Weekly column by Kāpiti mayor K Gurunathan.

Whenever and wherever dictatorships are established one of the first people targeted for elimination are librarians.

Their professional role, as dedicated champions of freedom to access information, made them a target. This was an interesting story told by Internal Affairs Minister Tracy Martin.

She was introducing the Government's Covid-19 recovery $60 million funding of libraries over two years. She delivered this at last week's LGNZ Rural and Provincial meeting. The rationale is anchored in understanding the role of libraries and librarians.

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They are safe places serviced by trusted staff known for facilitating people to access information helpful to their daily lives. The Government is looking at beefing up the capacity of libraries to help people impacted by the economic challenges.

I agree with the minister's observation that we will be looking at a raft of working people becoming suddenly unemployed but understandably reluctant to seek help through the traditional avenues like WINZ.

The funding includes $4m towards the Aotearoa People's Network, a partnership between the National Library and councils facilitating free internet access to the public. Another $13m is going towards library services in school. The Minister urged councils and school principals to be aware of these opportunities.

Talking of principals, last Wednesday I hosted Mark Oldershaw, the new CEO of Weltec/Whitireia Polytech.

It started with a useful briefing from our economic development team on council's refreshed economic development strategy. We then went across the district to meet with principals Tony Kane of Kāpiti College, Craig Steed of Paraparumu College, and Andy Fraser of Ōtaki College. We also had a warm welcome by Mereana Selby the CEO of Te Wananga o Raukawa.

We had hoped to meet Libby Hakaraia at the Maoriland Hub to learn about their innovative filmmaking school for young people but they were in Auckland.

The aim of hosting Mr Oldershaw was to strength the educational and training pathways between Kāpiti's educational institutions and his polytechnic. Opportunities for practical career pathways is critical for Kapiti given the government funding of free vocational training to help with the Covid recovery.

A key part of the discussion was around the need to identify the economic drivers of the district and the workforce needed to service these economies with the needed skills. These principals and staff are guardians of our catchment of a young labour force. They should be active partners of the economic development strategy shaped by council and stakeholders.

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Paraparaumu College principal Craig Steed, left, Kapiti mayor K Gurunathan, Weltec/Whitireia chief exectuive Mark Oldershaw.
Paraparaumu College principal Craig Steed, left, Kapiti mayor K Gurunathan, Weltec/Whitireia chief exectuive Mark Oldershaw.

Early Friday morning, there was a strong council presence at the opening of the new office premises of Atiawa Ki Whakarongotai Charitable Trust.

They moved from their property at Waikanae's Elizabeth St to the more central site at Parata St. The former DoC office, underpinned and land banked by a Treaty claim, is being leased by the trust.

The trust, as the iwi runanga and mandated authority, is the legal body that interfaces with council. Its importance was recognised at the dawn event by the presence of regional council chairman Daran Ponter and Kapiti regional councillor Penny Gaylor, KCDC chief executive Wayne Maxwell and senior staff. Also present was ward councillor Jocelyn Prvanov.

This week, I want to take the opportunity to thank Russell Bell for the tenacious campaign he led to convince Greater Wellington Regional Council to restore sections of QE Park into wetlands.

GW had defended its decision to lease out 200 hectares of wetlands to a farming company. Bell and his environmental supporters had argued that huge chunks of the leased land were ancient wetland, which, if given a chance, would regenerate and to become carbon-sinks. Pressing the point that GW had declared a climate change emergency.

Congratulations to GW for listening to Mr Bell and supporters to explore this opportunity to regenerate our wetlands.

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The subject of this regeneration of the ancient wetlands was also raised on Sunday by members of the Wellington Tramway Museum located at the QE Park. It was the official opening of a section of the track.

It was great to see GW chairman Daran Ponter with his senior councillors and staff. As patron of the museum I had a message to deliver on behalf of the amazing volunteers of the museum. That the vision of regenerating the ancient wetlands should not result in constraining the potential of extending the reach of the electric trams.

I agree with the museum that the loving and skilful restoration of ye olde electric trams should sit very comfortably with the declaration of a climate change emergency and the regeneration of the wetlands. There's a delightful symphony in this relationship.