My Column - Moving forward together

Thursday 18 April 2019

Good news at Easter

Good Friday tomorrow begins one of the most important celebrations on the Christian calendar. Many of you will take the opportunity to visit your local church or mark the occasion in your own way at home.

Easter weekend for many of us also signals the tail end of summer and a final opportunity to gather with family and friends before winter really begins to bite. Families will soon load up the car and hit the road to join their loved ones throughout New Zealand.

For many business owners in Northland, Easter weekend also marks another important milestone. It is the end of the summer tourism season. To demonstrate just how important this is, tourism operators will be holding the second annual Bay of Islands Tourism Ball on 4 May. Whether they run a B&B from home or own one of the many tourism businesses in the Bay of Islands, this is their chance to celebrate their industry. And it is worth celebrating.

If we look at one sector: according to Tourism New Zealand, over 103,000 cruise ship passengers visited the Bay of Islands and Whangaroa Harbour in the 12 months to June 2018. That was a 17 per cent increase on the year before. Statistics NZ also tells us that those 103,000 passengers spent over $14 million in the Far North - 79 per cent more than the previous year. This summer season we will have welcomed around 130,000 passengers from 64 ships. Today the liner Noordam, arrives carrying 1800 passengers, while our final visitor for the season, the Sea Princess with around 2000 passengers, arrives on 11 May.

Add to that overseas visitors who fly or drive to the Far North and the many Kiwis who visit each year, and you can see how much tourism contributes to our economy. We are working hard to ensure these visitors are taken care of. Our commercial company, Far North Holdings, began a $9 million upgrade to three Bay of Islands’ wharves this month and work to expand Bay of Islands Airport is now nearing completion.

Our cycle trail has done a great job of spreading the tourism dollar further across the district, and the Government is also helping by funding visitor projects, including Sir Hek Busby's Kupe Waka Centre and the Manea Footprints of Kupe centre in the Hokianga.

As we know, Northland is a favourite destination over Easter and our roads will be extra busy. The Police are already out determined to make this Easter crash-free in Northland. They are emphasising the dangers of using a cell phone while driving, and the importance of wearing seatbelts. Sadly, Northland has the worst record in the country for deaths and serious injuries where seat belts were not used.

So please, if you’re driving over Easter, stay focused, belt-up and make sure you and other road users get to see their loved ones this long weekend.


Thursday 11 April 2019

Progress for Hokianga

Last week Regional Development Minister Shane Jones, Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters and Economic Development Minister David Parker announced more than $21 million in new funding from the Provincial Growth Fund for Northland.

Included was $3.2 million to rebuild Opononi's seawall and improve the resilience of State Highway 12. This is great news for South Hokianga residents experiencing the impacts of coastal erosion along this road. As Hon Shane Jones said, State Highway 12 is hugely important and the only coastal link between businesses and schools in Opononi and Omapere.

During this visit, the Ministers announced over $21 million in new funding for Northland projects, bringing the total the region will receive from the Provincial Growth Fund to more than $130 million.

But it's not just central government investing in our district. The Far North District Council and its partners are also involved in many projects, both large and small, that are making the Far North a great place in which to live. Elsewhere in the Hokianga, Panguru residents will soon see an end to flooding that has frequently cut their only road link to the rest of the district.

During a hui at Waimirirangi Marae in February, they agreed to a 50-year flood resilience plan that will see West Coast Road raised by 1.5m and Otengi Road by 0.75m. We have worked closely with the community and Northland Regional Council to come up with this plan, and residents will see physical work begin next summer.

For Omanaia and Rawene, we are on target to complete a new $2.8 million water treatment plant in August. This is great news for a number of Omanaia families, who for many years have tapped into raw water supplies before it was treated at the Rawene water treatment plant. The new plant will mean an end to a long-standing Boil Water Notice for these residents.

Supplying enough treated water to Opononi and Omapere residents and visitors over summer should soon be easier. A test bore at Smoothy Road has proved successful and resource consent is now being sought to make this a permanent water source. It is hoped the bore will augment our existing water sources by next summer.

Another exciting project we are seeking community support for is a proposal to create a 700 square-kilometre dark sky reserve over North Hokianga. These reserves keep light from street lights and other sources to a minimum to preserve night sky clarity for star watching. A dark sky reserve would very likely encourage visitors to stay longer and boost low-impact tourism to the area.

