RMA ‘broken’, not fit for purpose for local government

Dave Cull, president of Local Government New Zealand and mayor of Dunedin, says that the Resource Management Act is broken, and is effectively saying that the  is not fit for purpose, or at least not fit for local governments who want to progress housing developments.

Stuff: Don’t leave smaller councils with the claw hammer

On one hand we have the Urban Development Authority (UDA), the agency that will be responsible for delivering on the Government’s ambitious KiwiBuild programme.

To build at scale, the Government is looking to give the UDA the power of compulsory acquisition to assemble large parcels of land and the ability to shortcut the onerous public consultation processes required under the Resource Management Act (RMA).

On the other hand we have non-UDA projects, which still have to go through the RMA process.

This will give Government favoured projects a major time and cost advantage.

Make no mistake, the UDA is a good thing. The answer to the housing crisis is to remove the hurdles that have prevented us from building homes.  Local Government NZ has worked closely with Government on the UDA policy to ensure it works with local government structures as seamlessly as possible.

But there is a risk that, if we stop reforms with the UDA, we could be entrenching the housing problem, not fixing it.

Here’s why: by seeking a series of RMA carve-outs for the UDA, the Government is effectively admitting that our planning system is broken, particularly when it comes to urban development.

It is an acknowledgment that the RMA is too consultative and encourages a tragedy of the anti-commons. This is where everyone gets a say in a development, not just affected parties, and as a result many worthwhile projects never get off the ground.

The RMA’s consultation requirements also vastly complicate the already fiendishly difficult matter of assembling land for urban development.

Ironically Cull’s Dunedin City Council has just notified decisions on it’s Second Generation Plan (2GP) for Dunedin, and appeals have been lodged against some decisions.

One highlights the power of everyone being able to have a say. This appeal – ENV-2018-CHC-285 – The Preservation Coalition Trust  – wants Rural Residential rezoning deleted from the 2GP if ‘any portion visible’ from most prominent roads on the Peninisula, West Harbour, North East Valley and north to Waitati. That effectively means just about all land north and east of Dunedin.

Unfortunately, early signs suggest the zeal for building reform seems to be limited to the UDA, which will focus on a handful of really big projects, the kind that only the likes of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Hamilton or Tauranga could reasonably take on.

The rest of New Zealand will have to struggle on with the RMA – a claw hammer with a cracked handle and wobbly head.

Including Cull’s Dunedin City.

If we want to tackle housing affordability across the whole country, and not just in our big cities, we need to reform our national planning legislation to enable more residential building to take place, whether it be in Gisborne or Gore.

In short, we want to see everyone equipped with gas framing nailers.  That’s the kind of exciting contest that we want  – an even playing field that results in more houses, where we all end up winning.

He could start by addressing this in his home town, but it’s probably far too late with the advanced 2GP process.

Does he want to put that aside and start again? Or is he only advocating for elsewhere?

 

 

City Council surge of secret meetings

The Dunedin City Council is having a lot of ‘workshops’, or meetings with the public not only excluded but also not advised about. They avoid public notification saying no decisions are made at the ‘workshops’ so they are not classified as meetings, but decisions councillors make must be informed by these secret meetings.

And this move towards secrecy is a common council problem around the country.

ODT:  What goes on behind closed doors? More DCC ‘workshops’

Dunedin’s elected officials are increasingly discussing major issues behind closed doors.

Since October 2016 the Dunedin City Council has held 48 workshops, none of which have been publicly advertised.

Figures released under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act show they are also being held more often.

In the year to July 31 this year the council held 31 more workshops  than in the previous two years combined.

Subjects covered included the council’s $860 million 10-year plan, the $15.8 million Mosgiel pool project, the central city plan and freedom camping.

Under the Local Government Act, councils need to publicise all official meetings and make agendas publicly available.

But as no decisions are made during the informal workshops, they are not classified as meetings.

Other local councils publicise  workshops and some  open them to the public, but many do  not.

Mayor Dave Cull has campaigned on transparency and public engagement, but seems to be doing the opposite. This looks like deliberate avoidance of open democracy.

