Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Three Kings for a Blast from the Past


Last night, 30 May 2011, there was a meeting of the Three Kings Quarry Site Liaison Group (SLG) in the Hall of Three Kings Primary School. It was well attended because Winstone's - who run the Quarry - had given advance notice of its intention to recommence blasting operations in the floor of the quarry. Former Auckland City councillor Greg McKeown was in the chair as "mediator" by agreement with the various parties (Winstones, Three Kings United, South Epsom Planning Group, Puketapapa Local Board of Auckland Council). Christine Fletcher and Cathy Casey - local Auckland Councillors - were also in attendance. Cathy told me that the last SLG meeting held toward the end of last year - was the most acrimonious meeting she had ever attended! Hence a bit of agreed mediation.

My report from the meeting here is selective. The meeting started with short presentations from Three Kings United (Dianne Hill summarised their concerns as truck movements, aquifer pollution), South Epsom Planning (Dick Bellamy spoke of concern about future zoning of land when Three Kings is filled in, aquifer pollution, and worries about vibration, noise effects of blasting), and Puketapapa Local Board (Nigel Turnbull said it was "top of the list for us" Three Kings outcomes).

But clearly the main purpose of the meeting was to hear from Winstones. Present was Andrea Cave - Environmental Manager, Mike Harris - Engineering Geologist, Bernie Chote - General Manager, Tony Carpenter - Quarry Manager.

Mike Harris was up first. It appears there were a load of unanswered questions from the acrimonious meeting that Winstones had committed to answer. These related to site monitoring and were presented in a cluster of densely detailed power point slides. Interesting. We learned that the dewatering had drawn the water level down from 57 metres above sea level, to 34 metres above sea level. And that level had been held since 2002. Winstones operate 59 boreholes to monitor the groundwater. The key information related to absolute settlement and differential settlement of surrounding land. I think he told us Winstones have about 70 survey positions which they monitor to measure land subsidence. There are various triggers if differential settlement exceeds levels like 1 in 2000 between survey points. It appears some of those survey points have been "anomolous" because of effect of nearby tree roots pushing up local land levels etc. In summary it appears that overall land levels have subsided by about 75mm over a ten year period, but that there has very little differential settlement (this is what might cause cracks in buildings, foundations etc)...

Questions were asked about whether the water level would be lowered further (answer wasn't clearcut); whether the water that was discharged into Manukau was tested (No, but when the landfill is discharging then we may? / will? again - answer a little fudged); this led to another question about dischared water about duties to to test quality of water (answer this time was once landfill comes on will have to test the discharged water...)

Andrea Cave took the floor then (no photo. sorry). After speaking about the Env Court decision, it was her job to speak about the blasting proposal.

Turns out the Auckland District Plan (Isthmus) permits quarrying operations including blasting, subject to standards being met. These were particularly esoteric. For example:

  • 95% of blasts undertaken shall produce peak particle velocities not exceeding 5mm/second...

  • ... noise created by the use of explosives shall not exceed a peak overall sound pressure of 128dB...
  • In answer to a question from the floor it was established that the last time there had been a blast in Three Kings Quarry was 15 or 16 years ago. It struck me that this blasting provision in the district plan was a bit of a throw back - a blast from the past - that had somehow survived various reviews and plan changes and was still there, lurking, waiting to be dusted off....

    Andrea cave then explained the proposed Blasting Sirens Procedure, which is apparently derived from Winstone's Quarry Management Plan. This is set out here:
    Once blast area has been isolated, the shot firer will:
    5 minutes before the blast sound 5 short bursts of the siren
    30 seconds before the blast sound 1 long burst of the siren
    (The siren will be audible to all parties within the confines of Lot 1 DP 37020 being Three Kings Quarry)

    This led to considerable interest from the floor, and Bernie Chote stepped up to field them. Apparently the original procedure called for a 5 minute long siren, audible within The Three Kings Shopping Centre and very widely heard. "Very loud indeed" he said. Hence the lesser warning being proposed. Someone wanted to know about shift workers sleep. Chote said that was one of the reasons they wanted to tone it down a bit.

