Saturday, September 19, 2015

Frank Newman: Amalgamation, RTA changes and earthquakes

The good people of the Hawke's Bay have delivered the final blow to amalgamation agenda of the Local Government Commission (LGC). A referendum of residents has rejected amalgamation by a margin of two to one. In doing so they also delivered a slap in the face of Hastings Mayor and Chairman of the Local Government trade union, Lawrence Yule, and a thoroughly deserved boot up the bum to Basil Morrison, the former chairman of the LGC, who in my view is the epitome of arrogance and disrespect for public opinion.

The victory in the Hawke's Bay reminds me of the expression, people power is stronger than people in power. It's just a shame that people power is so difficult to achieve.

Rousing people usually requires the relentless commitment of conscientious and committed individuals who are prepared to sacrifice their time, and usually their money, for the cause. Fortunately there are such people in the Hawke's Bay. They did a good job countering the misinformation put out by the Yule lead group and the LGC.

I have no doubt that had the LGC persisted with its amalgamation agenda for Northand, that too would have been defeated, and by an equal if not greater margin than was the case in the Hawke's Bay.

During the amalgamation debate, a key reason against amalgamation was that ratepayers living outside of the Hastings District Council area did not want to be lumbered with their "high" $55 million debt.

Interestingly, the Whangarei District Council with a population of 84,000 is not much larger than Hastings (population 70,000), but at $156 million its debt is almost three times higher than that of Hastings on a per capital basis - $785  compared with $1,900. That shows how seriously indebted the Whangarei District Council is.

Although debt transfer was a significant issue, the greatest argument against amalgamation was the Auckland experience. There,  amalgamation was forced upon the local councils by central government. That amalgamation has proved to be a disaster, which just goes to show that the population at large usually has a better sense of what does and does not work than authoritarian know-it-all politicians. Aucklanders should now be given a democratic right to say whether they want to remain in the super city, or opt-out.


The Residential Tenancy Act is in for yet another overhaul. The changes are likely to be introduced into Parliament next month. Here's a summary of what is proposed:

  • Smoke alarms will become compulsory as from July 2016. New alarms will need to be long-life photo-electric. (Photoelectric alarms sense smoke by shining a light beam across a chamber to detect when the air in the chamber becomes partially obscured.)
  • Rentals must have underfloor and ceiling insulation installed by July 2019. Some exceptions will apply where it is impractical to retrofit insulation. The requirements will be that the ceiling insulation must be at least 70mm think above habitable spaces (garages and storage areas are excluded). The level of insulation will need to be noted in the tenancy agreement. If a tenant believes a house does not have adequate insulation they can refer the matter to the Tenancy Tribunal who can order the Landlord to meet the requirement.
  • There are also likely to be changes regarding a landlord's right to regaining possession of their property where it has been abandoned by the tenant. Essentially the process would involve a fast track approach done without needing a hearing. To access this fast track process the rent would need to be more than 14 days in arrears, evidence that the tenant has moved out, and the tenant has not responded to the usual forms of communication.
Earthquake rules

Still on matters of rules and regulations, following public submissions, the Building and Housing Minister Nick Smith has decided to further amend the proposed changes to the earthquake rules by creating a new "priority building" category of earthquake prone buildings. It would apply to buildings in high pedestrian flow areas with unreinforced masonry features like a parapet or veranda that could fall into a public area. In this case the timeframe to have the upgrade works completed has been halved, so they would have to be assessed within 2.5 years and fixed within 7.5 years.

About 2,000 buildings across New Zealand are expected to be included.
Importantly for Northland, the rule only applies to medium and high risk areas. Low risk areas (which is basically Auckland north and parts of the east coast of Southland) are not included.

1 comment:

Brian said...

Amalgamation. A lost cause? I have my doubts.
T’was however a famous Victory! Or is it just the lull before the storm?
It is a Victory for not only democracy, but for common sense. Yet victories are just one battle, others will follow as the ultimate end as far as our Politicians are concerned is that. “It is easier to control five to six large local councils, than this motley of small independently minded ones”!
In the U.K some years ago while in discussion with a Councillor who represented ratepayers in one of the large Metropolitan Local Bodies, formed in the 1970’s. I pointed out that before amalgamation these various boroughs had low debt ratios (if any), and maintained a higher standard of public services. His reply firstly, was the emphasize that the control by a single body had superseded the old fashioned out of date Local Bodies formed in the late 1879/80’s.
“In any case” he said “In these times it is impossible to involve ordinary people in any complicated decision making...they are just not interested”. “And of course, that is what we are elected for in the first place, being better placed and informed”.
Apart from his inbuilt arrogance, the problem was he thought he was totally right; and in this he is regretfully, not alone, as it is a problem of high office hence Thomas Jefferson cryptic remark “When man enters high office a certain rottenness enters his soul”. Is there any cure? Well the Romans had one, when a slave rode behind Caesar as he entered Rome to the plaudits and celebrations of victory; whispering continually “Memento es Humanum”. (In this day and age a DVD would do)!
The Local Government Commission will move on to other areas in their intention to clean up our Local Government, and present to Political Parties a compliant, servile, well ordered Councils who follow the line.
What then, is the difference between obedience and dictatorship?