Cull is also president of Local Government New Zealand.

A leading local government academic says the informal meetings, also known as workshops, exacerbate the disconnect between councils and the public.

Massey University senior lecturer Dr Andy Asquith said secrecy was bad for local democracy and when someone stood for public office they should expect to be scrutinised.

When the public and media were excluded, people had no way of knowing what their council was doing, he said.

“The fundamental problem with local government is people don’t know what councils do, or what councillors do or who they are and they turn off,” Dr Asquith  said.

The use of workshops was widespread across councils and there would only be a change if the Government decided to make  changes to the Local Government Act, something it had been hesitant to do, he said.

So this isn’t just a Dunedin problem.

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull said councillors were presented with such a large amount of complex information, it would be impractical to try to absorb all of it during one council meeting.

There was no risk public debate would be stifled because of the increasing use of workshops, he said.

That’s a remarkable claim.

If the public doesn’t know what councillors are discussing and being told then public debate must be at risk – the public can’t debate what has been kept secret from them.

Cr Lee Vandervis said while some workshops were valuable, others were a “muzzling exercise” and he had stopped attending many.

“Some of them are good but many are being used to stifle debate and a lot of decisions are precariously close to being made or certainly coming to consensus, as Mayor Cull likes to say.”

He has often clashed with Cull, being a rare Dunedin councillor prepared to publicly challenge the mayor and council.

Media commentator and University of Auckland academic Gavin Ellis said the effect of workshops was to reduce the level of public debate of issues which were of public interest, whether it was intended or not.

There were already sufficient provisions in the Local Government Act safeguards which protected sensitive information discussed by councillors, so there was no need for the increasing use of the meetings.

Mr Ellis said the Dunedin City Council was not the worst offender, but the increase should worry anybody who cared about accountability and open government.

Unfortunately it isn’t unusual for politicians to do the opposite of what they say they will do on transparency, but that doesn’t excuse a surge in secrecy.

The default position should be that meetings or workshops be notified and to held in public.

This surge in secrecy sucks.

How will local body taxes solve council spending escalation?

Local body rates have already been climbing well ahead of inflation. They are predicted to rise another 50% over the next ten years in the major cities.

So local bodies are looking at other ways of getting revenue. That doesn’t solve the escalation in spending, but I guess it makes it easier for mayors and councillors to divert from broken rates rise promises.

In the weekend Local Government New Zealand

Substantial review of local government funding welcome and needed

Local Government New Zealand is pleased with the terms of reference for the Productivity Commissions’ forthcoming inquiry into local government funding and finance which were launched by Minister of Finance Hon Grant Robertson at its annual conference in Christchurch this afternoon.

LGNZ President Dave Cull says that the current way of funding local government doesn’t provide the means to invest for growth and development, particularly given the diverse challenges facing communities.

“Our regions, cities and districts shouldn’t be entirely dependent on central government to resolve the complex issues that we are now facing – it is essential that we empower local authorities with access to funding and financing tools to make a difference,“ says Mr Cull.

Local government has been calling for a significant review of local government funding since 2015 when LGNZ first released its Local Government Funding Review and 10-Point plan: Incentivising economic growth and strong local communities.  The review found that the heavy reliance on property rates to fund local services and infrastructure failed to incentivise councils to invest for growth, which is necessary to provide the additional income to deal with issues such as infrastructure improvements and the pressures from climate change, extreme weather events and the impact of tourists on infrastructure.

“Local government is critical to the overall wellbeing of New Zealand’s communities and the way in which councils are funded influences their approach to new investment.  If the only funding sources are property based taxes then the ability and incentive to fund long term growth investment is limited.”

So local bodies want more alternatives to property based rates. Auckland City Council has already got approval for a fuel surtax, and other local bodies are considering having one too. How long will it be before just about everyone pays a local body fuel tax?

Mayors and councils are struggling to keep rates rises below eye watering levels.

LGNZ President Dave Cull’s own Dunedin council has big plans – rates wise. See 7.84% rates rise “a normal part of the cycle and 60% rates rise proposed.

