Archive for June, 2015

Relax everyone…….

Henny Penny, Cocky Locky, and friends are collectively in charge of how things run in the Dunedin City Council and have everything under control.

It is hard to imagine that such a major statement by a Mayor of any city as: “we need to talk about the end-game for a significant area of our city’ would be received so passively by the population. But that is exactly what happened after the Mayoral declaration that South Dunedin would be meekly conceded to the forces of climate change.

As a statement it was so contradictory to current Council investments in the development of the warehouse precinct below the Exchange (which sits on the same reclaimed harbour as South Dunedin), the cycleway that circuits the whole reclaimed area through South Dunedin and the Sports facilities at Logan Park (formerly Lake Logan) including the Stadium, that it simply shows him as being unable to think logically from one related subject to another. Of this being no more that Dunedin’s own version of Henny Penny convincing Cocky Locky and friends that ‘the sky is falling’.

People have not taken to the streets in panic at this mayoral announcement; they have not swamped the newspaper columns; they, or any that even bothered, simply shook their heads and wondered how did it come to this, that we have got a Cocky Locky for our mayor. That must be terribly disappointing to the Mayor who is presumably trying to use this announcement as a P.R. stunt to persuade the population, before the next election, that he has relevance.

But even worse than being a Henny Penny/ Cocky Locky re-run, is the sheer meekness of the statement. If indeed nature is a genuine, imminent threat to human habitation of South Dunedin, then this is the biggest challenge Dunedin has faced since it was established as a city. This is the primary focus of the next election. This is a ‘cometh the hour, cometh the man’ moment. This is a time, if it is true, that we need leadership, bravery, vision, determination. We got meekness and concession.

What was he thinking that, out of the blue, he would just announce in a newspaper article that, ‘by the way, residents, we need to talk about abandoning south Dunedin’. Where are the climatic reports? the flood-response analysis? the engineering reports ? Will the stadium be underwater before we have paid for it? Will it be converted to an indoor water sports stadium?

The announcement of this impending crisis should have provided a link to the DCC website which contains all the supporting research and reports  that led up to it. The people must be informed. 

So lets see some facts about this impending climatic doom, Mr Mayor, or we may just think that the flood happened because you forgot to make sure someone would sweep up the autumn leaves before we got a decent rainfall.

Was the flood no more indicative of the end of South Dunedin than a falling nut was Penny Penny’s falling sky?

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South Dunedin! the end is nigh….

Flooding in South Dunedin is one of the biggest issues facing the city over the next two decades, according to Mayor Cull (ODT 13 June 2015).

The devastation caused by 175mm rain falling in 24 hours on 3rd June 2015 has the Mayor talking of the real possibility of abandoning South Dunedin to the elements. Our drainage systems just could not cope with this rain event.

Flooding is not new in South Dunedin. It is, as the Mayor observes, built on a drained swamp and history records a number of significant floods since European settlement. Ten years ago residents were kayaking around South Dunedin Streets; fifty years before that they were canoeing the same streets. Thirty something years before that was another great flood of South Dunedin. But our civic leaders previously had never talked about abandoning ship (or suburb). They tidied up the mess and thought about what drainage improvements could be implemented. So why does this event now have a Mayor talking about “the end game”?

Because this time it comes from a firm Mayoral belief that a second flooding event in a ten-year period confirms that dramatic and long-term climate change is now alive and well and coming to a street near you. The Mayor tells us that no renewal of the drains will turn the floodwaters back next time. For it is not only the rains and the encroaching ocean that are the threats, but also the rising water table which, at places, is only centimetres below the surface.

“The writing is on the wall that this is going to happen” states Dr David McKay of the University of Otago’s Centre for Sustainability about the impact of climate change; he is a supporter of the ‘managed retreat’ option with no houses left in South Dunedin. The Mayor and his intimate advisors are obviously right on top of the climate change issue. More than most of us they have studied the engineering reports on the impact of the waves on the sea wall at the Esplanade, the threatened breach of the sand dunes between St Clair and St Kilda and they have studied forecasted climate change impact reports.

Mayor Cull is also quoted (ODT 13 June 2015) as saying that ‘managed retreat might be a controversial concept and one sure to divide the community, but it was time to start talking about it.’ He also states that he would support it if we looked at the alternatives and retreat was clearly the most efficient and cost-effective.’

We also learn that Council has already deferred, indefinitely, major engineering projects to protect our sea wall and sand dunes and so we can assume that the Council do not consider these to be ‘efficient and cost-effective’. And now we also learn that building regulations are already in place for South Dunedin requiring new buildings to have higher floor levels and for new homes to be relocatable. There is also a proposal, that the Mayor is considering, to build an artificial island on the marshland and / or to create a lake in Tainui to act as a natural sump.

