Studying the Study

1 10 2012

 

I was pleased to hear about the various pieces of work to be included in the study initiated by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment on the likely impacts of petroleum exploration and production on the East Coast.

Ramping up fossil fuel production in New Zealand is the number one priority in the Energy Strategy of the current Government. We should not be surprised therefore that the Terms of Reference for the East Coast study will deliver results focused on the potential economic benefits for the country and the region. It is a shame they are not going to have the analysis peer-reviewed or use global scientific experts to assess the environmental risks.

Ministry officials have told me the assessments of the likelihood and impact of potential environmental risks associated each scenario (high, medium, low production levels) would be included but only at a very high level. Localised environmental risks such as hydrocarbon and toxic chemical leaks into the air, water and soil are of concern to many landowners and residents. There are also the global impacts of continuing to make cheap fossil fuels available while we know they are contributing to catastrophic climate change – no study is able to justify what has become an indefensible situation we are all responsible for.

While the oil industry argues the foreign exchange earnings from their products help pay for our schools and hospitals, they also need to acknowledge the intergenerational injustice the industry is causing. The Government has no transition plan to renewable energy and no strategy to reign in greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Carbon emissions of each production scenario are not included in the MBIE study.

All of the analysis on the national and local economic impacts of petroleum production has been outsourced to NZIER, the organisation that recently suggested climate change should be considered New Zealand’s “least important environmental issue”. Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment described the analysis in a 2009 report by NZIER as “muddled and superficial”, “too superficial to lead to well-reasoned priorities” and “fundamentally flawed”.

BERL last month published an economic study for Southland that demonstrated the benefits of alternative industries for the region would outweigh the jobs and income from fossil fuel extraction. That is the kind of study we should have to sit alongside the MBIE project.

MBIE staff assure me that labour estimates in the report should be able to quantify the types of jobs the industry would require under each scenario and the likelihood of local people being employed in those roles.

The economic analysis should also include assessments of the likely impacts on existing businesses from land use changes, pollution, regional brand impacts, though MBIE say this is only going to be at a very high level. Federated Farmers and Hort NZ seem relaxed about the potential impact of thousands of oil and gas wells, tens of thousands more truck movements each year and the storage and disposal of toxic waste. Farmers and growers I have spoken to sit across the continuum, some are strongly opposed to the oil industry establishing itself here, others are quite open to the idea.

The capacity and expertise required by consenting authorities on exploration and production issues are outside the scope of the MBIE study but of real concern to many locals. Councils and central government should be able to work toward agreement on what resourcing is appropriate for government to provide given the royalties flow back to central government but local authorities have to do all the regulation and manage community expectations and concerns.

The MBIE study should be interesting reading alongside the PCE report on fracking due in the same month and the research Professor Caroline Saunders has been working on for Gisborne District Council that looks at the positive and negative impacts on provincial communities when an oil boom hits town.





Turbo-Charging Tairāwhiti Technology Take-Up

19 09 2012

Lytton High School students demonstrating Auto-CAD to Ilminster Intermediate students at Tairāwhiti Techxpo 2012.

I recently visited two initiatives in Auckland to look at what they are doing with young people and technology. At Point England School in Glen Innes students all have their own NetBook, each family pays $3.50 per week for the child to have their own device for school and home work. At Clubhouse 274 in Otara I visited the Community Technology Centre where students go after school to use high-end equipment they can’t access at home and many were working on commercial projects.

Recently a number of local people and projects have converged to progress some exciting technology opportunities for the district that are already having positive social and economic outcomes, but more support is urgently required.

Tairawhiti Techxpo was a great day last week that provided a solid foundation for a bigger and better event next year. Thanks to the schools that participated, we had hundreds of young people get a taste of employment and career opportunities in the Information and Communication Technology sectors of robotics, hardware, networking, software, app development, entertainment, aerospace, imaging, animation and computer-aided-design industries.

Thanks must also go to the generous sponsors including Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, EIT Tairāwhiti, Eastland Community Trust and the small businesses and individuals that contributed on the day and through the event organising.

One of the Techxpo keynote speakers from Wellington joined the monthly Gizzy Geeks meeting in the evening. Nathalie Whitaker is a net entrepreneur and is keen to move to Gisborne with a number of her colleagues, the lifestyle, surf and clean environment are what attract them. Something that would make Tairawhiti even more appealing to these IT entrepreneurs is for Gisborne to have a bunch of competent geeks who can do the technical programming work that sits behind the software products Nathalie and her friends develop.

What the Techxpo highlighted was that our high schools are now growing such talent locally. Lytton High School had a large contingent of IT experts and Gisborne Girls’ High School and Campion College were also very well represented in the demonstrations provided by students. Other schools have already booked a spot for next year to showcase the skills and products being developed through cutting-edge teaching and learning.

A number of Gisborne school students are now making and selling smartphone apps internationally – this is a $40billion global market with over 10 billion downloads last year alone.

The Rangitawaea Nati Awards next week is an annual fixture that encourages and recognises IT talent in Ngati Porou schools, another fabulous showcase of skills and creativity grown in our region and reaching out to the world.

