisances or offences. This would incentivise greater compliance, or risk ratings and higher fees. Another anomaly is the treatment of online sales. This is something that the government needs to urgently review. Online sales need to be given a separate classification and risk rating in the regulations.

Period: 1 July 2014 to 30 June 2015

Total fees received: $197,946.00
Portion of fees passed to central government agency (ARLA) $13,970.00
Fees retained by council $183,976.00
Cost of administration $101,232.27
Cost of inspections $236,070.58
Cost of enforcement $5,5179.66
Total cost to council $342,482.51

Subsidisation by council is: 54% user pays and 46% rates funded. Staff aim to reduce the subsidation ratio to 60:40 through streamlining processes.

Interestingly, Ministry of Justice civil and constitutional unit general manager David King is reported as saying that the reforms aimed to improve New Zealand’s drinking culture and reduce the harm caused by excessive drinking. Mr King stated that:

The new system fairly reflects the cost of alcohol licensing . . . [it] aims to ensure licensing costs are met by the alcohol industry rather than ratepayers, who currently subsidise about 50 per cent, $5.4 million a year, of the system.

Empirical evidence (from Tasman) would suggest that the regulations still result in cross subsidisation of 50% or more. Perhaps its time for the Ministry of Justice to review if the regulations are working?

Food Act 2014 – new regulatory process

The new Food Act 2014 is soon to come into force. The Act provides for the council to provide registration and verification functions (from 1 March 2016). Similar to the Supply of Alcohol Regulations, the Food Act places food businesses into different risk categories which are then to operate under different regulatory controls.

The new feature of the Act is the separation of the registration function from the verification (audit and inspection) function. Only the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) and territorial authorities (like TDC) will be able to register food businesses. No change here.

However, verification is being opened to the private sector. This means verification functions can be provided by TDC, or an approved provider (like AsureQuality). Food businesses will either develop their own food control plans or be part of a registered national programme. Most small food businesses will fall under a registered national programme. At this time, there have been no draft templates or examples of national programmes. However, there is nothing stopping a business developing and submitting their own food control plans.

All private providers will have to apply for verification status. TDC is deemed to hold verification status for verifying “food control plans”. However, council will not have deemed verification status for verifying “national programmes”. Instead, TDC will have to apply (like private providers) to MPI for approval and show it has met all regulatory requirements (like a documented quality management system).

The total cost of acquiring approver status has not been determined by MPI yet. Estimated costs are $193.75 plus $155 per hour to process the application. The amount of time to process an application has yet to be disclosed. Staff anticipate that developing a documented quality management system will involve substantial staff time (and cost).

Council resolved not to provide a verification function given the uncertainties and potential cost. In my opinion, it seems strange to deem verification status for councils in relation to food control plans, but not national programmes (where there is likely to be cookie cutter approach).

I would have thought if councils are deemed to be able to verify high risk activities they should also be deemed to verify lower risk activities? The distinction makes no sense, other than it requires councils to incur additional costs. Surely if the council is good enough to verify a high risk activity, it is more than capable of verifying a lower risk activity? Basically, council should be deemed to provide verification services for both food control plans and national programmes. If councils do not offer verification services for small business, the private sector will (in the short term) take advantage and charge higher prices for verification services – hardly business friendly.

Interestingly, MPI’s response to the distinction (from my own enquiries) is that:

Businesses that will be required to operate under a national programme include a large variety of manufacturers that a number of TAs [territorial authorities] have not been working with so it not appropriate to provide automatic recognition to TAs to verify these businesses.”

Adding that:

MPI is considering further the recognition process for TAs that may wish to verify retailers that operate under national programmes and will provide more information to TAs in the near future.

It also concerns me that a new Act is about to come into force and a lot of administrative issues are still being resolved by MPI. This is most unsatisfactory. Especially for councils, who are very conscious of additional financial burdens being placed on them by central government. How can councils be expected to plan for the future if relevant financial information (like fees and costs) have not be resolved by MPI. Again, this is a serious issue that government need to review.

Interestingly, MPI’s response (to my enquiries) is that:

MPI is currently working on the assessment process for councils and other agencies to become recognised to verify businesses under the Act. At this stage we are unable to say how long will take, and therefore what the final cost will be. … we hope to send this information to councils before the end of the year. One of the reasons for this is that we are currently looking into ways that the recognition process could be simplified for councils wishing to verify national programme businesses that they currently inspect under the Food Hygiene Regulations (as mentioned). Councils are automatically recognised to verify template food control plans, so will only need to apply for recognition to verify national programme businesses or custom food control plans.

I will be watching with interest to see how this plays out.

Check out the MPI overview of the new Food Act and compliance tool at www.mpi.govt.nz/food-safety/food-act-2014/overview/.