So when Mayor Cull says we need to start talking about a managed retreat, leaving unspecified parts of South Dunedin to become a swampy nature reserve and allowing the sea to redefine the beachfront, it really sounds very much as though his end-game plan is actually already in play.  And, if we accept this in the next election, it will challenge civic leadership and management skills to an unprecedented level. 

But if all that is true and if we will, over the next couple of decades, have no certainty about what parts of South Dunedin will still be above water or returned to a sea-bed or marshland, then what on earth is the Mayor doing spending millions of dollars building cycleways all through existing streets of South Dunedin? How do cycleways become a number 1 priority for investment in South Dunedin? The cycleway seems to meander right through the lowest lying parts of South Dunedin which will be most under threat from the encroaching sea and rising water table.

In an ODT article last week Mayor Cull said the cycleways were a key part of the Council’s vision to attract new residents. Why would he try to attract new residents to these suburbs with such an uncertain future? And while he sees investing in new cycleways in South Dunedin as priority #1 for the Council, Mayor Cull says it is this flooding threat that raises questions about the wisdom of investing in a new library and other expensive infrastructure for South Dunedin. So how does that logic work?

But if Mayor Cull and his Greater Dunedin Council are ready to abandon parts of South Dunedin because from marsh it came and to marsh it will return, then what are they thinking about Logan Park, which last century was actually Lake Logan, or the Exchange which is where the first Scottish settlers stepped ashore. Climate change will not differentiate between North, South and Central Dunedin when it comes to raising the water table and allowing the sea to reclaim its borrowed domain. 

There must have been several Council meetings over recent years where the item “end-game options for South Dunedin” was on the agenda within a reasonably close time-frame of the agenda item “South Dunedin cycleway project”. Surely someone in Council saw the anomaly and asked the question? Oh yes, I remember now, Cr Vandervis has done so regularly and has found himself censured, and even ejected from a meeting, by the Mayor for challenging the cycleway sacred cow. 

That is why we should never have Greens in positions of government. They spend all their time squawking like hens on heat about the sky falling in, but when it comes to rational solutions we are probably better off asking the hens. At least they wouldn’t suggest underwater cycleways as a strategy for attracting new residents to live in an uninhabitable marshland.

Emperor Nero played his fiddle, Mayor Cull rides his bike.

 

 

 

 

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build the cycleways and they will come?

Mayor Dave Cull published an article in the ODT on 3rd June outlining his plan for attracting more people, businesses and investment to Dunedin. He makes the assessment that the people we need to attract are those in the creative and research intensive areas like IT, design, the biomedical arena and the arts. Probably a case of post-rationalisation based on the hi-tech successes of Ian Taylor and Michael Macknight. I think I would feel more comfortable if these men said themselves that they have committed to Dunedin as a result of the support and decisions of the Dunedin City Council.

And some would propose that the reason we so desperately need to seek new businesses is because the Council has failed to support and retain the considerable number of businesses that have disappeared, along with their employees, over the decades. Anyone in business knows it is far more economical to retain clients than it is to attract new ones after you have lost old ones, and the same applies to a City Council and the businesses that it relies to on for much of its income.

But given that we have lost a lot of industry and we do need to attract new businesses to Dunedin, Mayor Cull then makes the jump that the four cornerstone criteria for such people in making their decision on where on the planet to live are:

  1. great educational facilities for their kids
  2. thriving arts scene
  3. access to recreation and outdoors pursuits
  4. cycleways.

Interestingly three of his four strategic cornerstones have nothing to do with Council.

1. Our educational facilities are stand-alone institutions operating under staff and boards of trustees into which the Council has no input. 

2. An artistic culture is an outcome of artistic people doing their own thing in their own time and in an unstructured creative environment; creativity is not an outcome of bureaucratic meetings and strategic plans. 

3. Access to outdoor pursuits quite simply means the national roads into the Otago hinterland; most recreation is provided by the self-organised Clubs of residents.

And that leaves the elephant in Mr Cull’s article, cycleways, his pet project. And there is simply no rational support for him placing cycleways ahead of all other Council activities as the primary Council-controlled project to appeal to potential residents.

I asked one reasonably recent arrival from Europe to Dunedin, who works in a professional role, what were the attractions of Dunedin? They were:

  1. Low cost of living
  2. Accessibility to world-class ski fields
  3. Slower pace of life
  4. Architecture, culture, history.

