Column: Sewage on Auckland’s Beaches

May 1, 2013 by  
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Rob Thomas HeadshotPonsonby News – May 2013 edition – By Rob Thomas – Candidate for Waitemata & Gulf Councillor:

In the lead up to this year’s Auckland Council elections, the name Sir Dove-Myer Robinson or Robbie will be discussed in many conversations. For those of you that aren’t familiar with Robbie’s legacy to Auckland, he was Auckland’s Mayor from 1959 to 1965 and 1968 to 1980. He was a strong proponent for rail through the inner-city which is the crusade our current Mayor Len Brown continues today.

Elected for the first time as Councillor in 1953, Sir Dove-Myer Robinson led the opposition to a sewage dumping scheme that would have discharged untreated effluent into the Hauraki Gulf. Soon after being elected he pulled the plug on the project, leaving the sewage holding tanks empty on Tamaki Drive which is now Kelly Tarltons Underwater World. He eventually realised a scheme to break down the sewage in oxidation ponds in the Manukau Harbour. However, 60 years later we have a similar battle on our hands with WaterCare planning to spend close to a billion dollars over 14 years on three significant wastewater underground projects in our backyard. They are now asking for consent to continue dumping sewage in our harbour.

The breakdown of the spend is as follows; Central Connector Project, costing $800 million from Western Springs to Mangere with estimated 6-12 sewage discharges per year. Waterfront interceptor costing $135 million from Western Springs to an overflow at Coxs Bay and Point Erin Reserve. The Newmarket Gully Project costing $12 million from Newmarket Park to Hobson Bay estimated to have 20 discharges per year.

It is completely unacceptable that in this day and age we allow sewage into our freshwater and coastal environment.

Visitors to Auckland read in our tourism guides that we are called the City of Sails because we’ve got the highest number of boats per head of population in New Zealand. However, we all know that it’s our love affair with accessing the Waitemata Harbour “glistening waters” that defines us as Aucklanders and it’s our harbour that will continue to define the future of our city.

If we allow this consent to be granted we are permitting one of our own regional assets to discharge sewage for what could be a significant period of time. Our thirty year plan to make Auckland the most liveable city will never be achieved if we progress with projects that continue dumping sewage in our coastal environment.

For a short time, I worked for Wellington City Council monitoring citywide performance. If you’re familiar with Wellington, you would have seen an odd shaped building near the airport which is the Moa Point Wastewater Treatment Plant. For years, residents fought tooth and nail to stop sewage overflow and restore the area as a surf beach. This resulted in the sewage treatment plant being built with a target of one sewage discharge event per year. In the event of a discharge the sewage is carried through a pipe and disposed 1.8kms offshore. Wellingtonians now get to enjoy their harbour all year round and they have recently installed a diving platform on the city’s waterfront to celebrate.

Another city that I believe has got it right is just across the bridge in the former North Shore City. If you visit the site you’ll stumble upon Joel’s article on the dual programme to reduce stormwater infiltration into its sewerage network and underground storage tanks. As the former chairperson of the North Shore City Council’s Works and Environment Committee you’ll read his critical view of the outcomes of the central connector project.

WaterCare needs to reprioritise. Across the region WaterCare are planning to spend over $2 billion on city wide sewerage infrastructure over the next ten years. My message to the WaterCare Board is clear, focus on one project at a time and do it right the first time.

We should not be planning to deliver a programme for ten years, but a programme for the next generation. Our society should not be committing to mediocrity.

Column: Newmarket Businesses: Rally Behind Store Trying to Bring Vibe to Osborne Street

April 1, 2013 by  
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Rob Thomas HeadshotVerve magazine – April 2013 edition – By Rob Thomas – Candidate for Waitemata & Gulf Councillor:

Sitka is a lifestyle fashion retailer in Newmarket’s Osborne Street whose store is made entirely from recycled, salvaged materials. To stimulate more atmosphere and encourage a sense of community in the area, since late last year Sitka have been placing couches and other furniture from their store on the pavement outside their window. However on 30th January, owner Andrew Howson posted a comment on their Facebook page announcing that “Today we lost the fight with Auckland City Council”.