Other Hokianga projects we are working on include new public toilets for Opononi, new road seal on a section of Punakitere Loop Road, and repairs to slips on West Coast, Broadwood and Rakautapu Roads.


Thursday 4 April 2019

Celebrating our community spirit

Last weekend, my wife Leoni and I had the privilege of celebrating the inspiring and humbling work of the country's volunteer community. We joined representatives from the 25 district and city councils in Tauranga to support 26 volunteer groups selected to compete in the Trustpower National Community Awards.

Each volunteer group had been selected during local rounds of the Trustpower Community Awards held last year. The Far North was represented by KaiMatariki Trust, which has already gained an international reputation as a leader in the preservation and celebration of indigenous culture. Its recent achievements include an invitation to an international kite flying festival in Italy, hosting First Nations Cree for Waitangi Day celebrations, and teaching Maori games at Leiden University in The Netherlands.

Harko Brown and his daughter, Yves, represented the group, putting on a hugely enjoyable and entertaining interactive presentation for the audience. The goal is to build life skills and opportunities for participants and KaiMatariki Trust does this by using indigenous culture. That includes use of stick, ball and string games, kapa haka, weaving, speechmaking, values coaching, physical fitness and kite flying to involve and teach participants new skills in a supportive environment. KaiMatariki Trust delivered an eight-minute presentation that shared the Trust's story, its achievements, and why it should be named the Trustpower National Community Awards Supreme Winner for 2019.

During the presentation audience members were taught Maori games and skills, while Harko explained the cultural meanings behind each activity. Harko and Yves did a fantastic job. The audience was energised by the activities they learned and impressed by the rapport the pair built. It was fine effort and I am hugely proud of their contribution.

On the night, however, the Supreme Award went to Matipo Community Development Charitable Trust, representing Whanganui District. South Catlins Charitable Trust, a group representing Invercargill City and Southland District, was named Runner-Up.

While KaiMatariki Trust did not take away the Supreme Award, they proved once again how innovative and effective our volunteer sector is in the Far North. Let's not forget that the 2015 Supreme Award was taken by Focus Paihia, a group that has shown the whole country how communities can be transformed when a keen group of volunteers work together.

A key mission of the Council is to make the Far North a great place to live and work in for everyone. Making that a reality requires the active support of our community and this is demonstrated every day by the countless hours of volunteer work undertaken by individuals and groups.

Far North people make a real difference to all our communities, creating change for those around them. Groups like KaiMatariki Trust, Focus Paihia, Bald Angles and many others demonstrate how individual efforts can be focused to achieve truly great outcomes. And these people are our people. They are our neighbours, colleagues and friends. Together, we are making our place great.


Tuesday 21 March 2019

They are us

They are us. Perhaps these three words spoken by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern after last Friday's terrorist attack in Christchurch best describe the solidarity that has been the one positive to emerge from this terrible tragedy. The nationwide outpouring of condolences, love and support for the victims and their families has defined us as a nation.

We should be proud of the progressive leadership we are showing to the world at a time when some international leaders seek to divide rather than unite. I commend and thank people in the Far North who have donated money to those affected by the mosque shootings or taken to social media to send messages of support. I also want to acknowledge Deputy Mayor Tania McInnes, Whangarei Mayor Sheryl Mai, Northland Regional Council Chair Bill Shepherd and Kaipara Mayor Dr Jason Smith who have reached out to Northland's Muslim community and organised meetings and offered support.

The Far North District doesn't have a large Muslim community. However, more than 15% of people in the District were born overseas and many of those are from non-Christian countries. These people have chosen to make New Zealand their home and it is their home. One of the privileges of being Mayor is to officiate at citizenship ceremonies and witness people of all colours and creeds pledge allegiance to our Queen and the laws of our country.

Many of our new Kiwis have chosen to make New Zealand their home because it is a peaceful, tolerant nation that welcomes people of different races and religion. Hearing their life stories is to be reminded that the real story of humanity is about shared beliefs and values, not differences and otherness.

We can't bring back the Kiwis who died in Christchurch, but we can make their deaths meaningful by pledging to defend the values that made them choose New Zealand as their home. We must celebrate diversity not fear it. We must embrace difference not reject it and we must confront hate and prejudice in all their forms.