And this is level of planned rates rise is common.

Stuff – Rate rises continually outstrip incomes and inflation – do they need an overhaul?

Analysis by Stuff found that over the coming decade ratepayer bills in five main cities will, on average, increase by 50 per cent.

As well as everyday council expenses, these increases will contribute to major projects – for example, $253 million for a new stadium in Christchurch and $311m for pest and disease control in Auckland.

Exact comparisons are difficult because of variations in the way rates are calculated, what they include and when rating valuations of properties are carried out. But indicative figures provided by the councils for average house prices suggest Hamilton and Christchurch ratepayers will see bills surge by around 53 per cent by 2028, and those in Wellington by 48 per cent.

Auckland rates will rise 38 per cent, and Dunedin by 59 per cent.

Rates for 2018/19 rose across the board on July 1, from 2.5 per cent in Auckland to 5.5 per cent in Christchurch and 9.7 per cent in Hamilton, against a backdrop of 1.1 per cent inflation.

But it is likely to be worse.

TEN-YEAR RATING FORECASTS ARE ‘BEST CASE SCENARIO’

Gough has an ominous warning, at least for Christchurch – that the annual increases outlined in the long-term plans are far from fixed in stone.

“Every year we do an annual plan, and I have never seen one where the rating increase is less than what’s projected.

What seems to happen is councils warning of a large rates rise, finalising a slightly less large rise and claiming that is a reduction.

Cull believes there is an over-reliance on property rates to fill the coffers, the 60 per cent of council income they provide far exceeding that of other developed countries, and that putting them up year after year in the face of sluggish wage rises is not sustainable.

He is a proponent of local taxes as an alternative funding tool – sales taxes, GST, a local income tax or the like.

That makes taxes even more complicated, and will presumably end up with variations between different councils and regions.

But all this focus on alternatives for raising local body revenue misses a fairly large point – why is expenditure going up so much?

It sounds like 50% rates increases are inevitable and mayors just want to disguise where their revenue comes from.

Broken rates rises promises make for embarrassing election campaign fodder.

Alternatives to rates should certainly be considered, but I wish as much effort was put into containing expenditure.

A plethora of regional taxes may help mayors and councillors, but it will still cost us all one way or another – probably more given the costs of administering a complexity of taxes.

Back to the Stuff headline: Rate rises continually outstrip incomes and inflation – do they need an overhaul?

What about ‘Spending rises continually outstrip incomes and inflation’?

7.84% rates rise “a normal part of the cycle”

Saying that a 7.84% rates rise will be “in the lower quartile” won’t mean anything to ratepayers who face increases of $200-400. I am horrified by this level of increase – and it sounds like it is what much of the country should be expecting.

ODT: DCC approves second highest rates increase since 1989

The Dunedin City Council has backed a higher-than-expected rates rise of 7.84%, after agreeing to a series of last-minute funding boosts yesterday.

Plus:

The council has also signed off on a 4% increase in most fees and charges.

The waffle:

But Mayor Dave Cull insists the rates hike, like the fees and charges, are just a normal part of the cycle as cities invest in their futures.

That was within the council’s new self-imposed rates limit of 8% for the first year.

That’s about four times the rate of inflation.

Council chief executive Sue Bidrose said the city’s rates would remain in the lower quartile, while other centres across the country eyed increases of between 3% and 15%.

Lower quartile, about average, that’s tosh when trying to make excuses for an increase of about 8%.

It’s not as bad as 15%, but that’s like saying it’s not as bad getting two teeth pulled by the dentist as getting four teeth pulled.

Mr Cull said cities went through cycles of investment, leading to periods of higher rates increases, but the alternative would be worse.

Those cities that kept rates artificially low by not spending in the short term were eventually forced to catch up, leading to ”massive rates increases” later, he said.

”They pay the price in the end. The idea is to try to keep it smooth, but every now and then you have got to invest,” he said.

More nonsense. I think that rates have been rising ahead of inflation for yonks.

This is budget day news. I don’t expect to get any joy from the Government today either, but the budget shouldn’t be this bad.

