Northland is losing its most valuable natural resource, youth. We need a university campus providing world class education. Northland will retain future leaders and create opportunities for economic advancement and stability, providing commercial opportunities across all sectors. We can retain our most valuable resource, develop a sustainable economy and illustrate the outstanding qualities of Northland.
The likelihood of a move toward unitary authorities. The justifications are better representation (Far North), rationalisation and cost efficiencies, but there are many questions. Who benefits from a redistribution of debt and assets? How will Northland's diverse communities be effectively represented? Will a restructure dilute the NRC's environmental roles and responsibilities?
Maintaining the quality and quantity of our water. Housing, farming and forestry are major contributors toward Northland's growth.
Unless activity is robustly monitored water quality is at risk. NRC needs to engage the services of Niwa to monitor and address degradation. Waiora Northland Water freshwater project will address local water quality issues, however NRC must provide resources to allow the communities to effectively engage.
Local government amalgamation (or not) motivates ratepayers and residents to wake up, get informed and have a voice. People need to be involved in making decisions but must be well informed. Engaging the public is critical. Close to that is how NRC works with the three district councils to reduce duplication, get things done and grow business.
Our economy and life is pinned to water quality and quantity. Intensity and frequency of extreme weather events generated by climate change produce flooding and drought. Excessive rain produces soil erosion, sediments runoff, litter and sewage, deposited into waterways, harbours and oceans. Too little rain impacts agriculture, horticulture and household supply. We can mitigate with riparian planting, planting to hold soil, carbon trees, biofuel from forestry waste, tree crops for livestock fodder.
Not enough food and things we need are produced locally. The economy is too reliant on tourism and exported primary products, leaving Northland vulnerable to spiking energy costs and a worsening world economy. The NRC has a role in the transition to a more diverse and sustainable local economy. I will push to have a strategic and educational focus on land and resource use that serves local people. At a grassroots level, we need electoral reform which gives communities more control and responsibility .
The biggest concern to me is the prospect of a unitary authority and abolishment of the Northland Regional Council as we know it, and the inadequate discussion that has emerged from people who have a political agenda. I want to know what are the benefits to me as a ratepayer, both financially and in the services that will be received.
Debt, both the total debt and allocation between ratepayers. The three district councils have total net debt of about $355 million, or $4300 per rateable unit. Consequences of local government reform could be the NRC selling its Northland Port shares, which may result in the new council(s) borrowing again, and mergers seeing some ratepayers take on other ratepayers' debts. Any proposed structure should incentivise better debt management and be equitable across ratepayers.
Local government reform. With only 158,000 people, can Northland afford to pay for four councils, chief executives, annual plans, long-term plans, etc? Would that money be better used reducing local government debt or building new infrastructure? Does anybody think that Northland has received its fair share of taxpayer resources from Wellington under the current system? We could do better if we spoke in Wellington with one voice.
Water quality. We have the Waiora Northland programme for freshwater management. The biggest job is the whole issue of water management in the marine and fresh water environment, and future use and allocation of water. The use and quality of water and how it is affected by personal use, farming, other industries, economically and recreational is core to everything else.
The single biggest issue is restoration, defined as: reinstatement; restitution; return. The NRC has the ability to advocate with transparency. Major projects that impact on environment and communities will require restoration and environmental enhancement; giving back to/repaying the communities through employment, training, and promoting local growth; an equitable return.
Unemployment, especially youth. Seven years ago Northland had the second highest percentage, 16.5 per cent. Has it changed? Some youth are motivated; others, have no work ethic. Where are the ideas for motivation; skill teaching; raising self-worth; and starting the journey? 100,000 adults must have some. It's not all about councils.
Environment management is NRC's core responsibility. A conundrum exists in that economic growth has marginalised this process. We need a vibrant economy but with sustainable industries and primary producers. Soil is the lifeblood of primary industries but we have no clear management direction. Preparing for climate change and clean energy alternatives relate to the health and quality of environment and economic stability. We cannot hamstring development and cannot forsake our environment.
