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Manukau City: The Ross Report


The Ross Report – July 2005

Cr Jami-Lee Ross – Manukau City Councillor

Let’s Keep Howick Historic:

Last Wednesday, 20 July, a packed public meeting was held in the All Saints Church hall in Howick to discuss the future of Howick’s town centre and the implications of the dreaded high rise proposals. A group of concerned local community leaders have banded together to lead the battle against growth centre intensification and they received overwhelming support from the community at the meeting.

The new group called “Keep Howick Historic” involves community board chairpersons, ratepayer groups, and a former town planner from the old Howick Borough Council. At the keep Howick historic meeting they presented speakers from both the Auckland Regional Council and Manukau City Council, as well as Councillor Dick Quax who has been following the ARC’s intensification efforts with great interest.

Last year the Government passed legislation which required Auckland councils to consider future growth in the region and make adjustments to the Regional Growth Strategy and their district plans accordingly. What the Manukau City Council decided to do was identify 13 growth centres for future intensification, one being Howick.

Howick isn’t planned to be seriously looked at as a growth centre until 2017, but the planning process for the whole region has already started and now is the time for the community to have an input into the future of Howick. The process has begun with what is called Plan Change 12 and will soon be heard by a joint hearings panel of councillors from across the Auckland Region. The first round of submissions closed several weeks ago, but a second opportunity will be available in late September for concerned members of the public to make further submissions.

At the public meeting the Keep Howick Historic group presented their reasons why they believed Howick should stay the way it is and any major changes should be fought vigorously. Grant Taylor from Cockle Bay and Russell Wylie of Howick made very good points about conserving Howick’s heritage and quality of life for residents. They also focused on the transport problems associated with significantly increasing the number of people living in Howick, and also on the need to preserve the wonderful views that Howick offers.

Local Government should be about decisions that benefit local communities and should have the support of a majority of residents. Any intensification efforts in Howick will be very much opposed by Howick residents and will be to the detriment of those living here. Howick people live in Howick because they enjoy the sunny seaside village atmosphere that is on offer and they don’t want it to change.

When the second phase of submissions opens up in September, all Howick residents who are concerned about intensification or high rise in Howick should support the Keep Howick Historic group and demand that Howick be removed from the list of growth centres. The public meeting on 20 July almost unanimously voted to remove Howick from the list and this is indicative of strong public dissent.

Councils Get Greedy Over Consumer Trust:

For well over a decade there has been a long running and very expensive dispute going on between the Auckland, Manukau and Papakura Councils, and the Auckland Energy Consumer Trust. Both the Councils and AECT have a significant interest in the same energy company and represent the same people who benefit from that company. The problem is that they both have completely opposing views on the company’s future.

So what’s the prize at the end of the day? Energy giant Vector Limited – worth $2.38 billion – the sixth biggest company about to be listed on the NZ Stock Exchange.

AECT was formed as part of the electricity reforms in 1993 and is the trust that has 100 percent ownership of Vector Ltd on behalf of 290,000 consumer beneficiaries. Five trustees are elected by these beneficiaries every 3 years and those beneficiaries also receive an annual dividend. In 2003 and 2004 the dividends received were $155 and $170 respectively.

The Councils come into the picture as capital beneficiaries of AECT when it is wound up and the assets of Vector become joint property of Auckland, Manukau, and Papakura Councils. But this doesn’t happen until 2073 and will only happen because of an unusual requirement of the Perpetuities Act 1964 which sees AECT terminated 80 years after being formed. The fact that the three Councils might benefit from AECT 80 years into the future, simply by virtue of 1960s legislation, has been the foot in the door that’s unleashed a hungry monster within the three Councils.

Local Government, from my experience so far within the system, is filled with a desire to control absolutely anything and everything it can. There is no such thing as a steady, hands off overview of a city when local authorities have the power of general competence and a mandate to do anything. Control over Vector Ltd and the AECT is one such example and for years the Councils have been trying to exert an undue influence over AECT as if they own it already. Five long court battles, according to the NZ Herald, have come at a cost of approximately $5million to ratepayers and trustees.