The Techxpo, the Gizzy Geeks group, the Nati Awards and the new Tairāwhiti Computer Hub Trust have proved a fertile ground for collaboration between technology specialists and a number of exciting new business opportunities are emerging from the relationships built around particular skills, interests and networks.

And where does all this sit in terms of regional economic development planning? It is dismissed in the Regional Economic Development Strategy (2009) as an unlikely prospect and rendered invisible in the subsequent Economic Development Action Plan. Perhaps this absence is not a big issue considering the Action Plan has been largely ignored from the day it was produced.

What is important is that the IT sector is recognised as a cornerstone of every local business and that it is factored into the priorities of entities like the Eastland Community Trust and Gisborne District Council that have a focus on supporting sustainable economic development. While public entities ‘don’t pick winners’, they do provide limitations and opportunities for the expansion of particular industries.

We need to look urgently at what infrastructure beyond Ultrafast Broadband will enable a fledgling IT sector to quickly become a serious economic driver for our local communities. Neighbourhood computer hubs, low-cost residential wi-fi and a commercial programming academy seem sensible ideas to explore.





ETS Amendment Bill Submissions Closing Soon…

9 09 2012

Submissions close Monday 10 September… here’s mine.

You can submit yours here (feel free to use anything in this one).

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Submission on Climate Change Response (Emissions Trading and Other Matters) Amendment Bill

I object to the unreasonably short time-frame for submissions on this important bill.
This bill seems to be a deliberate attempt by the Government to undermine the price of carbon and kill off our clean energy sector in favour of greenhouse gas producers and consumers.
The Government is re-writing environmental legislation to suit our biggest polluters at the cost of ordinary New Zealanders. This is irresponsible. The Government should be sending a clear message to industry that they must move to a cleaner, smarter way of doing business.
By further weakening our environmental laws the Government is putting our global reputation at risk.
Government should bring in an action plan for the 21st century that phases out old fossil fuels that pollute our land, water and air and phase in new, clean and safe energy that can create thousands of jobs and strong economic growth for New Zealand.
I do not agree with the amendments to:
- maintain the 1-for-2 surrender obligation after 2012, without specifying an end date in legislation;
- maintain the $25-a-unit fixed price option after 2012, without specifying an end date in legislation;
- remove a specified entry date for surrender obligations on biological emissions from agriculture.
The ETS has long been criticised for being too weak because of the fixed, low price on carbon and a high allocation of free credits to our biggest polluters. And these proposals will allow this status quo to continue. It sends a signal that its business as usual as there’s no incentive for our biggest polluters to clean up their act and change their behaviour. The taxpayer is left subsidising this free allocation of permits to the tune of nearly a billion dollars a year.
By further delaying the inclusion of agricultural emissions indefinitely, it’s clear that the Government has no intention of including this sector in the scheme, which was designed to include all greenhouse gases from all sectors. The ETS simply cannot function without the inclusion of our largest emitters.
The purpose of emissions trading is to place a cost on emissions significant enough for them to reduce pollution and start investing in a cleaner, safer way of doing business. However, these proposed amendments to defer the increase in cost of polluting and surrendering the two permits for the “two for the price of one” obligation, will only result in more pollution, not less.
Put simply, these amendments will further undermine the very premise upon which the Emissions Trading Scheme was set up and weaken the only major tool that the Government has in place to reduce our impact on our climate.
I am concerned about the very short time within which the public can have our say on these important changes.By limiting the consultation period to just two weeks, the decision-making will not be as robust as it could have been on this issue that is absolutely critical to the future of our planet.




Business case to close Gisborne rail link needs independent review

31 08 2012
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Photo: KIERAN CHISNALL : “This is train 687. One of the weekend fert trains that were running before the squash trains started. This was taken just south of Black’s Beach winding back down to Nuhaka.”

Gisborne District Councillor and Regional Transport Committee member Manu Caddie says KiwiRail needs to provide the Council with a copy of the full business case that has led to the decision to close the Napier to Gisborne railway line.

“KiwiRail may have skewed the figures to justify closure rather than invest in what is at present a marginal business proposition for them but a lifeline for us. The communities of the East Coast need an independent review by reputable economists of how KiwiRail arrived at its claim that there is no alternative. I think that is the least the Government and KiwiRail owe our region if they are going to strip us of this billion dollar investment.”

“Make no mistake, mothballing is not a temporary arrangement – look what happened in the Bay of Plenty when the line was mothballed, it doesn’t take long to deteriorate to a point where its unsalvageable.”

“Hard on the heels of provincial roading cuts, this Government is clearly abandoning the regions.”

Mr Caddie said his grandfather worked on the railway line in the 1940s and 22 men died while building the section between Wairoa and Gisborne.

“The Government this week passed legislation that will cost $85m to underground a short piece of Wellington motorway so the national war memorial can have more space – our railway line is the memorial for the 22 men who gave their lives for it and we may be the generation that abandons their work.”

Federated Farmers, Gisborne Chamber of Commerce, Hawkes Bay Chamber of Commerce, forest owners and transport operators have all said it is essential to keep the line open. And before the washouts in March, business on the line was booming.

“Fuel prices are only going to increase and rail will become more and more the mode of choice for exports and imports to the region.”





