Ever tried to explain a diagram in a council plan showing the relationship between the Resource Management Act and Local Government Act? If so, you will know the relationship between these Acts is more like distant cousins scratching around for things in common than that of close siblings.
It’s not surprising that staff writing either resource or asset management plans within a unitary council (or asset management plans in a district council and resource management plans in a regional council) have the power to trip each other up.
Having begun my career in local government on the resource management side of the ledger, I have been caught out by the weight of opposition to draft freshwater rules by asset managers.
However, over the past year I’ve been sitting on the other side of the fence, writing infrastructure strategies for several different councils. There’s plenty of potential for tension about plan rules with major implications for the cost-effective delivery of infrastructure services.
This tension has the potential to be worked through in infrastructure strategies. A good thing about these strategies is they provide an opportunity to take a systematic look at the provisions in resource management plans.
This involves serious consideration of the potential implications for the delivery of transport, stormwater, flood protection, water supply and wastewater services — and identifying the practical options for achieving the required outcomes, as well as the costs of the different options.
Upcoming discussions with communities increasingly affected by climate change are another area where a combined approach by resource and asset management planners will be beneficial, to enable us to consider the full range of options available to local government.
Let’s face it … infrastructure is a topic where people’s eyes tend to glaze over. And yet these can be really expensive things like a new water treatment plant or upgrades to the wastewater network, that they will have to pay for.
And around the council table, have you noticed that sometimes a tiny decision that is easy to understand gets more attention than a big one? I think this happens because it can be harder to understand the more technical information you deal with — and it can lead to big decisions being made without much informed debate.
Sharing complex information is difficult
Two of the reasons why plans can be difficult to communicate are:
How I can help you
I write documents in collaboration with my clients, combining your technical knowledge with my writing skills and environmental policy background. (You’ll still have to provide all the graphs and the financial info, because that’s definitely not my strength.)
An example of the service I provide is writing support for the completion of infrastructure strategies. This involves:
Free up your time
I can free up your time and enable you to deliver quality documents that your councillors and community understand.
If you would like to work together to deliver any of your plans or strategies, please feel welcome to phone or email me. My contact details are available here.
Alternatively, if it’s not something you need right now, but would like to keep this in mind for future reference, you may like to receive my email newsletter called 'Wading In'. You can either send me an email or sign up right here (see side bar).
One thing I miss about working in a council is being able to call the helpdesk whenever anything goes wrong with my computer. So when my Internet failed recently it took me a while to move from frustration to calm consideration of how I could apply resilience concepts to the situation.
I had been talking with a friend abut resilience just a few days beforehand. She gives presentations on this topic and one of her recommendations is to change your perspective.
“Learn to try the ‘180 game’. If you catch yourself labelling something as a ‘problem’, try to swing 180 degrees in the other direction and instead call it a ‘solution’, then really live from that solution perspective for a couple of days.”
Another friend talks about resilience as seeing the opportunities in constraints.
So, the Internet was down, and it was uncomfortable because this is an essential part of how I connect with my clients and the outside world generally. It felt quite isolating, even apart from worrying how I was going to email work to a client the next day.
The opportunity in this constraint turned out to be having absolutely no distractions from the work at hand. By the time I had a new modem, my urgent work was finished.
The Government’s NPS on Resilience (for managing significant risks from natural hazards) is due out at the end of next year. Here’s a link to the initial scoping report prepared by Tonkin + Taylor.
In the meantime, infrastructure strategies are being developed around the country and resilience to climate change and natural hazards is sure to be a key theme in almost all of them.
There’s a lot at stake when considering the future resilience of infrastructure assets, including public health, economic functioning of communities, environmental impacts, and the financial investment in existing assets. This makes it much harder to identify realistic opportunities to respond to future constraints associated with climate change and natural hazards.
However, infrastructure strategies are a great opportunity to play the ‘180 game’ and to seriously explore potential alternatives to the status quo.
Every Easter my mother sends us woolly socks for the South Island winter. In the past we have used them once or twice and then they somehow disappeared into the ecosystem of our house. I knew we had a lot of socks somewhere, but could never find any (especially pairs). So I would just keep buying more, and they would mysteriously go missing too.
Finally I bought a hamper just for socks, with a strict rule that only pairs can go in there. One week into the new regime it’s still full of paired socks that are easy to find. Long may this last!
