$22,000 proposed to progress food resilience options

They debated it for an hour and a-half and, even though some of them did not understand what it was, in the end most of them voted to ask ratepayers if they wanted to spend $22,000 on it.

The ''it'' was a proposal for the council to commit some resources for a piece of work on food issues, specifically reviewing and assessing the challenges, risks and opportunities around food in Dunedin.

The proposal came from the council's community resilience forum, chaired by Cr Jinty MacTavish, which last year investigated food-related issues for the city.

The work would include co-ordinating a cross-council group to ensure ''more joined-up thinking'' and decision-making around existing food-related council work, working with city ''stakeholders for food'', and developing options and mechanisms to address the challenges, risks and opportunities around food.

Many councillors yesterday confessed they had no idea what any of that actually meant, and were therefore reluctant to allocate ratepayer money to it.

''Some councillors and myself are struggling to identify just what this is all about,'' Cr John Bezett said.

Crs Richard Thomson, Lee Vandervis and Mike Lord said if it was about food supply resilience, there were not any real issues and the market would adapt in a crisis.

''Food is not our business,'' Cr Vandervis said.

''This is a proposal to spend money on a food resilience solution that's looking for a problem. I don't think we have a problem.''

Cr Andrew Noone said he did not think the work was a high enough priority when budget lines were tight, while Cr Hilary Calvert said councillors could not understand the proposition and needed something more specific to support it.

Cr Kate Wilson said there was a poor understanding of opportunities food presented: ''If we want to get 10,000 more jobs in Dunedin, I'm telling you food is one of the ways to get them.''

Cr Chris Staynes agreed there were many economic development opportunities in the area of food, and suggested councillors' thinking on the topic had been hijacked by the word resilience.

The combined negative comments and a motion from Cr Hilary Calvert that the work be done, without any extra resourcing, roused a passionate speech from Cr MacTavish, who said she thought Cr Staynes' comment that people were too focused on the word resilience was ''the world's biggest understatement''. There was ''a very narrow perspective of resilience around this table'', she said.

To her, resilience was how communities were enabled to be the strongest most robust system they could be, so they could withstand any situation, for example a recession or a a major change in demographic.

''The concept of resilience being about earthquakes or oil shocks [which several councillors referred to] is, with all due respect, a little narrow.''

She said the council was involved in food across its activities, from parks and reserves, to environmental health, planning and economic development, but departments were all working in silos.

''We need to be conducting those services in a good quality fashion, in an effective and efficient fashion for ratepayers and businesses, in a manner that is appropriate for present and future circumstances.

''What became quite clear through the community resilience forum was that ... I simply cannot say we are doing that. I'm not sure how much clearer we can be about that.''

Cr Neville Peat said the council was never going to be a ringmaster in the food business, but it did have a role to play, and there were opportunities in the areas of economic development, land-use planning and in working with community groups. A small amount of resource was required to realise those or else councillors would end up back in the same place asking for the same thing next year.

Mayor Dave Cull noted councillors had agreed to give bigger amounts in rates rebates for a single heritage building.

It was clear there were plenty of opportunities and challenges around food, but some money needed to be spent to identify those fully.

Councillors then voted down Cr Calvert's resolution, which was replaced by one from Cr Aaron Hawkins that the council employ a part-time staff member to progress the work, at a cost of $22,000.

The resolution was passed by the majority of councillors and will be consulted on in the draft annual plan for 2014-15.

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