Government Cuts Gisborne Roading Funds

29 08 2012

A three year road funding commitment for the Gisborne District has been compared to the washouts plaguing the region at present.

“With more than $400,000 per year cut from the roading programe, this announcement leaves some big potholes in our road maintenance budget” said Regional Transport Committee member Manu Caddie.

Mr Caddie says the Government has cut funding to the region and ratepayers could end up footing more of the bill to maintain local roads.

“There is little in this package to ‘bolster’ Gisborne’s economy – while road maintenance and repair costs are going through the roof and ratepayers are struggling to make ends meet the District doesn’t even to get to keep what it had, we are getting less than last year!”

Mr Caddie pointed to a study presented to the Regional Transport Committee early this month that showed there was little if any economic benefit to be expected from increasing truck sizes on Gisborne roads.

Mr Caddie said while the Regional Transport Committee ended up supporting the funding bid to NZTA it did so largely because Gisborne District Council was told the amount put forward was the maximum the region had any chance of securing under current Government policy.

“It is good to see cycling and walkways made the cut but if you read the fine print, they are only going to be funded if the major project to allow bigger logging trucks to run from Tolaga Bay through the city to Matawhero costs no more than is budgeted for.”

“Regional roads are essential to the economic wellbeing of the District and the country, which is why our Regional Transport Committee is joining other provincial roading authorities and councils to call on the National-led government to drop its commitment to the seven Roads of National Significance. A few roads in the big centres are sucking so much money that the Government has not only taken funds off the regions but is borrowing more overseas to pay for them.”





Government needs to explain East Coast rail job losses

17 08 2012

Councillor and Regional Transport Committee member Manu Caddie says the Government needs to explain leaked documents purporting to show job losses on the East Coast.

New Zealand First MP Brendan Horan has said the documents suggest the Government has decided to mothball the damaged Napier to Gisborne line.

Kiwirail Chief Executive Jim Quinn told the Gisborne Regional Transport Committee in May that a decision on the future of the line would be made a matter of weeks.

“Following the presentation of 1,000 signed postcards and 10,000 petition signatures the Government has obviously wanted to make sure it has some positive spin on the situation before Kiwirail announces the closure. The people responsible need to stop fluffing around and give Gisborne businesses certainty one way or the other.”

“New Zealand businesses, particularly provincial exporters benefit from rail. Road users benefit from rail. It is unfortunate Eastland Port has selfishly undermined local support for retaining the rail.” The Gisborne Chamber of Commerce, Federated Farmers, local transport companies and forestry owners have all backed strong public support for the rail to be retained.

“This is a billion dollar public asset that is being taken away from us. Businesses demonstrated with little help from Kiwirail that there is enough local product to make the line viable in the short-term let alone as fuel prices and road maintenance costs increase” says Mr Caddie.

“This is happening at the same time as the Government spent $8 million on public relations to sell its seven Roads of National Significance, allows NZTA to borrow to cover the costs of new highways close to the major metropolitan centres and makes us share the costs of that borrowing, cuts subsidies for Council roads, takes back income from regional fuel tax and relegates our local roading priorities to the bottom of the list.”

Mr Caddie says Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee needs to be more honest about the situation. The Minister yesterday said that 29 per cent of roading funds will be spent on new and improved state highways, mostly the Roads of National Significance and 26 per cent will be spent on maintenance operations and renewal of local roads.

“What Mr Borwnlee neglected to say is that we have 94,000 km of roads in New Zealand, and it’s only 12 percent of that is state highway. The costs of maintaining local roads would be significantly less if more freight was using rail in and out of Gisborne and Wairoa.”

“The National Government is wasting billions of dollars on a few big motorway projects that would never be able to pay their own way as standalone commercial projects. But it won’t invest in getting our rail line operating after poor maintenance let it wash away.”

“Most countries are now investing substantially in their rail networks because of the obvious economic benefits, especially as oil prices are expected to double in the next decade.”





Subsidies & Spinners

31 07 2012

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Oil lobbyist David Robinson in a recent column said we should let the public make up their own minds: “we can argue back and forth, back and forth using hand-picked examples of why each point of view is right. But that’s not helping anyone.” Of course he included with this statement with a few hand-picked examples.

I guess I do have personal ideology as Mr Robinson claims but I don’t agree it should be ‘put aside’ – it’s an ideology that favours all of the relevant information being made available to the public so we can make free, prior and informed decisions. Any opposition I have has developed since looking beyond the industry PR spin ($185m worth of lobbying in the US alone last year) and trying to take seriously the science related to human use of petroleum and its impact on the planet.

Beyond the climate implications, it seems useful to refer to people with direct experience of the industry, like Caleb Behn who acknowledges the income that can be derived from oil. Weighing these benefits with the negative social, cultural, economic and environmental impacts in his homelands, Caleb is strongly opposed and warns others to look carefully at the situation in British Columbia and Alberta.

