Each local government election, Generation Zero – a youth-led organization founded with the central purpose of providing solutions for New Zealand to cut carbon pollution through smarter transport, liveable cities & independence from fossil fuels – assess and grade each mayoral, governing body and local board candidate who fills in their questionnaire. The group has a very particular focus and agenda so I don’t consider this rating to be a gold standard but the group does provide a useful countervailing viewpoint to the perspective of older, wealthier landowners who tend to dominate discussion of local government issues.
I was given an A- overall. You’ll see from the graphic that this was brought down by a B+ for slight inconsistency with their views on the ‘compact city’ and the Unitary Plan. I could have told the assessors what I know they wanted to hear but I thought it more worthwhile to give honest answers informed by my experience as a local board member for Waitematā for the last three years. Note particularly my answer to question 2 (the B+) in which I criticise the anti-democratic instincts of some of the more zealous pro-intensification advocates.
1 What are your key priorities for improving transport in and around your local area?
Auckland Transport (AT) is responsible for the big stuff: the local roads, the trains, the buses, the trams? (fingers crossed!) The work of the local board is at the local scale but, then, this is where the most perceptible impacts are often felt. I support the further development of a network of cycleways throughout the city. The key point I want to make here is that I am not especially pro or anti any one particular mode: I drive a car that I thoroughly enjoy and also require as a non-negotiable business tool to get me all over the city for my business; I own four bikes that I love to ride and I want safe, convenient paths on which to ride them. I regularly take public transport and it has become uncontroversial in Auckland that trains, buses have been neglected and need more investment. The point is that we need transport choice. My commitment in the next term, should I be fortunate enough to be re-elected, is to continue the development of the Greenways/Paths network and to ensure that AT listens to locals when they make decisions that affect local communities, e.g. placement and design of bus stops, removal of parking, design of routes.
2 What are your thoughts on the Compact City model as espoused by the Auckland Plan, and as implemented by the Unitary Plan? (Think broadly about how this applies to Auckland, as well as how this applies to your local board area)
I support the compact city model and the objectives of the Auckland Plan. This is the most efficient form of urban development in social, economic and environmental terms. It could be argued that the Unitary Plan (UP) has not exactly achieved this ideal given the extension of the Rural Urban Boundary but that is a moot point now that the UP has been passed. A careful balance needs to be struck between the preservation of heritage and the intensification (I do wish we had a less scary sounding word than that) that is obviously needed in Auckland. On the whole, I think that the approach of more intensive development along transport corridors is eminently sensible. I – and many of my constituents – are concerned that valuable and irreplaceable heritage is being lost in the city site-by-site as Auckland goes through one of the building booms that it has every 30 years or so. Everyone regrets the destruction of the 1980s but we appear set to repeat it. I don’t think heritage:intensification is a binary proposition. Intelligent adaptive re-use and judicious preservation can give us the best of both worlds. But first and foremost, there needs to be a fair and democratic process. Throughout the 2013-2016 triennium, I have reviewed the weekly spreadsheet of resource consent applications and corresponded with the responsible planners about significant and/or contentious applications. I summarise this correspondence in my monthly reports to my local board (which can be found at vernontava.com) in order to make available information that is otherwise difficult and time-consuming for the public to find, and to provide a measure of direct accountability. This is quite time-consuming but I see it as an essential part of the job in my view and one that I find very rewarding. Local boards can only have non-binding input into whether an application will be notified to the public and a hearing held, so this is usually the extent of the input that I have; however, I will sometimes give more substantive feedback in the hope that it will be considered by planners. It does concern me that the public debate has become so polarised that usually well-informed people will argue that there must be minimal democratic impediments to development in order to bring down the price of housing. By this I mean that I have been strongly criticised for asking for notifications (in less than 10% of applications). Less than 2% of applications are ever given limited or full public notification. I have often encountered a perspective, particularly on twitter (shocker), that tends to see the proper role of locally-elected members as uncritically waving through any and every proposal that is applied for. In asking for notification I’m simply arguing for democratic participation in the consenting process so that the independent commissioners who make the decision can hear balanced submissions. This does not happen with non-notified consents.
3 Do you support an increased focus on cycling investment by your local board? (This includes separated cycleways along streets, greenways projects through parks & low speed streets for safe neighbourhood.)
Absolutely. I am a member of the Waitematā Local Board that by dint of both its location in the inner city and surrounding suburbs and the broad popularity of cycling, is at the epicentre of the wave of cycling infrastructure investment in Auckland this term. I fully support it. A separated cycleway is planned for Karangahape Road (I pushed hard for this outcome as the lead Local Board member on the development of the K Road Plan and thank you at GenZero for your excellent mobilisation around the need for a separated cycleway on K Road) and Great North Road. Ponsonby Road is a more challenging proposition but my local board are committed to seeking solutions along all our arterial routes (and, in the case of Ponsonby Road, secondary arterial routes). In any event, it is fairly uncontroversial that separated cycleways are the best practice for safety of people who ride bikes. A balance needs to be struck between the interests of people who may be losing carparks outside their homes or businesses and the need to provide better cycle infrastructure but I believe that mutually beneficial outcomes can be reached through genuine community engagement.
4 How committed are you to taking action on issues of climate change in your position as an elected official, and if so what policies would you focus on?
The Waitematā Local Board is the first local board to develop a Low Carbon Action Plan. So, if re-elected, our work is cut out for us. Specific policies that I would like to focus on in the next term would be: working toward zero waste events at all Council facilities in the local board area and for Local Board funded events; enhance the urban forest and biodiversity; lead the development of a low carbon programme targeted at supporting businesses to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adopt low carbon practices; support and profile exemplar businesses; promote the development of Employee Travel Plans to business; work with AT to ensure that temporary bike parking is available for all events; work towards the completion of Auckland’s cycling network; support SkyPath; work to transition Auckland Council vehicles to a low carbon fleet including electric cars, hybrid cars, electric bikes and pool bikes; encourage interested parties to become involved in local ecological restoration initiatives; promote the Council’s free Eco-Design service; support local initiatives such as Grey Lynn 2030 and Nature for Neighbourhoods; assist in the development of a Resource Recovery Centre within the Waitematā, Albert-Eden or Puketāpapa areas.