The erosion of our democratic rights. We see its effect in offshore oil drilling and RMA changes in favour of corporate mining; in undermining local government policies around GMOs in our environment and national water quality standards so poor that it's a joke. The NRC needs to focus on clear communication with the people in a way that allows their voices to be heard. It is the NRC's role to make sure that this voice is heard all the way back to Wellington.
Most important is people and their issues. Each community has different environmental issue. The way to address it is listen, discuss and list their priority in their community, urban, rural or foreshore.
Pending local government reform in Northland, shared services, ratepayers receiving value and equitable representation locally. Making sure the Kaipara District's voice is heard.
How to move Northland forward co-operatively, involving all community sectors. NRC is the body that should be providing a strategic direction for the region. We spend large amounts of time and energy trying to get our own way - forming and holding set positions that cost the region tens of thousands of dollars. We need to achieve the right balance between left and right; development and conservation. It will require people, lobby groups et al to move from their set positions.
The environment. This is the reason that people come here, live here and buy products from here. It is our economic advantage. We need to defend the environment against the spread of new weeds and pests on land and water. The intensification of settlement, farming and visitors bring new challenges. We need to remedy past impacts. There is a limit to what costs can be added to businesses and communities. Acting wisely will involve using research to identify priorities and which actions can have the largest impact.
Stripping of services and centralisation of representation is forcing the rural population to move to the cities. How can we attract and keep a working population in Northland if we have less essential services and diminished voices? There are no regional policies to support the regions. What is centralisation costing us? We need to have policies that attract people and business to rural Northland. The land and infrastructure are in place.
The Northland Regional Council is under threat of being "swallered" up by neighbouring district councils. Some roles overlap in services but these issues can be resolved at ground level. The RMA needs to be revamped throughout the country. A unitary authority will not solve this. Without the NRC as a buffer for monitoring the environment, district councils will eventually become one authority. If this happens, the Far North will be the losers.
Unemployment, especially in the Far North, is holding us all back. It leads to crime, poverty, suicide, hopelessness, wasting GDP on more welfare and more prisons, and means our young people are leaving in droves. There are less working people to pay rates and buy houses. Treaty settlements present the possibility for iwi and councils to create a Regional Development Bank which can steer regional development toward the sustainable industries we want.
That Northland Regional Council continues to implement the Waiora Northland Water programmes and activities; works collaboratively with other councils, stakeholder groups and central government agencies on shared initiatives that benefit local communities. Develop a robust plan to increase engagement and participation in council activities and processes; ensure decisions are evidenced based, relevant, affordable and sustainable long term; protect strategic assets and utilise dividends carefully.
Whether the recent constituency/population based changes are any improvement from the former representation model. The effectiveness of such changes should be reviewed following the elections. Has democracy been improved or diminished? I feel the smaller new constituencies make it easy for the old guard to be jilted and newcomers to take over. This does not provide good continuity of governance.
Local government reform, turning four councils into one. The establishment of a single unitary authority for Northland Te Tai Tokerau is the only logical answer for the region's long-term wellbeing. We need to address the issue of representation, maintaining a balance between the various communities. We must ensure there is adequate income for the unitary authority to undertake its business; explore alternative income streams; maintain a local voice through community boards with real teeth.
Fresh water conservation. Water is a finite resource and essential to life. Recent droughts highlight the need for consistent healthy water supplies in Northland. Northland's annual rainfall is between 1600mm to 2000mm per year but we fail to store it. Fresh water consumption needs to be a managed sustainably. This could be done by promotion of home and rural water collection systems, public consultation and education.
Mining and the implications on our environment. Things are being rushed. There is a need for more information on proposed mining exploration so communities can make informed decisions. Many argue that mining is an exciting opportunity. There is a need for increased strategy and investment in economic development; at the same time we need to be thorough in our research and evaluation of activities which could impact negatively on the environment.
My key concern for Northland is our ability to provide the infrastructure and amenities for future growth and development. Dynamic, fresh and energetic ideas are needed. With 1.5 million people living in Auckland, predicted to increase by another million in the next 10 years, Northland will be their playground. How do we future-proof for this, what plans are in place at local and regional council level to capitalise to provide employment and opportunities for prosperity without damaging the environment?