Talking with other businesses in the area, I learnt that the couches were successful in attracting more customers to the area and in establishing a sense of identity for Osborne Street.

Yet the Council has deemed they are “advertising a business and not in line with what others are doing in the vicinity”. Any opposition to this ruling would require a Resource Consent Application starting at $1500. In my view, it’s ironic that rules designed to protect public space are now hindering its enjoyment as well as adversely impacting retail sales. Andrew and the team at Sitka have since made contact with the Ashley Church of the Newmarket Business Association. Together they have compiled a petition that has been signed by almost all the local retailers on Osborne Street. The petition asks neighbouring retailers to support the return of the chairs and couches to the street or a similar activity that will have the same positive effect on both community spirit and retail sales.

Street trading under review

The Auckland Council is currently running a review to replace many of the street trading policies that apply to the region from Central Auckland to Rodney. The new single, focused street trading policy covers a range of activities including markets, street stalls, hawking, mobile shops, footpath dining and amusements. This is likely to impact on many retail businesses within the region. If you would like to find out more, please contact the Auckland Council on 09 301 0101.

A bit about Rob

My name is Rob Thomas. For those of you that haven’t met me before, I began my community service 14 years ago as Chairperson of the Auckland City Youth Council. Currently I am an elected member of the Waitemata Local Board representing the views of 80,000 residents living between Newmarket and Parnell to the Western Springs area. This year, I am standing for council. My goal is to bring a new voice and refreshing, approachable style to our community.

Column: Starting soon construction on our first walking and cycling highway along Cox’s Bay Creek

April 1, 2013 by  
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Rob Thomas HeadshotPonsonby News – April 2013 edition – By Rob Thomas – Candidate for Waitemata & Gulf Councillor:

Last month, I was walking the wobbly boardwalk that meanders by the Cox’s Bay Creek with a local journalist. We were discussing the dilapidated state of the path and its imminent replacement to form a more suitable walking and cycling track. The journalist unexpectedly tripped on a loose plank and took a potentially hazardous tumble. Thankfully unharmed, however, this brought home the hazards presented by our aging city infrastructure.  I immediately posted a picture of myself holding the offending boardwalk plank on the council’s @aklcouncil Twitter page, and recounted the incident to our Parks advisor. As a result, the boardwalk was shut down until further assessment could be completed. When this was received, we learned that whilst the boardwalk was structurally sound, 20 planks would need to be replaced in the interim, before work began later in the month on a replacement structure.

The Cox’s Bay Creek Boardwalk is a vital conduit connecting Cox’s Bay to Grey Lynn. Each week hundreds if not thousands of locals in the Greater Ponsonby Area use the walkway. If you’ve been along the path yourself, you’ll know that it’s a picturesque route that winds and undulates its way along the creek, through mangroves and sheltered by a variety of trees packed with birdlife.  It’s enjoyed by runners, dog walkers, school children, mums with pushchairs, wheelchairs, tricycles and bicycles – all trying to squeeze their way along its 1.2 meter width. As a member of the Waitemata Local Board, I share the Parks portfolio with fellow board member Jesse Chambers.  At a monthly Parks meeting, renewal of the Cox’s Bay Creek boardwalk was being discussed. I quite literally halted the meeting and walked out of the room to place an immediate hold on the pending resource consent that would clear the way for the existing boardwalk to be replaced with an exact replica.

Given the issues of the past, this would not be a suitable long-term move to protect and enhance this stunning city asset. As a consequence, the Waitemata Local Board has reallocated funding to widen the proposed replacement boardwalk to 2.5 metres. Meantime the existing structure has been closed. I commend the Council’s Parks team for acting so swiftly, and for delivering the first section of a potential walking and cycling greenway that could continue through the heart of Grey Lynn. Construction of the new Cox’s Bay Creek boardwalk will begin after the Easter weekend. Total cost of the project will be $358,254, broken down into $269,426 to cover the initial renewal project and a further $88,828 in additional funding. Construction will take 12 weeks to complete – and then we will have a walkway that we can all be proud of.  I’d like to thank the Cox’s Bay Park Advisory Panel for their support on this initiative as well as local residents Andrew, Grant and Russell for their constructive feedback. And of course, many thanks to the local journalist whose unscheduled trip proved to be such a catalyst. I hope the next visit is smoother!

