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Preventing ram raids in Waipā

The increasing number of ram raids in Waipā and New Zealand, in general, is deeply troubling. Many of you have raised your concerns about the impact it’s having on our community, particularly for our local retailers, some of whom have been targeted multiple times.   

I’m really keen to help out our local retailers to make sure we’re doing everything we can to prevent ram raids from happening now and in the future.  

There are a number of things that we can do in collaboration with the Police and community groups. But we need to be realistic here and acknowledge that addressing the precursors to crime is largely outside Council’s control, and typically involves the Police working with iwi, government organisations, and non-government organisations.

Central government recently claimed to offer financial assistance to businesses targeted by these criminals. But after looking at the very narrow criteria and eligibility for funding, of the 400 eligible businesses around the country, none are in Waipā. This is extremely frustrating and disappointing.

Central government’s funding scheme is aimed at micro-businesses – those with no ability to self-invest in prevention, for example, the small owner-operators dairy. The business must have been a victim of a ram raid, and have premises that are likely to attract repeat offending. 

With that said, there are measures we can undertake in Waipā to deter these things from happening, for example, advising retailers on how and if bollard installation is possible for them.  

For aesthetic purposes, bollards should be uniform throughout the CBDs, and Council has an important role to play in enabling and facilitating this.  I understand a ram raid group set up in Te Awamutu is working with Council staff to get clarity around this sort of stuff, and Waipā District Council needs to be clear and responsive to these requests. 

Other shorter-term measures include well-placed and accurate CCTV cameras throughout our towns and the main feeder roads into them that have the effect of “ring-fencing” the district.  In particular, the installation of ANPR , which not only assist the Police in their investigations but can provide units with advanced warning, is a vital development in crime prevention.  

For those of you who are unfamiliar with ANPR, they are Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras that are able to reference back to an online database alerting the Police to sought-after vehicles passing through the area. 

We are expecting a report to our Service Delivery Committee next week where staff will be looking for funding and an endorsement of Waipā’s priority list for camera placement, as agreed recently by the CCTV Advisory Group Council – watch this space.

The final and longer-term solution is one of urban design to prevent crime and increase safety. 

The theory of Criminal Prevention through environmental design should be considered by our town planners from the outset. Examples include:

  • Designing and installing barriers that prevent vehicles from even getting onto our footpaths. 
  • Installing things like concrete bench seats, raised planter beds and street art.

In places like Christchurch, these initiatives have been incorporated into the design of the CBD, and have successfully deterred criminal activities. 

We need to look at other examples where clever and thoughtful design has separated vehicles from foot traffic, such as The Base in Hamilton.

In the more immediate term, we need to look at retrospectively fitting these measures in our towns. Although this will not be without its challenges, I believe it could really offer longer-term increased safety.  An analysis of what, how and where these could be installed (and funded) is an important step and needs to be commenced as soon as possible.  

Facelift on the way for Cambridge’s water tower

So Cambridge’s historic Water Tower looks like it is going to be getting a bit of a facelift in the next few years to make it less of a safety and earthquake risk.

Current estimates to get it up to 67% of New Build Standard (with 100% being the equivalent of a newly built structure) are as much as $1.69 million.

There is an immediate issue in the short-term to address regarding the tank on the top which will cost $375,000. The balance of the work will likely be undertaken during 2024-26. 

I know there is strong sentiment in Cambridge about the need to restore the tower and I acknowledge the heritage aspects of it being that it is only of one two of it’s kind in the country. It has to be noted also that having Heritage New Zealand agreement to have it dismantled would be a tricky and potentially costly process. These are valid points of view.

However, today I spoke with a number of people who were concerned about the level of cost to restore a structure that serves no useful purpose. They felt the funds could be better used to support the creation of facilities for the community that had greater utility and benefit. This too is a valid point of view.

I am really interested in your thoughts on this one as it’s probably an issue that will come before the community in the course of our next Long Term Plan. Always good to get people talking think about these things!

Yes to a new Cambridge bridge – as long as it’s done right

There’s been a lot more noise recently about the need for an additional river crossing in Cambridge, and we shouldn’t be surprised that this is one of the key issues this election.  

Current and planned growth in Cambridge has pushed the issue to the fore. Residents are already experiencing traffic congestion at peak times during the day, and the Cambridge transport network is under pressure.

