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The Ross Report – March 2005

The Ross Report – March 2005

Cr Jami-Lee Ross – Manukau City Councillor

Lower Rates Petition:

The Manukau City Council is currently going through its annual planning process and has just spent the past 2 days discussing a range of options to be included in the draft Annual Plan. Last month it was reported in this newsletter that rates increases for the 2005/06 year were looking to be around the 5.9 percent mark and that Councillors had a big, yet relatively easy task, of reducing the Annual Plan budget to honour promises made before the last election.

The elections held in October 2004 had a common theme that many candidates followed and that was to cap future rates increases to the rate of inflation. 91 percent of people in Manukau voted for a mayoral candidate that promised to support this position, including the incumbent. Over 70,000 votes were cast in the direction of these candidates and that is an overwhelming message from the people of Manukau. The Council hasn’t lived up to public expectation so far and assurances around rating levels have almost been forgotten.

To combat this situation I have launched a protest petition calling on the Manukau City Council to set any future rates increases no higher than the rate of inflation. It is time for the Council to bite the bullet and show some integrity. There are literally millions of dollars wasted every year and we have to realise that every activity we go into comes at a high cost and the ratepayers of this city have to foot the bill. I’m urging every concerned person in Manukau City to sign the Lower Rates Petition to call on the Council to do the right thing. I, and other Councillors, have tried for months to reverse the rating situation without any luck.

Only a call from the public body can keep the Council honest and by signing the Lower Rates Petition, ratepayers and residents will send a clear message to the Council that they are not happy. As a Councillor, I’m angry over some colleagues’ unwillingness to stick to their word and I am sure there are thousands of people out there that feel the same way.

Petition forms can be downloaded from http://www.lower-rates.co.nz

High Rise in Howick

In March 2003, Vector Holdings Limited was granted resource consents by the Manukau City Council to demolish and build a new complex on land at 16 Fencible Drive, the site of the old Howick Library. The overall height of the planned building was to be 18m high and twice the height of the publicly consulted and agreed upon limit of only 9m. Of course, this decision attracted a lot of criticism as the Howick community felt outraged at the betrayal by both the Council and developers. Howick has made loud and clear its dislike of any sort of high-rise developments and the passage of this particular resource consent spelt disaster for Howick’s treasured history and heritage.

The Howick Ratepayers and Residents Association, lead by Russell Wylie, took the only course of action available and successfully challenged the decision through the Environment Court. The Environment Court’s decision revealed gaping holes in Council’s consent processes and Judge C J Thompson expressed concern over the Council’s rather distorted perception:

“We are a little concerned that what we clearly see about this proposal is so different from what the Council seemed to see. But this building appears to us to be, in almost every way, totally out of scale and out of sympathy with its surroundings. Particularly its height, but also its bulk, gives it a dominance that overwhelms and threatens the amenity of the relatively low scale of what it surrounds.”

The thrust of the argument by the ratepayers’ association was that the Council had ignored specific policies which had been put in place to protect Howick’s special character and to ensure that developments are in unison with the rest of the Howick village. Judge Thompson agreed with that view and made the following comments:

“In our view, the effects of the building in those terms are incompatible with [the relative objectives and policies] . . .The height of the building is quite incompatible with the height and visual character of the surrounding area and that anticipated by the Plan.”

There is not point having policies, particularly planning ones, if they are to be completely overlooked when put into practice. Discretion does exist, of course, but the extent to which such discretion is used must be carefully considered. The ratepayers’ association is still very concerned with the Council’s handling of height and special character issues in Howick and those concerns have been more than justified by the Environment Court. Mr Wylie will be making a deputation to the Environment and Urban Design Committee on 17 March at 5pm seeking steps to ensure competent planning decisions in future cases.

Future of the Garden of Memories:

On Sunday 24 December last year, a fire started in the Torere at the historic Emilia Maud Nixon Garden of Memories. The Torere was very badly damaged in the fire, although some valuable artefacts were able to be saved. The question now facing both the Howick community and Council is what steps are to be taken to restore Miss Nixon’s garden and in what shape or form.

Miss Nixon’s Garden of Memories has a very long history which stretches back for many decades and it is very important that this history and the wishes of Miss Nixon are taken into account. Before Miss Nixon passed away in 1962, she set out to create a bicultural heritage facility for the Howick community to enjoy. With both the Torere and Fencible Cottage (in memory of early pioneers) linked by a Friendship Bridge, her vision was to join two races together on equal terms.

We now find ourselves at the start of 2005, more than half a century since Miss Nixon’s garden was first foreseen, with an opportunity to ensure that her vision continues to survive for the benefit of Howick. There are no easy solutions to this widely debated issue, but the best option for the garden appears to be that the Torere be rebuilt within the same footprint as before. While some people may wish to see the Torere moved to another location, that option wouldn’t be inline with Miss Nixon’s intentions. In the same respects, rebuilding the Torere much bigger than before would also be detrimental to the principle of “two races together on equal terms”.

The fire has been a tragedy for Howick and everybody involved. Now is the time for us to pull together as a community, put aside racial differences, and work to restore the Emilia Maud Nixon Garden of Memories for future generations to enjoy.

City Manager’s Pay Increase

A significant decision that was recently debated was the call to adjust City Manager Colin Dale’s level of remuneration and increase his salary by $36,752. This was to be a very contentious issue especially after the fallout from last year building consents audit which readers will no doubt be aware of. The 14.7 percent increase brings the City Managers total fixed remuneration package up to $286,345 (excluding superannuation).

Immediately after the Audit NZ report was presented to the Council in September last year, several Councillors made moves to censure the City Manager due to the significant deficiencies that the report highlighted. At the time, the censure motions were defeated as they appeared only as a means of electioneering, but they did point out the fact that the City Manager is the only council officer that is directly accountable to the elected Council. He has sole discretion over the employment of Manukau City’s 974 fulltime equivalent staff (up 27 percent since 1999).

Even though the City Manager is charged with so much responsibility and is the only real point of contact for the elected council, not all Councillors have an automatic right to be involved in matters to do with his employment and remuneration. Manukau City uses a system where this authority is given to only a select few who comprise the “Executive Review Panel”, currently Councillors Anne Candy, Neil Morrison, Bob Wichman and Mayor Curtis. This number is less than a quarter of the full council and some would feel that matters to do with the City Manager should be open for debate and resolution by all councillors.

The Council did make the decision to re-establish the panel back in November 2004, but it is timely given Colin Dale’s impending retirement to open this important review panel up to more, if not all Councillors. They have a responsibility to be accountable to their communities and without input into the executive review club they are reduced to mere rubber stampers in this area.

In the Council Pipeline…

• Airport signals dividend of up to $28.8million

• Pacific Event Centre opens April 2005

• Manukau Water review – large potential savings for ratepayers

• Council farewells Dr Kathy Garden, Director Strategic Development

• Swimming Pools considered for user charges

• Draft Annual Plan to be adopted 23 March 2005

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