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take our councils back
26 February 2012
people around the country are unhappy with the performance of
their Councils and demanding action of one kind or another.
Perhaps surprisingly, the same key issues are being debated in
places as diverse as the UK, Ireland, Florida, California,
Texas, Melbourne, Sydney, and Honolulu.
hot topic everywhere is how did citizens lose control over
their own destiny? Why do people in so many rural areas,
suburbs, towns and cities, feel so helpless, frustrated and
unable to provide for their own economic, social and cultural
well-being? What has gone wrong?
fairly clear picture is emerging. We have been seduced by the
benefits of size.
many of us believe ‘small is beautiful’, we have stood
aside while our political and bureaucratic decision makers
have worked on the premise that ‘bigger is always better’.
example, when I first came to Kaipara District as a refugee
from Waitakere City about fifteen years ago, one of the great
attractions was the Kaipara District Plan which was about as
thick as my thumb and hence was comprehensible. The Plan had
been written by Reyburn and Bryant, a small surveying/planning
firm in the region, and consents were processed by a local
family consulting firm and a single engineer. The Plan was
tailored to the district’s needs and getting consents was a
simple and inexpensive process. This was the situation
throughout much of New Zealand – and indeed around the
things in Kaipara District have changed dramatically since
then, and this Northland District shares this experience with
thousands of other councils around the world.
current Proposed Plan has been written by Beca Planning, a
division of one of New Zealand’s largest multinational
corporations. Beca employs over 2,400 people in offices around
the world, offering engineering and related consultancy
services in water, defence, education, healthcare,
transportation and power.
the same time, Kaipara’s plans, engineering standards and
works contracts were administered by CPG, a Singapore based
subsidiary of the Downer Group which employs over 21,000
people in over forty countries – Australia, Asia, the
Middle-East, Africa, the United Kingdom, Antarctica, New
Zealand and the Americas. Works Infrastructure is also a
subsidiary of Downer. CPG recently took over Duffill Watts, AC
Consulting and Coombes Consulting, securing a nationwide and
varied array of monopoly consulting contracts with councils
throughout New Zealand.
voters are understandably concerned that their council
candidates live in the district and are well connected into
the community. But when the successful candidates took office
they found themselves dependent on the services of two
multinational corporations for the preparation and
administration of their planning and engineering documents,
and the management of all council works and projects.
large organizations like to deal with other large
organizations, such companies are enthusiastic supporters of
further council amalgamations, and also favour letting
contracts to other large organizations, preferably with
offices across the road in main centres, rather than in small
towns such as Dargaville, Maungaturoto, Kaiwaka or Mangawhai.
twenty years ago, large consulting firms around the world
realized that there was a whole new industry emerging around
local government – an industry devoted to urban and rural
planning, environmental management, and works contract
management. They embarked on an international programme of
mergers and acquisitions and targeted either those companies
with monopoly contracts with councils already in place, or
simply bid for the next round of contracts as they came up for
typically bid low to get their foot in the door and then used
their claimed “international expertise” to ramp up the
scope, or nature of the projects, until the revenue streams
looked more healthy to their shareholders.
let’s be clear. There is nothing wrong with large
multinational corporations per se and these companies all have
excellent reputations, and have been responsible for many high
quality architectural and engineering projects here and around
New Zealand’s RMA District Plans are supposed to serve and
reflect the needs of the people and communities of the
districts. That intensely democratic function is foreign to a
corporate culture dedicated to solving large scale engineering
multinationals have set up their planning divisions in a hurry
and have staffed them with recent graduates. When small
organizations contract with a large consulting firm the
contract is handed to the junior staff – the senior staff
have bigger fish to fry.
contrast, small consulting firms are managed by the owners or
senior staff, who work on all their contracts, and any younger
staff serve a proper “apprenticeship”.
end result has been that Kaipara District, like so many
others, has been colonized by multinational corporations who
are now busy exploiting the local resources, and the locals’
bank balances in particular. To the multinational
corporations, our districts and cities are little more than
well funded ATM machines.
time for people and communities to take back control of their
Districts and their Plans.
to win our own ‘War of Independence’.
there are models of cities and regions that have resisted this
corporate takeover of their economies and communities. They
are in places as diverse as Switzerland and Texas – which
certainly demonstrates that topography has little to do with
Swiss have kept their council planning and management
functions under community control largely because of their
long-standing commitment to local direct democracy. The
average self-governing commune has only 2,000 people. Small
enterprises tend to deal with small organizations and the
Swiss have kept it that way. In Texas, local community control
is driven by a strong commitment to property rights, self
governance, and “rugged frontier individualism”. But the
outcomes are remarkably similar.
particular, communities in Switzerland and Texas both get the
housing and neigbourhoods they want. If you want to migrate to
Switzerland you have to apply to the Commune for your permit.