Residents, quite rightly, want to see a plan in place to future-proof traffic movement in and around Cambridge. But we need to be realistic here; neither I nor any other candidate can promise that a third river crossing in Cambridge will be built fast after being elected, let alone guarantee it will be built at all. None of us can “promise” to just “get it done”.

The option to construct another bridge is definitely something I’m strongly in favour of, however, we must consider the large and complex context.  There are many moving parts to the potential development of a third river crossing, and we must get this right. 

The good news is that work is already underway on this issue.

This week Waipā District Council’s elected members endorsed the scope of work for a business case that is needed to progress the development of the bridge. We anticipate this process will take around 12 months to do properly, and we have a proposed working group including elected members and stakeholders ready to kick this off.  

The group will, with the assistance of technical specialists, delve into the problems and benefits, look at a range of options, build a financial case around each option and then propose a preferred way forward.  

In the course of doing this, a preferred location for the bridge will be arrived at which delivers the most benefits and has the least environmental impact.

Then there are huge considerations (and implications) around funding and financing the bridge

The $70 million figure which had previously been bandied around for the build are merely indicative figures at this stage and were arrived at using some work done during the 2018-2028 Long Term Plan. The rating impact figures came out of this work also. Obviously, these figures are over four years ago now, and a lot has changed since then.   

These figures were arrived at without having a clear idea of location, which will significantly influence the cost because you have to take into consideration things like:

  1. The height and length of the bridge
  2. Terrain and earthworks required
  3. Existing roading infrastructure
  4. Property acquisition (if required)

These are just some of the factors to think about, and until we have all options for a location, it really is impossible to give any greater level of certainty around cost. However, this is what the business case will do.

We have to go down this track because we need Waka Kotahi to co-fund the project.  Their current Financial Assistance Rate for Waipā is 51%, so it is well worth us doing all this work so we can secure those funds. After all, that’s what we pay fuel tax for!

If elected as Mayor, I will ensure that this process is robust and followed through properly and transparently and that it remains on track. It is important that we find solutions to Cambridge’s current and future transport woes, but in doing so we maximise any financial assistance available.

Want to hear more about the business case?

If you’d like to learn more about the scope of the business case, the Service Delivery Committee meeting on 16 August 2022 was live-streamed and there was some great discussion around the table on the matter. Here’s the link: https://youtu.be/CY59vQtbybw?t=894

All agendas and minutes are also available on the Waipā District Council website.

Housing intensification: an unrestricted disaster that’s about to hit Waipā

A district-wide disaster is looming that could materially change the nature and fabric of our towns and result in more far-reaching issues than Three Waters. 

It’s called PC26 –“Residential zone intensification”.  It is a mandated change forced upon us by Central Government that none of us agree with it – but we have no choice.  The law change (and disappointingly supported by the National Opposition) sees a change to the “Medium Density Residential Standards”, which we have no power to reject.

During the week of 15 August, all Waipā ratepayers will receive a letter from Council notifying them of PC26. The letter will be largely legal including terminology no one really understands (because it legally has to), outlining central government’s blanket approach to housing intensification (i.e. rampant and unstructured development) in our district.  My fear is that our community will not understand the impacts of this schmozzle, so here’s a plain English summary…

When adopted, Plan Change 26 will mean a property owner can replace an existing dwelling on a residential property with a multi-dwelling structure of up to three stories without resource consent in Cambridge, Te Awamutu and Kihikihi. Thankfully our villages are not included. 

This housing intensification will also mean that any undeveloped sites will be able to be built on, on a similar basis – with the only limitation being that the building standards must still be met.  All of this can be done without the need for a resource consent and against what our previous District Plan allowed in terms of housing density.  

Quick explainer here – our District Plan is a huge document which pulls together a heap of rules around our agreement as a community (amongst other things) relating to how building and construction should take place in our district.  This Plan is complex – and definitely not perfect – and it is something which is continually evolving. 

But what’s super important about it is that it’s a plan we’ve developed for ourselves at a local level taking into account what we as residents want our towns, villages and rural areas to look and feel like.  It’s a document that is unique to us, captures what we value, and expresses what we want.

But this “one-size fits all” Central Government mandated change could mean rampant and unstructured development across the district. 

We could be faced with more houses in places that we don’t want.  The look and feel of our towns which makes Waipā a great place to live will be forever changed. I am deeply worried that we won’t have the transport, water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure in place to cope with such unbridalled housing intensification. 

