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Wednesday, 29 August 2007

YAY! A SUPER-RICH AIRPORT ON STEROIDS

The shamelessly audacious plan to turn Waiheke‘s airstrip into a landing-pad for rich yuppies can be summed up in one word: insanity. It shows an astonishing lack of consideration for the island, its environment and its character. It would go down well in Dubai, where they behave as if the planet exists to be bullied into submission and defaced with as many high-rise horrors as can be crammed into an area created with squadrons of bulldozers.

How unbalanced the whole idea is is illustrated by the fact that John Travolta‘s DC10 was cited as an example of what the rich owners of planes want and will go for. What has a DC10 to do with Waiheke? Nothing. Because nowhere, and certainly not on that airstrip site even after a lot of bulldozing, could a plane that big land. Unless it was coming in vertically in a manoeuvre called crashing.

Perhaps the cunning plan is to turn our airstrip into a junkyard for aviation scrap...


Talking of airports, but of a different kind, we should never sell Auckland International Airport, to Dubai or anyone. When will we learn that companies from other countries are not charities. They want to take profit out of New Zealand, not shower millions on us. Those who believe they will are like the people of Papua-New Guinea who think that if they build an airstrip American planes will drop from the sky full of goodies. The cargo-cult. Look what happened to the railways. Look what happened to Telecom.

MORE ABOUT ME

I was born in Auckland, at a very young age. Not quite young enough for my poor mother, who had to suffer forty hours of labour before they took pity and winkled me out with a Caesarian. At first I had a difficult time of it, so I was a Kiwi battler from the start.

I went through school in the top stream; my highest placing was fifth at high school. I gained 322 out of 400 in School Certificate (English, Mathematics, Biology and General Science), I was accredited in University Entrance in five subjects, gained a minor scholarship, and attended two universities.

I am inventive, I have wide-ranging design-skills, I am a problem-solver. I can make order out of chaos and efficiency out of inefficiency. I can design, engineer and build innovative equipment and highly productive organisational structures. I work fast. I have exceptional communication, computing and IT skills. I have extensive experience in freelance writing and desktop-publishing.

I don't like standing on ceremony. I just like to get the job done. I am a no-nonsense kind of person who always wants to cut through the garbage and get to the truth at speed. I am practical: I have a brain and two hands and know how to use them. I like working with wood, metal, stained-glass and other materials.

I am a cost-cutter and a cost-holder, not a cost-maker. I dislike waste, I hate profligate waste; I like seeing things done well, done efficiently, and with true sensitivity to the environment, both natural and human. It makes me fume to see the way public money is chucked away, carelessly wasted, because it is not just money. We spend our lives to make it; wasting it is a waste of life.

I like public servants, people dedicated to public service, good stewards and conscientious. I loathe bureaucracies because they destroy people. I don't like politicians, I don't like political parties. I refuse to be politically correct. Fashionable ideologies are a very stupid way of making decisions. I want to know the truth and put it into practice. I strive to get things right the first time.

My way of setting about a task is to do the research, do the analysis, do the planning, do the job. And do it right. If the research, analysis and planning are right it will be right. It is obviously better to do two things right than to have to repeat one that was done wrong (but if a mistake is made, the thing to do is acknowledge it and fix it ASAP).

I am an ideas man, I am constantly searching for a better way of doing things. I will always do things the best way I know until or unless I find a better way, then I will change to that ASAP. I don't care where the best way is found, if it is the best I shall champion it.

I am a designer, an inventor. I write and arrange symphonic music. I write all sorts of things, from technical articles to children's stories. I have national awards for technical stuff and people who have read my stories have liked them.

I am an incurable book-worm. My library of fiction and non-fiction ranges from Winnie-the-Pooh to The Neuropsychology of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. The biggest section is poetry, with reference books of all kinds next. My books range across the millennia, from the Bible to the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.

I have the weird idea that people's lives matter, and no one should get away with messing them up. I also have the weird idea that there is only one planet we can live on in the entire universe--the Earth--so it matters what we do with it. There are too many decisions being made nowadays, public and private, that have no regard to what we are standing on, what we are breathing and what we are eating and drinking.

Obviously, therefore, I am not a politician. Why, you then might ask, am I standing for the Community Board? That isn't politics, it's part of the great weird Waiheke Island family, defending the rest of the family from everyone who wants to trash the island. If it isn't it should be. Defending it against the Auckland City Council in particular--an outfit with an over-fed cost-plus mentality. It likes to spend till we drop.

We need a strong Board to stand up to all these people. One that will be vigilant and strong, one that will defend the island to the hilt. I am that kind of person. I would of course be only one voice on the Board. But I am not a shy and retiring voice. I'm very easy to find on the ballot-paper. Right at the top of the list.

There's an old saying, 'Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.' With my Christian name I can turn that round with a pun: 'Nobilangelo marches in and treads on fools.'

My original scientific research includes an exhaustive meta-study in the 1990s, covering psychology, neuroscience, psychiatry and demography, into the cause of particular aspects of criminal behaviour, specifically crimes against the person, i.e., assault, rape in particular. When I found myself dealing with Council bureaucrats not long after I realised that their psychological profile is on the same line. But they knock people about with bits of paper instead of fists and weapons.

In 2004 I built a comprehensive seminar on global overheating and its technical and economic solution. I presented it Cabinet ministers and others in the government, national and local, as well as businessmen and technical people right across the political spectrum. It was well-received, but the government then referred me to State Coal (aka Solid Energy)! As part of that enterprise I designed an innovative electric car, the EStarCar. Its manufacturing model means it can be built by small teams in small premises located close to the market instead of in huge factories at a vast distance.

ESCAPING FROM AUCKLAND'S RUINOUS DOMINATION

The only way to remove the constant problems caused by the Auckland City Council is to remove it from our lives. Self-rule, unfortunately, is impossible, because we don't have the population needed to apply to the Local Government Commission. Even with Great Barrier included we fall well short of the necessary 10,000.

The root of the problem is that the character of Auckland does not fit the character of the Gulf Islands. We march to the beat of a very different drum, so they keep treading on our toes. And that will continue till we have the numbers to saw through the bars and escape.