Further boom in tourism forecast, infrastructure warning

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has forecast up to a 40% increase in tourist numbers by 2024 (that’s just 6 years away). The opportunities have been welcomed by Local Government New Zealand, but they have warned that already stretched infrastructure will be put under more pressure.

Tourism Minister Kelvn Davis: Tourism growth forecast to continue

Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis has welcomed new forecasts showing international visitor spending is expected to grow 40 per cent to $14.8 billion a year by 2024.

The New Zealand Tourism Forecasts 2018-2024 were released today by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

“New Zealand’s tourism sector is forecast to grow steadily over the next seven years, reaching 5.1 million visitors annually by 2024, up 37 per cent from 2017,” Mr Davis says.

“We expect to see numbers climb fairly rapidly over the next two years, due to favourable economic conditions and better air connectivity, but over the longer term growth will be more moderate.

Mr Davis says a healthy tourism industry is great for New Zealand, though there is work to do to ensure the sustainability of the sector.

“It is important that the Government, councils and industry work together to meet the challenges that accompany the forecast growth.”

It’s worth remembering that John Key was Minister of Tourism for much of the last decade.

Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ): Predicted tourism boom could push infrastructure to breaking point

LGNZ President Dave Cull says that a new forecast predicting an international visitor increase of 37% to 5.1 million annually by 2024 will be a great boost to regional economies across New Zealand, however infrastructure is already under pressure and much more is needed to ensure a fair funding division is achieved between tourists and local ratepayers.

“The tourism sector is predicted to grow rapidly over the next two years, but as evidenced last summer infrastructure it is extremely stretched in many regions, with provision of public toilets, car parks and basic potable and waste water infrastructure coming at a substantial cost to communities,” says Mr Cull.

“Those communities with scale can share the burden across many rate payers, but smaller ratepaying bases are picking up big bills to accommodate visitor demand and the lack of infrastructure is resulting in tension among communities.”

Mr Cull contends that the increase in international visitor spend should be harnessed to provide tourism infrastructure.

“This is about fairness. It’s not right to burden ratepayers with subsiding the entire cost of infrastructure which is used by tourists, and there needs to be a new mechanism for tourism to support itself.”

LGNZ is advocating strongly to Government on councils’ behalf that the Government introduce a Local Tourist Tax to raise the necessary funding to meet the capital and operating costs associated with tourism mix-used infrastructure future demand, thus alleviating the financial burden on local ratepayers.

Without the necessary funding tools to ensure the needs of both locals and tourists are met, New Zealand faces the prospect of over promising and under delivering in a sector that is so critical to our economic future.

“New Zealand should be known as a high-quality tourist destination with fit-for-purpose facilities to handle the expected increase in numbers and a country that welcomes and embraces their visit.”

The forecast is both promising and challenging.

60% rates rise proposed

It’s not uncommon for mayors and councils to play down rates rises. Like this:

Wellington Rates Snippet.png

Gwynn Compton:  Spin cycle shrinks rates as well as clothes

But for Wellington City Council, an attempt to spin the merits of reducing a potential 7.1% rates rise down to 3.9% has ended up with an announcement that they’re reducing rates down to 3.9%, which would be a 96.1% cut!

In this case, the words “rise” or “increase” appear to have been omitted from the article.

In contrast, in the ODT today:  Rates must rise to maintain momentum, mayor says

Dunedin faces a 7.3% rates rise as the Dunedin City Council eyes a decade of increased investment, but Mayor Dave Cull says it is essential for the city to keep riding a wave of activity.

Mr Cull was commenting before today’s start of public consultation on the council’s latest 10-year plan, which outlined proposed spending for the decade to 2028.

However that is a bit misleading too – the 7.3% rise is proposed for the first of ten years. More detail:

Rates would rise by 7.3% in the 2018-19 year,
by 5% the following year,
and by 4.5% each year
until 2027 when the increases would drop to 4%.

That amounts to about 60% over ten years.

Modest rates of $2000 would rise to $3190 after ten years.

