Whakatāne is a spectacular place with a great community, and it’s been an honour serving on our Council since 2016. Like any community around the country we face some serious challenges – but also exciting opportunities. By becoming more sustainable, more resilient and more regenerative, we both prepare for those challenges and make the most of our opportunities. What that means locally is reducing our resource use, building our capacity to adapt to change, and enhancing natural ecosystems where ever we can.
Since my election three years ago the Whakatāne District Council (WDC) is starting to take these issues more seriously. The Climate Change Steering Committee, which I chair, is only new, but it is driving that change.
We know that reducing greenhouse gas emissions is vital. The Climate Change committee has measured council emissions and begun reducing them. For example, we have to earthquake strengthen the Civic Centre because it is the Civil Defence HQ in any disaster. This is a great opportunity to make it more energy efficient at the same time. I also expect to see solar PV panels on at least some of our public buildings starting this term. All of this will have long term cost savings as well as environmental benefits.
We have developed a set of Climate Change Principles to make sure all future decision-making takes climate change into account. This is about reducing emissions and preparing for the impacts of global warming. Those have been out for consultation, and the community has been overwhelmingly supportive.
We are moving towards more electric and hybrid vehicles. It is not just changing vehicles, but changing how we use them. Even more, the Active Whakatāne Strategy is about supporting people in council and the community to get out of their cars and in to other transport modes, which has environmental, health, safety, and economic benefits. That ties to disability access too. If it works for mobility scooters and wheel chairs it will work for pedestrians and others as well.
We face big infrastructure challenges, such as the ‘three waters’ (drinking water, waste water / sewerage, and storm water). It’s big money. How we did things in the past won’t always be good enough today, so we have to do things better. Climate change adds huge pressure on top of that. Councils all across the country face these same issues and so being able to talk to Central Government is critical. It is helpful to have councillors who know their way around the Beehive and who have good relationships with key ministers.
It is not just about hard infrastructure though. Just as important for resilience is strong communities. The Edgecumbe flood demonstrated that very clearly. As well as pipes and asphalt, we need to be able to to work with communities to understand and support their aspirations and build connections. The work I have done with Whakatāne Ki Mua, with Greenprint for Whakatāne (while helped spark both Waste Zero Whakatāne, and the Food Sovereignty Network), and with Awatapu Otamakaukau Kaitiaki Trust are examples.
Collaborating with mana whenua is also important. It is about respecting local hapū and iwi. They have an intergenerational commitment to this place as kaitiaki and are important for the expertise and the resources they can bring to the table. The Whakatāne Regeneration Program is a nation-leading example of how Council can work with tangata whenua for the good of everyone.
Integrating nature into our solutions, such as wetlands for flood protection and water holding, is the way of the future. People talk about ‘Biophilic Design’ as a way to benefit people and nature and provide long term, low energy solutions to infrastructure problems. We need more of this kind of thinking. Council has great staff with great ideas but they need supportive political leadership who understand that we need to do things differently in the 21st century.
Becoming More Strategic
Tying it all together is the need for strategic prioritisation. The WDC is really good at leveraging money out of central government and out of funding bodies. The downside is that council can become too opportunistic. We can end up chasing the money. With the big challenges in front of us – and of course challenges are just opportunities to do things better – we have to be very disciplined about how we spend money. I don’t think this means just doing pipes and roads, the hard engineering stuff. We need to have a much more holistic understand of what helps communities thrive. But it does mean being very clear how our spending leads us towards our strategic priorities. We need to become very good at synergising activities to fulfil multiple functions where we can (permaculture thinking), and we have to be prepared to say “no” to things that may sound great and we can get some co-funding for, but which don’t lead to where we need to go.
This is a really important time in history. Council has a really important role to play. To do that it needs to have a clear strategy. Whoever you vote for, it is important to choose people who can see the big picture, who can exercise strong governance leadership, and who know how to get things done. Importantly we also need more diversity around the council table. A wider range of skills, and of life experiences, will lead to better decision-making.
Above all we need people with vision. Vote for me and make a difference.