Leading the charge

Change is going to require effort from everyone. Photo: Peter McIntosh
Change is going to require effort from everyone. Photo: Peter McIntosh
Local leadership on climate change is starting at the top, writes Tom McKinlay.

Neither Alexa Forbes nor Aaron Hawkins owns a car. Marian Hobbs does, but she plans to arrive more often at the Otago Regional Council offices, where she is chairwoman, on her electric bicycle. Progress has been slowed by a recent fall, Hobbs (72) says. But she’s determined and looking forward to the cycleway reaching Port Chalmers. She lives out that way.

Alexa Forbes
Alexa Forbes
Of course, Hawkins is famously Dunedin’s hitchhiking mayor, a servant of the people who relies on them to get to work.

Cr Alexa Forbes, the chairwoman of the Otago Regional Transport Committee, attends her Dunedin meetings of the Otago Regional Council (ORC) by catching a bus — reading papers en route.

These three are critical players in southern efforts to mitigate climate change. And mindful of what that needs to mean in their own lives.

Forbes says it’s vital. If the measures local government takes to cut emissions in this part of the world are to have an impact, everyone will need to play their part.

"Are you riding the bus, are you getting on your bike, have you given up your private car, have you changed your lifestyle?" she asks on the phone from Queenstown, where she is based. "Because that is the support we are going to need in a democracy like ours. It has to come bottom up and top down."

Aaron Hawkins.
Aaron Hawkins.
As far as the top-down portion goes, all three have track records of leading on climate change and ambitions to do more.

Cr Forbes, a leading figure in Queenstown’s search for low-emission solutions, says the work that’s gone on there to address the town’s transport footprint may be beginning to elicit the sort of groundswell of support it needs. Perhaps a tipping point.

She points to the recent hearings on subsidising a ferry between between Queenstown Bay and Frankton. The commercial ferry service was about to fold, so a variation to the Otago Regional Passenger Transport Plan was proposed in order that the service could be subsidised.

There was an outpouring of support — described as "overwhelming" by the hearing commissioner — including a petition with almost 2000 signatures.

"Nobody talked about what it was going to cost. Nobody even mentioned it," Forbes says.

And anyone considering raising it should first consider that everyone on that ferry will be doing their bit to ease Queenstown’s traffic congestion, she says.

"People are really willing to make change up here now. They are really willing to start looking at a public transport service. And we have had a lot of rates rises [in Queenstown] over the last few years, and you know what? Even as a councillor I never heard a peep from people complaining about them. They wanted to get a service."

Marian Hobbs
Marian Hobbs
Hobbs hopes Forbes can bring some of that thinking to bear on other parts of the province — Dunedin certainly, and its ring of commuter towns and suburbs, but also Cromwell, Alexandra, and Oamaru.

"I want fast runs on the board, so it would seem to me it will be buses."

She suggests one in two commuters using public transport as a goal.

"If we did that in two years, I would be a really happy grandmother. Then I want to take it up even further."

That will mean buses people want to get on — buses that take the bumps out of the peninsula road for those with bad backs, she says.

"I want to go to either better quality diesel, with less carbon, or ultimately in the end electric — or something — buses."

We need to look after those driving too, she adds. Expect to see movement on a living wage for bus drivers.

"Why do this? Because that is the low-hanging fruit for reduction of greenhouse gases, public transport, that’s why we really need to move on it."

Mayor Hawkins’ council has already stumped up $600,000 towards making fares more affordable. Not just because councillors thought it a good idea, but because annual plan feedback supported it.

"Ever since Queenstown Lakes District Council went in with the ORC to make their buses cheaper, flat fares across the district, there has been increasing demand from within our own community to do the same," he says.

It’s not just about buses though. Hawkins says safer walking and cycling access needs to be extended to all Dunedin’s neighbourhoods.

Dave Cull
Dave Cull
And with his council committed to zero carbon by 2030, work is under way to identify what can be done in all areas of the organisation’s work to contribute to that.

That work needs to inform the council’s next long term plan, he says, as it will run from 2021-2031, the critical years for bringing greenhouse gases down.

Forbes says the one meeting of the Otago Regional Transport Committee to date this term went well.

"The conversation seems to have shifted from the more operational ... to, ‘how are we going to cope with these major drivers of change’."

Coping with the climate crisis will involve a focus on transport networks, urban planning, rail and airports, she says.

Add coastal shipping to that, Hobbs says.

She was at a recent meeting in Wellington between regional council chairpersons and the head of the NZTA, Nicole Rosie.

"The question I asked her was: ‘I stood and on my platform was reducing carbon, and that’s really tied up with transport. Is that what’s important to you?’ And she said, ‘Yes, and it’s not only that but it is changing our modes of transport’. And that’s good news."

Former Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull, who is now president of Local Government New Zealand, says it’s the sort of work local authorities can’t do alone.

"The work has to be joined up between local and central government."

He is waiting to see what the Zero Carbon Act means for local government, and how it might refocus its priorities.

The Act might yet involve targets for local government around reducing carbon emissions, he suggests.