One of the main concerns of the Councils is that the AECT is not a good model of governance and Vector Ltd would be much better off owned by them now, rather than waiting until 2073. It is true that the Councils opposed the establishing of AECT in 1993 and proposed a 60% majority Council ownership, with the remaining 40% in a trust to make charitable donations. However, that plan, with little mention of any benefit to consumers, never eventuated. The feeling now is that the AECT is too politicized and unstable which can’t be good for consumers. The question arising from that, of course, is how many ratepayers in Auckland, Manukau, or Papakura really think their local Council is any more stable, or could do a better job than AECT? After all, they all know which public body collects hundreds of dollars from them every year, and which one gives them a nice Christmas bonus.

The thing that the Councils keep forgetting is that AECT is elected by exactly the same people that elect them. The difference between the two is that AECT is elected to look after the consumers’ interest in Vector and the Councils are elected to look after their own respective districts. At the end of the election cycle every 3 years the trustees are accountable to the consumer beneficiaries and not the three Councils. No matter how strongly the Councils believe AECT is dysfunctional, it is the consumer electors – not the Councils – that make that decision.

The Councils claim that they’re only interested in the best outcome for consumers and ratepayers, but have they ever asked what the consumers might actually want? A November 2004 Manukau City Council report made reference to a letter written to the Minister of Energy asking for legislation to wind up the AECT early and vest ownership in the three Councils. Most worrying was the report’s suggestion that Vector dividends should go to the Councils, rather than consumers.

And that’s the crux of it all – ownership, power, and dividends – and the fear that they would all be taken off the consumers, and given to the Councils. Councillors might believe they’re doing the right thing, and probably even have the public interest at heart, but they’re not the ones elected as trustees with manifestos promising consumer ownership and continued dividends.

It might be time for the Auckland, Manukau and Papakura Councils to accept defeat and let the Auckland Energy Consumer Trust get on with it. The Councils are very fortunate to be capital beneficiaries in 70 years time, but until then, they should leave Vector to the consumers. After all, it’s the poor consumers, and the ratepayers, that have to foot the bills and carry the flak all the time. After 12 years of mayhem, they might just be sick of it all.

Maori Make Claim Over Manukau Water:

Manukau is one of the few New Zealand cities that can boast over 300km of sparkling coastline and vast expanses of water out into both the Manukau and Waitemata Harbours. Manukau has a distinct connection with its water, but that water is about to become a very controversial subject.

Manukau City Council is considering ways to develop its internal water company, suitably named Manukau Water, into a council controlled organisation (CCO) for the benefit of the city. The Council as already approved the CCO in principle but will be looking at options for establishing it between now and July 2006.

There are significant benefits to establishing Manukau Water as a CCO with the most notable one being an estimated saving of $5million over 3 years. The board of directors for Manukau Water will also be made up of up to 7 industry experts who can help guide the CCO towards more efficient and effective operations.

The reason why Manukau Water is about to become controversial is because local Mana Whenua Maori groups have claimed that they own Manukau’s water and should be guaranteed a place on the CCO’s board of directors. This would give Maori a say in Manukau Water above and beyond every other citizen, and in some instances, more influence than the Council itself. They are also requesting a large role in the director’s appointment procedure.

The Mana Whenua groups say they “have aspirations to ensure that the value delivered by Manukau Water includes protection of the mauri of waterways and water bodies for present and future generations”. They also say that they are the first representatives of Aotearoa and have a spiritually connection to water.

While it’s not my place to question the reasoning or integrity of Maori belief systems, I can not agree with the Mana Whenua groups that they should be entitled to a place on the board of directors. Mana Whenua are certainly entitled to their views and should probably even be commended for the interest they take in local body affairs, but I will always believe that no one group should be entitled to additional privileges above others based purely on race.

