It was great to see a couple of large delegations attending this meeting and getting involved in the council process.

One was from the Tairua Community and included many young people, all there to support the Tairua Skate Park. This community has been trying to get its skate park established for around 30 years. Some of the people involved were children when they first started the process, and they were there today as adults with children of their own. The meeting was contentious in places and ended up with a pretty heated argument between Cr Terry Walker and Mayor Goudie, centred primarily around the wording of a resolution to enable the Skate Park Trust to open a bank account and start receiving the $110,000 that they have managed to raise in around 3 weeks. It’s a truly extraordinary effort and mirrors our own community’s work in raising money to ensure the Whitianga Skate Park became a reality.

We won’t go into the council meeting details here, but you can watch the video on the Council website or YouTube if you want to get an idea of how it panned out.

The second delegation was from Whangamata and included representatives of just about every community group in the town. They supported a proposal to use a piece of council-owned land for a marae and community hub. Like the Tairua skate park project, this proposal has been on the table for several years and keeps hitting roadblocks. The discussion again turned heated and contentious.

Without going into the finer details, this process, and another proposal later around a piece of reserve land in Coromandel, shines a light on some of the policy directions that certain Councillors are following, which needs a lot more scrutiny. See the piece below about the “Commercialisation of TCDC.”

(Pictured – TCDC Mayor Sandra Goudie and Chief Executive Rob Williams).

A High Court Judge has overturned a council’s decision not to sign a national declaration on climate change, saying the decision-making process behind it was unlawful.

In a judgement released from Hamilton High Court on Tuesday, Justice Matthew Palmer quashed the Thames-Coromandel District Council’s decision not to sign the Local Government New Zealand Declaration on Climate Change.

The council contravened the Local Government Act 2002 and its own Significance and Engagement Policy by not conducting a thorough analysis of the policy or considering community consultation for it, Justice Palmer said. He directed the council to reconsider the declaration “consistently with the law”.

Justice Palmer said the impacts of climate change are likely to be “highly significant” for the Thames-Coromandel District. The council knows it could be severely impacted by coastal erosion, risks of more landslides and flooding, increased fire and drought, diminishing biodiversity and acidification of the Firth of Thames, Justice Palmer said.

And it foresees the cost of replacing council infrastructure as between $63 million and $500 million – depending on whether the sea rises by half a metre to three metres, he said.

The law says the council should thoroughly analyse policies and consider how the community could be affected by important decisions like this, Justice Palmer said.

Click on the link for more details of the High Court decision.

The Commercialisation of TCDC

One topic that keeps coming up consistently at Council and Mercury Bay Community Board Meetings is the tendency of some elected representatives and her worship, Mayor Goudie, to slap a price tag on every piece of council-owned land and property.

This “conflict of philosophies” is at the heart of some of the increasingly heated discussions that have been taking place at council meetings recently. The question that keeps coming up seems to be, “What’s the commercial value of that asset, and how can we realise a better return? Or, as the Mayor bluntly stated in a recent meeting, “Show me the money, honey.”

The standard practice amongst councils (including TCDC) has always been to lease the council-owned property to community groups at “peppercorn” rentals in the region of $350 a year. Most community groups struggle to raise funds to enable them to continue their charitable and community-based activities year on year. If they were required to pay commercial rents, most of them would cease to operate. So the council has to decide whether to lease to a community group or hold out for a better deal and higher commercial rents.

On the surface of the argument, there is some merit to this practice. Councillors have responsibility for the council’s operational well-being and the roughly $1.6 billion dollars worth of assets that the council owns. Why shouldn’t the council get the highest rent possible from commercial property? Doesn’t that help to ease the burden on the poor old ratepayers? The argument is strong, but it comes unstuck when you start to examine it in more detail.

In the case of Whangamata – the “commercial property” under consideration for a community hub and marae, and which has the support of virtually every community group in Whangamata, has been sitting empty for 20 years, earning nothing and contributing even less to the community. There is no other space available for the proposed hub, and the disagreements between the community and the mayor have reached boiling point. It’s okay to say the property could be earning more. Still, unless it’s actually happening, then it becomes an endless circular argument, and while that’s going on, tensions continue to build, and community groups involved continue to miss out. In the case of Coromandel, the property under discussion is reserve land, so it’s not available for commercial rental anyway.

So while Councillors have fiscal responsibilities to balance the books, they also have legal and moral responsibilities to take care of the needs of their communities and to listen to the voices of the people (almost all of them unpaid volunteers) actually doing the work on the ground in Whangamata, Whitianga, Thames, Coromandel and across the district.

This pattern seems to be continuing across the board, with some Councillors, including our own Mercury Bay Ward representatives, appearing to actively be pushing for long term commercial leases on beachfront car parks, reserves and recreational areas. That has the potential to change the landscape significantly. The coffee cart currently paying $300 a year for a 12 month right to operate could end up paying $3,000 a year and signing a 10-year lease, with the right to on-sell that lease if they choose. Is that what we want?

There’s also a certain irony in the pursuit of this policy since TCDC has a large and growing list of land and buildings sitting vacant for significant amounts of time, underutilized or not being used at all. One of the latest additions is Arlingham House in Monk street, which was ostensibly bought as part of a future civic centre development but found to be full of asbestos. It needs to be demolished at the council’s expense, and the reality is that most of us will be dead and buried before we ever see a civic centre developed on Monk Street – Len Salt (WRRA Chairman)