But we do fit our close neighbour, Thames-Coromandel. Therefore, with the ideal inattainable, the obvious interim move is to petition the LGC to transfer us to the Thames-Coromandel District Council, so that we can exchange a grossly mismatched community-of-interest for an excellent match. The Thames-Coromandel has 21,472 voters and Waiheke-Great Barrier 6524 (5875+649), so we would at last have strong say in how things happened on our patch. We would not be buried amongst 279,000 city voters. Local decisions could be made locally, as they should be.

Council matters would be serviced from our local service centres, and that plus the Internet and today's cheap toll-calls would mean that there would be little or no logistical disadvantage, especially given the fact that having a stronger voice relative to the whole would mean we should get virtual independence.

With Thames-Coromandel we would no longer be a flea on the backside of Tyrannosaurus Rex.

If we were to escape that way, the process would of course have to 100% democratic, which means it would have to have very strong support from the island (66% at least) before we could give it a shot. If we had that support we would work out a heads of agreement with Thames-Coromandel and its regional council so that we would know exactly what were getting into. Then the island would vote on that, and if there was strong support for it we would make a joint approach to the Local Government Commission. If they said yes, we would be free at last of all the problems caused by Auckland City.

For a start, no longer would $3 million of the $15 million collected in rates and charges be spent over in Auckland, so our rates and charges could reduced $3 million. Or we could leave it in for a year and build a swimming-pool, then slash it off.

If when moving to Thames-Coromandel we were also to negotiate a much fairer way of setting rates, we would have a comparative paradise. No more Auckland City Council, no crushing rates burden, and virtual autonomy. And the problem of driving low- and middle-income families and individuals off the island would be utterly eliminated.

We would also not be under threat from a 'mega-city', if it happened.

Negotiating with Thames-Coromandel and making an application to the Local Government Commission would obviously take time, so until then the best we could do would be to negotiate with Auckland City for a high degree of autonomy for our Community Board. But if only one board tried it it could not be from a position of strength, so I propose that as soon as possible after this election our board invites all Auckland's Community Boards here to arrive at a joint negotiating position, then deal with the Council en masse. Community Boards have a lot of autonomy in Christchurch. We should have it here, especially in the Hauraki Gulf Islands.

PUBLIC SERVANTS, BUREAUCRATS, POLITICIANS AND STATESMEN

There are two kinds of people in government, the elected and the employed. In the employed group are public servants and bureaucrats. In the elected are statesmen (public servants who make speeches) and politicians (bureaucrats who make speeches).

Public servants are people who take that title seriously and work hard and conscientiously for their country or community without fear or favour. A prime example is our Attorney-General, who blew the whistle on the politicians who had stolen taxes to fund their electioneering.

Then there are the bureaucrats. I feel immensely sorry for them. They remind me of Victor Hugo's words: 'The malicious have a dark happiness.' They are dysfunctional people, they have low self-esteem, and therefore have impaired wiring in the emotional centre of their brains, the place where all our decision-making begins. So they tend to make decisions that are not in their best interests or in the best interests of society. The strength of that tendency depends on the seriousness of the impairment involved in a decision. But the more they make decisions with it the worse an impairment becomes. The habit becomes set in psychological concrete. The mechanism is the same as the one at work in serial rapists. That is the neuroscience of it. We, unfortunately, must live in the consequent 'reality.'

The English poet T.S. Eliot neatly skewered the two parts of the problem. In one place he said, 'The wounded surgeon plies the steel that questions the distempered part', and in another, 'Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They do not mean to do harm. But the harm done does not interest them.'

Only half? He should have lived under the Auckland City Council.

In bureaucrats we have people with impaired wiring making decisions about other peoples' lives, although they are not well-equipped to manage their own--wounded surgeons presuming to operate on everyone else. They are addicted to self-importance to compensate for their internal inadequacies. They need to feel big and powerful because they are actually small and weak. That is why they overspend. Spending huge amounts of money makes them feel important. Overspending is part of their addiction. And like drug addicts they fund their addiction with other people's money. But instead of mugging them in the street with a gun they do it with grossly inflated rates notices. That puts the problem crudely, but captures the essence: it is psychological.

The difference between politicians and statesmen has been crystallised as: 'A politician worries about the next election. A statesman worries about the next generation.' For public servants and bureaucrats that could be re-stated more finely: 'A bureaucrat worries about survival; a public servant worries about the community.'

Bureaucrats have the wrong psychological profile to be in public positions. But people with that profile are attracted to jobs in which they can feel far more important than they really are. Normal people are also attracted to those positions because they really can do a good job, and want to: they want to serve their communities. But once organisations get a particular character it is very hard to change, because the people doing the hiring tend to hire people like them, so a place with a bureaucratic bent keeps it, bureaucracy becomes institutionalised, and normal people working in it feel helpless because they are.

If you are outside the normal range of humanity there are three things you can do (except when disease is the cause). The brain is very plastic, so you can work your way back into normal range. Or you can try to lever everyone over to where you are, then you can call yourself normal--which explains political-correctness: it is just psychological abuse, the lever aimed at your mind. Or you can stay where you are, regard normal people as inferior and 'prove' it to yourself by getting a position where you can lord it over them. Your bad wiring will of course tell you that you deserve the power because of your vast superiority.

Democratic rule is meant to be the people decide and public servants carry out their decisions. But because so many in public positions have the wrong psychological profile, what we have is bureaucrats deciding then asking the people to approve.The best we get is a choice between their unreasonable options. They forget that they are our servants, they behave as our masters.

In the first three pages of a chapter headed The House of Circumlocution in Little Dorrit, Charles Dickens mocked bureaucrats and politicians, calling them the Barnacle Family, whose leading branch is the Tite Barnacles. Their only skill is survival; they can cling to the official rock; but they never do anything. To read the extract, plus other anti-politician stuff, click here. The antidote to all bureaucratic and political folly, and the underlying difference between it true public service, was captured thousands of years ago in the Bible (Proverbs 4:7): 'The first thing is to acquire wisdom; gain understanding though it cost you all you have.'

