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Sandra Goudie

Communities Under Siege

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Communities throughout New Zealand are feeling under siege from regional councils, district councils, and external lobby groups who are not part of their living, working communities.

Spatial planning has spawned an avalanche of costly, staff driven micro management initiatives, for significant natural areas (SNAs), landscape, amenity, and biodiversity, affecting rural private property. Planning maps now identify everything from a blade of grass to a dog kennel.

For example, the Waikato Regional Council Long Term Plan listed 20+ documents, driven by staff, with most requiring community input.

As the Waikato Regional Council drives these planning documents forward, they are so far removed from their constituency base they do not understand the needs and aspirations of the actual communities they are purporting to represent, undermining local democracy and private property rights.

There is little constituency understanding of the policy that is being driven by staff, with undue influence by funded lobby groups not representing the majority of people who live and work in the community. In addition, the term ‘affordability’ seems to be lost in space with the Waikato Regional Council rate demands growing year by year.

As a consequence, the Waikato Regional Council are embroiling themselves in making decisions that are being contested vigorously on a number of fronts.

A challenge has been lodged to oppose the creation of two Maori constituencies when the area already has elected representation. Apart from being race based, substantial cost will be attached. Little constituency feedback was sought before the decision was made with the only opportunity submerged by a national election, the Rugby World Cup and Christmas. A petition has now been launched to give people the chance to vote against the proposal – essentially a vote of no confidence in the current regional council.

A substantial group of property owners established CLOUT – Coromandel Landowners United – to challenge the Waikato Regional Policy Statement and its SNA, landscape, and biodiversity provisions, employing a QC to assist. All at their own cost in both time and money.  Thousands of property owners received letters identifying their properties has having SNA values from the district council. As it turned out, the move was being driven by the regional council staff, ably assisted by the Department of Conservation.

None of the property owners had been consulted before the Waikato Regional Council identified these properties on planning maps in their Regional Policy Statement. A hard core team got together and a meeting was held in Coromandel town to meet with representatives from Waikato Regional Council and Thames Coromandel District Council. Only two staff showed from Regional Council, but there was good representation from the District Council. 250 property owners turned up. There had been no public advertising of the meeting. From there, CLOUT was established and a database of supporters began, which now numbers in the hundreds. CLOUT is committed to monitoring and responding to as many of the documents put out by the regional and district council as possible. There is no funding, but where necessary, a QC will be engaged. What other choice is there when councils are driven by staff?

In contrast the not-for-profit group the Environmental Defence Society (EDS) is fed and watered by government (taxpayers), and to a lesser extent regional and district councils (ratepayers) to push their demands and create costly battles for taxpayers, ratepayers and communities.

EDS have ingratiated themselves so far into the government system that they have two signed agreements with the Ministry for the Environment – a ‘Strategic Relationship Agreement…’ and a separate ‘funding agreement’.

To date they have secured close to a $1 million over the last 5 years from government departments. This doesn’t include the money given to them by regional and district councils, who are constantly in debt and raising rates.

Just recently EDS advertised for an Environmental Legal Advisor to, among other things, case manage EDS’s litigation program. Who do they litigate against? Councils (ratepayers), communities, and consent applicants. Effectively, we pay them to cost us more.

When the Ministry for the Environment created a Technical Advisory Group, EDS created its own and crows about its influence on government. This raises serious questions about the integrity of the system, especially when government are paying EDS and consulting with them to an extent not afforded to other groups.

The Government has signed up to listing EDS’s events on the government website. This suggests a tacit endorsement of their ideology.

As well, government has also agreed that ‘where possible’ government will assist EDS in sourcing additional funding from external sources.

Why is it that government listens more to those that feed off the system, rather than those subjected to it?

Taxpayers and ratepayers who end up bearing the cost of the ideologically-driven activism by EDS, need to know how a tiny environmental group has been allowed to gain this amount of influence and easy taxpayer money when ordinary kiwis are struggling to pay their taxes and rates.

Nothing could be more dubious than relationships and agreements such as this with so-called not-for-profits.

Community and property owners fund their own battles and all too often against the likes of the EDS, funded by government!

There is something very wrong here.