"Clearly that would strengthen the way forward for councils."

Councils then wouldn’t be choosing between their traditional approach to transport networks and climate change work — they would have to do both.



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"She points to the recent hearings on subsidising a ferry between between Queenstown Bay and Frankton. The commercial ferry service was about to fold, so a variation to the Otago Regional Passenger Transport Plan was proposed in order that the service could be subsidised.
There was an outpouring of support — described as "overwhelming" by the hearing commissioner — including a petition with almost 2000 signatures."
This is why the DCC needs to run OUR public transport system.
Why should we be subsidizing a ferry service that a group of wealthy want to keep but aren't willing to pay for on a commercial bases ???
The reason they are wealthy is because they know how to play the system and this is just another example of money transfer to their pockets.
It all sounds like it passes the purity test but underneath it's just satisfying their ego at others expense.
Hitchhiking to work is just another example of bulging off others, by exploiting their generosity, then parading it as a virtue.
If Hawkens was serious, he'd buy an electric van and offer free rides to and from the city. Surely he can afford it now on his six figure salary.
Now that would be leading by example.

Sadly comment s such as this ""Nobody talked about what it was going to cost. Nobody even mentioned it," Forbes says." simply prove that greens just don't care about ratepayers or their ability to pay for greens dreams.

The fools in Dunedin want / are pushing ahead with rate rises more thann 3 times inflation. And that was before the covid recession came upon us. Leaders at all levels need to lead with a clear understanding of the total impact of their policies upon rate and tax payers.
The 3 you laud here have no idea and care less about the people they are supposed to represent. Sadly I think the though bubble that "I live in Queenstown, aren't we all millionaires" comes to mind.

So hawkins and hobbs live out Port Chalmers, misery loves company I guess and neither one of them should be leading councils through this coming recession, why? because they in their seat polishing positions with their guaranteed income have no clue of those who will loose theirs and will likely hound them for their rate payments so they can continue their ideological ideals.

Interesting...Hobbs and Hawkins fiddled while NZ burned. Suppose they both still believe that the biggest threat facing the world is climate change? How many have died from climate change compared to CONVID19? I fell off my chair laughing when I read the Hobbs had an electric bike and planned on ridding it more to the ORC office. I didn't realize that they put training wheels on electric bikes? Id pay good money to see that riding down the bike lane from Port Charmers with Hawkins dangling off the handlebars! You cant take Hobbs or Hawkins seriously! Really, what responsible adult hitchhikes to work every day? Name just one. You can't because there aren't any. These people are from the fringe, their mouth breathers and they drool when they talk. They dont realize that scientists will eventually stop flailing around with solar power and other green projects and focus their efforts on harnessing the only truly unlimited source of energy on the planet: stupidity. I predict that in the future, scientists will learn how to convert stupidity into clean fuel. Only then will they realize their true potential!

The Fringe? Your comments are not from the Mainstream, but the Margins.

You have elevated local body politicians to the status of National movers and shakers:.
'Fiddled while the country burned'. Just a tiny bit grandiose.

The things that roll down hill...too funny. SO, please enlighten us concerning who has the the final authority arbitrating the mainstream or the margins? Some people just don't comprehend sarcasm and other comments that roll down hill. I might be wrong, but my understanding of the authors comments was he/she was drawing a picture of Hawkins and Hobbs as two cartoonish figures bumbling their way off to the fiefdoms they are trying to build. I think the point of the authors comments was Hawkins and Hobbs aren't "Movers and Shakers". You might want to reread the comments and evaluate the nuances. The author wasn't implying they were "Movers and Shakers"...my reading was the exact opposite. I was unaware that New Zealand actually had "Movers and Shakers" and certainly wouldn't consider Hawkins and Hobbs as anything other than 2 armatures in way over their heads. Like many people from Dunedin, I would equate trying to raise rates in light of the economic impact of the CONVID 19 on the city as "Fiddling while the Country Burned". Anybody who thinks otherwise is tone deaf to the plight of the average resident of Dunedin.

Thank you, I can hardly fail to agree with you more! However, I am refreshed and challenged by the thought and effort you expended on what is undeniably a very unique point of view.

I enjoyed the comments and thought the sarcasm was funny. I too think the sentiment reflects the feeling of the people. We all know what rolls down "the hill" so don't take the comments seriously.

Sorry, I don't believe for a minute that Hobbs owns an electric bike letalone rides it! Hawkins probably owns an electric bike but cant figure out how it works! We've been conditioned to think only politicians can solve our problems. At some point we will have to wake up and recognize that it was politicians like Hobbs and Hawkins who have created our problems!

Just a thought, but at the ripe old age of 72, has Marian Hobbs given any consideration to stepping aside and letting a younger person have her job?

It appears many New Zealanders will be out of work soon, and after what must be a substantial sum working in both Wgtn and local governments, I would suggest it is time for Marian to gracefully retire...

Please stop calling our elected representatives "leaders". We have a type of democracy called "representative democracy" and we elect officials to represent and serve us the people. We do not elect leaders to do as they wish and tell us what is best for us.

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