No one wants to pay more rates (taxes) than they have to, and whilst ours is a lovely district in which to live and bring up a family, we are a relatively impoverished one. The median household income in our district is only about $64K. That means that half the households in our district have less than $4K per month (after tax) on which to live. If you have to pay mortgages and exorbitant rents, then life is a real challenge. It is critical therefore that the council should be spending your money wisely.
Around the council table, I have consistently objected to exorbitant rates increases and argued that rates need to be kept 'affordable'. However, that word 'affordable' means different things to different councilors. In my short time on council, I have advocated for a less superficial analysis of what 'affordable' really means and for a focus on the needs rather than wants. The trick is to prioritize.
Council can always invent fancy projects on which to spend money, but now is not the time to be loose with spending. We are sailing into troubled waters and the need to be prudent is more urgent than ever.
Critical infrastructure should be given top priority. Unfortunately, we in NZ live in a perpetual infrastructure deficit because central government has encouraged a rate of population growth that exceeds our capacity to build-out and pay for infrastructure. Given that central government has the biggest purse strings in the land, and is not constrained in spending, as is council, I long-argued that government needs to do more to help communities bridge the infrastructure gap. The reader is urged to delve into what money really is and how it is created. I have elaborated on this subject here.
It is the job of councilors to argue for a better, more sustainable way of doing things instead of strong-arming the communities of today to pay for the infrastructure of tomorrow.
We should also not lose sight of that the fact that historically it has always been central government that has paid for the development of significant national infrastructure.
You can read more on my position on rates here.
PROTECT THE ENVIRONMENT
We live in a coastal town in a seismically active region of the country with volcanoes to the North and South. From the time the Matatua canoe was sailed up the Whakatāne river captained by Toroa circa 1350 through to settlement of our area by Pakeha, our community’s wellbeing has been inextricably linked to, and sustained by, the bounty of the natural environment. From the time of sulfur and fertilizer mining on White (Whakaari) Island in the late 1800s to the early flax works through to the paper mill of today our primary industries depend on nature. We need to ensure that our agricultural practices are sustainable.
It will take innovative thinking to protect the environment while at the same protecting economic prosperity.
FACILITATE AN ENERGY TRANSITION
To protect our environment and mitigate dangerous climate change we will need an energy transition away from fossil fuels. The science on this has been clear for more than half a century.
I have worked in the nuclear energy industry for more than 20 years and conducted extensive research on Li-ion batteries from 1995 until 2005 and the photoelectrochemical generation of hydrogen, which is a clean fuel, from the early 2000s. I was way ahead of the curve and think I know a thing or two about this stuff.
Everything will need to be electrified and the energy sources will need to be clean/renewable, including sun and wind. As electricity demand increases due to population growth and the replacement of internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles by battery electric vehicles (BEV), we will need more electricity and a more resilient electricity network.
Our district is blessed with some of the highest sunshine ours in the country and council should have shown leadership in this area.
In 2020 I put on the council table the idea of promoting solar farm development in our district. I wrote a pre-feasibility study in conjunction with a local enthusiast for a small solar farm near the Whakatāne Oxidation ponds and a larger farm near the airport. I am afraid that thus far this proposal has no prospered due to the fact that WDC seems to prefer to talk about climate change as opposed to taking serious action. Done right, a community solar farm could result in cheaper power for everyone and help alleviate energy poverty and improve energy security.
I have written extensively about this sort of thing in our local newspaper, The Beacon, and have given a series of community lectures on the science of climate change.
ENHANCED DROUGHT AND FLOOD PROTECTION
Our best scientific knowledge is strongly indicating that in the future climate change is likely to challenge us in ways that we should ensure we are prepared for. Our region can expect warmer summers and longer drought periods leading to water scarcity (goto Literature menu at top of page). More frequent extreme weather events are also expected and this will lead to severe flooding. We need to improve sustainability and the resilience of our community to such traumatic and potentially disruptive events. Measures to protect us from such changes are going to be critical to both business and family life.
