My election last October as Waikato Regional Council (WRC) representative for Thames-Coromandel has involved a steep learning curve but has been rewarding and challenging.
WRC is more diverse this time. It is no longer dominated by dairy farmers, there are more women (6/14 councillors) and a greater age range. In part due to the election of myself and two younger women in Hamilton, climate action is now a central focus.
For the first time a Climate Action Committee has been created, of which I am deputy-chair. The committee has hit the ground running.
At its first meeting the committee recommended a reduction in WRC's in-house greenhouse gas emissions of 70 per cent, by 2030. The previous target was 45 per cent. The reduction required to meet the Paris climate agreement is 55 per cent.
A requirement that all future decision making of WRC considers climate change, and the establishment of a region-wide electric vehicle advisory group to promote EV uptake were also approved.
Details of the emissions profile of each district council in the region - including Thames-Coromandel - will be released shortly. I will comment on this further in a future column.
Improving water quality so that our rivers, streams, and lakes are not a risk to human health and the environment remains a top priority. Independent commissioners have reached a decision on stricter freshwater controls under "Plan Change 1" relating to the Waikato and Waipa river catchments. The Waihou and Piako catchments are also seriously degraded from intensive farming and will be the next focus for reform.
Central government will also be releasing its own freshwater reforms in 2020 which are expected to require even more stringent controls on the discharge of contaminants.
The last six weeks under Covid-19 lockdown had been very challenging but the council has continued to function efficiently with both staff and councillors using videoconferencing. Having experienced the benefits, it is likely that many workshops and meetings will continue to use this technology, thereby saving ratepayer costs and lowering emissions.
WRC has promoted $60 million of Covid-19 recovery/stimulus projects to central government, many of which will benefit Thames-Coromandel and will provide 273 fulltime jobs if approved. These projects include controlling wild goats in our forests, tackling kauri dieback, bringing forward work on harbours on both the east and west coasts of the Peninsula, and planting millions of trees.
A recent study from Oxford University of 700 projects worldwide has found that those which cut emissions as well as stimulating economic growth deliver higher returns on government spending and create more jobs than conventional stimulus spending. Hopefully our local and national leaders are heeding this advice.
Recognising the severe hardship which the Covid-19 crisis is causing, WRC has signalled its intention to have a zero rate increase for 2020/2021. The council is also reviewing its rate rebate policy so that people in genuine hardship, such as so many of our elders on fixed incomes, will be able to secure welcome rate relief.