So they even get the people they want!
many citizens now want to repel the colonizers and demand that
their councils employ the services of local planners,
surveyors and engineers – staffed by people citizens are
likely to meet in the library, fitness center, or market.
planners are subject to the rules they write for the rest of
us – and hence have our interests at heart because they are
their interests too.
to Identify a Coloniser’s Plan.
colonial empires of the past collected taxes from their
colonies – with or without representation.
new bureaucratic colonisers “clip the ticket” – and need
to clip as many tickets as they can – and as often as they
two “styes in the colonisers’ eye” are “permitted
activities” and “farming”.
definition any permitted activity does not require a resource
consent and is hence a lost opportunity to clip the ticket.
They must go – and they are fast disappearing all around the
RMA plans list the multitude of farm activities as permitted
activities, even if some have to pass a few simple rules.
These exemptions severely constrain the ticket clippers’
cash flows and so they have to go too. Farmers throughout New
Zealand are now having to apply for resource consents to
change their land use from say forestry to dairy, to operate a
greenhouse, to renew water rights, to build farm dams, or
change from pasture to horticulture, or even, in future, to
increase their stock numbers, as in California.
plans claim that you can do anything you like provided you
don’t break the rules.
there are a multitude of rules, and tripping over one
threshold can unleash a multitude of assessment criteria which
are highly subjective and give absolute discretion to the
bureaucrats, who then get to clip a booklet of tickets many
example Kaipara farmers might think they can still build barns
as a permitted activity but check out the rules on impermeable
surfaces, driveways, street crossings: tickets galore.
example, rule 12.10.8 tells us that any activity is a
permitted activity if:
In any one hectare, the area of any site covered by buildings
and other impermeable surfaces is less than 10% in the Rural
zone where it is within an overlay.
means the area of a farm building and all the driveways and
parking and turning areas cannot be more than 1,000 sq metres
without triggering a resource consent, even if the farm is
100,000 ha in area, but happens to be within an overlay.
many plans the rules are so restrictive that almost any
proposal will trip over a hurdle somewhere and become a
discretionary activity. The High Court has now ruled that even
if the activity has no adverse effects it can still be
declined because of a failure to advance the objectives and
policies elsewhere in the plan. Hardly anyone is so familiar
with the interpretation of these multitudinous objectives and
policies that they can deal with them in preparing their
rules are designed to catch as many people as possible. For
example, why is the maximum size for a sleepout 36 m2?
a standard double garage is 6m x 6m or 36 m2. The slightest
increase in area, to turn it into a sleepout, makes it a
discretionary activity. Put a tub or a sink in it and it
becomes an a second dwelling. A book of tickets to the World
Cup is cheaper.
are a permitted activity in Waitakere City, but a Councillor
explains that it is many years since a house has been built
without requiring a resource consent.
to historical form, the 21st century corporate colonisers are
determined to reduce our status from free, property-owning
citizens, to that of serfs required to pay levies, taxes, or
tithes for the privilege of undertaking any personal
initiative, or even to find out if we can, only to find we
the Changes to take your District Back.
following initiatives by any incoming council would help
reinstate genuine local democracy within your District:
Provide an independent RMA Mediation Service to deal
with issues prior to granting of consent, and challenges to
conditions of consent.
Make sure your Regional Council adopts a “hands
off” approach to local land use planning.
Enable community governance by local Neighbourhood
Associations, restricting council control over such
communities only to matters affecting soil, water and air.
This provision caters for special groups such as Eco-Villages,
Transition Towns, Liveable Buildings, Papakainga Housing, or
any other communities who want to be in control of their own
Modify consenting processes to provide a choice of
council liability (the current system) or private liability
(supported by insurance and guarantees),
as is being proposed for the Nationwide Building Consent
process. This empowers local engineers, planners and surveyors
and reduces duplication of costs.
Introduce competition at every stage of consenting and
Employ senior staff with qualifications in key areas of
operation to oversee consulting contracts and to deal with
routine applications for resource and building consents
Enable landowners to provide new rural lots on an
“as-is-where-is-basis” and record this status on LIMs.
This eliminates another opportunity for monopoly consultants
to add to costs.
Take advantage of High Speed Broadband, and the
increasing number of professionals distributed throughout the
District, to provide decentralised services to local
communities from local “Distributed Office Centres”.
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