Infrastructure strategies also need a good internal structure which clearly identifies the most important challenges facing a region over the next 30 years, paired with the proposed solutions (or options) for responding to them.
These strategies need to be easy to find by all council departments, as well as everyone else who has a role in commenting on, aligning with or implementing the proposed approaches. Otherwise there is a risk that a council’s infrastructure strategy will founder like an odd sock at the back of some dusty cupboard, only to be rediscovered every three years when a review is required.
From my personal experience of working on a couple of infrastructure strategies, I know that a huge amount of work goes into creating a coherent, forward thinking, strategy. It seems a real shame to waste that investment in long term thinking by forgetting about it in between reviews.
The Office of the Auditor-General said: “We continue to support the requirement for infrastructure strategies. As a means to focus on the areas where local authorities spend the most, we see infrastructure strategies as an integral part of LTPs. Strong infrastructure strategies give a credible and believable long term view of the issues and opportunities the local authority faces.”
Both the Office of the Auditor-General and the Society of Local Government Managers (SOLGM) place a lot of emphasis on telling a story within the strategy.
“An infrastructure strategy (and financial strategy) are more than collections of information. It is the overall synthesis of the information into an overall story that provides the value for the reader.”
As a writer who helps councils to share their information, I wholeheartedly agree with this approach. But for all the people who are expressing their best ideas on how to tackle challenges such as increasing flood risk, ageing populations and networks, affordability, earthquakes, and investment in new infrastructure, I think it would help them to know their infrastructure strategy is going to be central to consequent work by the council and their consultants – whether that is in resource management plans, economic development strategies or asset management plans.
Unfortunately, the 2015 versions of these big picture infrastructure strategies tend to be buried at the back of Long Term Plans which can run to hundreds of pages, or published in the back alleys of websites, only findable if someone knows what they’re looking for.
If we are going to spend time thinking about these big challenges in an integrated way (which we have to do under the LGA 2002), why not make more of an effort to share what we come up with in a more upfront manner by actively promoting the complete infrastructure strategies — and not just the biggest issues that carry through to the LTP consultation document?
 Office of the Auditor-General, Matters Arising from the 2015-25 Local Authority Long Term Plans, page 47
 SOLGM, Dollars and Sense 2018, page 33.
I love the beginning of the year when everything seems possible. It feels like a clean slate to do things so much better than during that messy, overly busy year that's just finished!
Back in 2014, councils had to scramble to get their first ever 30 year infrastructure strategies together. There was very little time between the Government adopting the legislative requirement in August 2014 and the main points having to be ready for inclusion in the 2015 LTP consultation documents.
Councils were perfectly justified in deciding to take a ‘compliance only’ approach, given the tight time frames. In many cases the focus needed to be on getting the strategies over the line by ticking all the boxes of section 101B of the Local Government Act 2002, with a plan to do a much better job by 2018.
This was especially the case for the long-term strategic issues and assumptions included in the strategies. So, now it's time to pick up those 2015 documents and decide how to go about updating and rewriting these strategies, to meet that commitment.
Feedback from the Office of the Auditor-General
Sarah Lineman (Acting Assistant Auditor-General, Local Government) made the following comments in the January 2017 Perspectives magazine (page 14):
“Expect to see our auditors focusing slightly differently than they did in 2015, with an increased emphasis on the quality of, and explanation for, the assumptions used to build your strategies and forecasts. We will expect that highly uncertain assumptions — and their implications — will be clearly explained to your communities.
“We encourage councils to also think carefully this year about what you’ve learnt from previous LTP cycles and bring all these learnings to the 2018 round. We hope to see a real consolidation and improvement in key areas, such as financial and infrastructure strategies, and the presentation of consultation documents.”
Here are some suggestions for your review process.
Friends are considering moving from Brisbane to New Zealand, and are weighing up Wellington and Christchurch as their future home. While it’s easy enough to look at job opportunities, house prices and weather reports from afar, there’s still a need to go to a place and ‘sniff the air’ to really know if it’s a place where you feel you can thrive.
Everyone has their own subjective response to a place, but a recent study by KPMG identifies seven principles cities can follow to be more appealing to people, specifically young wealth creators. KPMG describes these as ‘magnet cities’ and includes Christchurch as one of its success stories.
1. Magnet cities attract young wealth creators
This involves choosing an authentic point of attraction. Cities that successfully target particular groups of wealth creators do so because there is a logical link to the city.
