From Penk’s Pen – What an extraordinary start to 2023.

With flooding events and Cyclone Gabrielle disrupting life hugely, I’m in awe of so many of you coming together to help others during a time of real need.

There are too many to name here individually but you know who you are.  And so do we.  As always, we think particularly of those who place themselves in physical danger in service of the community.  It’s appropriate to make special heartfelt acknowledgement of the loss of life suffered by the volunteers of Muriwai fire station.

As northwest Auckland attempts to move itself into a medium-term recovery stage, serious answers are needed here (and plenty of other parts of the North Island, to be fair).  I’ve recently written to the Mayor highlighting the history of this area: a lack of planning frameworks, ad hoc development enabled by that shortcoming and a lack of supporting infrastructure.

It’s abundantly clear that, in addition to the lack of investment in pipes (to go with shortcomings in transport, comms networks and school capacity), there is another major problem.

Those who have been around much longer than me recall that stormwater infrastructure was regularly maintained, once upon a time.  I’m told that the guy whose sole job was to go around clearing drains and culverts was known to all and sundry by name.

By contrast, local government seems now to concern itself with far too many things that are “nice to have” at best.  At the risk of striking an unwelcome political note, it’s the sad reality that some in central government favour a much broader remit for councils than I’m personally comfortable with.  It’s a mistake to enable local government to get in the business of duplicating social services provided more efficiently in the community (or inefficiently by central government!).  Meeting tangible needs such as drain clearance may not be glamorous but it’s utterly vital.

Expansion of the purpose section of the Local Government Act a few years ago feels like a significant misstep, in this context.

Let’s hope for a much better year than most readers of this fine publication have experienced so far.  If we’re to seek a silver lining in some very dark clouds, it must be the needs of this area finally being taken seriously.  That will mean asking the hard questions and – more importantly – demanding the right answers.  There’s too much at stake not to do that.

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