The farmer speaking in Gisborne this week is in no way ‘philosophically opposed to the oil and gas industry’ – if Mr Robinson had read her story in The Washington Post he would have seen that Ms. Vargson and her husband used to maintain a herd of dairy cattle but got out of that business because of methane getting into their well water, a fact confirmed by the state regulators. The couple now work at other jobs and worry their son won’t be able to farm there either. Ms. Vargson permitted drilling of a gas well in the pasture behind her home, but the experience has raised serious doubts. Drilling “can be done safely,” she said. “I believe that the technology is there.” But she added: “I believe that for the most part the industry takes a lot of shortcuts.”

The Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE) and UK Royal Society’s fracking report probably hasn’t been widely promoted because it omits some key facts: the RAE’s ex-President is Lord Browne, Chairman of Cuadrilla, the UK’s leading fracker. Lord Browne was head of the RAE until last year and owns 30% of Cuadrilla.

The RAE is also part funded by the oil and gas industry. In the last three years the RAE has taken £601,000 from oil companies with links to fracking. The same organisation has awarded cash prizes to BP engineers for their work in hydraulic fracturing.

The influence of the oil and gas industry on the RAE has not decreased with Lord Browne’s departure. His successor – Sir John Parker – is closely connected to the fracking industry. Before taking over at the RAE, Parker headed Anglo American with their fracking interests in in South Africa. Parker is a gas man through and through – some of his previous positions include non-executive director at British Gas, Chairman of National Grid Transco (gas distribution) and non-executive of BG Group (which has coal bed methane interests in Scotland).

Mr Robinson says renewables are too expensive, I agree. If it wasn’t for the one trillion dollars of annual public subsidies awarded to the fossil fuel industries and permissive legislation that allows continued access to relatively cheap fossil fuels, renewable technology would be affordable to most of us.

It was great to hear Rod Drury this week talking about how his software company may soon overtake Fonterra as New Zealand’s largest business. IT entrepreneurs are keen to move to Gisborne for the lifestyle and environment it currently offers. Some locals have been in contact with a biochemicals company in California that has huge potential and is interested in establishing a demonstration plant on the East Coast. These seem like far more sensible opportunities for our community to encourage than the dirty business of oil.





What is the Purpose of Local Government?

19 07 2012

The Local Government Act Amendment Bill has had its first reading in Parliament. One of the key parts of the bill is redefining the reason local government exists. Should councils be focused on priorities that local people agree on, or should they be just another branch of central government?

The basis of the proposed changes seems largely ideological rather than driven by a particular problem. Council debt, losses on tourist initiatives and rates rises above the rate of inflation have been the subject of regular media releases from central government. A very small number of councils have made mistakes and local government is partly responsible for the traction these stories get in the news. We’re not always great at helping the public understand the balancing act between local expectations, affordability and the existing regulatory frameworks council has to operate within.

Most councils seem to share concerns about the lack of evidence upon which the draft legislation is based and about the implications of working under legislation that hasn’t been well thought out. Similar reservation were expressed by the officials who submitted a statement along with the draft legislation and said they could find no evidence to support most of content of the bill. This lack of confidence was reinforced this week in the unanimous rejection of the proposed change of purpose at a meeting of all local government authorities.

Three separate public inquiries have concluded that the sector has not significantly expanded the scope of its activities since 2002. When pushed, the Prime Minister would not exclude things like social housing, swimming pools, libraries or tourism promotion from falling within the proposed new purposes. So the general feeling is that the current purpose is fine – the uncertainty created in the proposed new purposes would open up a can of worms in terms of legal challenges and that there was no problem that will be solved with the proposed change.

As has been suggested locally, I would be open to a social housing trust taking over Council housing if it had the experience and could prove it could do as good or better job than Gisborne District Council currently does as a landlord. Such a move would need to ensure the housing is provided to those who most need it, particularly as central government is similarly messing with the provision of social housing and has been criticized by its own Productivity Commission for having no clear plan or rationale for the changes.

I don’t think we should hold on to purely commercial assets if they aren’t consistently providing a return on investment better than what we’d get if we used the capital to pay off debt and reduce interest payments. As far as I can tell, the first asset to divest the Council of should be the farms. I struggle to understand why some people believe Council must maintain ownership of the farms while we pay millions in interest on debt. How ‘pragmatic’ is that?

The reality is the proposed change of purpose would not result in Council stopping anything it currently does, but it would give more fuel to fire of the ideologues who argue local government should take no interest in the wellbeing of our communities beyond roads and rubbish. A change of purpose would waste staff time defending the participatory planning processes that result in more enduring decisions than if we think councillors or staff know best. I also suspect it would undermine opportunities for Council, as the one fully democratically elected local entity, to have some influence on how our taxes and rates are spent to help meet the needs and aspirations of our communities.





Read This Report

17 07 2012

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The global environment is changing and people are becoming more concerned about implications for the future. The purposes of this paper are to describe the global environmental status and trends, offer some explanations for why responses are slow and weak, examine the implications for New Zealand, and propose a strategy development agenda to reduce risks and take advantage of opportunities.





Ten Year Plan accelerates cycleways

24 06 2012

It was very pleasing to see Council agree to bring forward the planned cycling and walkways in the Ten Year Plan.

Since we established the Cycling Advisory Group in 2009 with the support of the late Muriel Jones, the group has had ongoing input into Council engineering and road safety activities.