2018   2,000.00
2019 7.3%   2,146.00
2020 5.0%   2,253.30
2021 4.5%   2,354.70
2022 4.5%   2,460.66
2023 4.5%   2,571.39
2024 4.5%   2,687.10
2025 4.5%   2,808.02
2026 4.5%   2,934.38
2027 4.5%   3,066.43
2028 4.0%   3,189.09

And that is without any knowledge of future inflation, which would presumably add to the increases.

The council had come out of a period of austerity, during which rates increases were limited to 3% and spending was cut, as the focus shifted to driving core council debt down below $230 million.

Rates had still risen faster than inflation over the last ten years.

At the same time, core council debt – excluding companies – was forecast to climb from just over $200 million now to $285 million by 2028.

So debt is forecast to rise despite the large rates rises.

Not helping, from ODT at the same time: Tender troubles mean more delays for cycleway

Dunedin City Council staff have voiced frustration after a call for tenders to complete an Otago Peninsula safety improvement and shared pathway project came in $20 million over an already-inflated budget.

The council last year announced a revised budget to complete the project alongside Portobello Rd and Harington Point Rd, which rose from an estimated $20 million to $49 million.

This is not the first ‘shared pathway project’ (cycleway) where the costs have blown out.

So even with large rates rises there must be little confidence that the ‘increased investment’ wouldn’t increase substantially more.

This was Mayor Cull’s pledge last election:

In the six years I have led our Dunedin City Council we have reduced rate increases.

That’s much like the Wellington example above – rates increases were ‘reduced’ to above inflation.

I wonder how what he will pledge if he stands again in next year’s local body election.

Mayors divided on regional fuel tax

Dave Cull, Dunedin mayor and also president of Local Government New Zealand, has suggested that a regional fuel tax ”might” be something that could be used outside Auckland, both other Otago mayors have different ideas on raising more money.

ODT: Regional fuel tax might work: Cull

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull says a fuel tax such as that proposed for Auckland may be something that could raise money for infrastructure in Dunedin, but mayors in the rest of the region have not supported the idea.

Mr Cull pointed to the Port Chalmers cycle/walkway as one project a regional fuel tax could help pay for.

He said such a tax was appropriate for funding transportation infrastructure, but other mechanisms would be more appropriate for other needs.

”Across the country there are instances where there are transportation infrastructure needs, and there’s even money within the NZ Transport Agency available, but there’s not sufficient resource in the local body to match the funding, so nothing happens.”

The cycle/walkway to Port Chalmers was an example where a lack of resources was the problem.

”That would be a candidate for that sort of funding.”

”It’s about all road users contributing to make the whole system safer and more efficient.”

It seems to be more about trying to find ways of funding projects without having to keep raising rates so much.

The amount of money spent on cycleways and the disruption to traffic is already a contentious issue in Dunedin. Hundreds of car parks in or near the CBD have been removed or are planned to be removed to make way for cycle lanes on streets, including on both main streets running right through the city.

There is low usage of the cycle lanes. I was talking to someone yesterday who was parked for half an hour on state highway one during the busiest traffic time of day, and they saw three cyclists. I daily drive on streets where all car parks have been converted to cycle lanes that are only occasionally used by cyclists, most days I see none.

I think that fuel is already quite a bit more expensive down here. Slapping a tax on it to fund pet council projects would likely be very unpopular.

Other mayors in the area want more money other than from rate hikes but not from a fuel tax.

Queenstown Lakes Mayor Jim Boult…

…said the fuel tax might work for Auckland but not for Queenstown, which had 5million visitor nights and just 16,000 ratepayers.

”Large numbers of people fly in here on aeroplanes, arriving on tour coaches, so their ability to contribute to our economy is limited through a petrol tax.”

Instead, he wanted a visitor levy, something he had said before ”constantly”.

Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan…

…said the area’s fuel was already more expensive than Auckland’s, so he did not support a fuel tax.

Paying for expensive infrastructure was a problem.

The planned Cromwell wastewater treatment plant had a budget of $10 million and the Lake Dunstan water supply project would cost up to $17 million.

”We’ve got 20,000 people living here; that’s pretty tough.”