    He explained Winstones wanted to invite the SLG to attend a blast in July. Andrea had told us that a company called Red Bull is the specialist blasting company they propose. Apparently they did some work in Khyber Pass and Newton to enable pipes to be laid through basalt. They'd done the blasting without any trouble. Mr Chote took more questions:

    Q: How big will each blast be? A: 50 kilos of explosive each time in 20 drilled holes.
    Q: How long does a blast last? A: 3 to 4 seconds and then it's all over.
    Q: How many will there be? A: We plan one blast each week for the next 18 months.
    Q: Why are you doing it? A: We want to level the floor of the quarry.

    Mr Chote did not go on to explain why the floor needed to be levelled. But I can guess. It will make it easier to engineer a structurally robust fill, not subject to differential settlement - because it will be even - and so more valuable for building because it will support medium density and more. There was no information presented about the future use. However it makes sense to maximise that value for the shareholder (Fletchers). Steps are being taken to plan for this longer term future....

    Mr Chote ignored the question behind the pained complaint from the floor from one man, "I was promised by Winstones a long time ago that there would be no more blasting....". Silence fell after that. But not for long.

    Veronica has been involved in this issue for a long time. Dust on her house. Noise and so on. She wearily re-iterated the plan: "blasting twice a week for a year. Why more, after all that you have taken? haven't you taken enough. You've taken two Kings. There's only one left. Stop. Please....

    Dick Bellamy asked a lot of question in the course of the evening. At this point he wanted to know from Mr Chote, "what about fly rock?" After a little bit of discussion it turned out he meant that 50 kilos of explosive was very powerful and could throw loosened rock a long way. Apparently there had been houses with big rocks in their backyards after blasting in the past. Mr Chote assured him, "there will be no fly rock..."

    And here's me sitting in the back row taking notes. The residents were quiet it seemed to me. Well behaved. A bit mute really. It is a bit stunning to be told that your neighbour is allowed to start blasting after 15 years silence. And they don't even need a resource consent to do it. All because of an old bit of planning that should have been updated and tidied - I think - years ago. It's not even as if the material is like gold or something valuable - that is being mined - its like tidying up the site before subdivision. Even the Ports of Auckland Ltd backed off from explosives in the Rangitoto Channel when getting ready for bigger ships. And as for comparison with Red Bull's tiny charges in Khyber Pass - 50 kilos is a bloody big bomb. Disruptive and dangerous. If Winstones were serious about minimising the impact of this - they'd follow the Khyber Pass example and use lots of little charges. Chip away at it. Rather than seriously rock everyone's boat.

    Court Decision: Three Kings Quarry Fill

    On the 18th of May, 2011, Judge Smith signed the decision of the Environment Court relating to various appeals and the referred application for the proposed and disputed Fletcher Concrete & Infrastructure Ltd/Winstone Aggregates Ltd "cleanfill" at Three Kings Quarry Mt Eden.

    In a nutshell, the decision upholds the original consents, grants the referred application, though all are subject to changed conditions. And there are significant changes to the conditions. Some of which raise questions which I address below.

    Overall I thought it an unusual Environment Court decision. It's the first time I can recall reading an Environment Court decision that makes no, or virtually no, reference to law or case law. It has been judged and determined on the basis of material facts and expert evidence. There's at least one very good reason for that: it is a decision that will be very hard to appeal to the High Court. Environment Court decisions can only be appealed to the High Court on a point of law.

    So. No points of law = Little possibility of an appeal. Interesting.

