Brave New World? Mike Cohen Comments On Council Structure

Posted by on Feb 15, 2011 | 3 Comments

Mike Cohen, of the Devonport-Takapuna Local Board

Mike Cohen, of the Devonport-Takapuna Local Board

I  can only reiterate the comments that I have made previously at Board meetings and other public forums.  These are personal comments.  I am not speaking for the Devonport- Takapuna Local Board.

The Royal Commission identified two broad, systemic problems evident in the old Auckland local government arrangements:

  • Regional governance was weak and fragmented.
  • Community engagement was poor.

The Local Government Commission identified two key clusters of what they believed to be “Communities of Interest”, namely the Devonport Peninsula and Takapuna (that included Milford, Castor Bay, Forrest Hill and Sunnynook).  The two clusters brought together to establish one Local Board was what many would regard as a marriage of “Conflicts of Interest”.  Devonport is about heritage; Takapuna is high-rise. Even though there is connectivity and the sense of village that both Devonport and Milford share, many of Devonport’s citizens have eyes towards:  the Auckland CBD, Viaduct and the unfolding Tank Farm re-development, rather than the North to Takapuna.

Despite its very limited power and resources the old Devonport Community Board was in most situations successful in engaging with the people within its area.  We need to learn from the past if the new better resourced Devonport-Takapuna Local Board, who by Statute and the shared Governance with the Governing Body, is going to better position itself to make a difference.  Local people still need to feel ownership of and have a sense that they can influence what happens in their neighbourhood and community.

I unsuccessfully argued that at least one Devonport-Takapuna Local Board meeting a month should be held in Devonport in order that local people can have easy access to and feel ownership of their Board.

The initial recommendation from board members was for meetings to start in Takapuna at 5pm, which put Devonport people wanting to attend meetings on Lake Road when it is historically most congested.  If they happen to work elsewhere, they would also have to leave their employment early and rush to get there. Fortunately, this was improved a little when the meetings were moved to 6:00pm, but personally I think even later (7:00pm) would allow people time to relax and collect their thoughts before arriving, to be better able to articulate their position on issues that concern them.

Although the Devonport-Takapuna Local Board has been in operation for over three months I am still not well informed as to what the system is doing in our area.  Our budget is around $13 million of which a significant portion relate to parks, reserves and beaches, yet to-date, no one from Parks Department has attended a meeting to bring our Board up-to-date.  While we still have really great staff, many having the same responsibilities as before, the system has become much more bureaucratic, which means a simple clarification can take days, even weeks, because I am  not allowed to communicate directly with the Council Officer dealing with it .  The Average citizen is better able to speak directly to Council Officers than I am.

I agree, it is imperative that we know what is planned before it is implemented to ensure the best possible outcomes and connect one silo of Local Government with another to prevent unnecessary expense.  We could have avoided, for example, the footpath that has been replaced at the King Edward end of Cheltenham Road, where previous commitments to improve that junction with the involvment of the local community were overlooked.

I have a major concern about our heritage. The high risk is from developers with no empathy for the local community, who are attracted by the economic advantages that can accrue by demolishing a heritage building to achieve a vacant unencumbered site ripe for development.  This concern has not been helped by the council agreeing to the demolitions in St Heliers and elsewhere across the harbour from us.

Currently the power to decide resource consents resides with the Governing Body.  Previously members of the Devonport Community Board always sat on RMA hearings.  Local knowledge was deemed of upmost importance, especially when it came to issues of Devonport heritage. However, the leadership of our new Devonport-Takapuna Local Board prefers to have independent expert commissioners sit on RMA hearings.

Who chooses the independent commissioners? Why are those very few potential commissioners who are qualified experts in heritage (only 4-5) not been used?  What knowledge of heritage have those deciding the approximately 96% of RMA applications that are currently being signed off as non-notified?  How much effort is put in at the earliest possible stage to achieve the best heritage outcomes, while achieving homes that are relevant to to-day’s lifestyles?

Many questions and not too many answers at this stage I’m afraid. I do not believe some of the decisions made to-date by the Devonport-Takapuna Local Board are helpful in achieving their stated aim to engage the public to give them a sense of ownership of the Board.  Ultimately people will only participate if they feel they can make a difference by achieving positive initiatives, that they can influence the outcome especially on issues that impact their family, street, neighbourhood and community.

When local people stop participating, you lose the sense of community.

3 comments

  1. GB says:

    Yes I have met and talked with Mike many times, all I wonder about is, is what is this new super council going to do for Devonport so it retains its village premise…I am not interested in the corporates who live in Devo and who do not give a toss which way it goes.
    As a local community worker, I will continue to press for things that really need attention and give voice to issues I currently see.

  2. robert says:

    Give Mike a break. The rule about councillors and board members keeping their distance from officers has been there since Sandra Lee changed the law which effectively stopped councillors directly engaging with officers. I personally know coucillors/board members and officers in high positions and the council is a farce.The officers have all the control and hide behind the chief executive if any one dares to criticise.I feel sorry for Mike so dont give him a hard time when he is only bringing the issue to your attention.By the way I have only met mike once for 1 minute and he is a hell of a nice guy.

  3. Alistair says:

    Mike to quote you : “The Average citizen is better able to speak directly to Council Officers than I am …”

    So what are you doing Mike ? has this been a complete and utter waste of time ?

    we had some voice before, we have zero now.

    So what were the elections about ?

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