But you cannot expect people with unreasonable brains to be reasonable or people with foolish brains to be wise. They are not wired for it. It's like expecting a toaster to take digital photographs. The poor thing can't do it. Wrong wiring.

The solution to the problem is to use our vast neuroscientific knowledge, and change the system so that no one is allowed into any public office, elected or employed, without going through a battery of tests to make sure he or she is in the normal range of humanity. Any bureaucrat or politicians already in must be identified and assisted with targeted counselling. (And in case you were wondering, I did go through such tests when applying for a management position years ago, and passed, and got the job.) Sadly, the solution is very unlikely, because the people who would have to agree to it and implement it are politicians and bureaucrats. Catch 22...

SHOULD THERE BE A SEWERAGE SYSTEM ON WAIHEKE?

No. Never.

For the Fellow Passenger's scornful, strident, over-the-top take on this idiotic notion, click here

WHERE SHOULD THE LIBRARY BE?

That question would never have arisen if Auckland City had not thrown its bureaucratic cat amongst the island's wood-pigeons, as per usual, in its overweening desire to organise our island they way it wants it.

The library should be where those who use it, after informed pondering, decide it should be (so to do the job properly we should first survey who the users are and where the bulk of them live). There are arguments on both sides, and it can be said that there is little to choose between them, but my own view is that it should stay where it is (even though Ostend would be more convenient for me). There is a wise old saying: 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it.' If you are going to upset the status quo you must have a very good reason, something so powerful that it over-rides everything else. There is no such reason here. Kow-towing to Auckland's whims is no reason for anything.

An inescapably powerful argument in favour of the Oneroa site is that is well established as the island's centre for cultural activities. The library, the art gallery, the artistic shops, the Artworks theatre, Whittaker's Museum and the cinema are there. That quality should be added to and enhanced, not detracted from or destroyed.

The problem, if it is moved, is that the library is a major facility on the island. It is a busy place. If you shift something like that you will upset a dynamic and a balance that have grown up and become established over a long period of time. The other activities that have grown up round it, and prosper because it is there, or do better because of it whether they know it or not, will do less well, or will wither and die.

The real question is which village should be the main one. Oneroa or Ostend? The answer is plain. Oneroa. It always has been. It has location, location, location. It has the best views; Ostend has none worthy of the name. Oneroa is the first village visitors come to, and the one most of them get off at. It has everything they want and need--all the banks, the Post Office, a choice of the most popular caf├ęs and restaurants, souvenir shops, the Citizens' Advice Bureau, grocery shops, clothing shops, the government service centre, real estate offices, a department store, the police station, the videos shop, a butcher and one of the best beaches on the island. Far, far more than Ostend. Their second choice is either Palm Beach or Onetangi. Very few go to Ostend unless they want the supermarket or are changing buses. They vote with their feet. Oneroa is number one. We should take notice of that. We should also take notice of how many islanders linger in Oneroa compared with how many linger in Ostend. Far more in Oneroa.

That therefore is where the library should be. It is a main facility, it is in the main village, it should stay there.

Public transport is perfectly suited to library users at Oneroa. Both buses stop right opposite. But only one bus route goes past the Ostend location.

There is also the very human argument of sensitivity to habit and nostalgia. Oneroa is what we are used to in heart and mind and body, and because there is no good reason for upsetting that it should not be upset.

We can also look at the demographic profile of the island. Where is the greatest concentration of population, and where is the demographic centre? The Council's computer system cannot spit out that data, but the street-map shows that is round about Surfdale/Pacific Parade, which is a bit closer to Oneroa. But that has to be weighted in favour of Oneroa because of the much larger number of other facilities. Ostend has the supermarket and Placemakers, true, which are heavy counterweights, but they do not offer Oneroa's variety, nor do they outweigh the value of having a single, integrated cultural centre. But again it comes back to the question of which is the main village and where it should be.

Oneroa is only five or ten minutes up the road from Ostend. Hardly a major schlepp.

Auckland City's notion that its Service Centre should be merged with, or beside, the library is the sort of thinking we can expect from bureaucrats. They like things to be in what they see as tidy pigeonholes, regardless of practicality or any other good reason. Why should they be together? They are not together even in Auckland. How many people really want desperately to combine a trip to the library, a haven of books away from the world, with the bruising reality of a visit to the Auckland City Council? Very few. You are far more likely to want to combine it with going to the Post Office, the bank, etc. Few visit to the Service Centre often--far fewer than those who make regular visits to the library. The combination is artificial, not made for any practical or demographic reason. Just for some notion of tidiness disconnected from reality.

If some overlap was seen as desirable for research, because so many functions are available at the Service Centre on the computer system, they could easily be made available at the library too, simply by giving the library computers access to the same data.

HOW THE COMMUNITY BOARD SHOULD OPERATE

It is the primary duty, the primary responsibility, the primary function of the Waiheke Community Board to defend our island from the developers, speculators and bureaucrats who vandalise its pleasantness. It must stand in the breach with weapons drawn. But Board after Board has been asleep at its post. Whatever they might say in their defence can only be a feeble excuse. Where there's a will there's a way. There was no way, so there was insufficient will. Perhaps they didn't even think of it.

Parliamentary statute clearly wants it. Section 7 of the Resource Management Act says that 'everyone exercising powers and functions under it, in relation to managing the use, development, and protection of natural and physical resources shall have particular regard to' the ethic of stewardship, the maintenance and enhancement of the quality of the environment, and the maintenance and enhancement of amenity values, etc. The Oxford Dictionary sums up 'amenity' in one word: pleasantness.

The Local Government Act says the Board is there to be an advocate for the interests of the island. And members must promise in writing to serve its best interests to the best of their skill and judgement. So why do we get horrors on hillsides and ridgelines?

Every statutory weapon must be used, every means of persuasion, cajolery and negotiation must be pressed into service to keep the island pleasant. Otherwise the reason we live here will no longer exist. Waiheke will have become like Dubai. Development on steroids.