    Another interesting aspect of the decision are the directions made by the court. Essentally the Judge, with his two commissioners, has redrafted the conditions that were circulated at the hearing. The redrafting reflects the Court's detailed decisions. The Court has directed that the parties to the Hearing (Winstones, Watercare Services Ltd., Envirowaste Services Ltd., Auckland Council, Three Kings United, South Epsom Planning Group, St Lukes Environment Protection Society) consider the redrafted conditions and "submit final wording" within 30 days. The court does not say how the parties will get together on this. However the court goes on to order: "if parties cannot resolve final wording", then the applicant must file "its proposed wording within a further 10 working days" and so can the other parties. "The Court will then make its final decision on the wording."

    The detailed decision makes an interesting and accessible read - probably because it does not get into the black letter of the law and case law. Below I set out my more detailed notes on aspects of the decision, by decision paragraph number....

    [37] acknowledges that consent conditions proposed by Matheson (Winstone's counsel) addresses a number of issue raised during the course of the hearing and we acknowledge is a significant change from the conditions of consent granted by the Council, or even those suggested in the first brief of evidence from Mr Sargeant... Thus Winstones acknowledged the need for changes in their approach in the course of the hearing. But their proposed conditions only became available in the last moments of the Environment Court hearing.

    [45] Notes that it is up to Auckland Council to identify HAIL sites. (A comprehensive list of activities that carry a contamination risk is the so-called Hazardous Activities and Industries List (HAIL), compiled by the Ministry for the Environment (MfE).) In other words the decision here is that it is ultimately up to Auckland Council to be up with the play - for all of Auckland - as to what sites have (or have not) contamination risks. The obligation falls to Council, not to Winstones, in that regard.

    [46] Cites fill figures that essentially support the "dilution is the solution to pollution" argument. That there will be so much "clean" cleanfill, that almost any amount of contaminated cleanfill, won't make a difference.

    [54] Peculiar discussion about no more than minimal adverse effects, and a de minimus effect which Counsel accepted... could be disregarded... (cited Mayley v Manukau City Council). No clear decision here though...

    [61 - 63] deals with cleanfill. It is appropriate to include maximum concentrations for contaminants..... The only argument related to whether it had the potential to alter the chemical constitution of the groundwater to such an extent that it could have an effect on either people or the environment.

    [71] ... materials that can be put in the site are ones that occur in the Auckland region, and will almost always be natural materials... we have no reason to believe that they will be atypical of the material types occurring in the region... relevant to that consideration is our conclusion that it is the mass contaminant levels of the entire fill which will have the impact, not particular loads... (This is another statement of the "dilution is the solution" paradigm.)

    [72] Our reasoning for this is that possible groundwater contamination from the fill is based upon the amount of water moving through the fill and that infiltrating on the site. In addition to that moving through the fill itself are the other waters being received at the dewatering well from th4e surrounding 600 hectares. In those circumstances, the dilution of any fill leachate by other groundwater has been variously estimated by differing witnesses between 18 to over 100. Thus, any contaminant in any leachate from tjhe fill would be futher diluted... (This text raises the interesting assumption that the de-watering is to continue in perpetuity, though it was initially done to lower the water table to allow quarrying. As if de-watering is a sort of de-facto leachate collection and treatment - through dilution - system, that is then discharged to the Manukau Harbour. Further minising the risk of this leachate seeping down into, or flowing over the lip of the crater and into, the aquifers underground.)

    [74] given req for pre-approval for any known HAIL risk sites, we consider that the potential for casual loads to significantly change the mass parameters are de minimis (This is really at the heart of the decision. It imposes huge load on Council to identify HAIL sites, that is the reliance.)

    [76] ... nevertheless we accept there is a very small risk that gross non-compliance by contractors could escape oversight....

    [81] ... our overall conclusion is that the application by its nature is one which would avoid adverse effects on human health and the environment by the utilisation of cleanfill materials... conditions avoid any potential adverse effects and give a very high level of confidence that there will be no effect on human health or the environment...

    [82] ..we conclude that the application is for fill within the parameters of TP153...

