Have your say on NRC’s new 10-year plan

12 Mar 2021, 9:01 AM

Meeting new central government requirements, greater resilience and realising the North’s collective potential in tough times are all linked to a proposed $71 annual rise in the average regional rates bill over the next year.

Chair Penny Smart says as proposed, the roughly $1.36 per week (a total rise of $70.69 for the entire year). The regional council’s newly-released proposals for its Long Term Plan (LTP) 2021-2031 would add to the average ratepayer’s rates bill from 01 July reflects a very delicate balancing act.

Factors considered include new requirements passed to local authorities by central government, making the most of central government funding opportunities, attempting to meet wider community aspirations by Northlanders and importantly, carefully weighing people‘s ability to pay.

The council has produced a ‘Consultation Document’ outlining the main projects it’s considering – and how they might be funded – as the basis for a formal public feedback period on its LTP which begins Saturday 13 March and runs until Friday 16 April.

It will also be holding a series of ‘Have Your Say’ events around the region from Tuesday 23 to Saturday 27 March where people can give feedback direct to councillors. If for any reason a change in Northland’s Covid status prevents these meetings going ahead, they will be held virtually instead.

“In the past few years, we’ve faced flood events, water shortages, the Covid-19 pandemic, legislative changes and more,” Chair Smart says.

“While obviously no-one likes rates increases, councillors feel it’s important to ensure our region’s environmental, social, economic and cultural wellbeing continue to be protected as best we can…but that all comes at a cost.”

Councillors collectively believe the 19.8 percent rates rise is necessary for Northland to stay strong and continue growing in what is an uncertain climate.

For the first year of the 10-year plan the council’s proposing around $6.2M of new work spread across three ‘activity groupings’ – natural environment, community resilience and regional leadership – which collectively will add $70.69 (roughly $1.36 per week extra) to the average rates bill.

Councillors say helping native ecosystems flourish is a big part of its job and the work councils need to do in this area is growing quickly.

“Central government is introducing new policies and requirements to restore and protect freshwater ecosystems and councillors are keen to keep up the existing momentum on pest trapping and catchment management, tree planting and work to improve water quality.”

Chair Smart says the council plans to more actively involve tangata whenua in freshwater management, through ‘Te Mana o te Wai’ – a Māori concept underpinning the Government’s freshwater reforms that prioritises the health and wellbeing of water.

It also plans to fund its share of the massive significant new Kaipara Moana remediation programme, to restore the health and mauri of New Zealand’s biggest harbour.

The proposed new projects would bring the total spend on the council’s natural environment activities to around $45M annually over the next three years.

On the community resilience front, the council says the past couple of years have certainly thrown up their share of challenges and while no-one can accurately predict the next one Northland will face, being proactive is vital for building a resilient region.

“When plans are in place and infrastructure is strong, this brings greater certainty to communities and improved confidence for local economies.”

Examples of resilience work the council is undertaking include fast-tracking flood protection work for the Awanui River scheme to better protect Kaitaia and the surrounding area from damaging flooding.  It has also kicked off new flood protection work for Otiria-Moerewa and Kawakawa, all with the help of central government funding.  It is also proposing a significant upgrade of the region’s tsunami siren network and construction of a multi-agency emergency co-ordination centre.  

The council expects to spend about $24M annually on community resilience over the next three years.

Regional leadership is the third of the key planks and the NRC plans to continue to advocate for region-wide projects that have a significant impact on Northland’s wellbeing and also wants to make council services more accessible.

But again, there is a cost; the more Northland grows and the more work the council  needs to do, the greater its resourcing needs.

It plans to invest in more staff and training, efficient systems and updated IT, expand  its network of regional service centres and working with district councils to develop a regional accessibility strategy.

Finally, Chair Smart says making decisions in partnership with Māori is vital to the council’s work as part of honouring its Treaty of Waitangi obligations.

Projects the council wants to undertake to help lead Northland’s growth include enabling tangata whenua to participate more fully in decision making, through Mana Whakahono ā Rohe agreements and encouraging Māori representation and leadership in council.

Overall, the council plans to spend about $35M annually over the next three years to meet its regional leadership goals.

Chair Smart is urging as many people as possible to let the council know what it thinks of its plans over the month-long consultation period, which officially begins tomorrow (Saturday 13 March) and runs until Friday 16 April.

The ‘Have Your Say’ sessions across the region will be held as follows:

  • Whangārei; Tuesday 23 March, 4.30-6.30pm, 36 Water St (NRC building)
  • Whangārei; Wednesday 24 March, 9-11am, 36 Water St (NRC building)
  • Kerikeri; Thursday 25 March, 11am-1pm, Cornerstone
  • Otiria; Thursday 25 March, 4-6pm, Otiria Rugby Club
  • Waipū; Friday 26 March, 11am-1pm, Waipu Cove Surf Lifesaving Club
  • Dargaville; Friday 26 March, 4-6pm, Town Hall, Hokianga Rd
  • Kaitaia; Saturday 27 March, 11am-1pm, Te Ahu Centre

Chair Smart says the sessions are the public’s chance to talk to councillors and staff and provide feedback in person.

Further information about the LTP and consultation is available online from www.nrc.govt.nz/futureplan