Using a fuel tax to pay fore waste water treatment and water supply would be ridiculous. Cromwell is increasingly popular for tourists, and also operates as a satellite town for Queenstown and Wanaka. It is also the centre of a thriving wine region.

Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan…

…said local government ”needs something”, but he did not support a fuel tax.

The issue Clutha had was paying for infrastructure related to its tourism industry, which was ”not as advanced as most”.

The area had a declining and ageing population and the council could not keep going back to them for more money.

”It just seems so simple to put a tax on for tourists when they come in. We need it, and we need it now.”

Clutha District includes the Catlins area that is increasingly popular for tourists (for good reason, it’s a great area to visit).

However all these areas have different situations and needs.

Fuel is already taxed heavily in New Zealand:

  • 59.524 cents – National Land Transport Fund
  • 6 cents – ACC Motor Vehicle Account
  • 0.66 cents – Local Authorities Fuel Tax
  • 0.3 cents – Petroleum or Engine Fuels Monitoring Levy
  • 9.9726 cents GST on the above taxes

We pay a total of 26 cents GST on $2 of petrol (diesel is taxed differently).

Just under a half of the cost of fuel is tax already.

From the AA:

It is now government policy for all of the petrol excise tax motorists pay to be directed to the National Land Transport Fund for investment back into New Zealand’s road and transport system. The AA lobbied hard on behalf of motorists for many years to have all the taxes devoted to road building and maintenance, road safety education and enforcement, and subsidies for public transport.

Previously, about 19 cents per litre of the tax motorists paid on petrol was diverted by the government to non-road and transport related projects.

For far too long there has been significant under-investment in the nation’s road and transport network, and tax diversion has been unfair and at the expense of motorists.

Motorists must not be selectively taxed or treated as an easy source of tax revenue to pay for projects that would be more fairly funded by other sources such as rates or general taxation.

We don’t support regional petrol levies that unfairly target motorists to subsidise the transport decisions of others. The future funding of public transport must not be another tax on motorists added to current taxes and charges, but has to be independently justified in terms of defined benefits to motorists.

Back to Cull:

On the Government’s commitment to reviewing local government costs and revenue, Mr Cull said LGNZ had been saying the revenue stream from rating property was not sustainable.

Perhaps it is extravagant spending wishes of councils that is unsustainable.

One could cynically suggest that mayors and councillors want to divert attention from them raising rates far more than inflation.

Our fuel is already taxed heavily. Perhaps mayors need to look more at user pays – but that’s never likely to happen for cyclists.

There’s a good case for some cycleways. A recently partly built harbour side cycleway here in Dunedin is popular and well used – mostly recreationally. One problem is the escalating cost of extending this all the way to Port Chalmers – estimates have over doubled.

Were initial estimates hopeless, or do rules and regulations and ideal requirements blow out the costs? There are suggestions that cycleway construction is lucrative because councils pay whatever it takes. The Dunedin Council wasted half a million dollars on a poorly designed cycleway that had to be redesigned and is still hardly used.

Getting sensible mayors, councillors and planners may be more important than finding ways to hide how much we are increasingly taxed and rated.

Talking of rates – they are about $2000 a year for an average house in Dunedin – how does that compare to elsewhere?

Local bodies vote to herd cats

A double dose from Dunedin at the Local Government New Zealand conference – Dunedin mayor Dave Cull has been elected as the new LGNZ president (a pity it’s not a full time position), and a Dunedin remit was voted for by a bare 51% to bring in cat controls.

National legislation to manage cats

The third remit was proposed by Dunedin City Council and asks that LGNZ lobby the Government on the importance of implementing the final version of the National Cat Management strategy which recognises both the importance of companion cats and indigenous wildlife to many New Zealanders.

Throughout New Zealand councils are tasked with trying to promote responsible cat ownership and reduce their environmental impact on wildlife, including native birds and geckos.  Yet, territorial authority’s powers for cats are for minimising the impact on people’s health and wellbeing, and regional councils’ powers are restricted to destruction of feral cats as pests.  The remit seeks the protection of our wildlife and native species by seeking regulatory powers for cat control, including cat identification, cat de-sexing and responsible cat ownership.

