Boards seek more power

By: Julia Parfitt

The time that our local board spent on advocating for the reduction of the development contribution catchments and their areas of spend is most certainly paying dividends. New playgrounds, toilet blocks and sportsfields are at last being developed in our area to keep pace with growth. In the initial six years of Auckland Council these developer funded growth funds could and were being applied across the entire Auckland region.

Our renewals budget is also ensuring local facilities are being upgraded. For example for those of you who use the Orewa CAB you will see their building being updated and reconfigured to allow for the growth of this valued service.

One area though that Council have not addressed is the inequity in funding for Estuary Arts Centre, Centrestage Theatre and Hibiscus Coast Youth Centre. While other similar sized facilities receive significant funding from council, ours do not and are reliant on grants. With our councillors’ support we are hoping to address this.

Another key concern is the suggestion that local board funding should be used to top up Council service levels. In Viewpoint (HM April 3) there was comment that elsewhere proactive boards are going chemical free either by financing the cost themselves or opting to cut chemical application where it’s not needed. We looked into doing just that in 2017 and at that point it would have cost over $160,000. The funding we receive from council is extremely limited and we already have so many calls on it. We made the decision to advocate instead within the new contract for a significant reduction in chemical use with more mechanical weeding of our local parks plus a performance measure that incentivises the contractor if they reduce chemical use further, which we achieved. Checking with fellow local board chairs, only one, the Orakei Local Board, is currently funding chemical free parks and even then for just four parks.

Likewise Council’s new Streetscapes project is currently reviewing the use of chemicals along all road corridors. Over the next year it is co-trialling with the NZ Transport Agency, which subsidises this service, what the most effective and environmentally sustainable methods are for controlling weeds. We have offered to be part of this trial. Personally I believe that we should all expect high core service standards across our whole region.
My biggest frustration though, has been the gradual but consistent reduction of subsidiarity in our shared governance role within Council. This shared governance structure assumes social and political issues should be dealt with at the most immediate or local level: the area that will be impacted. This concern was highlighted by the recent Freedom Camping in Vehicles Bylaw and now the Dog Management bylaw. Local boards have had little say in the development of these bylaws and have been invited in some cases to speak to the Hearings Panel before the public consultation period has even closed. In my view this is simply not appropriate. At the very least if we are to effectively advocate for our community we must see first see what our residents have to say before we make comment on their behalf. This view is shared by all Local Board Chairs who, on April 8, voiced our concerns in an open letter to our Mayor and Council.

In 2017 a review was conducted into the shared governance model. The report identified the need for complementary decision-making, better alignment of accountabilities with responsibilities and more empowerment for local boards.

For local boards to be meaningful and add value for their residents this needs to happen now.

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