Council’s initial technical reports have shown our networks have varied capacity. Large parts of Te Awamutu, Kihikihi and Cambridge do not have the capacity to cope with intensification even if all the planned works up to 2050 were brought forward.  Usually developers of large residential developments are required to install the necessary roading and water infrastructure as part of their development, but this is not the case for infill housing generally. 

In short, all other ratepayers would pick up the bill to increase the capacity of our local infrastructure on a “retrofit” basis.  This will likely mean escalating rates rises into the future to meet these costs.  This would be a terrible outcome for Waipā residents and ratepayers.

I am really concerned that we have the potential to lose the heritage value of our towns.  Some of our initial reports have suggested that 5800 of the 6300 estimated extra dwellings these changes could see being built, would be in Cambridge.  It isn’t hard to understand how this would negatively impact on the amenity values and heritage character of the town if this were to happen.

Lastly I am hugely worried about the immeasurable increased burden such intensification would have on our environment and in particular on our collective efforts in the restoration and protection of the Waikato and Waipā Rivers. As a farmer I am all too acutely aware of our efforts to mitigate the footprint our activities have on our precious waterways. Work undertaken by Hamilton City Council has confirmed that without controls being in place intensification will have a negative impact on the Waikato River. This is another outcome we don’t want.

Taking a step back from this issue for a moment, we need to remember that Local Government has a very clear purpose.  The Local Government Amendment Act simply states its role is to improve the social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of communities. It is clear to me that this crude blanket over-reaching measure forced upon us will not improve any of these well-beings.  Sure, more housing of a certain type will be built, but at what cost to our communities?

Let’s be clear that housing intensification is something we need to ensure we can accommodate the increasing population and at the same time protect our highly productive land. 37% of Waipā is classed as having these precious soils and we must conserve them for valuable food production. We absolutely need to build up and not outward, but it needs to be well-planned to ensure we can still deliver on community well-being. It needs to be strategic and in a manner that is not only cost effective for our residents but also doesn’t destroy everything we love about our towns.

The provision of housing and different options for housing has not kept up with the growing population, and now New Zealand has a housing crisis. But we seriously need to ask if Central Government’s response to this crisis through housing intensification should be at the detriment of community well-being.  

This just doesn’t work for Waipā and completely takes away our ability to manage and shape our district.  Te Awamutu is not Christchurch and Cambridge is not Auckland.

I’m keen to hear your thoughts on this one. Drop me a line using my contact form.

My thoughts on Three Waters

This blog post was originally published on my Facebook page (21st July 2022), but I want to share it here so that you can see my position on Three Waters.

Tomorrow is the cut off for you to have your say on the proposed Three Waters Reform. I have been very clear about my opposition to these reforms on a number of levels. I simply don’t accept that transferring control of our water infrastructure into one of four Mega Water Entities as proposed is in the best interests of residents and ratepayers of Waipa. I hold this view for many reasons but here are a few:

💦 I don’t believe our community’s views have been considered sufficiently on a major reform of critical importance over publically owned assets.

💦 I don’t have confidence the modelling will produce the predicted savings. To put it plainly, the underlying assumptions made in the government’s modelling are unrealistic. These are the findings of two independent peer reviews of the modelling.

💦 I am not satisfied transferring the control of $480 million dollars of assets in exchange for $20 million is a sound business decision. Furthermore I am concerned about the controls and caveats the government has placed on and around how this money would be spent.

💦 I am not satisfied the claim that Waipa ratepayers will still own the assets is a valid one. The legal notion of “ownership” has many characteristics – the most commonly understood one is “having control”. As “owners” Waipa ratepayers will not have any control over their assets. To say they do is simply wrong.

💦 I am deeply concerned about the loss of local voice and influence over the proposed entities especially as it is critical that waters investment aligns with our planning for future growth. The odds of Waipa having a seat around the governance table of Entity B (which represents 22 councils stretching from Rangitikei District in the south, Opotiki District in the east, South Taranaki District to the west and Thames-Coromandel District to the north) are slight.

💦 Analysis of the Waipa situation shows us as a relatively strong performer in the Three Waters space: we charge slightly lower than average water rates compared to the rest of Entity B, our investment in and planning for waters infrastructure has been good historically, we work well with our neighbours, we have good relationships with Iwi, we have a strong in-house workforce in this area is and our rating base is growing. This being the case our ratepayers will be faced with cross-subsidising those from districts who have not made that historical investment.