Since I was a kid in Whakatāne the population has more than doubled. And yet it is the same single-lane bridge that crosses our river. Aside from substantial traffic build up during peak hours, this bridge that was constructed in 1963 has served our town for over 50 years is clearly no longer coping. It will certainly not cope if evacuation of the town should for some reason be required. I consider the building of a second bridge across the Whakatāne river imperative in order to ensure public safety in the event of an emergency. I will make securing funding for such an initiative a priority for my first mandate. There has been a lot of talk about a second bridge but so far little or no action. A report entitled ‘Whakatāne Township Network Investigation Report’, prepared by Gabites Porter in August 2007 highlighted that by 2016 there would be a need to either upgrade the existing bridge or build a new bridge for which options were put forward. The time has come to be proactive and make cogent arguments to central government in order to secure funding for a second bridge. A recent Productivity Commission report of 2019 recognizes the fact that local government will require assistance in such areas (goto Literature menu)
Local and central government has talked-the-talk on climate change and the need for resilience. it is now time to walk-the-walk starting with a second bridge!
Fortification of clean water, electricity and communications and other critical infrastructure should also be analyzed and, depending on the results, appropriate action taken. The abovementioned Productivity Commission report has highlighted the direct threat that climate change may cause to local government infrastructure such as roads and bridges, and storm water, wastewater and flood-protection assets. We need to think better about where we build, how we build and how we move people and goods to the places we live and play!
I will make it a personal mission to ensure that folks are better educated regarding climate change and that we as a community are better protected.
WASTE MINIMIZATION AND MILK DELIVERY
A major area of research in which I have been involved for over two decades is radioactive waste management. Although technically considerably more difficult due to the need to deal with radioactivity, the basic principles of radioactive waste management are similar to municipal waste management. If there is one thing I have learned over the past two decades it is that the best way to deal with waste is not to generate it in the first place. The waste management hierarchy is Prevention > Re-use > Recycle > Landfill.
See Lansink's ladder to the left.
Lots can be done to reduce waste. Here are some ideas:
Bring Back the Milko?
There are about 14,000 households in the Whakatāne district. If each household consumes one 2L bottle of milk per week, then that equates to a hell of a lot of plastic waste that needs to be dealt with. Up to the nineties, milk used to be delivered to households in towns and cities in glass bottles by the local Milko. This method of getting your milk is now coming back in some places in New Zealand and I will investigate the viability of bringing it back in Whakatāne.
Do Something Better with Waste Tyres
Convert Forestry Residuals to Fuels
FOSTER GREEN INDUSTRIES
According to council documents the median income in our district is around $25,000 per annum. This is clearly very low and therefore something needs to be done to improve the lot of all age groups in our district.
The tech sector is making an increasing contribution to the NZ economy and there is plenty of upside. Pleasant natural surroundings, low population density and good recreational facilities coupled to good high speed communications infrastructure should make our district attractive for tech companies, especially green tech companies that do not require large infrastructure. We should do all we can to improve job prospects for young people by making our district an attractive place for such industries.
There is plenty to be done also by way of innovation in traditional agricultural industries and to develop new industries. I will support improvement of current practices and encourage thinking outside the box to foster new industries. All novel ideas are welcome!
ECO TOURISM & CULTURE
Tourism done properly can be environmentally friendly and profitable for many. Our area has among the highest sunshine hours in the country and Ohope beach is one of New Zealand’s finest. And we are one of relatively few regions of the world with a highly active volcano at arm’s length. There is plenty of upside here too.
We need to make more of the cultural and artistic diversity of our district and the potential for holding more community events during the summer season.
Given my science background and my more than 20 years of public service-based science management experience I have the competencies to make a difference in the way our district is governed, especially with environmental sustainability and resilience in mind. I have seen firsthand the results of bad governance and am committed to maintaining the highest standards of fairness, efficiency and transparency. I will endeavor to be accessible to the community at all times and will maintain an open door policy. If you have a problem, come and see me and we will do all that is humanly possible to resolve it. Just please don’t ask for miracles!
Good governance is about good decision making and that is about managing and analyzing information using logic and reason and facts and evidence. In the complex times in which we live innovative thinking is going to be key.
Good governance is about making good decision about what projects should be funded. To my way of thinking those are the projects that benefit the largest number of people.