One of the niches Christchurch is developing following the earthquakes is to foster expertise in construction methods, and natural hazards. This is one example of diversification of the city’s economy to become a centre for specific research, technical and professional services.
2. Magnet cities undergo constant physical renewal
KPMG notes that many young professionals favour housing in urban cores, or in neighbourhoods that are linked to the urban core by quick and easy public transport. The design and sustainability features of housing is as important as its location – many prefer to live in mixed use neighbourhoods.
Christchurch’s city centre is to be condensed to 40 hectares, with the aim of attracting new residential use as well as businesses.
3. Magnet cities have a definable city identity
Without a clear city identity it is difficult for future residents to clearly understand what a city stands for and whether they are attracted to it.
4. Magnet cities are connected to other cities
If a city is going to attract a new generation of residents, the city must be easy to get in and out of. In particular, young wealth creators who move into a city are likely to travel back and forth more frequently to other places or cities for work and to visit family and friends.
5. Magnet cities cultivate new ideas
All of the case study cities leveraged their academic institutions to bring change to their cities.
Here are some of the actions being taken by Christchurch:
6. Magnet cities are fundraisers
The city councils have played an active role in providing capital and attracting private investment, research grants and public funds. Often the city’s existing assets have been used to attract further investment to transform the city.
7. Magnet cities have strong leaders
The mayors of the cities studied by KPMG all had to cope with criticism and hostility when introducing a new vision for a city and making the necessary changes. They have been relatively inflexible about changes to the future vision for their city once it was agreed, but extremely flexible about the steps they took and who they involved to get there.
For more detail, please see KPMG's Magnet Cities document. The Christchurch Case Study is on pages 88 – 121.
Opus Senior Planner David Jackson has worked in central and local government, as well as consultancy. He has a strong interest in urban planning and design, neighbourhood and centres development planning, as well as how to develop longer term plans that work and are useful.
In this article he shares his thoughts on the potential for more joined up planning in New Zealand.
Melbourne, Curitiba, Vancouver and Singapore are all densely populated cities which are celebrated for their high quality urban environments. Something these cities all have in common is long term, consistent implementation of solutions to their challenges.
The requirement for New Zealand councils to develop thirty year infrastructure strategies and the Proposed National Policy Statement on Urban Development Capacity are promising first steps in enabling New Zealand cities to plan the creation of higher quality urban environments here,. However, lack of an integrated approach to this long term planning is a risk.
Many of the issues identified in the 2015 NZ Thirty Year Infrastructure Plan will also need to be addressed at a local level:
All of these are good things to be considering, but whether they get translated into infrastructure plans will come back to the range of disciplines addressing them. For example, our large ageing population is a medium term issue, but we don’t want to permanently plan our cities around this somewhat temporary demographic issue.
One solution could be to think about adaptive uses such as making it easy to live in half the home and convert the other half for renting out and getting some income from that. Or temporary granny flats, which can be taken away once it’s no longer needed on a property.
I do worry that, notwithstanding the above list of issues, many thirty year infrastructure strategies will just be about roads, sewers, drains and the like. While they are important, and indeed critical, you cannot plan properly for them without considering the land uses that will drive the demand on infrastructure. It seems obvious to me that you cannot work out your infrastructure needs without considering the activities on the surrounding land. But this does not seem to be universally accepted – much asset management planning gets done in isolation from other planning or strategic visioning.
Legislative backing is needed
A lack of non-partisan buy in to a strategic direction can hold us back. This, and a three year election cycle, has led to a lot of unpicking of projects and longer term plans.
Another challenge has been that the Local Government Act and the Resource Management Act don’t talk to each other very well. There is still a lack of clarity on how everything relates.
Most councils have interesting strategies gathering dust on shelves. This ends up devaluing public input, which can be given enthusiastically with an expectation that it will make a difference. However, if strategies aren’t mandatory they tend to be ignored over the longer term.
This is an argument for urban development legislation. Medium to long term strategies that address neighbourhood development and sustainability need legislative backing. We should focus on refreshing these strategies over time rather than reinventing them on a regular basis.
Higher density living increases the need for quality urban environmentsThe thirty year infrastructure strategies are only required to address one angle of longer term planning. Likewise, the Proposed National Policy Statement on Urban Development Capacity focuses on providing more housing, but not on the experience of living in these places.