The remit was passed with 51 per cent voting in favour. 

This won’t be popular with cats nor with many cat owners, who may be required to get their moggies to abide by a curfew, not being out at night.

Newly minted president of LGNZ Dunedin Mayor David Cull said it’s about allowing councils to start a conversation about controlling cats if they are affecting wildlife.

“The situation at the moment is while councils have the power to control dogs they have absolutely no way to control cats unless they affect human health,” he told The AM Show.

The remit “specifically acknowledged the value of companion cats to people, so it’s not about trying to stop people owning cats in particular areas,” he said.

“But we do need some controls, because feral cats and in some cases domesticated cats are a major threat to native wildlife.”

“We need some tools, and that’s what we’re asking for,” he said.

There may be issues with cats but they also serve a useful purpose in controlling pests.

The cat population doubled to two at my place last year, and we have more tui and bellbirds around than ever, as well as visits by kereru and eastern rosellas and fantails and waxeyes.

The cats occasionally catch a bird but most often it is a sparrow or a thrush.

But it looks like the Dunedin council and some others are keen on requiring the herding of cats.

They kept as quiet as they could on cats during the local body elections, and now mid term they try to foist it on the public. Devious.

Dunedin decline

Dunedin has been in decline relative to cities up north for a long time. The 1980s and 1990s gutted the public service out of the city and it has struggled since.

Most major industry has gone. Freezing works are no more, Fisher & Paykel, which took over Shacklocks in the 1950s, shut their factory in 2008. Several years ago Hillside Workshops were shut down, and the Cadbury chocolate factory is set to close next year.

There are two things keeping the city from major decline – tertiary education, chiefly University of Otago (the oldest university in New Zealand, established in 1871),  and tourism, largely due to the growth in cruise ship visits.

The current city council, led by mayor Dave Cull, seems more intent on creating a green cycling city than on economic development. Whole blocks of car parks are being removed and replaced with barely used cycle lanes, with many more proposed.

The city has a reputation for being unfriendly to development. I have heard that developers don’t even try to set up in the city.

Several years ago a major waterfront hotel was proposed. It was slapped down by public opposition and regressive city planning practices because it was deemed to be too big,

Another major hotel development was proposed last year and has applied for consent, but it looks like that will also be slapped down.

ODT: Decline hotel consent: report

A planning report is recommending consent for Dunedin’s latest five-star hotel be declined.

The report, made public late this afternoon, has cited the hotel’s height, visual dominance of surrounding heritage buildings and shading impact as key reasons to decline consent.

A planning report is recommending consent for Dunedin’s latest five-star hotel be declined. The report, made public late this afternoon, has cited the hotel’s height, visual dominance of surrounding heritage buildings and shading impact as key reasons to decline consent.

Too big too. Probably not enough cycle parks.

The recommendation to the panel of independent commissioners came in a report by independent consultant Nigel Bryce, ahead of the public hearing beginning on July 31.

I expect there will be a lot of submissions in opposition, this will be cited as majority public opposition, and the project will be dumped.

There  has been a practice in Dunedin of small lobby groups stacking submission processes and claiming majority support for their opposition to development. They can do this as part of the democratic process, but it is not a democratic measure as they claim.

Recently:

Despite an extra $100,000 of spending approved this week, the Dunedin City Council scraped in under its self-imposed 3% target for rates rises for the next financial year.

The council approved a budget that will see ratepayers asked for an extra 2.99% for 2017-18.

That’s again higher than inflation.

Mr Cull said some people had reservations about the annual plan process, which featured feedback meetings rather than formal submissions this year, before full submissions are brought back for the long-term plan next year.

But he said the council had engaged with the public well, and arrived at a figure under the 3% limit.

It was pleasing to keep faith with the community, and keep that promise, he said.

So they set an above inflation target and applaud themselves when they achieve it.

And the mayor has said that they could rise more next year.

ODT: Rates rise on the table: Cull

Rates rises are always on the table, it’s a matter of how big a rise. And they could get bigger.

