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A trespassed council, and absent councillors

foreign cspdt old shed

by Ian Apperley
Trouble in paradise, with our South Wairarapa neighbour trespassing the Wellington Regional Council from his property. Conservationist Neil Hayes placed a trespass notice on the Council because, he said, it had abandoned a major trapping programme on his land, which includes the Taumata (Gretel) Lagoon, a wetland that is home to endangered and rare birds.

The local paper reported:

Hayes, who was awarded the Queen’s Service Medal for his conservation work breeding endangered Brown Teal, reported that the council’s trapping efforts around his property had been stopped completely. He said he now wanted the council off his property for good.

Apparently, in a fit of cost-cutting, the council has decided it will no longer carry out trapping in the reserve. This policy has had devastating consequences.

The news that trapping had ceased on Hayes’ land echoed another story, published in April, where the Regional Council paused almost all predator controls due to covid-19 concerns – this was closely followed by the tragedy at Pukaha in May, where six kiwis were found killed by mustelids [likely ferrets], whose numbers had spiked over the period of lax trapping.

Frankly, it is not good enough. Farmers are under fire for perceived environmental crimes and the government continues with platitudes about investing in wetlands and environmental work. Yet, when it comes down to it, it seems the regional council has made the bizarre decision to abandon trapping work.

With many dyed in the wool Green regional councillors, you would expect better. You’d also expect the local Carterton Council to protest against this, but, as I am fast learning, they are incredibly absent when it comes to local issues, leaving the CEO to write barbed responses to residents’ complaints and a mayor who occasionally writes in the local newspaper.

A sad lack of spine then by local bodies?

Last time I wrote about the safety issues surrounding State Highway 2 from Featherston to Masterton, that has seen an increasing number of severe accidents and fatalities. Councils in the area remained mostly silent, handing off responsibility to the NZTA, who made some vague statements and brushed it off.

Well, in the last week a rocket appears to have landed, with the NZTA suddenly recognising it as an issue:

A roundabout for the Norfolk Rd-State Highway 2 intersection has finally been given the green light by the New Zealand Transport Agency. NZTA confirmed the roundabout was being designed, and also a series of roadside and median barriers would be erected from Waingawa to Clareville. Speed limits across the entire region would also be investigated. The announcement comes after years of crashes on Wairarapa’s busiest state highway, and countless petitions and calls for change, all lodged in support of a major road safety intervention by NZTA.

But it appears this is a PR move by the NZTA which has promised nothing, set no dates, and agreed on no actions. It is an empty press release that local Councils should have been outraged by, but they were muted in their responses.

Here is a tip Mayor Greg, “hope”, is not a strategy. And it’s urgent, because after that empty news from the NZTA, tragedy struck, again:

Masterton resident Helga Houlahan, an Austrian-born woman in her 80s, has died after being struck by a vehicle outside her home as she was crossing High St [State Highway 2] at about 7.13pm on Sunday night.

At this point, Councils should be on the warpath and election candidates should be out with pitchforks. But both are missing in action. It is seriously concerning when local elected representatives are nowhere to be found.

Speaking of roads, I travelled over to Wellington City for a handful of coffee meetings and catch-ups. The city does not seem to have the heartbeat that it did, with noticeably fewer numbers of people in the CBD on a beautiful day.

WREDA has been under fire, as it should be, for its post COVID response, with more of its usual average strategy. In an excellent opinion piece that I encourage you to read, Lindsay Shelton at Wellington Scoop provides some analysis and asks pertinent questions:

Wellington’s regional economic agency has been spending a lot of its post-lockdown energy promoting restaurants. And more recently highlighting the number of tickets sold for three events. But strangely left out of its promotions are some of the city’s most important and popular cultural activities.

As per usual, the City Council was nowhere to be found on this and other significant issues, including Shelly Bay, which was the topic of a long-form investigation by Nicky Hager:

Any time I am asked whether we have corruption in New Zealand, I say we are very lucky. We live in a country where we will never be pulled over by a police officer or taken aside by an immigration officer and expected to give them a bribe. But our luck in living here can make us complacent about the kinds of compromised and non-transparent processes that we do have. The classic area where this occurs is local government (e.g. city councils) which has the dangerous combination of not many people watching closely what goes on but decisions worth massive sums of money to contractors, property developers and others.

In a damning indictment of the Wellington City Council, Hager alleges they pandered to the developer by ignoring the no-sale vote, bent the rules to suit, tried to stop community input, and were potentially misinformed.

As I have said before, it is time that politically active senior-staff members in the WCC were removed. This culture appears so persistent that only a good cleanout can fix it. The Mayor and Councillors seem powerless to make good change for the city (yes, I’m talking about the Central Library), and it looks very much like they have been captured by the machine or rendered ineffective as a result of its Machiavellian ways.

It’s been a week where I am left feeling that the city, our region, my community, and our neighbourhoods deserve far, far better than we are receiving from local bodies and associated politicians.

2 comments:

  1. Cr Daran Ponter, 13. July 2020, 20:54

    Ian Apperley! Do I really need to tell you “don’t believe everything you read in the paper?” Here’s some context.

    Mr Hayes has had free trapping from Greater Wellington for many, many years. The Taumata Lagoon (essentially an isolated ox-bow from the Ruamahanga River) was deemed to be one of our original Key Native Ecosystem when the programme commenced back in to the mid-90s. However, the Key Native Ecosystem programme grew to such an extent that we were unable to service management of pest plants and predators within the available funding. We completed a region wide review using a DoC prioritisation process and removed Key Native Ecosystem status from a number of sites – Taumata Lagoon was one of these.

    We provided Mr Hayes with a written notice that Greater Wellington services would be removed in 3 years time (3 years Ian – unheard of!). We also advised that if he were interested in servicing the traps we would leave all the hardware in place for them. His two neighbours understood the process and explanation and now undertake their own servicing.

    After the 3 year period (so, not in the three year period he had already been notified of), Mr Hayes used the OIA process to request details of the decision making process, despite already having been provided with this material 3 years ago. There has been much communication with Mr Hayes to explain the process. Mr Hayes didn’t like the answers he got … but thought that by going to the media he would twist the arm of ratepayers to keep funding pest control on his property.

    In summary, I suggest that Mr Hayes has been the receiver of a very high level of Greater Wellington services, far higher than the majority of our ratepayers. He wants these services to continue at no cost to him.

     
  2. Ian Apperley, 14. July 2020, 10:02

    Hi Daran! Thank you for a comprehensive answer, as usual. Great to hear the other side of the story. I’ll make sure to put that across in my next article. We’ve also offered Neil help with trapping on his block and I see a few traps around.