New Zealand has often led the world in its quest for social justice. We can do so again by modelling Kiwi values of inclusiveness and tolerance in our words and our actions. I encourage people in the Far North to think about little things they can do to make our migrant communities feel more welcome and accepted, so they really feel like New Zealand is their home and they are one of us.


Thursday 14 March 2019

Far North snapper bonanza

Today 1000 very keen anglers will be taking a well-earned breather. They have already spent two days knee, waist or even neck deep in the surf along Te-Oneroa-a-Tohe hoping to pull in the big one in the Ngai Takoto 90 Mile Beach Snapper Bonanza. Another two days of very competitive surfcasting lies ahead before the winners are named on Saturday evening.

This is probably the biggest competition of its type in the world and is certainly one of the biggest events on Te Hiku calendar. It started as the Snapper Classic in 1982, and was taken on by John Stewart and Dave Collard in 2011. They renamed it the 90 Mile Beach Bonanza and the event has gone from strength to strength since. This year, the 1000-ticket limit sold out a full month before the competition started. Previously, tickets have been available right up to the weekend before competition.

So what brings surfcasters from around the country and from overseas to our corner of the world at Waipapakauri year after year? A pretty spectacular prize pool helps. Prizes for the heaviest fish range from $200 to $30,000. Team event cash prizes top $4000. And even those who fail to wrestle the big one from the surf can walk away with a substantial reward from the $100,000 of spot prize pool. That includes a brand new $50,000 Mitsubishi Triton ute.

This year a new sponsor has joined the event. A deal struck with local iwi, Ngai Takoto, has secured funding for the next three years and given Ngai Takoto naming rights to the competition. This means organisers have financial certainty, and Ngai Takoto can link their guardianship of Te-Oneroa-a-Tohe to a nationally and globally recognised competition. It is a great partnership that will add a new dimension to the competition and give visitors an appreciation of how significant this iconic coastline is to tangata whenua and to all New Zealanders. Of course, it also helps ensure employment and financial benefits continue to flow to our communities from the event.

The Far North District Council has long supported the Bonanza with funding and logistics. We understand the value these events bring. Like the Ocean Swim Series at Russell, and the Kerikeri Half Marathon, the Snapper Bonanza is so much more than the 1000 anglers that compete each year. Nearly all bring friends and whanau to Waipapakauri as supporters and to join the fun. That’s thousands of people needing accommodation, food and entertainment over five days. And if each tells a friend about our hospitality, our coastline and the history of Te-Oneroa-a-Tohe, I am confident more visitors will, in turn, come to our district.

One thing we cannot control is the snapper. However, I’m told that a few personal records have recently fallen for local anglers. Whatever the outcome, Ngai Takoto 90 Mile Beach Snapper Bonanza 2019 is already a record-breaker, which is great news for the whole district.


Thursday 7 March 2019

Banking on our vision

This week at Otiria Marae in Moerewa I was privileged to attend the launch of Nga Mahuri o Ngati Hine Manuka Plantation Training Programme. The ‘Saplings of Ngati Hine' programme will see 20 men earn as they learn over the next two years while they plant manuka seedlings across hundreds of hectares of Ngati Hine land, much of it currently in scrub. The manuka plantations will earn carbon credits, become a source of valuable manuka honey and manuka oil, and help return tribal lands to native vegetation.

For the 20 men at Monday's event, there was a strong sense that this course - part of the government's billion trees programme - will make a real difference to their lives and their whanau's. It will provide jobs, make the land productive and help protect it for future generations.
This was the second announcement in as many weeks that will impact positively on future generations in the Far North. On 27 February, Tourism Minister and Te Tai Tokerau MP Kelvin Davis announced $8.2 million from the Provincial Growth Fund for five Far North projects during an event held in Kaitaia.

I am particularly pleased to see $3 million committed to the multi-use Te Hiku Sports Hub in Kaitaia. The community strongly supports this project and it is one the Council has long been involved with. We committed $2.56 million in the Long Term Plan 2015-25 for design, planning and physical works, and further funding in the 2018-28 LTP. Like many in Te Hiku, I strongly believe the sports hub will support youth development, and build healthy, vibrant and resilient communities. This view is backed by Northland Regional Council, Sport Northland, iwi, schools, police, social welfare agencies and organisations, sports codes and clubs.