Annual submissions from many residents and feedback in surveys and community consultation has shown overwhelming support for Gisborne to be a more cycle-centric city.

I campaigned on cycling and walking infrastructure and it feels like I’ve been able to see some tangible progress in my first time. We’ve also made alternatives to the private motor car a top priority in the roading programme, so that is exciting.

Gisborne people want to be safe cycling and while the volume of logs on trucks is due to treble in next few years, we are working hard to minimise the number that need to come through the city.

Cycling makes sense for the economy, for health and for the environment. We have the whole package in Gisborne – good weather, flat terrain and a compact city. Research shows that as more people cycle it gets safer, so it’s great to see more and more people committed to cycling as much as possible.

It’s also exciting to hear that new cycle touring routes are being developed in the district – these are the tourists that move slowly through our communities, connecting with people and places as they go – some great opportunities for cycling-related businesses to develop over time.

Residents that may be affected by new cycleway projects should be reassured that they will have every opportunity to be informed about and have input into decisions around the planning, design and construction of new cycling and walkways. They may not agree with every decision and while public reserves are for everyone to enjoy we also need to consider the impacts on residents living close to the cycleways and walking tracks.





Honest Politicians

21 06 2012

Tim Groser, Minister for Climate Change Issues answers a question honestly and admits this Government is not prioritising future generations.





Dangerous Ideas

14 06 2012

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Local Government Reforms?

20 03 2012

Some of the reforms being proposed for local government by Minister of Local Government Dr Nick Smith are to be welcomed.

For one, I think it’s great to see a review of Development Contributions. No doubt the review will find that they need to be increased so that essential services such as social housing can be part-funded when a flash new subdivision is built. New Zealand is one of the few countries that doesn’t require such a provision.

However, many of the reforms aren’t so welcome.

I raised the issue of being proactive about the pending reforms at last week’s Community Development Committee meeting and was told by council colleagues that the Minister was simply “flying a kite” and was unlikely to make any radical changes.

But some of the changes certainly seem radical to me, particularly the gutting of local government to be nothing more than an engineering department and administrative office for fast-tracking resource consents.

I encourage Gisborne residents to provide feedback through the 10-year plan consultation process on what services they want to see their council provide.

For example, does council have a role in monitoring how central government spends locally? And should we be concerned about local social and economic development issues?

If central government was so good at it, we wouldn’t have any homeless, any youth unemployed, any hungry kids, any crime.

The reality is central government does a terrible job of addressing social issues, education and health care because there is so little accountability and lack of responsiveness to local priorities. Ruatoria is not Wellington and Elgin is not Dunedin . . . one size doesn’t fit all and centralised government is the problem not the solution.

For a party that espouses the virtues of personal responsibility and local autonomy — and loved to bleat about the “nanny state” — these reforms seem more consistent with a totalitarian, centralised system of government that will increasingly dictate to communities what is best for us, and will remove local checks on central government decisions while expropriating resources from our communities.

Council spending across the country on so called “non-core services” (such as culture, recreation and sport) declined by $185 million between 2008 and 2010 to just 13.2 percent of authority spending.

From 2007-2010 rates were a stable portion of household expenditure, holding steady at 2.25 percent.

The recent Productivity Commission’s draft report on housing affordability notes that rates have been declining in relation to property values, indicating that in terms of household wealth, rates are becoming less significant.

While the government is borrowing heavily to fund it’s seven gold-plated highway projects, it’s hypocritical to be telling councils to stop wasting money.

Dr Smith has manufactured a crisis to drive through changes based on ideology, not evidence.





Māori Land & Council Rates

2 03 2012

By the end of last year, Gisborne District Council was owed about $3.5m in overdue rates on Maori land. Council recently agreed to the establishment of a working group to focus on the issues relating to Maori land and rates.

As it turns out, central government also has a group working on the issues, as have many governments before the current one. In fact 80 years ago Sir Apirana Ngata and the Prime Minister, George Forbes, established a joint committee to inquire into the question of unpaid rates on Māori land. The committee found significant areas of land had no rateable value and recommended local authorities to remove such areas from valuation rolls. The committee visited a number of the development schemes on Māori land that Ngata had initiated and the members were impressed with the productivity gains generated off these blocks.

These schemes assisted in a wide range of successful cooperatives operating on the East Coast, enabled Māori to retain ownership and created thousands of jobs.

The Waitangi Tribunal suggests that rates “were initially introduced as a tool of local government to meet its own infrastructure needs and those of settlers, rather than in response to what Māori may have wanted.”

Before 1893 the law did not allow Māori land to be sold to cover rating debts and central government reimbursed local authorities for unpaid rates on Māori land (that it turns out had been grossly overvalued). From 1910, nearly all Māori land became rateable unless held under customary title. In 1924, responsibility for rates recovery was shifted to the Māori Land Court. From then on, if arrears accrued against the land, it could be the subject of a charging order by the court, and placed in receivership or trust for lease or sale.

From 1950 to 1970, new legislation extended the powers of the court to force the development of ‘unproductive’ Māori land that had not been able to pay rates. The Waitangi Tribunal has found that a major effect of legislation introduced during this period seems to have been to boost the use of receivership as a means of rates enforcement.