The Board's whole operation should be geared to stopping the island's pleasantness from being trashed. That must mean, amongst other things, not having only ten or eleven meetings a year, and not being satisfied with only one a month. Resource consents can be processed in less than 20 working days, so corrupt bureaucrats could slip nasty things through between monthly meetings, or in months when there is no meeting--the Matiatia Monstrosity (89 Nick Johnstone Drive) was approved at the end of December, a month the Board has no meeting. So it should meet fortnightly. And it should schedule extra meetings when pressing attacks come at us--for large public attendance if the whole island has to be rallied.

Fortnightly meetings will also speed things up generally. Bureaucrats habitually act as if we are all going to live a thousand years and tomorrow will do. We aren't; it won't. The Board should not have the same habit. Next month will not do.

We elect people to look after our interests. We are most interested in keeping Waiheke pleasant. The Board should be too. It should never be asleep at its post. If I were on the Board I would move that it changes its operation so that it can defend the island to the hilt. If it refused, I would do it myself.

Our landscape is being trashed because unpleasant developments are being approved--like the Matiatia Monstrosity. And because such consents are slipped through hugger-mugger by untrustworthy planning bureaucrats the only remedies are dismissal or exposure.

But the Board does not have the power to hire and fire, so the only way to stop the corrupt processing of resource-consent applications is to force the bureaucrats, using the Local Government Official Information & Meetings Act (LGOIMA) and the Local Government Act, to copy every application to the Board. It must also be a permanent fixture on the agendas of its meetings to scrutinise and vet them. Then nothing can be hidden from the public gaze.

The demands for copies must be frequent enough (once a week at least) to make sure nothing can be slipped through.Why, you might ask, have a dog and bark too? Because it has proved not to be a dog; it can't even meow.

It would be nice to have a standing request to have every application copied to the Board, but LGOIMA does not allow that, although the Ombudsman's office says some organisations will do it anyway, so perhaps the Board could achieve that by making a resolution to that effect.

If a demand for copies was not obeyed, the Ombudsman can investigate, putting the guilty on notice. The Board can also go to the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment if it finds the consent process is being diverted from its proper course. It can also make a formal complaint to the City Manager about an errant bureaucrat; and it can pass a public motion of censure.

None of that would add to the costs for ordinary, honest applicants, and little or nothing to the time it would take to process their applications, because most of the 275 made annually are OK, or need few changes. But it would certainly stop the eyesores. And they should be stopped, because they are vandalism, and contrary to law.

Making our environment less and less pleasant also affects our health. There is a close link between well-being and environment.

Section 10 of the Local Government Act says, 'The purpose of local government is--(a)to enable democratic local decision-making and action by, and on behalf of, communities; and (b)to promote the social, economic, environmental, and cultural well-being of communities, in the present and for the future.'

The Community Board must do everything it can to stop bureaucratic corruption from trashing Waiheke. Whatever can be done should be done. Up till now it has not been. The Board must intercept every attempt to uglify the island and stop it dead. If the regime I am proposing was operating, and I were on the Board, and an application like the Matiatia Monstrosity came in I would say, 'NO! That is not an amenity, it is not pleasant, it is ugly; it is therefore contrary to law. Go away and design something pleasant.'

As I said in another posting, if I were on the Board I would subject every proposal to three simple tests: 1) Is it necessary and/or good for the island? If not, that's the end of it. 2) If it is, how can it be done in the shortest time and for the smallest amount of money? 3) Always be acutely aware that the Board is spending other people's money and that money is generated from people's lives, so other people's lives are being spent.

But you cannot test proposals you do not know about. Therefore the Board must make sure that nothing can be hidden.

The way of operating that I have proposed above is perfectly consistent with the Resource Management Act, which demands, in section 35(2)(c) 'That every local authority shall monitor--The exercise of any functions, powers, or duties delegated or transferred by it,--and take appropriate action where this is shown to be necessary.' The Act also says in section 34(9) 'Every person authorised under a delegation ... is presumed to be acting in accordance with its terms in the abscence of proof to the contrary.' The Board, obviously, can supply that proof, in the form of gross abuses of delegated bureaucratic authority, which should mean that the authority that has been so abused will be removed or operated only under strict supervision.

There are also Planning Commissioners on the Board who have, or should have, the same delegated authority, but who by virtue of being Board members as well should be able to over-rule the bureaucrats.

There is another way of cutting through the abuses bureaucratic power. The Board could simply apply to the Council under section 34(1)&(2) of the Act for full delegated authority for all consent matters on the island, and have the planning staff subordinate to them. That would make all consent processes on the island fully democratic. All bureaucratic power would be removed. Sadly, the Board would not be able to over-ride the Council on, for example, Plan 201 for Matiatia.

One way or the other, the Board must do the hard yards to make sure the pleasantness of the island is not compromised.

See the end of this posting for thoughts added after the election (24th of October and the 13th of November 2007)

.......

The Board should also be communicating better with the island. This is the twenty-first century, so why, at very least, doesn't it have a blog, up-to-date and updated frequently? They can be set up in an hour or so and cost nothing. Google's blogs (the ones at blogspot.com) now have a polling feature, which makes it very easy to get feedback on any issue.

The Board should also have, in the boardroom and at hand, all the modern computer tools and library resources that will enable it to come rapidly to well-informed decisions. Access to the Internet, for example, is a no-brainer. So is that CD-ROM of the Resource Management Act annotated with the major court decisions.

.......

The number of community lobby groups that have sprung up on the island over the years is an indictment of a long succession of Community Boards that have failed to take full advantage of their general and specific democratic powers, and therefore have failed the community. The Community Boardroom should be the 'family' conference room of the island, the focal gathering-place, and the Board should spearhead all discussions and considerations that concern and interest the community. When it doesn't, others feel obliged to. If people see a vacuum and fill it, because the Board has not being doing its job, they by their actions are, very rightly, condemning it for failing to be what it is meant to be in statute and in statutory promise. If it were, they would no longer feel the need to exist and spend time, energy and money making up the deficit.

The Board should be a resounding symphony of substance, never a hollow drumbeat of procedure.

.......

After the election, when I saw the list of delegations of authority made by the Auckland City Council to Community Boards, I was aghast to see that there has been, all along, the overview mechanism needed, but the Waiheke Board has obviously not been using it. The member responsible, who resigned to create the vacancy I was elected to fill, had not been doing her job.

