This investigative article about the Horowhenua district is from journalist Veronica Harrod. Read her bio at the end of the article. She raises points which are puzzling people NZ wide, and lifts the curtain somewhat to let you see what is going on in those Council meetings you are not entitled to attend. I read an interesting article at the LG’s website recently about consultation (raised at the end of this article). It certainly does indicate (& in the context of quite a bit of jest, taking the proverbial pee as it were) that the decision’s already been made when you are ‘consulted’.
Horowhenua land developers and investors will reap at least $100 million profit from not having to pay development contributions towards essential infrastructure costs that council seems intent to load onto existing ratepayers who could face massive, crippling rates increases.
The majority of councils in the country charge development contributions because the policy is regarded as the only effective, fair and equitable way to reduce the impact of expensive infrastructure costs on existing ratepayers.
The Horowhenua District Council scrapped development contributions in 2015 but, judging by the extent of land development planned behind closed doors by land developers and council since 2008, it would be unconscionable if council did not re-introduce the levy on land developers.
Exponential rates rises have historically been used by council’s as a sure fire way to free up land for development by confiscating land from ratepayers who can’t afford high rate increases which will directly have an impact on a large number of home and land owners in the district living on fixed or low incomes.
If the council does not include development contributions in the 2018-2038 Long Term Plan (LTP) the profits made by land developers will be unsustainable and grossly unfair to existing residents.
The $100 million profit projections are based on a conservative estimate of $15,000 per new build if development contributions were charged including a minimum of 2100 new house builds in Levin alone totalling $31.5 million contained in a council’s 2008 Horowhenua Development Plan.
Land developer and deputy mayor Wayne Bishop’s 500 house build in Kimberley Road has financially benefited by approximately $750,000. Cr Bishop also has four other land developments which means he has personally financially benefited by at least one million dollars by not having to pay development contributions.
He declared a conflict of interest at the eleventh hour only when a vote was taken by council to stop charging development contributions. During all the debates he sat at the council table which may have affected councillors ability to speak freely against council intention to stop collecting development contributions. It is also only since his election to council that council has proceeded with such a massive scale of land development.
Also included in the profit estimates is the potential affect of relaxing urban housing density rules to allow for sub-division and building of two houses on one house lot which council is deliberating on now. Neighbours would not have to be consulted on increased urban density plans due to changes to the Resource Management Act made by the National led government early this year that favours land developers. Potential profits also include proposed land developments in other parts of the district contained in separate reports available at http://www.horowhenua.govt.nz/…/Plans-Strategies/Horowhenua…
Evidence council is determined to pursue a land growth agenda is also contained in the council report on relaxing urban density rules which negligently and deliberately omitted to include any environmental and cultural costs of land development even though all the new builds would connect to the existing infrastructure, and even though there is evidence of environmental and cultural costs documented in past council reports including the 2008 Horowhenua Development Plan.
Cr Neville Gimblet and council’s chief executive David Clapperton have made comments recently alluding to the scale of land development and the expectation existing ratepayers would pay for them. Mr Clapperton said in a recent newspaper article, “I see some huge opportunities for the Horowhenua that have never been seen before, probably in the last three generations. And I’m adamnant that I want to be part of that journey.”
His comments were made despite consultation on the 20 year Long Term Plan only just starting indicating he is a central, local cog in the wheel of a land development agenda that has captured the council to such an extent democracy itself is being deliberately undermined by the very organisation that is supposed to uphold democratic principles.
Cr Gimblett alluded to the impact of the high cost of replacing essential infrastructure on existing ratepayers in a newspaper column when he said he was “surprised no-one commented on the $2.8 million of unfunded depreciation in the financial report.” Depreciation is a method used to account for future costs of essential infrastructure by acknowledging wear and tear and need for replacement over time.
“While depreciation is not a cash item so has little impact today, it is a key feature of sustainable long term planning and ultimately your rates,” he stated before warning ratepayers that, “Officers and elected members are currently involved in multiple workshops to prepare for the next Long Term Plan, where we will be mindful of this financial constraint hanging over our heads.”