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull says he would consider a rates rise of more than 3% next year, if the community signals it supports more spending.

Mr Cull said in The Interview the city did need to keep rates affordable.

The council has had a self-imposed 3% maximum increase for the past few years.

Yeah, right. From the council website:

However, he said: “We are already easily the cheapest city in the country and in the lower quartile of councils all around the country for rates.”

And Dunedin is one of the most poorly performing cities business-wise.

If the city wanted to “stand still” and maintain services, that close to 3% rise would continue, as that was the inflationary pressure on the council.

“If you want extra we’re going to have to spend some more.”

Asked if he would accept a rate increase higher than 3%, Mr Cull said he would.

The community, however needed to consider the value of what it would get for the cost involved, in next year’s long-term plan.

So the aim seems to be to get public acceptance – or at lest the perception of public acceptance via lobby groups – of increasing rates.

While rejecting major developments for the city. The only big goals seem to be cycleways and spending, therefore higher rates for residents, because the city keeps losing businesses and therefore business rates.

If, as is quite likely, education delivery changes in an Internet world and the University loses out then the city will not just struggle to keep up, it will decline even further.

And this is the latest council news: Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull’s defamation lawsuit settled for $50k

A Dunedin councillor has settled for $50,000 after taking defamation action against Mayor Dave Cull.

Councillor Lee Vandervis confirmed he settled the case because of legal delays and spiralling costs, but it comes without an apology.

The case was sparked by a heated exchange in December 2015. The mayor ejected the outspoken councillor from a council meeting after Vandervis claimed he paid a backhander to secure a council contract in the 1980s.

Council’s insurers felt that making a payment of $50,000 to Vandervis to cover his costs to date would be much less expensive for them than a successful court outcome.

Dunedin has lost it’s fire while the mayor and councillors burn each other.

Mayoral candidate ‘rumoured’

Otago Daily Times reports on a ‘rumour’ of a new entrant to the Dunedin mayoral race that could liven up the contest somewhat.

If this proves top be true it would pit a fresh face with strong business interests against the incumbent Dave Cull who has had strong Green leanings, Aaron Hawkins who is the official Green Party candidate, and long time Cull combatant Lee Vandervis.

Bid for mayoralty rumoured

The Dunedin mayoral race could be about to heat up as  lawyer Susie Staley, of iD Dunedin Fashion Week fame, is believed to be considering a bid for the city’s top job.

Councillor Andrew Whiley said yesterday he would pull out of the race if another candidate, who he declined to name, entered the race.

The Otago Daily Times understands Cr Whiley was referring to Ms Staley, but she declined to confirm or deny she was standing when contacted yesterday.

“The rumours can keep going,” she said.

Apart from being a lawyer, Ms Staley has served on a variety of boards including those of Tower, Maritime New Zealand and PGG Wrightson, and was a finalist in the Women of Influence Awards in 2013.

She stood down as iD Dunedin Fashion Week chairwoman last year after more than 15 years of service to the event.

If Whiley doesn’t stand for mayor (he would presumably stand for re-election to council) Staley (if she stands and gets significant backing) could threaten Cull’s hold on the mayoral chains, especially if Hawkins splits Culls vote.

Hillary Calvert has announced she won’t stand this year,.

Cr Whiley said it would be in the “best interests” of Dunedin for him to stand aside should the other candidate stand.

“I think there is a very good candidate who could do a lot for Dunedin.”

If elected, they would give Dunedin a more “pro-business” focus and tap into a widespread sentiment that council had not achieved much in recent times and fresh leadership was needed.

This could make the Dunedin contest a clear clash of business versus green interests.

Plus Vandervis, who may continue to pick up protest and maverick votes but has proven to not have the temperament for leading the council after ongoing ugly clashes with Mayor Cull (he recently served defamation papers on Cull).

I don’t know if Staley has any political affiliations. If not she will be up against the Green Party, plus Cull, who I presume will be standing as an independent now that the fairly (some say very)  left leaning Greater Dunedin group has been officially disbanded this year.