Delegation 16 gives the power: 'To appoint a board member to consult with the Group Manager, Auckland City Environments and Group Manager, City Planning and the Regulatory and Fixtures Subcommittee on whether proposed non-notified, non-complying land use or subdivision applications should be notified or not, except where the application is non-complying due only to the bonding of a financial contribution.'

If the Planning Spokesman had been awake and functioning as commanded by that, such things as the horror on the hilltop at 89 Nick Johnstone Drive would never have gone through non-notified.

That delegated authority, coupled with what has been outlined in the bulk of this posting, would achieve what is needed--to shift the control of resource consents from the bureaucracy to the democracy.

Another post-election discovery was that thanks to a member of the Eden-Albert Community Board, Virginia Chong, boards get a list each month of all the resource-consent applications, which they should be studying and using. Waiheke has not been.

If neither the information provided and the authority provided are being used, there is no excuse for failure.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

THE UGLY SHOCKER ON THE MATIATIA RIDGELINE

The new house on the ridgeline south of the wharf at Matiatia (89 Nick Johnstone Drive) rides roughshod over every protection in law designed to prevent environmental vandalism, as well as being plain inconsiderate. The covenant on the title, the Resource Management Act, the District Plan, the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Act, common decency, good thinking, good taste and simple morality were all bulldozed into the mud.

That shocking thing is way over the top in every sense, but it is only the start. There will also be a guest facility on the western side, a garage behind it large enough for two tractors and a boat, and a swimming pool in the middle foreground (with shrubs to hide the bulldozed bank in front).

How did that monstrosity happen? A study of all the documentation shows the answer can be given in two ugly words: bureaucratic corruption. And there was nothing to stop it because the Community Board in 2005 was not geared to defend the island against being trashed. It still isn't.

Don Chappell worked his soul out making that hillside glorious. Now it has been vandalised by a planning bureaucrat who did not do his job properly, and who got away with it because the Board was asleep at its post. If I were on the Board I would press it to change its operation so that nasty things like that could not happen (see the posting, 'How the Board Should Operate'). If it refused, I would do it myself.

Whatever pathetic excuses the Board might make, the house is there, it shouldn't be there, and most of us don't want it there. Other houses on that ridgeline show it is perfectly possible to build something that does not violate the landscape. That one chose to.

Sadly, such developments are the thin end of a very thick wedge, because the worse the landscape is made to look the more we will see even worse stuff applied for and approved. That slide into an ever more ruined island must stop. It should have been stopped years ago.

The corruption in this case was shoddy thinking and a gross abuse of bureaucratic power. The town-planning bureaucrats have 'delegated authority', which means that if a resource-consent application is within certain criteria they can handle it themselves without putting it up for public scrutiny. But the fatal flaw in the system is that they are the ones who decide if they are to have the power to process an application themselves. That obviously puts temptation in harm's way. They are trusted to be trustworthy; they are trusted to answer the deciding question honestly; in the Matiatia Monstrosity they betrayed that trust.

The question they must ask to decide if they can process an application under delegated authority is, 'Will the effect on the environment of the proposed development be minor?' Antony Yates, the planner who handled that application, said 'Yes, it will be minor'! The fact that his answer was illegal sticks out like an eyesore on a hilltop, but that is how he gave himself the power to handle the application, and it was hidden from public awareness and scrutiny till it was signed, sealed and delivered. Then, in point after point after point where the house and the associated development broke the law Yates put tick after tick after tick, or N/A, or ignored it.

He said, 'the granting of consent will have a minor effect on the environment. In particular the works will not compromise the amenity of the area as the development is considered to be of a scale complimentary to the surrounding environment', and it is 'consistent with the objective and policies of the Operative District Plan and the sustainable management purpose of the Resource Management Act.' Arrant nonsense!

The consultant, Martin Green, who handled the application on behalf of the owners, John and Cecile Alexander, claimed, with breathtaking audacity, that the house 'recedes into the landscape', it is 'recessive.' Even Yates could not swallow that whole. But he said the outline could be 'softened' with some trees behind the eastern corner. Pohutukawas mainly, and, perhaps, a kauri and a totara. But he failed to take into account the fact that that horror on the hilltop will mostly be seen from below. And that trees planted 18 to 20 metres behind it will have to grow pretty tall before a single leaf will be seen, let alone have any significant effect on the skyline.

But even before the resource-consent process started, the owners ignored the covenant on their title. It stipulated a single-storey building, and demanded that the 'dwelling building and structures are designed in a manner and will be of an appearance sensitive to and aesthetically compatible with the surrounding landscape.' A 412 square-metre, two-level house, a box nearly 30 metres wide and 10 deep, looming above Matiatia and sticking up above a ridge-line that is legally designated significant trampled all that to shreds.

Much of the cladding on the house is copper, which in years to come will turn from brown to green. But that will never remove the dominant, hard-edged bulk of the building. It will be a bit less obtrusive against the sky, but it will never be the pleasant sight on which the law lays great emphasis. Section 7(c) of the Resource Management Act commands everyone involved in handling a consent to have 'particular regard to the maintenance and enhancement of amenity values.' 'Amenity' is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as 'pleasantness (of places, persons, etc.); (plural), pleasant ways.' So the law commands those in authority to keep the pleasantness and make it better--'maintenance and and enhancement of amenity values.' That demand, and a string of others, was blatantly ignored.

On the Council's pathetic checklist, under the brief section heading Conservation & Amenity, there is no detailed mention of s7 of the RMA. There are just five items, and for this application two are marked N/A. The only brief reference to s7 said it was OK (!).

I have designed many things, from forms to systems, from computer software to Websites, from furniture to office layouts, from machinery to office equipment, from houses to cars. One of my favourite sayings is 'Design is thinking made visible.' Whoever designed that eyesore must hate the human race. It is ironic that the bureaucrats who want to dump Plan 201 on Matiatia talk about making a gateway to the island that will attract tourists. Then they approve that repellent thing.

Their contempt for democracy is underlined by the fact that most of the documentation for the Matiatia Monstrosity was not scanned into the Council's computer system, and thus was unavailable for public viewing, till three days after Yates signed it off (his approval was dated 22/12/2005). The first we knew about it was when it began to fester on the hilltop.