The whole concept of local government rates has its philosophical origin in European legal theory that all land is ultimately held by the Crown. However, in New Zealand the question has persistently arisen in the development of rating law as to whether land not held by the Crown, but rather held by Maori in customary tenure, should be subject to rates. Council’s Whenua Rahui policy recognises this issue to some degree.

Since the 2007 Local Government Rates Inquiry there has been a shift and valuations for rating purposes make some small concession for the complexities of Māori land tenure and specify this on rates demands.

Dr Api Mahuika has advocated establishment of a Ngāti Porou local government district – some of my colleagues might support this proposal given the high cost of maintaining roads across such a large area and the large proportion of unpaid rates coming from the northern part of the district. Of course such a proposal is unlikely to be within the scope of our working group but it seems a similar emphasis on self-determination is the basis of the Tuhoe position on Te Urewera, as it was for Gandhi before Britain quit India. There are myriad examples of semi-autonomous governance arrangements around the world, so hopefully these local questions eventually get the full consideration they deserve.

The new Council working group will meet next month to determine the Terms of Reference and will no doubt welcome key stakeholders in the discussions and potential solutions. Watch this space!





2012 Projects

26 02 2012
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Some of the stuff I’m focused on this year…
  1. Gang Transformation Project via GDC, Police, schools, churches, sports clubs and residents associations
  2. Representation Review: ensuring the fairest electoral structure for Tairāwhiti via GDC
  3. Regional Housing Needs Assessment via GDC
  4. Keeping Kids Safe Project via Te Ora Hou Aotearoa
  5. Neighbourhood Resource Centres via HNZC, Ka Pai Kaiti Trust & Te Ora Hou
  6. Computer Clubhouse for Waikirikiri School
  7. Gisborne-Napier railway retention via Gisborne Rail Action Group
  8. Cycleways & Walkways via GDC Ten Year Plan, NZTA, Cycling Advisory Group, etc.
  9. Māori Land & Rates via GDC Māori Land Working Group with TPK, etc.
  10. Central Government better linked into local priorities via Whānau Ora, MSD, etc.
  11. Pēnu Marae – new wharepaku and wharenui roof hopefully
  12. Rere Rockslide – stream quality monitoring and restoration project
  13. Economic Development projects – biofuels and biochemistry projects, regional skills development and entrepreneurs recruitment campaign




Creating a Cycling-Centric City

22 02 2012

The Regional Transport Committee last week had a lively debate on whether one of the top three goals for the district transport programme should include encouraging alternatives to the private motor vehicle. In the end we agreed encouraging alternative transport options is important and agreed that promoting cycling, walking and public transport is a priority.

Private cars use approximately 60% of all fuel consumed by road transport, New Zealand imports and burns through more than $20million of fuel per day!

A 2009 report by the Ministry of Transport suggests we spend a lot more time in the car and less time spent walking and cycling than we did 20 years ago. Gisborne drivers travel less distance than any other region in the country and Gisborne cyclists spend longer on our bikes each week than any other region.

In the mid-nineties there were about 15,000 motor vehicles crossing the Gladstone Road bridge each day, I suspect the volume might be slightly higher than that now. Around the country only 1% of people travel to work by bicycle, while 94% travel in a private motor vehicle. And only 5% of students – or one quarter of those that cycled when I left school 20 years ago – now cycle to high school.

In 2004 the Gisborne District Council signed up to the ‘Walking and Cycling Strategy for the Gisborne District’.

The vision of the strategy is that:

‘Gisborne District is a walking and cycling friendly region. Walking and cycling are safe, convenient, enjoyable and popular forms of transport and leisure that contribute to community, well-being and tourism.’

Targets for how the effectiveness of the strategy were to be measured have never been added to the empty boxes in document, though some general goals such as 10% of students walking or cycling to school by 2015 and an increase by 10% of commuters travelling to work by walking or cycling by 2015 are goals we now have only three years left to achieve. It is time to review the Strategy.

An iconic project included in the Strategy and championed by people like the late Murial Jones, Kathy Sheldrake, Phil Evans and Richard Coates is the Wainui-Sponge Bay cycleway. This project is designed to make it safer for commuter cyclists coming from Wainui and recreational cyclists from the city to get in and out on, particularly given the rapid increase in heavy vehicles on State Highway 35. We expect a funding decision on this project within the next month.

The Gisborne Cycling Advisory Group was established a couple of years ago and has made some great contributions to cycle route planning in both the urban and rural areas. Focused largely on commuter and tourist cyclists, the group meets monthly and is open to anyone keen on advocating for cycling infrastructure and encouraging the public to cycle more.

As a recent Australian report on the economic benefits of cycling reveals, bicycle travel cuts millions off the national waist line and bottom line. Inactivity is now a major cause of health problems and cycling provides a practical, sustainable and cheap opportunity to help get more Kiwis active and drive down the cost of health care.

Of course the more cyclists there are, the safer it becomes – and while we may be seeing a national trend away from commuter cycling, most Gisborne city residents have few excuses not to cycle or walk to work. The city is relatively compact, very flat, enjoys a good climate and has an ever increasing number of cycleways. It has been great to see so many people on bikes this summer, how can we encourage even more to make the move?