Yes, a survey of one, but that is one more than Mayor Cull provided in his article and it does throw a whole new perspective of priorities that seem to make more sense than Mayor Cull’s list. Of equal interest is the main annoyance of that person from having lived here for a few years which is:

  • No Council focus on the Council basics of efficient public transport, keeping the city clean etc, but a lot of focus on personal agendas of individuals.

Again a survey of one, but an opinion that I, as a long-term resident, cannot argue with.

And the other issue I have heard regularly expressed and noted many times reported in the ODT  is the bureaucratic roadblock that the Dunedin City Council puts in the way of people wanting to set up or expand businesses in Dunedin. Time and money are the enemies of business development. Bureaucracy that is designed to fill the time that bureaucrats have to deal with the issue presents the bureaucrats as adversaries to submitters.

But we cannot turn that clock back so we are now faced with the stark reality that we need to attract new residents and new businesses to Dunedin; so if Mayor Cull can hypothesise about what they want in a city let me also hypothesise in this ‘Diary of a potential resident.”

Diary: With two children fast approaching school age and realising that in Auckland I was spending most of my day either at work or commuting to and from work with my wife working nights and weekends to help pay the mortgage, our family time and quality of life was far from the ideal kiwi dream. But I had design and manufacturing skills in a high-tech industry and client contacts that would enable me to start my own business; if we sold our home we could use the capital gain as our startup funding and market my products internationally. Hopefully in a less expensive real estate market we would still be able to put a deposit down on a home. We started to plan; with the skills and contacts I had built up over the years from 3 person startup I could realistically build up a business of 10+ staff within 3-5 years. Dunedin was one city on our shortlist. We had already researched the real estate sites and homes seemed very affordable; we researched education facilities for the children and Dunedin rated strongly at primary, secondary and tertiary level. Dunedin was the gigatown so was well set up for internet access  and they were very closely located to Central Otago, we would love to start having time to go skiing again, this time with the children. So I flew down to have a closer look.

First thing I noticed was how clean and well-maintained the streets and footpaths were. A good start. I bought a bus day pass and was impressed with the flexibility and convenience of the mini-bus service that gave me a chance to see more of the city. On the way I downloaded a timetable app that I saw promoted on the bus. I got off the bus at St Clair and walked along the beachfront where I  was impressed with the  promenade and restaurants and also the hot salt water pool. I saw on my mobile that a bus was arriving in four minutes so I returned back to town for a general walk around. In less than two hours I actually saw an awful lot. 

I liked the balance of old and new architecture in the city. The main street was also well stocked with shops and cafés. That night as I walked back from a café to the hotel, the streets were well-lit, I noted plenty of security cameras and I even passed two security staff walking around. 

Next morning I visited a real estate firm and realised that I could easily afford to live within 5-10 minutes of the CBD. I could even live out on the rural Taieri Plains where I was assured the temperature was 3 degrees warmer, and still only be 20 minutes from the CBD. This was starting to look good. I took a look around the university and the schools we had researched and was very happy with the presentation of those schools and, more particularly, their pupils. 

Then I called into the city council offices. The staff member at reception was pleasant when I asked if I could speak with someone about the prospect of setting up a small, hi-tech products manufacturing business in the city. Within 20 minutes I had an appointment with a liaison officer. From the outset this liaison officer clearly was demonstrating that he was on my side and his role was to help me through the process of getting all required consents. First he listened to me as I explained what was needed for my business to start-up. Then he gave me an outline and explanation of the issues as regards by-laws and the set-up process. Then between us we started to talk through options to minimise the time and cost to get the business underway. This was a most productive and satisfying meeting, we exchanged business cards and he advised that he was now my contact point at the Council and he would do further research for me and be ready for my decision. I left that meeting and picked up a rental to drive to Queenstown from where I would fly home. I was really looking forward to seeing Central Otago again but as I drove out of Dunedin I thought ‘what a great little city; clean, well maintained heritage buildings and streets, no traffic congestion and minimal commuting time; an innovative and user-friendly public transport system, plenty of good cafés and shops, two interesting museums and art gallery, a safe feeling and a really helpful Council liaison officer. Who could ask for more?’

We have enough confusing lines painted and over-painted on our streets already, enough traffic lights, concrete street islands and yellow posts along our streets. More than enough cycleways for the few people who ever use them. I make a point of observing each day the number of users of the cycleways. I passed two the other evening along the one way street north, well it was peak hour traffic. They were all helmets and hi-viz, hunched protectively over their bikes as an 18 wheeler truck and trailers passed within a metre or so. You can understand their discomfort; a painted white line is minimal protection. Then a short distance past that I saw a young guy casually riding along the footpath on his bike, baseball cap and casual clothes; he comfortably passed two pedestrians walking side by side without any effort on the part of any of them. To a casual observer they hardly noticed each other. Seemed the more logical place for cycling to me.