Now I’m not am not saying that water reform is not needed, I think it is and there is clear analysis of that, but I am not convinced these reforms take a form that is acceptable to our residents nor will it deliver the results claimed.

I favour a more regionally collaborative approach which retains local voice and influence while at the same time affords our residents and ratepayers benefits of the economies of scale. Central government should look to alternative funding models for these where further investment is necessary.

O’Regan challenges Mylchreest

Hot off the press in this morning’s Cambridge News – an article about my campaign to become Mayor of Waipā. You can read the full article online here.

O’Regan challenges Mylchreest

23 JUN 2022  BY MARY ANNE GILL:  

Susan O’Regan is putting her political career on the line with an “all or nothing” run at the Waipā mayoralty.

Twelve weeks after she announced she was getting out of local politics to work in the private sector, she has had a change of heart and wants to lead the community she was born and grew up in.

O’Regan, 50, a sitting councillor of six years and chair of the powerful Strategic Planning and Policy committee, will not stand for council but will be the first person in six years to challenge four-term mayor Jim Mylchreest, 69.

“I’m standing for mayor because it’s time for change.”

O’Regan announced in April she was standing down from her Kakepuku ward because she felt she had served her constituents well and someone else should have the chance to do the same.

“It’s super important that representation does not become stale, and I wanted to leave the seat on a high note.

“I thought that it might be time for me to re-enter the private sector. I was wrong and realised so within days.

“I still have a lot of energy to give and want to serve the wider Waipā community,” she said.

You can read the full article online here.

Launching my campaign!

I’m really excited today to be launching my candidacy to be Mayor of Waipā. Here’s my full media release below.

“Time for change”: Susan O’Regan in race for Waipā Mayor

The mayoral election in the Waipā District just took an interesting turn, with two-term Waipā councillor and long-time local Susan O’Regan announcing that she will stand for mayor in the upcoming elections. O’Regan, who was “born and raised” in the district says that it’s time for a change in council leadership, and she is more than ready for the role.

“As a district, we have a lot to be thankful for. In most areas, council is doing a reasonable job. Our direction of travel – where we are headed strategically – is good. But there are some key areas of improvement which need to be made.

We need to make it easier for people to deal with council. Council needs to communicate much more effectively – and that includes listening to our community much more actively. And we need to focus on a future Waipā which is exciting, attractive and a viable option for young people once they enter the workforce.

For all of these reasons, we need fresh leadership. I have the energy, the experience and the desire to do well for our district. That’s why I’m standing.”

O’Regan enters the race with a strong track record of advocating – and delivering – for the community. On her campaign website which went live today, she lists key achievements, linking each to articles in the media providing context and detail. She also clearly outlines her leadership style, the priorities she would focus on as mayoral and her view on key issues such as the economy, housing, transportation and the environment.

She says that clear communication is key.

“I’m not standing on a platform of vague statements or ambiguous promises. I want people to be very clear about what I stand for, how I will lead Council, and what they can expect as a result.”

She promises to provide regular campaign updates via email and social channels, and is actively encouraging people to talk to her about the issues that matter. “Council needs to do a much better job of communicating – and the first step is listening – really listening. This starts from the top.”

Susan O’Regan outside the Cambridge Town Hall.

Conscious that she is based in Te Awamutu, she says that she will be “spending time in Cambridge frequently” both during her campaign for Mayor, and once in office. She acknowledges that the communities are quite different in many respects, “but we have a lot more in common across the district than some people realise.” She says that council leadership has much to gain by having meaningful conversations and contact throughout the district – even once elected.

O’Regan will start her campaign later this week, and says she has a “busy schedule” of events to attend to meet as many people as possible. “Those who know me already know that I’ll deliver. But there are plenty of people who I’ve not yet met, and I want to give them a chance to understand what makes me tick.”

My campaign website is live.

Today, we launched my campaign website.

Whilst I’ll be publishing updates on various social platforms like Facebook, Instagram and yes, I’m not forgetting younger people in the district, TikTok, I will also be updating this website frequently.

Please bookmark this site and come back to it. Also, connect with me on my social channels, which you’ll find on this page.

Let’s get the conversation started!