The board of Manukau Water must act in the best interests of the CCO, not only for legislative reasons, but because it must operate in the most efficient and effective way for the benefit of the city. If the Council were to appoint directors to the company for any reason other than merit, then the board will become a political body and its very purpose will be lost.

One of the prime reasons why Manukau Water is being setup as a CCO is because there are no political decisions involved in the management of a water company. The political decisions, such as pricing and investment of assets, will continue to be made by Councillors elected by residents and ratepayers. There is also absolutely no possibility of Manukau Water being privatised because this is disallowed by section 130 of the Local Government Act 2002.

The board of Manukau Water must be established as a governing body with directors appointed for their skill and merit. The Council must not allow the board to be politicized by allowing representatives who have a political agenda. A decision on the director’s appointment process will be made by the Council at its next meeting on 28 July.

Put Agendas Aside for Garden’s Future:

Last month this newsletter covered the Emilia Maud Nixon Garden of Memories and work being done towards rebuilding Torere, the small Maori house destroyed by fire in October 2004. Since the last newsletter there has been significant progress made on returning the Garden to its former glory, but unfortunately also some negative publicity pushed by a small group who cannot see the educational benefits of Miss Nixon’s Garden.

The Manukau City Council decided to allocated funding through its 2005/06 Annual Plan to investigate the possibility of reinstating a replica Fencible cottage and bridge of friendship which used to be part of the Garden when it was given to Howick in the 1960s. Both of these items were removed because they were very old and poorly maintained, but consultation later identified that it was the community’s wish to see them returned in the future. It is very important that these items are reinstated so that the Garden is fully completed and that Miss Nixon’s wishes for two cultures to be united in harmony can continue.

The planning process has also continued for the rebuilding of Torere and a final decision is expected to be made during the month of August. After the 2004 fire a project control group, made up of building advisors and community representatives, has been overseeing the planning stages. Several representatives and I have been working to rebuild Torere on exactly the same footprint as the previous building, staying conscious of the need to keep any costs to the ratepayer at a minimum.

As wonderful as the Garden of Memories is, it has always been the target of criticism for many years and this rebuilding project hasn’t avoided it either. Emilia Maud Nixon stated in her will when she gifted the Garden to the people of Howick that it was for “recreational, cultural and educational interest and development and as an aid to an appreciation of the historical development of New Zealand”. Sadly some Howick residents and Community Board members have been advocating that cultural and educational interest no longer continue in the Garden by fighting rebuilding of Torere.

In recent years 16,000 children and new settlers have had the chance to experience the great learning programs being run in the Garden of Memories each year. These programs have even been so successful that the Ministry of Education has decided to give an annual grant of $150,000 so they can continue into the future. It is astounding that some people now want to stop the good work happening in the Garden of Memories and deny children the opportunity to learn about the cultural history of New Zealand.

These same people are also suggesting that ratepayers in Howick and Pakuranga should foot the bill for a large Marae to be built at Pigeon Mountain instead of the much smaller Torere in the Garden of Memories. Unfortunately for ratepayers this would also mean forgoing $187,000 that has been claimed on insurance to rebuild Torere and much higher costs with resource consent, the changing of management plans, and construction.

It must be remembered that only a few years ago a plan was completed for the Garden of Memories which involved two years of community consultation. More importantly however, Emilia Maud Nixon wanted her Garden to be used for the education of children and she would surely be delighted with the work currently being carried out in her memory. It is unfortunate that a few closed minded people are attempting to destroy the value of the Garden of Memories and derail any progress being made. This Howick icon needs to continue to shine for future generations and rebuilding Torere is central to continuing Emilia Maud Nixon’s wishes.

Council News in Brief…

• Council begins a review of events funding and strategy

• Eastern Transport Corridor continues with new name

• Interviewing of applicants for City Manager position begin August

• Council promotes Local Bills to toughen up on graffiti and prostitution

• Mayor and Council to fight proposed power lines through rural community


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