'Mere window dressing': Council’s projects in disarray

The Dunedin City Council’s relationship with mana whenua has been plunged into turmoil, casting doubt on how major planned projects will advance.

Mana whenua representatives are disappointed in the council’s decision to join more than 30 other councils in opposing key aspects of the Government’s Three Waters reforms and last Wednesday suspended involvement in a partnership with the council.

Sandy Graham. Photo: supplied
Sandy Graham. Photo: supplied

Fallout is potentially far-reaching, affecting projects that range from the South Dunedin community library complex to development of cycleways.

Council chief executive Sandy Graham said other projects stalled from last week included detailed design for the central city retail area upgrade and transport initiatives associated with building the new Dunedin Hospital.

They would be on hold "while we work out what can and can’t be progressed without mana whenua involvement".

Runanga representatives have said continuing their involvement in the council’s Maori participation working party is inappropriate "while the council appears to view the partnership as mere window dressing".

"We await the council’s tangible commitment to a genuine and meaningful partnership before rejoining this forum."

Dunedin Mayor Aaron Hawkins is calling on councillors to reverse last month’s decision to join the Communities 4 Local Democracy group, which is opposed to the formation of regional water services entities expected to take over control of some assets belonging to councils.

However, some councillors want Mr Hawkins replaced by Cr Jim O’Malley as their representative on the communities group.

The council’s Maori participation working party was established as a councillor advisory panel designed to foster greater understanding of Maori needs and enable more involvement in strategic decision-making.

Runanga o Otakou chairwoman Rachel Wesley said mana whenua (Maori with ancestral links to land) understood that not all councils supported the proposed Three Waters reforms.

"But by hitching its wagon to this splinter group, the Dunedin City Council is outsourcing its position on the vital Three Waters issue to outsiders, rather than working in partnership with mana whenua to find a solution that’s best for our community."

Rūnanga o Ōtākou chairwoman Rachel Wesley and Kāti Huirapa ki Puketeraki chairman Matapura...
Rūnanga o Ōtākou chairwoman Rachel Wesley and Kāti Huirapa ki Puketeraki chairman Matapura Ellison. Photo: ODT files

Kati Huirapa ki Puketeraki chairman Matapura Ellison said claims by the group it supported meaningful mana whenua involvement in Three Waters were not supported by action.

Ms Wesley and Mr Ellison said the two runanga took their responsibilities under the Treaty of Waitangi seriously in engaging with the council.

"We have withdrawn from the Maori participation working party while we assess whether that commitment is reciprocated by the council."

Mr Hawkins put up a notice of motion to be debated by the council on Tuesday, that it revoke the decision to join Communities 4 Local Democracy.

Disruption to the relationship between the council and mana whenua was deeply concerning, he said.

"This comes as a direct result of our joining the local government splinter group on Three Waters reform," he said.

"It is a situation entirely of our own making and a situation we have the power to fix."

The mayor’s notice was supported by deputy mayor Christine Garey and Crs David Benson-Pope, Marie Laufiso, Mike Lord, Chris Staynes and Steve Walker.

Cr Andrew Whiley put up his own notice of motion - backed by Crs Jules Radich, Sophie Barker, Carmen Houlahan and Cr O’Malley - that the mayor be replaced by Cr O’Malley as the council’s representative in the protest group.

Cr O’Malley had "the most advanced technical knowledge" of Three Waters among elected representatives, it was argued.

Cr Whiley said the Government had created a mess through its arrogance and poor process.

Thirty-two councils had signed up for Communities 4 Local Democracy, representing 1.6million people.

Cr Houlahan, of Ngai Tahu descent, said the council should be able to join a protest group if it wanted.

If all councillors attend on Tuesday, just one councillor having a change of heart would allow the decision to join the group to be revoked.

Cr Rachel Elder said she intended to have an open mind and listen to the debate.

Cr Lee Vandervis did not respond to a request for comment.

Asked how he might vote, Cr Doug Hall said "time will tell".