When it comes to streets, the Council should just concentrate on fixing the potholes and making sure the drains can cope with sudden torrential downpours. Then they need to stop procrastinating on the public transport system. Herds of huge buses rolling nose to tail along our main street with hardly a dozen passengers between them must be sending some message? I note in today’s ODT, the ‘new solution’ to the bus problem is that from 1 July there will be an extra 230 bus services using the same large buses. How on earth does that help the problem of a procession of buses rolling through the city with hardly anyone on them? Add more to the procession? Unbelievable.

A Mayor who withdraws City investment in the fossil fuels industry as a climate-change protest should not be turning a blind eye to this publicly-funded gross waste of fossil fuels and unneccessary emission of fumes through our streets. It is time for a public transport system designed for Dunedin in the 21st century, not a hangover from the mid 20th century.

But maybe like so many greens, it is more about protest than practice.

So we are left with the cornerstone of our Mayor’s growth strategy being to build cycleways and they will come. How scatterbrained can someone be?

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Shades of purple

Sir Robert Jones getting into the media last week for ignoring safety briefings on an AirNZ flight reminded of his most significant role in the election of 84, the fourth Labour Government. That was another time when he had ‘heard all this crap before.’

For those too young to recall the events surrounding that event, it would seem very peculiar that a multi millionaire property investor would support a Labour government; but this was no normal election and no normal Labour Government. It all centred around another Sir Robert, Sir Robert Muldoon, Prime Minister and leader of the National Party.

In the late seventies / early eighties something had gone terribly skew-whiff in New Zealand politics. Elections had always been a clear blue and red choice since the Labour Party had been founded. The Blue supported by the feudalists: farmers, corporate bosses, investment bankers, officers and mounted rifles; and the Red supported by the workers and foot-soldiers, ‘We have nothing to lose but our chains’.

Muldoon, National party leader and NZ Prime Minister was the MP for the true-blue Tamaki electorate: a conservative and privileged section of our population, very focused on law and order. Fast forward to Sir Robert Muldoon’s funeral and the most enduring image I have of that occasion is the Black Power gang performing a haka to his coffin. Such respect from an underpriveleged, outlaw group for a National Party leader? What had happened in NZ society? We can be reasonably confident that senior executives of Comalco, the subsidiary of multinational Rio Tinto who owned the Tiwai Aluminium Smelter in Bluff, did not mourn Sir Robert’s passing with the same passion. For although he ostensibly represented the affluent, Muldoon was a Keynesian interventionist at heart.

When Muldoon wanted to over-ride the electricity price contract with Comalco to force up the power price charged to them (admittedly the Comalco contract had not factored in the impact of the global energy crisis), he simply stated that he would ignore the legally contracted position and legislate the price he demanded. Comalco had no option but to pay the price demanded.

The masses (Rob’s mob,) supported this, ‘you stick it to the bastard multinationals, Rob’. While I understand and even sympathise with the need for an adjustment to electricity prices given the global economy at the time, the finger could not be pointed at Comalco, it needed to be pointed at the government representatives who originally signed the contract; and furthermore it was the NZ government that had asked Comalco to come here initially and put a $175 million investment in the Bluff smelter based on the original contracted price. Such an action by Muldoon was more that of a 3rd world dictatorship than a leader of a conservative 1st world government.

In the aftermath of the 1979 oil crisis created by the Iranian revolution, our books were getting into a progressively worse state. Muldoon responded more and more with interventionist politics. Apart from the Comalco confrontation, he imposed a wage freeze, he pushed-through car-less days legislation and he enforced price controls. He also introduced the policy mantra of “Think Big”. Muldoon’s government invested hugely in large-scale industrial plants based on NZ’s natural gas and oil supplies, the Clutha dam was built and the NZ Steel plant was expanded.

But this “Think Big” policy required massive capital investment, the Government was a poor business manager and the national debt was spiralling dangerously out of control.

Emerging in the political spectrum was the backlash from the business sector seeking a shift towards a more free market economy following the lead of Margaret Thatcher in Britain. That was never going to happen in a Muldoon-led government. Muldoon was a megalomaniac. He required a signed, undated letter of resignation before he would appoint any of his MP’s to Cabinet. He iron-fist-ruled a country whose economy was probably the most highly regulated, highly protected and state-dominated capitalist system in the first world. And woe betide any jumped up little journalist who challenged him.