Petrobras Wall of Shame 2011-2012

18 02 2012

I’ve decided to keep a running record of a few of the serious incidents Petrobras has been associated with in the last year or two – these are just the ones we hear about…

- – - -

FEB 2012:

30 barrels spilt from a Petrobras rig off Rio on 13/2/12.

JAN 2012:

- 160 barrels of oil leaked from Petrobras platform offshore from Sao Paulo

DEC 2011:

- Brazilian navy fuel barge sinks in Antarctica with 63 barrels of Petrobras produced fuel onboard, incident hidden by four government ministries responsible for the Antarctic mission

death of another Petrobras employee and injury of two others in a Boxing Day accident on the PUB-03 oil rig in offshore waters in Rio Grande do Norte state, northeast Brazil

- fire on the same day at its Duque de Caxias oil refinery in Rio de Janeiro are just the latest in a series of deadly incidents and accidents earlier in the year. The refinery is already the subject of a criminal investigation launched by the Federal Police Department of Environment and Heritage after tests carried out by technicians from the State Environmental Institute (INEA) and the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-RJ) on a nearby river found high levels of pollutants during December 2010 and in August of this year. A spokesperson for the Police said the material dumped in the river violated the limits set by environmental law.

NOVEMBER 2011:

-      a spill from a project co-owned by Petrobras and Chevron spewed 3,000 barrels of oil into the sea and took a week to get under control. Local government authorities have taken a civil lawsuit against the polluters claiming US$11billion in damages.

AUGUST 2011:

- a Petrobras worker was killed and his colleague badly disfigured from a refinery explosion in Argentina that was similar to another fatal accident two years earlier.

MARCH 2011:

- A major incident in the Gulf of Mexico involved a deep sea riser coming loose with a 130 tonne buoy narrowly missing another rig as the company prepared to start the first new extraction since the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Had the break happened a few days later when oil had started pumping, analysts claim it could have resulted in a disaster similar to the BP oil leak in 2010.

DEC 2011:

- An article in the Washington Post quoted engineers worried about the risks of a technology still being tested. Ricardo Cabral de Azevedo, a petroleum reservoir engineer at the University of Sao Paulo who has done research for oil companies in the US, said the industry is worried about the ultimate fail-safe: the blowout preventer, a complex device that slices through pipe to instantly cap a well in a disaster. At BP’s Macondo field, the BOP, as it is known in the industry, suffered compound failures. Azevedo said companies may be pushing the bounds of technology by going deeper than 2,500m or more of water (as is the case in parts of the Raukumara Basin). “It is a problem because all the equipment has to go to higher pressure, and higher pressure may cause failure,” Azevedo said of the BOP. “We really don’t know if it will function.”





Playing Russian Roulette with the Select Committee

16 02 2012

 

A Gisborne District Councillor has told the Select Committee considering a bill that would regulate the Exclusive Economic Zone that the government was playing Russian Roulette with coastal communities.

Manu Caddie, one of 129 submitters on the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf Bill, was speaking to the Local Government and Environment Select Committee today when he explained that oiled debris from the Rena was now washing up on Gisborne city beaches and a “one pager” of rules for EEZ exploration applications was grossly insufficient.

Mr Caddie said the Bill does not provide details on what the new regulations will be, resources to clean up anything but a minor spill are non-existent and the public should have input on the detail of rules governing exploration and extraction in the EEZ.

“If the Interim Impact Assessment Guidelines become the requirements within the EEZ Act then they omit detailed baseline sampling of the current state of the area where the activity is proposed” said Mr Caddie. “How can contamination be proven if no baseline sampling is provided beforehand? The wording at present is very vague and should be more prescriptive.

Mr Caddie also pointed out that an oil slick is no respecter of jurisdiction and will not stay within the EEZ.

“Local councils and iwi authorities should be given a veto power if there is enough local concern and support for such a position.”

Mr Caddie stressed that the proposed timeframes between when an application is received, must be notified, submissions made and hearings/decisions is far too short.

“Companies could work on an application for many years and communities will have less than three weeks to read, analyse and respond to complex technical reports, Impact Assessments, financial calculations and other application details – so the timeframes should be more like 3-6 months for submissions.”

In response to a question from Labour List MP Moana Mackey, Mr Caddie said he was very concerned about the imbalance in resources.  Mining companies have “bottomless pockets” compared to the councils and communities that will be affected by an application according to Mr Caddie who represents the Gisborne City Ward and is on the committee of a marae near Ruatoria. “The Government needs to provide public resources and expertise, such as university and CRIs, to councils, iwi and communities that wish to make submissions on an EEZ application” said Mr Caddie.

“All the best practice in the world will not be able to ensure deep sea drilling doesn’t go wrong – the Government is playing Russian Roulette with our coastal area. Rena, Montara and Deepwater Horizon have proven there does not exist the technology or resources to contain anything but a minor spill very close to shore under perfect marine conditions.”