If Cr Gimblet is so “mindful of the financial constraints” then it would stand to reason he supports the reintroduction of development contributions as this levy on land developers would not only immediately solve the problem of funding depreciation costs but also potentially provide enough money to ensure state of the art essential infrastructure designs were built and maintained. Nevertheless he didn’t mention re-introducing development contributions he only mentioned the cost to existing ratepayers.
The democratically elected mayor Michael Feyen has been effectively sidelined because he is viewed as a threat to this cabal of unrestrained and unrestricted land developers and their investors as during the last local body elections he said he was going to make environmental concerns and Lake Horowhenua a priority.
No matter who Mayor Feyen subsequently turned to in seeking redress to reign in the power of an unelected chief executive David Clapperton not one minister of the last National led government would lift a finger to assist him. Local Government New Zealand would not assist him either.
Mr Clapperton also has the support of nine out of ten councillors, excluding Cr Ross Campbell, who are rewarded handsomely for their backing by favourable treatment in appointments to committees and other council led opportunities.
Local National Party MP Nathan Guy has also refused to take action to restore democracy in Horowhenua but, as a recent article in a local newspaper stated, Mr Guy has got the largest property and land portfolio of all acting Government ministers including an extensive amount of Horowhenua rural land, a family home, two rental properties, interests in 13 commercial properties and a Wellington property.
Land developer and investor interest in developing housing subdivisions on at least 550 hectares in the north east of Levin, that extends across Mr Guy’s rural property interests, may also be using their influence with the now acting Government to ensure the highway of national significance is built to the west of Levin instead of the East of Levin. Cr Bishop has certainly stated a preference the new highway be built to the west of Levin.
As if it’s not enough that local Maori and residents of Hokio on the west of Levin have to endure the Levin Sewage Treatment Plant, the landfill, the infamous smelly “pot” behind the landfill and a polluted Lake Horowhenua now moves are afoot to ensure the new highway won’t get in the way of land developers and their investor interest in the East of Levin.
The excessive profit margins land developers and their investors will potentially make helps to explain the increasing interest major land and property developers, that have previously only operated in Auckland and Wellington, now have in Horowhenua.
The first sign the district saw of this burgeoning interest was the purchase of the council owned pensioner housing and 1.1 hectare of bare land by land and property developer Willis Bond in a publicly excluded deal with council for a fire sale price of $5.25 million. Anecdotal evidence is Willis Bond owners the McGuinness brothers count now acting Attorney General Chris Finlayson as a friend.
As Attorney General Mr Finlayson administers the Crown Law office that relentlessly pursues criminal charges against Lake Horowhenua kaitiaki Philip Taueki who continues to give voice to inconvenient truths about Lake Horowhenua ownership and pollution by the council and regional council. Other state agencies have also demonstrated a partisan approach in matters to do with Mr Taueki.
In her recently published e-book “Man of Convictions” Anne Hunt* says Horowhenua District Council waived all fees and granted the consent to decommission the buildings and disconnect the water from Mr Taueki’s residence six days after several men and six or seven police arrived at his place one morning and began sledgehammering and dismantling the building and power to the building. They also attempted to turn his water supply off then too.
When Mr Taueki, “complained to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment about the way the Horowhenua District Council as a building consent authority handled this matter…initially the Ministry expressed concern, but ultimately decided to take no action. The Tenancy Tribunal was equally dismissive.”
Mr Taueki is under constant threat of arrest and imprisonment and, although it is illegal to turn the water supply off to his residence at Lake Horowhenua, the council continues to do so and not one state agency intervenes on his behalf even though he has been left without a water supply for over eight months.
He has been beaten up, shot at, threatened with murder, thrown in jail, forced to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet and denied physical access to the very lake he is kaitiaki and one of the owners of by numerous trespass orders.
He is currently facing a retrial of one of the trespass notices he has been acquitted of twice after Crown Law, an office administered by Mr Finlayson, appealed an acquittal of the charge and the appeal was granted by a judge. His case has been delayed until January 2018 because the Crown did not disclose information to defence lawyer Michael Bott when the retrial began last month in Levin District Court.
Allegations of bias by the Courts against Mr Taueki has also been made by Hunt who writes that Mr Finlayson has been responsible for appointing, “all bar one of the six Supreme Court judges, all ten Court of Appeal judges and 75% of the High Court judges….in a process without any statutory constraints or regulations.”
Despite the fact “Man of Convictions” is written by a local resident and respected journalist, author and former Horowhenua district councillor Anne Hunt about the horrendous experiences and treatment of a Lake Horowhenua kaitiaki whose ancestor is the renowned paramount chief of Mua-Upoko neither of the two local newspapers have expressed any interest in interviewing her.
Openly flouting media independence on council reporting the Fairfax owned Horowhenua Mail has now employed council’s former communications officer Kelvin Teixeira which does not bode well for impartial reporting of council communications Mr Teixeira has helped develop and carry out on behalf of the council.
But it is the Crown’s lack of actions to date that disturbingly suggest a collusion with a Horowhenua land development agenda even though it is destined to greatly increase pollution levels to Lake Horowhenua. The Lake Accord, set up to rehabilitate the health of the lake, remains silent about the impact an exponential increase of new builds connected to the existing insufficient and ageing infrastructure will have on Lake Horowhenua.
Hunt says, “Levin’s stormwater system is a major source of phosphorous, and it is this chemical that is the major cause of the cyanobacteria that has plagued the lake in recent years, making it lethal for children. In his 2012 report, Dr Max Gibbs referred to research that 80% of the lake’s phosphorous chemical content comes from the town’s stormwater system.”
“A report prepared for the Horowhenua District Council by Dr Chris Tanner, a principal scientist from NIWA (the Crown Research Institute) commented on the ‘significant
potential health effects from these drain flows,’ without even considering ‘potential toxicity issues with other contaminants such as metals or organics in the discharge from this drain’ she quoted from Dr Tanner’s report.
An apparently deliberate refusal to reintroduce development contributions is essentially undemocratic because it put the interests of the few above the many and makes a mockery of the consultation process of a LTP residents and ratepayers will be bound by for the next twenty years.
Even though council has been having workshop meetings about priorities of the LTP one public consultation held at Te Takere last week had no information at all about the council’s intentions which gives the public little to respond to. There were two councillors, a desk and a lot of free pens but no substance about what council has been discussing in publicly excluded workshops about council’s LTP priorities which makes it a faux consultation on one of the most important issues facing ratepayers today.
Although it might be confusing to understand why the council would refuse to reintroduce the levy on land developers one powerful reason for doing so is it appears the council is prepared to drive out existing residents by imposing unsustainable rates rises in favour of new residents who are regarded as more desirable.
The emphasis on making the district attractive to new residents is highlighted in communications from council on the LTP consultations which promotes the concept of making the district attractive for “those that are moving here” and concerns already exist about the statement by council in a two page newspaper feature, “…all submissions will be considered by elected members and the plan adjusted as they see fit.”
One has to wonder whether the LTP has already been pre-determined if councillors are only going to adjust the LTP “as they see fit.”
(*NOTE: you can download and read Anne Hunt’s ebook at the link provided.)
Veronica Harrod is a qualified journalist with a Master of Communications specialising in traditional and new media content. Investigating and reporting on political, economic and legislative trends that negatively impact on the day to day lives of people is one of her main areas of interest. Lifestyle content she is interested in includes celebrating our own especially the tireless work community advocates do as civil citizens participating in democracy to keep those in power on their toes. In a media age dominated by a multi billion dollar communications and public relations industry paid to manipulate information to protect and advance the interests of the few over the many there have to be journalists who are impervious to the all pervasive influencial role they have over local and central government and corporate interests.
For more information on Veronica’s professional qualifications see her Facebook page.