by Helen Martin
When the Auckland Super City was formed six years ago Rodney became a Ward of four subdivisionswith nine elected members on its Local Board; Wellsford (Te Hana, Wellsford, Tapora), 1 member; Warkworth (Mahurangi, Upper Waiwera, Leigh), 3 members; Dairy Flat (Wainui, Waitoki, Coatesville), 1 member; Kumeu (Taupaki, Riverhead, Helensville, Glorit), 4 members. October, 2016 election results were: Wellsford, Colin Smith (Independent); Warkworth, Tessa Berger(Independent), Beth Houlbrooke, Allison Roe (Rodney First); Dairy Flat, Louise Johnston(Independent);Kumeu, Brenda Steele (Independent), Brent Bailey, Phelan Pirrie, Cameron Brewer ((Rodney First). While members of Auckland City Council make strategic decisions around regional matters Board control public amenities like parks, halls, libraries and recreation facilities, managing a multi-million-dollar budget. Support is provided by staff advisors.
Kumeu Local Board representative Phelan Pirrie explains that while Board members are paid for 20 hours a week, the work required in Rodney amounts to significantly more than that. “This is not only because it’s a big area, 46% of the land mass of Auckland, but also because we have a lot of growth happening.” The rationale for forming the Rodney First ticket was that Board members would be able to achieve more if they had an agreed list of priorities and worked together as a group to ensure the budget is spent equitably. The main issues are transport, environment and community facilities.
The first thing all Boards have to do now is consult with their communities, devising a plan for the next three years. “People want to see stuff happening and to be involved,” says Phelan. In line with this, Rodney First plans to revive the detailed town plan drawn up by Rodney District Council in 2008. “It talks about creating more public space with a town centre and making the area more attractive. We want to make these plans happen in Helensville, ”says Phelan. “It’d be good to open it up more to the river and we’re hoping the building owners will see the benefit of restoring the existing buildings.”
The environment is another area where Rodney First are keen to have an impact. “All the major harbours in Rodney have major issues with pollution. I’m keen to create a fund to help improve our waterways, with the primary focus being on planting riparian margins and getting cattle out of our waterways. The implications of what people do on their land isn’t just about a bit of silt running off, there are huge issues to do with the biggest snapper spawning area in NZ, the Kaipara Harbour. At the moment $100,000 budget is spent on a lot of small projects. I would like to see us put the money into a fund then ask Fonterra and other industry players to contribute towards contestable grants so people can apply for funds to do riparian planting. By planting the riparian margins we’re also creating corridors for bird life. Even though the farmers are private landowners the public benefit for the harbour is huge and if we did that over time it would make a huge difference to our waterways and harbours. There is some lost production but we have to think about the future – if we can put some money into it we can make a huge difference. A lot of farmers go fishing on the Kaipara. The seagrass the fish spawn is being affected by run off from nutrient loading so the environment they breed in is disappearing. At some tipping point it’ll be too late to do anything about it.”
Independent Kumeu Board member Brenda Steele (Ngati Whatua) is the only person to have served on the Board since the new system was instigated six years ago and was Chair for the last three. Brenda, who has lived in or near Helensville all her life, loves working for her community. “It’s not about pushing your own barrow, it’s the job of an elected member to be accountable to the whole community. You need to be open and prepared to give new things a go.”
The role of Chair, which can take up to 60 hours a week, means working at regional as well as local level. Brenda is proud of her contribution, which included ensuring Local Government Initiative Funding for Rodney was based on the deprivation model rather than population alone, ensuring a larger budget. Other achievements last term were the installation of night lights on the Rautawhiri fields in response to a request from the Kaipara Lancers league team, and seeing that Council provide the RSA with ANZAC flags each year. “I love working with community ratepayer associations and small community groups like the Lions Club, playcentres and sports clubs because they’re very passionate,” says Brenda. “We’re not directly involved in the Unitary Plan, which is the new district plan for the whole of Auckland. At local level the first job we have to do is draw up the Rodney Local Board Plan, so we’ll be asking the community what priorities they want us to concentrate on. It’s all about listening carefully to what people want. The top priority last term was getting the footpath repaired between Helensville and Parakai and we were pleased to achieve that. Now we need to look at Greenways plans which will connect communities internally and also externally with the next township, for example it could be an easement for people to ride their horses or bikes from Kaukapakapa to Helensville. The Helensville Lions Club are setting a really good example of community action. They started the walkway project between the old Post Office and the BNZ, for example, and they’re now working on making a fitness trail on the sports reserve at Rautawhiri.”
Brenda thinks one of the most pressing issues for Helensville is to bring more investment into the area and that this process will be encouraged when we establish a firm identity. “Under the Unitary Plan we’re a heritage township but people don’t come here for that. We have forestry, sky diving, mineral pools, a regional park at South Head, Shelley Beach, and yet we’re struggling to get people to come for the day. We want to be a destination. We need to be like the mall provincial townships that have a brand.”
As for the new look Local Board, the dynamics are going to be very different now with five on the Rodney First ticket and four independents. Those of us they represent will be watching progress with interest.
by Helen Martin