We also need to think about the quality of the urban environments. The higher the density of housing, the more quality matters. For example, if there’s no outside yard, local parks become more important.
Integrate infrastructure, zone rules and project fundingCouncils have a choice when developing their infrastructure strategies. They can be basic, only focusing on the roads and pipes we need. Or they can become the starting point for a long term growth plan/spatial plan. This would be just as useful for areas experiencing depopulation as for growth areas, for example to make decisions on abandoning a certain area of the town.
An urban development plan could bring together statutory plans with zone rules, infrastructure and the funding for actions.
Only Auckland currently has a mandatory requirement to do a spatial plan (required as part of the development of the Unitary Plan). Dunedin has developed a spatial plan which is not too over the top, but addresses growth, hazards, neighbourhood centres and a range of other issues. I see it as a good example of a very useful plan – useful in the sense of providing the platform for their new district plan, and for a bunch of actions that get funded through the Long Term and Annual Plans.
Examples of high quality cities
These cities didn’t just accept the problems they faced, but instead did something about it.
Melbourne has a development plan, and the council has paid a lot of attention to urban design. The city has great transit, with just one card needed to go on all transport, making it easy to move around. The combination of good accessibility, design flair and vibrancy means that Melbourne has to be up there as a world class city.
Curitiba, in Brazil, solved its transport woes, which were significant in the 1950s and 60s. Its mayor (who incidentally, or perhaps significantly, was a planner) led a plan to create an integrated transit-based city. It was so successful that Curitiba’s council now has a whole department for hosting all the people from around the world who come to learn how to achieve similar outcomes. It is interesting to reflect on the different paths Curitiba and Auckland took over the last 50 years, with vastly different results.
Vancouver has incorporated the concept of ‘gentle density’ in its spatial plan. I love this term, as it’s not threatening, and it works at various levels:
Portland created something different as a result of being steadfast in their approach rather than chopping and changing.
Singapore doesn’t have many natural features, but has invested in design to create great public spaces and art, and gardens. It also has brilliant transit and free events. Paradoxically, for a place that depends on fossil fuels for its very survival, it is very green in many respects.
The Government's Thirty Year New Zealand Infrastructure Strategy makes the following predictions for three waters management by 2045:
Do you agree with these predictions? What are the implications for local government, as the managers of all these services?
Seventy councils recently contributed to a survey to improve understanding of New Zealand's stormwater, wastewater and water supply systems. Councils can use the results of this survey (called the National Information Survey) to assess how their approach compares to other councils facing similar circumstances, to learn what others are doing and to identify any opportunities for improvements.
Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) identified three main challenges facing a number of councils:
1. Investing to replace and renew existing assets (which have a replacement value of $35.7 billion).
2. Investing to meet rising standards and increasing expectations (eg Drinking Water Standards, and compliance with wastewater and stormwater discharge consent conditions).
3. Providing end users with the right incentives to use water infrastructure and services efficiently (most councils use rates to charge for three waters services).
Issue 1 – Replacing and renewing existing assets
The wastewater network has the highest replacement value at around $15.8 billion, followed by drinking water assets at $11.3 billion and stormwater at $8.6 billion.
Approximately one quarter of New Zealand’s assets in the water, wastewater and stormwater sectors are more than 50 years old and it’s likely that between 10-20 per cent requires renewal.
In addition to only being able to spread the costs over a small population, rural councils face higher renewal costs per property connection (more than twice the cost compared to metro council areas) for water infrastructure.
Issue 2 - Investing to meet rising standards and increasing expectations
These include the Drinking Water Standards, the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (as expressed through changes to water take and discharge consent conditions), and increased public expectations to be protected from stormwater flooding during storm events, which are becoming more intense and more frequent.
Issue 3 - Providing end users with the right incentives to use water infrastructure and services efficiently
Most councils do not incentivise water customers to save water through prices, as revenue to manage water primarily comes from rates. However, Tauranga observed a 30 per cent fall in peak demand for water following the introduction of water meters and volumetric charging. A similar reduction in demand was observed in Carterton when it introduced similar schemes. The savings generated by Tauranga’s metering and charging system have been estimated at around $4.7 million per year over a 30 year period of analysis.
The LGNZ paper identifies that metering will provide benefits for councils that have one or more of the following conditions:
The Government's Thirty Year New Zealand Infrastructure Strategy makes the following predictions for three waters management by 2045: