Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Ratepayers Association Questionnaire

             The Greater Dunedin Team Answers Ratepayers
                                       Association Questions.

Greater Dunedin candidates declined to answer the Ratepayers Assoc questionnaire, the answers to which are to be published in D-Scene. Framed as either/or questions, the requested yes/no answers would oversimplify the issues with many of the questions. More importantly Ratepayers chairperson Lyndon Weggery acknowledged the Association would edit and "analyse" longer answers and distribute the results privately to Ratepayers Association and ex-Stop the Stadium members. We have no confidence that would be done in good faith. Mr Weggery (also on the committee of ex-STS) has signed STS newsletters containing untrue claims and misrepresentations about Greater Dunedin mayoral candidate Dave Cull's views on the new stadium, and endorsing another candidate. Dishonesty and partisan commentary are incompatible with a purportedly independent survey.
However all the Greater Dunedin team recognise voters’ interest in our views and their right to hear them expressed publicly. We wholeheartedly promote transparency and also believe our views and positions on most subjects, while diverse, probably resonate with most of the membership of both the Ratepayers Association and what was Stop the Stadium. To that end we have each fully answered the questions posed by the ratepayers Association and posted them on our website: http://www.greaterdunedin.co.nz/. We encourage readers to read them there.
Greater Dunedin’s aim is to engage with and serve the interests and views of the whole Dunedin community. We welcome feedback, ideas, concerns and comments from all.
Following are the Ratepayers Association questions and my answers.

1.If you are sitting Councillor seeking re-election did you vote for the signing of the Contract to proceed with the construction of the New Stadium?


2. If elected will you endeavour to make sure that the Forsyth Barr stadium does pay its way as a CCO and not become a future drain on Ratepayers funds?


3.Do you support the retention of Carisbrook in the meantime as a multi - sportsground?

Undecided yet. The future recreational and sporting needs of the whole of the South Dunedin area need to be assessed and weighed against the benefits to that community of other uses for the site. To that end I moved a resolution at the Finance and Strategy meeting on Monday 13th September asking for a report on those issues.

4.Do you think the current level of DCC funding for rugby is fair to other sports and cultural activities?

The funding and other support Council and Council companies give “rugby” is more for the ORFU/Highlanders business than for grass roots rugby. It does seem that those businesses have been favoured for support above others.

5.Are you concerned at the increased debt level of both DCC and DCHL?

Very much

6.Do you support the introduction of further new Capital Project spending by DCC within the next five years?

No. Any new capital spending, which is inevitably debt funded, would be undesirable. First ratepayers cannot afford more interest costs on their rates bills. Secondly taking on more debt could adversely affect Dunedin’s Standard & Poors rating. That would increase the interest rates the city would have to pay for all new debt. Thirdly, the city is already breaching its prudential limits for debt.
However we don’t know what spending demands we will face from unforseen events. For instance if erosion of the Middle Beach sand dunes threatened to inundate South Dunedin, the city may have to raise debt to deal with that.
Reckless borrowing agreed to by the majority of the current Council has placed us in this very difficult position.

7.Will you strive to keep future rates increases “affordable” for the average Dunedin ratepayer and householder?


8.If the Water/Wastewater/Stormwater Business Unit becomes a CCO do you support the introduction of water meters as a “user pays” initiative?

I believe there are two acceptable reasons for introducing water meters.
First if in the future demand or climate change meant the city had to reduce rising consumption.
Secondly in order to make the cost of water more equitable. Currently a single person, for instance a pensioner, in a unit, pays the same amount for water (by targeted rate) as a large household with several bathrooms and a swimming pool. A much reduced uniform targeted rate could entitle every household to the average amount of water required per day (say 1000 litres). Meters could measure any extra used and high users would be charged for that. The total amount of money being collected across the city for water supply would remain the same, but heavy users consuming well above the average would have to pay for that and not be subsidised by modest or average users who are often on lower and fixed incomes.
This would enable the rates demands on lower income ratepayers to be kept down.

9.Have you concerns with the current pay and display parking system in the CBD?

No significant concerns. However I am aware of the opinion that a return to free parking in the main street would improve the vitality of the area and would consider that.

10.Do you support the retention of free time - restricted parking in other areas of the City e.g. South Dunedin/Port Chalmers?


11.Do you support the retention of the City Library in its current location?

Yes at the moment. But if a better location became available and it cost no more I would naturally consider it.

12. Do you support the establishment of a Branch Library in South Dunedin?

Yes, in the context of a South Dunedin Community hub that might include for instance a service centre, cafes, computer club-house, market area etc.

13.Do you support a balanced approach between vehicles and pedestrians/cyclists to the question of future access along John Wilson Ocean Drive?


14.Do you support the retention of Open Public Recreation Space within Dunedin City e.g. Bathgate Park?


15.Do you support the continual involvement of the DCC in low - rental housing?


16.Do you support the retention of  Heritage Buildings within Dunedin. e.g. the three Gold Rush Era Buildings on Princess St between Stafford and Carroll Sts?


17. Do you support a comprehensive review of policy regarding the recent credit – card spending by 36 DCC senior Managers and four personal assistants?


18.Are you concerned that the number of DCC Managers reporting to the Chief Executive now stands at 45?

No. I am concerned if the number leads to lack of appropriate oversight.

19.Are you concerned that the DCC has added the equivalent of 86 FTE staff since 2004 pushing its total FTE from 601 to 687 as at March 2010?

It depends what the staff are doing. Central government has loaded considerably more responsibilities on local authorities in the past few years. More usefully than simplistically counting staff increases, I think it is imperative operational efficiencies and savings are sought within Council. That might allow the staff to achieve more for less cost.

20. Do you think there are too many Agenda Items unnecessarily discussed in Closed Committee?


21.Is engaging in meaningful and sincere consultation with the Dunedin Community over future public issues a priority for you?


22.If City Councillors were to receive no remuneration, would you still consider standing for Council?

No. I devote more than half my time to Council work. That prevents me from earning an adequate outside income.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

ODT mayoral Profile

I appreciated the way the ODT Mayoral profile interview was handled. Recording the interview and printing large verbatim chunks gave a genuine taste of my thoughts.


Monday, August 23, 2010


Dunedin is wonderful city, with a fantastic future. But right now that future is vulnerable: vulnerable economically, environmentally and socially. Dunedin’s community has never been more disillusioned with how Council makes decisions, how it listens, or not, to the community, how Council takes responsibility, or not, for major spending decisions with long-term consequences. These are consequences that include maxing out Councils and Council company debt, so that the companies may not be able to pay expected dividends to the ratepayers in the next few years! It is that bad.

The challenges ahead are considerable. But we can achieve that fantastic future. We have to. We can achieve it if we replace secrecy with transparent processes and provide responsible leadership that listens and is up-front with the community about debt and costs. If we do that we can turn disillusion into a shared and inclusive vision for the city.

So imagine what YOU want Dunedin to be like in 20 years.

Imagine Dunedin with:
• a thriving economy featuring high value jobs and businesses that keep families living here
• suburbs of well-built, healthy houses
• streets of beautiful, rejuvenated heritage buildings being put to productive use
• renewable resources being utilized for lower cost energy.
• measures already taken to address climate change and peak oil
• well maintained civic amenities not saddled by a mountain of debt that ratepayers have to repay
• top notch infrastructure including comprehensive Broadband coverage everywhere
• a smooth coordinated public transport system and cycle and pedestrian network
• an accessible and well-protected surrounding environment full of nature’s treasures

Previous Councils and this current one, have not tried to imagine such a future and not planned to achieve it. They have ticked the boxes of bland Council vision statements, reacted to pet ideas dished up by special interest groups, and lurched from one to the next, piling a huge debt on all our shoulders in the process. At the same time some of our suburbs are mouldering from neglect; our digital infrastructure is falling behind other NZ communities; jobs are ebbing away and families are leaving for greener pastures.

I and my team want to help turn that all around. We want to take our city’s future back. There have been three Greater Dunedin Councillors on Council this past term. It hasn’t been enough to achieve what was needed. So I have brought together a team of talented, intelligent candidates with a diverse range of interests and experiences, but with one common goal – working together for our City’s future!

I am offering myself for the mayoralty. My colleagues are putting themselves forward for Council. There is a lot to be done. There are many community voices to be listened to, young and old.

For the community’s sake, for your children’s future, you need to vote our team in to replace this Council. Dunedin needs new blood, new thinking, new energy, new people.

Vote for a Greater Dunedin Mayor and Council

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Plastic and energy

The machine developed for turning plastic waste into bricks is a great example of turning action that MUST be taken for the environment, into a business opportunity. It's like recycling waste heat and saving on electricity costs. Dunedin City Council Energy manager Neville Auton is already working on a few innovative ideas for creating enormous savings and efficiencies in Council operations. We need them! Indeed energy and its cost should be a focus of Council thinking into the future. It is one of only a few variables that determine the viability of businesses, industries and communities and will become much more important as energy costs inevitably rise. If Dunedin could get into a situation where our energy was not only increasingly renewable, but its costs were lower than other centres that would give us a competitive advantage in attracting businesses and residents.
It should be part of our long term vision for the city.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Fighting Yesterday’s Battles. But what about tomorrow?

Fighting Yesterday’s Battles. But what about tomorrow?

As the election approaches there is a predictable but undiscriminating rush of blood to the head in some quarters about the new stadium. Old accusations and grudges are dusted off, trotted out and sprayed around like effluent on a Southland dairy farm. Oddly, or perhaps not so oddly, given the motivation of some commentators, Councillors on both sides of the argument are targeted. Individual Council decisions and votes are reprised, omissions or even comments are dug up as evidence of Councillor neglect, incompetence and even virtual criminality.
As a Councillor who opposed public funding, and the debt it entailed for the Forbar stadium, I am comfortable with the stands I took, the votes I cast and the statements I made. I am comfortable with my nearly six hours of arguing against proceeding on March 17th 2008, with casting an emphatic “no” vote on Feb 9th when the definitive vote to proceed was taken. I am comfortable that with Councillors Staynes and Wilson we personally contributed or sourced over $2,000 for the independent University of Otago Marketing Dept public opinion survey that concluded a clear majority in the Dunedin community did not want to pay for the stadium, and comfortable with trying to convince the rest of Council to listen to that. I am comfortable with what I said to 1,800 people at the Town Hall meeting on the stadium issue. Indeed some of my predictions then are now being vindicated.
What I regret is that we didn’t have the numbers in Council. Council decisions always come down to numbers: to having a majority or not. I, we, could not convince our Councillor colleagues of the reckless folly of what they were doing.

But that is in the past. The stadium is being built. What concerns me now is the future. That decision, and the debt it entailed, particularly on top of already committed debt for other projects, has taken Dunedin City to the brink: to the limit of its credit. Neither the Council nor the Council companies on which the debt was loaded, are in a position to borrow any more. That is a concern because we don’t know what is around the corner: what else we may have to spend on at a moment’s notice, like the Middle Beach sand dunes or flooding in South Dunedin for instance. It is a concern because the community has other aspiring projects like the South Dunedin Library and a new pool for Mosgiel that are now threatened. On top of all that is the real likelihood of operating losses at the stadium, and what they would do to rates rises. They wouldn’t bring rates down.
So the incoming Council faces an enormous challenge to cut costs, limit on-going losses after the stadium is completed and still take the city and the community forward with all of the other things that Dunedin needs to progress. What will it take to have some hope of achieving that? It will take a Council that is disciplined, innovative and united in its resolve. It will take thoughtful imagination and tough decisions. It will take a Council in which the majority of Councillors can cooperate and reach consensus on a way forward: a Council that can achieve the numbers.
Clearly the current Mayor and the bulk of Council do not fit that description. After all, its majority decisions are what got the city in the bind it is, with the debt it carries and the massive rates rises that are projected. Council abdicated responsibility for investigation and development of the stadium project to a self-appointed and self-interested Carisbrook Stadium Trust, and following from the front, the Mayor led most of Council behind them.
Just as clearly only changing the Mayor would not be enough. The Mayor has only one vote. That is particularly the case with a Mayor who couldn’t foster consensus and collegial decision-making in Council: an aspiring mayor who by his own admission is not a team player: a man who has always alienated rather than united: leading from behind. It would not matter who was elected to Council under such a Mayor. It would be dysfunctional.

Greater Dunedin offers a diverse team of independent thinking but collegial Council candidates and a Mayor, myself, committed to achieving a vision going forward by consensus building. That is the only way on offer that Dunedin can settle to the task of drawing back from the brink, regrouping and going forward to what has to be a challenging but bright future. Greater Dunedin is not a party. We share principles, aims and aspirations, but not strait-jacket policies. There is plenty of room for difference but a will for cooperation.

During my term on Council I have chaired the Digital Strategy and the Harbour Cone Steering Groups. Both contained Councillors, Council staff and community and stakeholder representatives. Both consulted widely and genuinely with the community. Both produced strategies that have won wide acceptance, approval and enthusiastic support. Building consensus produced great results.

The die is cast with the stadium. It is being built. Dunedin carries the debt for that. We could beat our chests and swear vengeance on those responsible. We could determine to make sure the project fails completely and costs the ratepayers millions more. Or we can sum up the challenges, address what has to be done and collectively with the community develop a bright vision for Dunedin’s future. The future for our kids in an even Greater Dunedin.

Monday, August 16, 2010


I received my first campaign donation the other day, unsolicited and from friends. It is a greatly appreciated supplement to the considerable funds that I and my Greater Dunedin colleagues have to provide to mount a serious campaign for Council. I’m touched to have that faith shown in me and my team. It underlines the responsibility our effort involves. It reminded me how important it is to so many people in the community that we get a sense of responsibility and openness back into Council, that we unite the community with a positive vision for the future. That will also involve the hard work of reducing costs and rate rises while maintaining services, tackling debt and genuinely leverage the city’s assets.It’s a big job a


There’s been a fair bit of comment about Council buying Carisbrook from the ORFU. Criticisms of the purchase include:
• the DCC paid way above a realistic valuation
• it should not have bought the ground at all
Subsequently Council has been consulting the community about what it should do with the property. This has led to the further criticism that if Council didn’t have a use or purpose in mind, why did it buy it?

Shortly after the purchase the rationale presented to the public by DCC CEO Jim Harland was two fold. Council wanted to ensure the financial viability of the ORFU as the main user and therefore main income generator in the Forbar Stadium. Dunedin is short of handy industrial land and Carisbrook is (mostly) zoned industrial. So Council can on-sell to industrial users.

That’s fine but why did the DCC have to be the purchaser? Why couldn’t the ORFU have simply sold on the open market. The ORFU would still have got its money and Carisbrook would still be zoned industrial. Maybe there was concern that the full $7 million that the ORFU needed to cover its debt and still retain sufficient working capital to trade on, would not be obtained.

I did not support the purchase. I felt Council was borrowing enough money already without borrowing more to bail out a fragile business, and I didn’t think we had enough information. I was on the losing side of that vote and it was purchased.

So what is my position now the Council owns Carisbrook? Let’s look at the context. South Dunedin is a depressed area in a number of ways: socially, economically and infrastructurally. I believe that this end of our city already needs some much overdue attention and TLC. Closing down Carisbrook as a sports arena is depriving the area and its community of yet another asset. It is important that whatever replaces it should be a positive asset for the local community. Arguably industries that provide jobs could have benefits but it would be best if the jobs were for the people who live in that area. There are other uses that could be potentially detrimental. Imagine if a developer bought all or part of the site (and there are several parts to it) and applied for Resource Consent to erect mid-size retail premises, a bit like the strip on ex-railway land along southern Cumberland St. Historically Dunedin has not been good at protecting industrial zoned land from retail development. Look at Anderson Bay Road. Retail of just about any kind on the Carisbrook site could potentially harm the retail viability of both the central city retail area and South Dunedin. In fact it could be an economic and town planning disaster for the city. So Council needs to be very careful about what uses it allows the Carisbrook site to be put to. 

Here’s where I see turning a flawed decision into an opportunity. I believe that we should look at Carisbrook in the context of the whole South Dunedin area. And I believe we should look at the area, not now, but as we would like it to be in 20 years time. How might the re-use of Carisbrook contribute to the big picture: the big vision for South Dunedin? There’s no doubt the area will need a drastic overhaul before then. Much of the housing is way past its use-by date. It is mouldering, damp, unhealthy and horrendously expensive to heat. Some of the reticulated infrastructure, like pipe-work is very old. Sea level rise will present enormous challenges and demand innovative solutions for an area that is partly below the high tide level now. Yet it will I believe, remain an important suburb. Being flat and close to the central city, it is ideal for older homeowners. There is potential to re-develop areas more intensively, rationally and sustainably. As energy costs rise a compact city will become even more important. 
The re-use of Carisbrook could contribute significantly to the 20 year vision for South Dunedin. I don’t yet have a preference. Suggested uses include older peoples’ housing, light industrial, training facilities, and retaining the sports complex or part of it. I suspect that the final re-use plan will be a combination of uses. They should be uses that contribute to the big picture of South Dunedin’s future, and the South Dunedin community needs to be intimately involved in painting that picture.