Annual Biodiviersity report

This was an information only report. Generally, council’s biodiversity programme is focused generating reports on lowland ecosystems, mostly located on private land. And involves a district wide survey of natural areas outside of the conservation estate to assess the ecological significance of these areas. The reports are provided to landowners to assist in management of the identified sites. As at 30 September 2015, 469 sites had been inspected with 309 reports generated. Many reports have been used as reference documents when considering planning applications, and policy reviews. Landowners (farming or forestry) have also used them for funding applications for pest control and restoration planting.

Council obtained central government funding ($26,000 per year) through to June 2017, but will be fully funding this work from July 2017 (due to an absence of any external funding). Current costs are $62,000 per year and are planned to reduce to $56,500 from July 2017. It is expected that the remaining ten ecological districts will be completed within the next 10-12 years.

Environment services activity report

Highlights from the managers report include:

  • Shop trading hours. Local authorities will have the ability to put in place a bylaw allowing trading on Easter Sunday. Essentially, the political issue (and cost of consultation) has been shifted to local government. While this delegates the decision making to the regions, it comes at a cost. Ideally, government would have also provided the financial support to implement this shift in decision making.
  • Hearing delegation. Council resolved to appoint a commissioner to hear the proposed Waimea water management plan change and make recommendations to council. This allows council to rehear the matter if it disagrees with all or any part of the recommendations. The council could appoint the commissioner to hear and “decide” the matter. If it did this it could not revisit the decision. From my experience, there appears very little practical difference. Most councilors are reluctant to revisit recommendations due to the cost of a rehearing. Nor are they keen to engage with the affected parties to mediate any compromise over issues that council might disagree with.
  • Building consent fees. The consents team incurred a deficit of $41,661 due to additional costs in meeting statutory timeframes from resource shortages. The increase should address this shortfall. Comparatively, TDC fees will still be lower than Nelson or Marlborough councils. For example, a single story dwelling will now cost $3,394 in Tasman, $3,900 in nelson, and $4,070 in Marlborough. For work below a value of $50,000, fees are now similar.
  • Richmond CBD. The Richmond town centre project was separated into (1) the stormwater upgrade and reinstatement project, and (2) urban density and design (and parking standards review) project. Richmond councillors were delegated with reviewing associated documentation in relation to urban density project. Unfortunately, staff and I were not in full agreement (at our subsequent meeting) on what needed to go into the consultation documents. I had hoped for a map, to show the areas of possible effect (perhaps showing different walking distances). Something that would grab the attention of the public when they were skimming the document. In my opinion, a map would easily let ratepayers know what areas might be affected – and if they might be affected. Instead staff wanted to use text (eg “within 10 minutes walk of the CBD”). Staff reasoned (based on some external advice) that a map indicating walking distances might generate a negative reaction. After some discussion, a compromise was reached to display a map at public presentations (ie at the Mall and Library), rather than on the consultation documents. In my opinion, staff need to be more courageous and transparent – and less scared of receiving negative reactions from the public. The public are pretty smart, and if it’s a good story, will be supportive. It’s about having an honest and upfront culture.
  • Financials. Generally, expenses are operating within budget and income is ahead. In response to my query about the extra wage related and overhead costs, staff advised that it was due to staff working longer hours (and charging extra fees).
  • Rainfall. Total accumulated rainfall appears to be lagging the average. Either, there’s a big rainfall coming, or its getting dryer.

20151119EP-Rainfall-p78

Chairs reports

Cr Bryant advised that a second steering group meeting on a shared “Land Development Manual” was held on 21 October 2015. In his opinion, there are ongoing challenges (and some unresolved matters) to align the engineering standards for Tasman and Nelson. However, he was optimistic of a positive outcome for both councils.

In my opinion, the winners of this process will be both developers and ratepayers – by making it easier and more cost effective for everyone to comply with one set of common standards – certainty should increase and costs decline. This is also another example of a commitment towards a “shared” approach to local government issues.

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/2015/2015-11-19.

Media

Nelson Mail (15 December 2015) www.stuff.co.nz/nelson-mail/news/75082540/Tasman-District-Council-to-increase-building-consent-fees

Nelson Mail (25 November 2015) www.stuff.co.nz/business/farming/aquaculture/74386525/Wainui-Bay-spat-catching-farms-seek-certainty-with-private-plan-change-request

Nelson Mail (29 October 2015) www.stuff.co.nz/nelson-mail/news/73338768/Community-input-into-Queen-St-design

Nelson Mail (20 January 2016) www.stuff.co.nz/nelson-mail/news/76363857/richmonds-queen-st-carriageway-in-for-a-full-remake-tdc-says

Nelson Live! (19 February 2016) www.nelsonlive.co.nz/news/2016/02/interest-in-queen-st-makeover/

Dominion Post (1 March 2015) www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/news/9777663/Small-clubs-say-new-laws-on-liquor-hitting-hard

 

 

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/.

 

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.