Also announced last week was $4.6 million in funding for Sir Hekenukumai Ngaiwi Puhipi Busby's Kupe Waka Centre to be built in Aurere, at the southern end of Doubtless Bay. As well as providing jobs for skilled craftspeople and teachers, the centre promises to become a key tourist destination for New Zealand and overseas tourists eager to learn about Sir Hek's knowledge of celestial navigation and waka building.

To complete the package, the Minister said funding will be provided for three iwi projects promising to open up new business opportunities in the Far North for Aupouri, Ngati Kahu and Te Rarawa. He pledged $257,000 to study the feasibility of a barge operation carrying logs from Te Mingi at Parengarenga Harbour to Whangarei Port, and another $250,000 to ANT Trust to scope three key development projects. Finally, he announced $99,500 in funding to investigate a water storage scheme to support high-value horticultural production.

These announcements demonstrate very clearly the belief central government has in the potential, vision and skills our people have in the Far North. It is faith well placed. With this type pf backing, I know we can make our district an even better place to live.


Thursday 21 February 2019

Coping with extreme weather

I watched closely the recent news reports about wildfires that ravaged parts of Nelson and Tasman. Two fires, 20km apart, started on 5 February. The Pigeon Valley blaze in Tasman District ripped through 2335 hectares making it one of the largest fires in New Zealand for decades. At its height, 22 helicopters were fighting the fire and 3000 people evacuated from their homes. Incredibly, no lives were lost and just one home was destroyed.

Earlier this month, fire swept through 5 hectares of scrub and bush at Shipwreck Bay, forcing the evacuation of four homes. That blaze destroyed one bach and a shed. In January, Horeke lost 65 hectares of scrub and pines. At its height, four fire appliances and three helicopters fought the Horeke fire front. Also in January, the northern side of historic Rangihoua Pa on the Purerua Peninsula was engulfed in flames. These events demonstrate how quickly a stray spark (or deliberate acts, as happened at Purerua Peninsula and Shipwreck Bay) can become out-of-control blazes that threaten lives and property in tinder dry conditions.

On 29 January, Fire and Emergency New Zealand declared a total fire ban for Northland on the heels of record temperatures across the country. Last week, that organisation asked Northland councils to stop using machinery that might ignite fires in dry grass or scrub. This follows investigations into the Nelson fires pointing to a spark from farm machinery as the origin of one blaze.

For the time being, machines like flail mowers, mulchers, chainsaws and hard-bladed weed eaters that can create sparks when they hit loose stones or that have very hot exhaust systems will not be used by Council and we have instructed our contractors not mow roadsides and some reserves. I urge all Far North residents to also consider how they use machinery around dry vegetation. In the meantime, the Northland total fire ban remains in place and anyone caught lighting rubbish and scrub fires faces a maximum fine of $300,000 or even a jail term of two years.

This summer we have applied restrictions on water use at Kaitaia, Hokianga, Kaikohe and Kerikeri. Despite ongoing high temperatures and very little recent rain around the district, we have decided not to tighten those restrictions. This is due to the strong possibility Tropical Cyclone Oma will track east of Australia and bring wet weather to New Zealand this weekend. Exactly where this cyclone is heading will be much clearer today and tomorrow, and we will be getting regular updates from Northland Civil Defence on the cyclone's progress. If we are lucky, it will bring much needed rain to the region and take pressure off our stressed water supplies.

Whatever path the cyclone takes, please be prepared in case Oma causes flooding and road closures in your area. Rest assured, we will be working round the clock to keep you and your whanau connected.


Thursday 14 February 2019

Kaikohe the winner

At a time when our attention is so often focused on escaping to the beach, it was wonderful to see Kaikohe take centre-stage for the day earlier this month.

On Saturday 2 February, Lindvart Park was packed for the first Super Rugby preseason match ever to be held in Kaikohe. I don't think anyone there was disappointed. The sell-out crowd of 3000 spectators witnessed an action-packed and hugely entertaining game that saw the Blues thump the Chiefs by a very convincing margin of 43-10.

Younger players from both sides got a chance to show-off their skills and Northland recruits, Matt Matich, Ross Wright and Tom Robinson, received a rousing and heart-warming reception from the crowd. It was great rugby and a great day. However, by the final whistle, I think Kaikohe was the winner.