There was obviously a cosy relationship between Yates and Green. In the correspondence they address each other by their first names. 'Dear Martin, [wrote Yates] In my opinion the proposed building, although well-designed, is not integrated into the landscape or mitigated against the ridge-line. However I consider that an appropriate landscape mitigation plan would achieve the necessary integration of the building into the site and 'soften' the building against the ridge-line.'

Poor man! He doesn't know the difference between ridge-line and skyline. Nor has he considered the inexorable laws of geometry. His 'mitigation' planting will not be seen from Ocean View Road until it is 12 or more metres high, and it will have to be much higher than that to have any significant effect. From the floor of the valley it will never be seen. It takes forty years for a pohutukawa to reach 7 or so metres.

That cosy relationship is not surprising. Green worked for the Council as a planner for nine years, including on Waiheke. He says he doesn't take on projects that he cannot win.

When the District Plan says a building must not rise more than 4 metres above a significant ridgeline, that means as God left it, not as the owners decide to bulldoze it. It is not open to them to fudge reality with earthworks and thumb their noses at the law. Yates chose not see that; he chose to obey the bare letter of the law not its spirit and clear intent.

The timing of the resource consent is interesting. It happened soon after the Council bought Matiatia. A cynic might say we were being softened up for the mess they want to make in the valley (Plan 201) by approving one on the hilltop. Then what they are planning won't look so bad. 89 Nick Johnstone is the nose of the camel under the edge of the tent. Next comes the whole camel--the horse designed by a committee.

If I were on the Board I would subject every proposal to three tests: 1) Is it necessary and/or good for the island? If not, that's the end of it. 2) If it is, how can it be done in the shortest time and for the smallest amount of money? 3) Always be acutely aware that the Board is spending other people's money and that money is generated from people's lives, so other people's lives are being spent. The Matiatia Monstrosity would have failed the first test, because only pleasant developments are good for the island, so it would never have happened. That ridgeline would not have been trashed.

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Footnote: By taking lessons from the architects of old, even that house could be make to look much better. The bulk and the remorseless hard-edged skyline could be broken up and given interest, even beauty. The old architects knew how to turn a hard line into a thing of beauty. That architect, if he knew, chose not to.

Saturday, 25 August 2007

HOW SHOULD WE BE RATED?

The way rates are calculated, especially on Waiheke, is clearly iniquitous. The system could hardly be better designed to drive out long-term residents who happen to be middle- and low-income New Zealanders and cannot afford huge rates. People who bought properties many years ago for the proverbial axe and blanket now find themselves on properties with very high market values, which have then been over-inflated by the Auckland City Council's dodgy valuations. Living in their own homes thus becomes difficult or impossible. The piffling 25% rebate now patronisingly allowed to farms that were never intended to be subdivided, but were rated as if they were, does little to remedy the evil.

I think rates should be set in a radically different way (and I see nothing in the Rating & Valuation Act or the Local Government (Rating) Act that could prevent it). We should set them on improved values not capital values (also referred to as market values). That would be much fairer (especially if $3 million dollars were not being trucked off the island to prop up Auckland's empire and contribute to its roads), because the value of your improvements is usually closely related to your income.

If I were setting up a rating system I would divide the total needed to administer the island by the number of properties to get the average rates payment for each, then work out a threshold improved value and use a scale based on that to adjust the average up or down for each property.

For example, if the rates-take for the 6425 properties on Waiheke Island was to be the same under an improved-value system as it is under the present market-value system, i.e., $10.436 million, which is an average per property of $1624, the same average would be needed for the average improved value--but the spread would be very different, favouring low- and middle-income households. Quotable Value's figures show the improved average to be $180,131, so that would be the threshold. Therefore calculating your entire rates would be simple matter of dividing your improved value by 110.92. The rates for properties whose improved value was below $180,131 would thus be less than $1624 and those above it more. So someone in a modest, fifty-year-old cottage on Palm Beach would pay rates just on the value of the cottage, not on the millions the entire property would now in theory fetch on the market. If it was worth, say, $30,000, that average $1624 would drop to a comfortable $270. Conversely, someone in a house worth $10 million would pay $90,155.

If the rates-take needed for Waiheke was $12.85 million, the average rates would need to be $2000, making the divisor 85.66. In that case someone in a $30,000 cottage would pay $350 in rates, and someone in a $10-million-dollar house $116,731.

Compare the market-value and improved-value systems with three real examples, using properties in Palm Beach. The Auckland City Council's present hideously complicated system for residential properties on Waiheke is to multiply the 'market rental value' (5% of the so-called market value) by 0.039448, then add in the uniform annual-general charge and a long list of other bits and pieces. Quotable Value's figures show the average capital value for all types of residences on the island to be $635,127. The first example has a capital value very near that--$620,000, made up of a land value of $450,000 and an improved value of $170,000. It was rated a total of $1668 in 2007/2008. Under the improved-value scheme outlined above, it would have been rated $170,000 divided by 110.92, i.e., a total of $1532. The second example has a capital value of $460,000, but because it only has a shed on it its improved value is $10,000. Under the present system it is rated $1115. Under the improved-value system it would be rated $90. The third example is a cottage that was valued at $1.4 million by the Auckland City Council, but on appeal that was reduced to $920,000 (to be wrong by $480,000 is some error!). The land value is $800,000 and the improved value $120,000. At present it is rated $2333. Under the improved-value system it would be rated $1082 (although if the improved valuation were done properly that modest cottage would never be valued at $120.000).

Great Barrier's average improved value for its 1418 properties is $133,199. If that was used in the same way as for Waiheke, by using the same divisors, the average rates would be either $1200 or $1554, which would bring in a total of $1.702 million or $2.204 million.

The rates for unimproved land would obviously have to be calculated differently. Square area would be a prime factor, perhaps using a formula that involved an adjustment on market value followed by one to make the result fair when set beside the rates for improved land. The threshold to use could be reckoned on the reckoned market value per square metre, thus creating a multiplier of value based on area.

One way of arriving at the rates for unimproved residential properties would be to work out their average size, call that the threshold and thus the size that attracted the average rate ($1624 or $2000 in the above examples). That would give an average per square metre, which would give the base figure. Location/market values in adjacent improved properties could then be used to adjust that.

So if, for example, 1000 square metres was found to be the average size of residential properties on the island, and there were two adjacent properties, one of 1000 square metres with an improved value of $180,131 and the other an unimproved one of 800 square metres, and the registered value of the improved one was $360,232 and of the unimproved one $120,000. The improved one, for a rate-take of $12.85 million, would have to be rated at $2000 because it had the average improved value. So with its improvement it would have been rated at $2 per square metre. Taking that rate over the boundary to the unimproved property would give a base figure also of $2 a square metre and thus a total of $1600, but that would then be multiplied by 120/360 to give $533. Something along those lines would give a fair balance of public costs.

Farms could also be rated on improved value, which might include the value of livestock averaged over a year, with perhaps an adjustment downwards to take into account the employment generated and the value of that to the island. But whatever formula was used for rural land would have to be seen to be fair when set beside residential rates.

This system would eliminate what is driving low- and middle-income families and individuals off the island. A beneficial side-effect would be to discourage huge, expensive palaces, thus preventing the island's character from sliding into the tasteless yuppie abyss.

That effect can and should be strengthened by adding a graduated scale to the improved-value system, making, say, the divisor go down 4% of the original 110.92 as the improved value multiplies. That would proportionally increase the rates for the upmarket properties, which would also be fairer. Thus, for example, rates for a property with an improved value of $2.7 million, which is fifteen times the base average of $180,131, would have the divisor reduced by 15*4%, thus reducing the basic 110.92 by 15 lots of 4.4367 to 44.368. That would raise the rates on that property to $60,855 rather than the unfairly low $23,440 it would have if it were rated on the same basis as that shed in Palm Beach. That process would obviously have to have a limit, so the divisor might be set to bottom out at, say, 20, a value that would make the rates on a $10,000,000 house $500,000.

Adding that graduated scale into the mix would obviously further reduce the rates imposed on low- and middle-income groups, because the rates-take needed would be more easily satisfied. So that would turn the calculation into a two-stage process. The first would be as above (dividing your improved value by the appropriate divisor) followed by an across-the-board adjustment to reduce the rates-take to the total required. If, for example, in the first stage the total added up to $15 million and only $10 million was required, all individual rates would then be multiplied by 10/15.

--

Silly question: Why is the assumption always made, and always believed to be true, that rates have to go up? What are they, hot-air balloons? Manufacturers fight to get their costs down. Councils should too.

Friday, 24 August 2007

MATIATIA AND PLAN 201

If I were on the Board, the first test I would apply to every proposal would be to ask, 'Is it necessary and/or good for the island?' The proposed development is not necessary and not good. It fails the test. It should not happen.

So leave it. Leave the valley alone. Don't chuck millions of ratepayers' money into it.

This nonsense that the Council has to get a return on its money should be exposed for what it is: nothing but a bunch of bureaucrats, both hired and elected, suffering under the delusion that they are great developers. They are not. They are public servants, and should act as them. They should do what the people of Waiheke want, not what they want.

It is not their money they plan to spend. It is public money. So how it is spent is not their decision.

And they don't have to get a financial return. Kicking the private developers out and having it in public hands is all the return needed. We wanted it bought so that the greedy private developers could not vanadalise our front porch. Now the Council wants to. We don't. Leave it alone.

Does the Council try to get a return on the money they spend on footpaths, or flower-gardens, or kerbing and channelling? No, nor should they. Will they get a return on the $36 million that they're are squandering on the 'upgrade' of Queen Street? No, so the argument that they must get one on the much smaller sum it cost to buy Matiatia is spurious in the extreme. They are just inventing an excuse for having a play in the developer's sandpit at our expense. The result will be something no one wants. Visitors come to the island to visit the island, not its front porch. They want it to reflect the character of the island, not the character of the city or big development. They got on a boat to get away from that; they don't want to arrive at more of it.

If they decide to have a look, they will find themselves trapped there for an hour, unless the schlepp up to Oneroa, because the Council has overlooked the fact that the buses, being tied to the boats, run only once an hour. So an hour, or two hours, or three... is how long they will have to stay there.

Islanders will scoot past it.

If it did manage to get business or, worse significant business, it would take it from Oneroa, and thus destroy the dynamic that has built up on the island over a long period of time.

Has the Council produced a shred of proof that their harebrained venture will generate the return they postulate? Have they done the market research, the demographic research, the scientific polling to show that their notions have a foundation in reality? No. It is all guesswork, and speculation, with our money.

The best thing that could be done with Matiatia is to grow Don's forest over the whole place apart from the carparks, the buildings and the horse-paddocks and let it be till global-overheating drowns it.

.....

For an over-the-top facetious look at this issue, which means enduring the strident views of the Fellow Passenger, click here.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

GIVING 200 PERCENT AND CONTACTING ME

What did I mean in the last posting by saying that I would give the job 200%? Board members are paid $10,000 in round figures (set by the Remuneration Authority). I would give at least $20,000 worth.

But that is an easy promise for me to make, because I always give a job everything. I can't help it. My brain runs at a million miles a minute, and I just have to tag along.

If you want to fire questions at me, use the email address below. I shall try to answer every one. But there are nearly 8000 islanders (5594 resident electors), so promising an answer might land me in a promise I could not keep.

I'm sorry I've not made it clickable, so you'll have to key it in. But if you make them clickable the spam-merchants can pick them up with their nasty software and you get deluged with even nastier advertisements. So you'll have to change the square brackets and everything inside them to that little thingy with its tail curled over its head. (It began life as the short way the clerks of old spelt out such things as '6 shoes at 2 shillings each = 12 shillings.' They wrote 'at' so fast that it ended up as an 'a' with a flicked-over tail for the 't', the @. But that fell out of use as accounting moved to machines. Now we use it again for a very different reason.)

Nobilangelo Ceramalus: nobilangelo [at symbol] ceramalus.net

2242 is my phone number (Monday to Saturday, 9am to 7pm)

My surname is not it seems the easiest to spell at first glance. You may find it best to break it up into two groups, thus fitting the pronunciation: cera malus (kerra-marliss). Or, if you prefer to concentrate on the letters without the pronunciation, two groups of three letters: cer ama lus. I hope that helps.

If I had a dollar for every question I've ever been asked about my name, I would be richer than Scrooge McDuck. It does get very tiresome. But to answer the common ones. No, it is not Greek, or Italian. I'm your normal European mongrel. Nobilangelo comes from Latin. Ceramalus comes from over there somewhere. Yes, it really is my real name (unless the Registrar of Births Deaths and Marriages is guilty of forgery or a mind-boggling error). Yes, I was given it.

It is a surprise, even a shock, to find the outrageous extent to which some people will ask questions. Someone standing for public office has a private life, but some refuse to see that, and their questions can become merciless interrogation. For all of us the information about ourselves is as much a private possession as the contents of our drawers and cupboards. No one has the right to rifle through them, not because there is anything untoward or particularly secret there, but because it is private and we all need privacy otherwise we cannot function properly. We need to withdraw to think. So people who trample all over the lives of the people they vote for are denying them the opportunity to do their best, because they are interfering with what they need most--clear thinking. A very strange irony.

We also need to feel proud of our names, but when someone turns yours into a club and beats you about the head with it that becomes hard. It also interferes with your ability to do your best. More irony.

.......

When attacks on your character and thinking descend into the lies, snide remarks and nonsense that Waiheke Week has decided on, it is particularly disappointing. But not everyone who lives on Waiheke is really a Waihekean. As has been wisely said, 'Hatred is the poison you drink in the hope that someone else will die.' So I am not affected. Just saddened and wearied. That publication should take note of the island's oldest, Gulf News, which is a newspaper worthy of the name and has a clutch of national awards to prove it. It deserves to be a Waiheke institution. It gives us real meat, real vegetables and real fruit. Its younger sister, Marketplace, whose format Waiheke Week copied, serves us well also.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

WHY I AM STANDING FOR THE BOARD

The Council publishes a booklet before the election that gives a thumbnail biography of each candidate. This (unless there is some glitch in the system) is what will be appearing for me:

Nobilangelo Ceramalus (pronounced noble-arn-jillo kerra-marliss) is fifty-nine, NZ-born, a company director. His university education included physics, chemistry, zoology, philosophy, ethics and logic. Mechanical, systems and industrial engineering were added later. He is a thinker, and very practical. He belongs to the New York Academy of Sciences. His focus is on brain-function (especially decision-making) and planet-friendly energy. His analytical skill showed early as the ability to make order from chaos, and he was often employed as a troubleshooter--he has a straightforward approach to problem-solving. He is imaginative, innovative, with an expressive sense of humour. Management experience includes information technology, transportation and energy; he worked in television production; he won national awards for writing on technical industries; he has wide-ranging design skills. He will ask of every proposal, 'Is it necessary and/or good for Waiheke?' 'If yes, how can it be done well for the mininum expenditure of time and money?'

To which I would add that I am very definitely not politically-correct. Decisions, especially public ones, should be made on the facts, and sense--good old common sense--not on some passing ideology or fashionable propaganda.

My interest in the decision-making mechanism of the brain is particularly focused on why people make bad decisions--especially bureaucrats. Only when the 'why' is understood can bureaucracy be dealt with.

The Council's booklet allows a maximum of 150 words, which is very little. It would be nice not to be crunched into such a tiny space, so if I had my druthers I would put something like this:

I am standing for the Community Board because a group of islanders who know me want me to. I said yes because Waiheke is the best place I have ever lived, anywhere in New Zealand, or even stayed. I love this island and I don't want to see it trashed. I want it to remain its good old pleasant self.

The Board's first duty is to defend the island to the hilt against speculators who see it as a money-machine instead of a place to live, developers who carelessly wreck its pleasantness, and the ruinous skulduggery of Auckland City. But the Board has not been failing its duty, and the nasty consequences are multiplying on our hillsides and hilltops. Power-mad planning bureaucrats cannot be trusted to do what we pay them for, so it should be a permanent fixture on the Board's agenda to weed out all the bad stuff.

There is also far too much rates money being wasted because of poor research, poor analysis and poor reasoning. In short, shoddy thinking. I am a thinker, with a very practical turn of mind; my university and other training was in science and engineering; and because I early proved able to make order out of chaos I have often been employed as a trouble-shooter. I am a very quick study, which is underlined by the fact that with one exception I have never in any job had any previous experience, but rapidly moved to achieve results there that no one else had ever achieved.

I have worked in two local bodies: the Auckland City Council (briefly, where I fixed a chronic mess) and the Waitemata Electric Power Board (where I was manager of the computer system, and turned it from an imminent disaster into a smoothly-running operation).

I have no political affiliations; I support no party; I am not PC, left-wing, right-wing, tail feathers or beak--just that good old-fashioned Kiwi word, practical. And I have a strong sense of humour.

If Waiheke elects me I will defend the island to the hilt, I will give the job 200%, I will not stand for any nonsense and I will strive not to waste a single dollar of your money.

I hate seeing our island trashed, but what has me vexed and dicontented at the moment is that Matiatia monstrosity, that carbuncle of bureaucratic corruption, that suppurating architectural cancer, that nose-thumbing example of hubristic contempt for Waihekeans now vandalising the ridge south of the wharf. What put it there is enough to anger a saint. The whole illegal shemozzle is detailed in a later posting.

Some quotations from ferry users on it: 'It's the ugliest thing I've ever seen,' from a woman, and 'You mean the container on the hill,' from a man.

Some apologies for the photograph, because I am not a suit person. I rarely wear one, but that was the only recent photograph taken before I needed a medical dressing on my face, so I was stuck with it (the photo, and the face). Please, don't prosecute me for misleading advertising... ;-)

And while I am on the subject of advertising, I won't be defacing Waiheke with a billboard or billboards.

Click here for an article about me that appeared in Gulf News.

.....

(For my over-the-top, very unserious side, try thelowerdeck.blogspot.com). To start at Episode 1, click here).