Mr Caddie suggested if the Committee had read the report by the National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon disaster they would know it had identified serious systemic problems within the petroleum exploration industry that have still not been addressed. Many of the same companies involved with the Deepwater Horizon spill are active in the burgeoning New Zealand exploration industry.

Mr Caddie said the safety record of applicants needs to be considered carefully and pointed out that Brazilian oil giant Petrobras has had two significant oil spills since November and two workers killed and a number seriously injured in the last six months alone. One of the spills has seen the companies involved taken to court by local authorities for $11billion. BP is in court this month trying to limit their liability to $30-40b and otherwise could face $100b.

Green MP Gareth Hughes asked Mr Caddie if a climate change clause should be included and Mr Caddie agreed with that the suggestion that climate change impacts should be considered for all applications under the proposed legislation.





End of the Road?

28 01 2012

I would like to read the study Alwyn (26/1/12) refers to that suggested a 1960 Morris Minor may be a better environmental option than a hybrid vehicle. I have found a 1960 Morris Minor for sale in Hawkes Bay for $120. It has no WOF or Registration but is “good for parts”.

Of course the most environmentally-friendly option is to not use a car.

In 1994 I read a paper entitled “The Environmental Consequences of Having a Baby in the United States” by Charles A.S. Hall, et al. (State University of New York).

The study calculated that over their lifetime the average person (based on 1994 consumption rates in the USA) uses around 3,103 tons of glass, 3,288 tons of metal, 2,697 tons of plastic, 1,034 tons of rubber, 1,870 barrels of oil, 233 tons of coal, 370kg of lead, 26,187kg of cement, 4,238kg of nitrogen, 5,151kg sweeteners, 347kg coffee, 1,654 chickens. Each person is responsible for the loss of just under one hectare of indigenous forest, 5,430kg of fertiliser and 119kg of pesticide.

The authors concluded that many people are looking for ways they can protect the environment for the sake of future generations and no doubt controversially recommended that the most effective decision an individual can make to protect the planet is to abstain from making another human being.

The waste management hierarchy of: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – expresses the order of importance of these ideas and practices. So it would be reduce the demand for vehicles as the first priority, repair and reuse existing ones, and recycle the components as much as possible. Perhaps a fourth step is ‘rethink’ the way we create and consume.

In 2007 a report was published by CNW Marketing Research, Inc., entitled “Dust to Dust: The Energy Cost of New Vehicles From Concept to Disposal.” It was said to measure in dollars and cents all the energy used in creating, building, operating and disposing of each vehicle over its entire lifetime. The report gained worldwide media and consumer attention, mostly because it concluded a Hummer H3 was a better option than the Toyota Prius. The report was quickly discredited after its calculations and claims were proven from a wide range of sources to be completely false and misleading at best (for example the paper “Dust to Dust Report Misleads the Media and Public with Bad Science” by Dr Peter H. Gleick, Pacific Institute, 2007).

Contrary to ‘facts’ in ‘an American survey’ quoted by Alwyn, last year the US Consumers Union tested a 2002 Prius that had done over 300,000km and compared it to the test they had done 10 years earlier on a Prius with only 3,000km on the clock. The report concluded that the effectiveness of the battery has not degraded over the long run. Hybrid batteries are no worse for the environment than the batteries in every traditional motor vehicle. All the hybrids on the market use NiMH batteries, which contain no heavy metals (so they’re not classified as hazardous waste unlike Lead-Acid batteries) and are more easily recycled than alternatives. And I’m not sure where the ‘survey’ authors got their prices from but in the unlikely event of needing a replacement battery they cost about $2,000.

Alwyn is correct that a battery probably uses more energy and resources to produce than a fuel tank. But while numerous reputable studies suggest hybrids are better than traditional cars, when we take into account the energy and resources associated with all the transport and infrastructure costs of cars, it seems the only option will eventually be learning to live without them again.





A Turning Tide?

26 01 2012

It seems the tide is turning.

The Dominon Post reports that over 300 people participated in a protest on Wednesday in Napier organised by local farmers to coincide with the Apache presentation to the Hawkes Bay Regional Council. Concerned residents in Hawkes Bay have a long and growing list of questions they would like answered by the companies and councils involved. Until satisfactory assurances are provided by independent experts, these citizens and ratepayers are saying they don’t want fracking to happen in their region.

Yesterday I received a copy of the letter from the Christchurch City Council dated 16 January 2012 to the Minister of Energy and Resources requesting a moratorium on fracking until an independent inquiry is completed into the practice. The resolution in the Council was passed 10 votes (including Mayor Bob Parker) to 2.

In the last month more jurisdictions around the world including a number of local authorities in Ireland and the country of Bulgaria have joined France, South Africa, New York State and dozens of smaller authorities across North America in establishing a moratorium or banning fracking completely. Many of these decisions have been endorsed by the local chambers of commerce, medical boards, oil and gas commissions and water catchment boards.

The Labour Party has this week suggested Parliament instigates a ‘robust inquiry’ into the practice in New Zealand – either by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment or the Environmental Protection Agency. Unlike the recent report on fracking released by Taranaki Regional Council, the Terms of Reference for such a study would need wide agreement from experts across a range of disciplines and be at arms length from the legislators, regulators and industry.








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