Some were surprised when the Council agreed to underwrite this match late last year by promising to pay the Northland Rugby Union $59,568 if - and only if - the game was a flop. The original proposal was to hold the match in Kerikeri. But we believed Kaikohe was a better bet. Unlike Kerikeri, it already had a fenced-off ground, changing rooms and ample space for spectators, including a grandstand. On the day, Far North rugby fans proved us right, packing out both the ground and the grandstand.

It seemed like all of Kaikohe was there, putting on sausage sizzles, holding stalls, and making everyone feel welcome. The New Zealand Police entertained spectators before the match (Believe me, performing tasks wearing 'beer goggles' is much more difficult than you think!) and then at half time with a display by dog handlers. There was also a rousing performance put on by Kaikohe Rugby Club juniors, who welcomed their heroes onto the pitch with a haka powhiri along with the cultural group, Te Tira Paraoa.

Youngsters have always had their heroes. But seeing sporting idols like Tana Umaga, Rieko Ioane and Sonny Bill Williams in real life can have a hugely positive impact on young aspirations. I'm willing to bet more than a few of our tamariki are now dreaming of a sporting career, and a few more are thinking about a career in the police, thanks to the great community out-reach that organisation put on.

I want to see more events like this in our district and will be making a case for another Super Rugby preseason match to be held in Kaitaia next year. This fits with the Blues' new focus on community engagement and I'll be talking to the Northland Rugby Union to see how we can encourage other teams to travel north. After all, we now know these can be a success.

Ensuring the Far North is a great place to live means supporting our communities in many ways. I'm proud the Council agreed to support this event. It was a chance for Kaikohe to shine and Kaikohe did not disappoint.


Thursday 7 February 2019

Speaking with one voice

Just over one month into the New Year and 2019 is already shaping up to be a significant one for the Far North and for Northland. Last week, work began in Kawakawa on Te Hononga - the Hundertwasser-inspired community hub that will see the Far North District Council's library and service centre housed under one roof with a gallery, community workshop, and new public toilets and showers.

Getting this project from concept to construction has taken considerable effort, and full credit must go all groups involved. As Deputy Mayor Tania McInnes said on Friday, this project was made possible because of the Kawakawa Hundertwasser Park Charitable Trust and Ngati Hine working closely together, in partnership with local and central government.

Those words carried much greater significance than many gathered in Kawakawa on Friday morning may have realised. The day before, Northland Mayors and Tai Tokerau Iwi Chairs (Te Kahu O Taonui) signed a landmark agreement enshrining that spirit of ‘working in partnership'. This agreement has the potential to be a blueprint for Iwi and local government collaboration across Aotearoa New Zealand.

The only other multi-lateral agreement like this is a charter of understanding between seven South Island councils and Ngai Tahu ki Murihiku. However, this charter is limited to Resource Management Act issues. The relationship agreement signed between Te Kahu O Taonui and the Northland Mayoral Forum supports closer collaboration on social, economic, cultural and environmental issues. That is unique. And significantly, the agreement was signed at Waitangi, where - as we celebrated yesterday - Te Tiriti o Waitangi / the Treaty of Waitangi was also signed.

So how will this actually make a difference? Following 2013 elections, Northland councils began working much more closely on issues that affected us all, such as roading. An early win was to persuade the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) to designate Mangakahia Road a State Highway. I will always remember the look of amazement on the faces of NZTA officials. I don't know if they had seen four councils speaking as one before, but they certainly hadn't seen it in Northland. That very clearly demonstrated how hugely powerful speaking with one voice can be.

The agreement signed last Thursday between Northland mayors and Te Kahu O Taonui means we can speak to Wellington and the nation with a united voice. Not all those involved in discussions have signed the agreement (although the door remains open if they change their minds). Some hapu believe it undercuts their mana whenua and sovereignty, while others fear it could limit local body decision making. I want to reassure Northlanders that the agreement won't replace existing relationships or agreements hapu have, nor will it replace statutory powers or strategic plans that councils operate under.

What the relationship agreement will do is improve communication and collaboration between local government and tangata whenua in Northland. As partners, we can more effectively tackle the social, economic, cultural and environmental issues facing us. That has to be good for everyone.

 

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