Shane Jones says councils need to lift their game

6:18 pm on 6 July 2019

Shane Jones arrived in Nelson this week bearing his trademark trilby hat to ward off the rain.

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Shane Jones arrived in Nelson earlier this week bearing his trademark trilby hat to ward off the rain. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

The rain almost prevented his plane landing, and ultimately stopped a planned field trip to Tasman's fire-scorched forests.

A briefing instead at the headquarters of Tasman Pine Forests exposed the Minister of Forestry to industry concerns, and alerted him to some ideas on how to manage them.

It was at a tree planting later on that Mr Jones donned another ministerial hat.

As the rain bounced off a forest of bright umbrellas, Mr Jones planted a native tree beside the Waimea Estuary. It marked the government's $1 million gift to support the restoration of the Waimea Inlet near Nelson.

The money to help restore the fragile estuary came from a partnership fund within the government's One Billion Trees programme.

"Indigenous trees are a hell of a lot more expensive than pine trees, but we're up for the challenge," Mr Jones said to emphasise the billion trees programme is not all about pine trees, lumber and a lack of workers to plant them.

West Coast-Tasman MP and Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor, Minister of Forestry Shane Jones and Archdeacon Harvey Whakaruru at the planting beside the Waimea Estuary.

West Coast-Tasman MP and Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor, Minister of Forestry Shane Jones and Archdeacon Harvey Whakaruru at the planting beside the Waimea Estuary. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

The Waimea Inlet is the largest semi-enclosed estuary in the South Island and its restoration is listed as a priority by the Department of Conservation.

It is under threat from silt from land clearance and pollution from sewage, industrial waste and agricultural runoff.

The estuary's proximity to a large regional sewerage system of ponds, pipes and bio-waste dispersal areas was not lost on Mr Jones. Consents for the wastewater treatment plant near the Waimea Estuary were up for renewal and the Tasman District Council, like many around the country, was facing huge costs to build and replace ageing infrastructure.

Mr Jones said it was timely in the context of current government review on how to improve the regulation and supply arrangements of drinking water, wastewater and stormwater.

"What we've got on the go, is the three-waters challenges, for all regional and territorial authorities."

A summary of feedback and suggestions received during regional workshops and meeting has been compiled and Cabinet was expected to make initial decisions soon.

Mr Jones said what had emerged so far was the need for better collaboration among councils to manage looming costs.

"If you want the government's attention you have to demonstrate a higher level of collaboration amongst yourselves."

He said anywhere he went as the champion for the provinces, the call was the same: The need for high quality infrastructure.

"But for some strange reason our territorial authorities fear they might be exterminated if they work together.

"To the people who don't want to aggregate and collaborate so that we share the costs of these responsibilities, I say to you, 'we can't use the environment for free any longer'."

He said ratepayers wanted to know their councils were working together to manage the costs of upgrading infrastructure.

"I don't necessarily want to see central government run in and elbow local government out of the way, but I'd say to people standing for election this year, stop thinking about your own catchment area and start to think about the obligations you have as New Zealand elected representatives.

"If you haven't got the pūtea amongst yourselves to fix these things up, then look for regional solutions."

Mr Jones supported moving towards a new model.

"It has to be a dramatic and systemic change and as Minister of Infrastructure I'm up for that discussion but we've got to see a better quality of leadership than the territorial mana-munching which I strike all the time around the country."

Local Government New Zealand president Dave Cull said the local government sector was "very well aware" of the need to continuously improve its operations, which is why it had launched the CouncilMARK programme.

The performance benchmark had buy-in from 30 councils and covered the four key areas of governance including service delivery and asset management.