Building a Healthier Auckland

Our city is growing fast with an estimated 85 more people added to our community every day. For some Aucklanders, the recently revealed Draft Unitary Plan is as exciting as a slap in the face with a wet fish. But if you can summon the patience to dig through the layers of rules and regulations to view the big picture, you’ll see how this plan will shape the world in which we live. It’s impossible to underestimate the importance of both our current and future built environment. How the plan for Auckland is engineered – right down to matters such as the Cox’s Bay Boardwalk – has major ramifications on how our future social and physical environment promotes good health and economic prosperity.

Something else that will impact on our society is the current epidemic of obesity. I read somewhere that New Zealanders are now the third fattest nation on earth after the US and Mexico. As a consequence, more Kiwis die of heart attacks as a percentage of population that any other country in the world. The Heart Foundation puts this down to unhealthy living, a growing incidence of obesity and diabetes.

This relates to what I said earlier in that part of building a healthier, safer environment is reducing our national healthcare bill. If government spending on healthcare continues to grow at its current rate, it will represent 40% of all government expenditure by 2026. This is simply not sustainable from either an economic or quality of life perspective. So the major opportunity that I see in the Auckland Plan and the Draft Unitary Plan is to create connections between our built environment and the impact this has on creating better health for Aucklanders.

Column: Movies in Parks playing again!

March 1, 2013 by  
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Ponsonby News – March 2013 edition – By Rob Thomas – Candidate for Waitemata & Gulf Councillor:

Cuddling up on a rug outdoors to watch a movie has become a favourite summer activity for Aucklanders. However as most of you probably know, Movies in Parks was axed under last year’s Council budget.  I for one was gutted to see this summer tradition disappear from our local scene.  Movies in Parks were one of the most community-minded activities run in our city. Hundreds if not thousands of Aucklanders looked forward to sharing these movies with friends and family in their favourite local park.

Under the old Auckland City Council, the events budget was managed by a locally focused team. But in the transition to the Super City, responsibility was transferred to the CCO Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED).  As part of this process, ATEED decided to change the format of Movies in Parks. They were designated a ‘regional event’ so as to provide better value by scheduling larger events incorporating music but with less frequency. This new format eliminated any localised focus and effectively removed the community orientation that made the original Movies in Parks format so popular.  This new style event was trialed during an awful summer. Predictably, the results were not favourable. The Council’s response was to cancel them altogether. On my website I voiced my opposition to this.  My views were endorsed by Lindsay Waugh, Chairperson of the Kaipatiki Local Board and he posted a comment saying, “I share your views regarding the demise of the very popular movies in parks. These events were fabulous and generated a real sense of local community”.

Time for a change

Chairperson Shale Chambers and I now share the event portfolio. With the boards help, we now support more local projects by establishing an events fund. This has allowed us to fund occasions like Art in the Dark, the Grey Lynn Festival, Parnell’s Festival of Roses and Music in Parks.  By using a tendering process, we’ve been able to reduce the cost of these programmes, creating better ‘bang for your buck’.  It’s taken loads of co-ordination and some audacity, but now I’m delighted to tell you that Movies in Parks returns to Grey Lynn this March.

Besides being family community entertainment, Movies in Parks celebrates New Zealand’s film industry. And despite what Wellington claims, I see Grey Lynn as the beating heart of our country’s television and film industry.  So I’ll enjoy seeing you there at these first 2 screenings!

A bit about Rob:

My name is Rob Thomas. For those of you that haven’t met me on my door-knocking safaris (I visited 9,000 homes in 2010), I began my community service 14 years ago as Chairperson of the Auckland City Youth Council. I have stayed working in local government ever since and love every challenge that arises. Now as the only independent on the Waitemata Local Board, I’m very excited to run for council.

My goal is to bring a new voice and refreshing, approachable style to our community. What I don’t know, I intend to learn honestly and quickly. Most importantly, I want to hear from you so I can fairly represent your views.

I’m very grateful to the Ponsonby News for offering to publish my monthly column. I can’t think of a better way to kick this off that with the news that Movies in Parks is returning! Until next time…

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