Taking up the lead role for a the free-market push was property developer Bob Jones. He established his own political party, “The New Zealand Party”. Muldoon would have recognised the threat of NZ Party splitting his vote, especially since he was having increasing problems with some of his own MP’s, primarily Marilyn Waring, over Labour’s proposed anti-nuclear bill. He called a snap election leaving Bob Jones only a month to campaign. The NZ party did not win a seat but still did enough in that short time to pull a critical 12% of the vote. That was a sufficiently large block of votes from National’s traditional voting base to allow Labour to win the election. If National had retained NZ Party’s votes they would have had a 48% : 43% split against Labour. As it turned out, Labour had a 43% : 36% majority of votes resulting in Labour taking ten seats off National-held electorates as well as 7 of 11 new seats.

When Labour opened Muldoon’s books immediately after the election, they recognised that the country was. as suspected, at crisis point. The dollar was instantly devalued as a crisis measure, although not without a brief constitutional crisis when Muldoon initially refused to sign-off on this as he was still technically Prime Minister until the swearing-in of Labour. But sanity prevailed and it was a time to be grateful for the fact that our ultimate head of state, the Crown, is above party politics. Such a constitution protects us from the dictatorial ambitions of very strong-willed and aggressive personalities.

Into the fourth Labour Government cabinet came names like Roger Douglas and Richard Prebble. Recognise them? The Minister of Finance and associate Finance Minister respectively who later went on to New Zealand’s most right-wing political party, ACT (Association of Consumers and Taxpayers). With them came the phrase “Rogernomics” which was in essence a free market economy. Effectively Labour introduced the economic policies of Bob Jones’ NZ Party. Unthinkable, but it happened. Is it possible that Bob Jones had orchestrated this with senior Labour people before he put his own dog into the fight? You may suggest that, Humphrey, but I could not possibly comment.

Many Government departments were corporatised as State-owned enterprises required to operate as a commercial entity focused on making a profit. After the 1987 share market crash, a programme of selling off these state-owned assets was undertaken to reduce debt. In 1989 and 1990 the Labour Government sold Air NZ, Postbank, State Insurance, Shipping Corporation, the Tourist Hotel corporation and Telecom.  By the year 2000, forty State-owned enterprises had been sold off for a combined $19.1 billion.

Today it is hard to really see the traditional hard-line distinction between the National Blues and the Labour Reds. John Keys is from an underprivileged background who made millions without losing his connection with the average Kiwi. Labour is now dominated by academics and socially minded professionals rather than canny workers with grease under their finger nails. We have two parties of shades of purple.

Interestingly purple is the colour of Peter Dunne’s United Future party. Dunne was in that original 1984 Labour government and now supports the National government. That says it all.

The Greens are desperate to appeal to the mainstream traditional labour voter to form a Brown Party; but there lies muddy waters and they have never really shaken off their dope-smoking, ‘end of the world is nigh’ roots. The new co-leader James Shaw may change that image but his first question-time session with the Prime Minister indicates that is highly unlikely. He continues the green mantra that requires NZ to martyr its economy in the naive belief that this will convert the rest of the world to their cause. Making progress on Green politics will require the Greens to recognise that the frightening acceleration of global population growth is the root cause of the negative impact that humans are having on the planet and its eco-system. I don’t think they will do it even if they realise it.

Winston Peter’s NZ First Party is simply Winston Peters. Just a wily, very experienced politician who knows where all the bodies are and who, without the constraints of toe-ing a mainstream party line, can use his experience, debating skill and knowledge to bring someone into line, when he so chooses. He seems to enjoy himself and attracts enough support from those who like someone to ‘keep the bastards honest.’ His party colour is black, interestingly John Keys seems hell-bent on converting NZ’s flag from blue to black. No doubt that will amuse Winston.

The ACT party are the last of the true blues, but that’s a pretty lonely camp. To the free market supporters it is largely redundant as today New Zealand ranks as the 3rd most free market economy in the world behind Hong Kong and Singapore but well ahead of the USA in 12th position.

And it all comes about from that period of the mid 1980’s when, under the Red flag, the most right-wing government NZ has experienced took power from the Blue flag which represented the most state-controlled government we have ever experienced. And at the heart of it all was multi millionaire Sir Robert Jones who, in the days when he was referred to as a tycoon, arguably funded and fronted the creation of the colour purple in NZ politics.

footnote:

I also recall the other policy statement of the New Zealand Party. That the welfare system is a safety net not a lifestyle choice.” While acknowledging that turning the Labour Party into the country’s most right-wing government was in itself monumental in rescuing our economy, imagine what a stronger and more resilient country we would have today if the politicians had also had the courage to introduce that safety net principle into our national psyche.

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