    [83] ... in reaching this conclusion we have assumed that the application will be... including a condition to continue water extraction from the well on-site... (This is an interesting requirement. Judge Smith talked about this during the hearing. There were vague discussions. In this decision there is an unusual take on the environment is that which is existing, an odd sort of permitted baseline. Because there is de-watering now, that is "the environment"...)

    [88] Conditions section of decision... Court requires that Council is able to undertake full sampling tests at the cost to the applicant at least twice a year at random intervals. It is intended this would comprise no more than two core samples (or composite samples) for testing... (On the face of it this is a fairly dramatic intervention by the Court, but it does depend on Auckland Council acting on it. As it must on HAIL site identification for example.)

    [89] Relates to condition 19, and proposes three levels of MAV% triggers and related actions. There is considerable detail in how this would work. Basically it is all based on levels of contaminants that are found in the water drawn from de-watering, and tests relate to the NZ Drinking Water standards - rather than to the level of contaminants that may be permitted in the fill that is dumped there. This approach is linked to the court's interest (but not hard out requirement) in de-watering. It is this water that will be tested for contaminants. I suspect there will be considerable room for discussion and negotiation over this between parties. (BTW, I understand the original discharge consent that permits the dewatering water pumped by Winstones from the Three Kings Quarry and piped into the Manukau Harbour - has been "lost". This consent becomes critical when it is envisaged that pipe will be used to pump leachate into the Manukau - not just relatively clean dewatering water. Where is this consent? Does it permit Winstone's to pour landfill leachate into the Manukau...?)

    [90] Startling comment: we agree with those who criticise the current conditions as suggesting you can obtain resource consent for breaching the conditions of consent...!!! This led to specific decisions to ensure conditions don;t have this effect.)

    [94] ... Certification by the manager is required prior to the commencement of filling (Presumably council's manager. This would serve to get Auckland Council on board. Think about things. Before certifying....)

    [101] Reference to original Council decision ...provided sampling regime and methods for managing the quality of the cleanfill are rigorous then the proposal will fall within the term "cleanfill"... It is also the Auckland Council that will need to be rigorous. So much depends on it carrying out its duties...

    [104] Mr Matheson tells that his client is particularly concerned about trade competition and the potential for Envirowaste to appeal the substantive decision and thus delay the implementation of the consent. Given that concern we will address the application for a general fill resource consent on its merits... (This is an extraordinary admission it seems to me.)

    [137] ...consents could be combined in a single consent for controlled fill... (The court moves away from the words "cleanfill" as was suiggested by various parties, and goes with "controlled fill".)

    It will be interesting to see how the parties handle this decision. In particular the way the Court has chosen to incorporate the Winstone de-watering system into an informal leachate extraction and treatment system. This must have implications for the discharge - but no-one can find that permit. Yet.

    Council Computerisation Reality Check

    In April 2009, the Listener Magazine ran an investigative piece which considered the new National Government’s proposals to restructure Auckland local government. It was a good piece. And I wrote to the Listener’s Letter page shortly thereafter….
    I trust that Minister of Local Government Rodney Hide reads your warning that he should hasten slowly in reforming Auckland Local Government.

    This would be the biggest merger in New Zealand’s history with $23 billion in assets and the jobs of 6000 at stake, let alone the hopes and dreams of Auckland’s 1.4 million citizens. It is important to get this right…..

    Last week Auckland learned the Royal Commission recommended without good reason the abolition of Community Boards, and for many good reasons the retention of existing City Council structures. This week we learned that Government intends the exact opposite by abolishing City Council structures and retaining Community Boards. Unfortunately, neither approach provides Auckland the critical mix of local scale to deliver big urban regeneration projects, balanced by local representation.

    Undeterred by criticism so far, and determined to complete this reform before elections next year, Government proposes an Establishment Board with its own statutory power to force change.

    Topping its list must be the job of getting eight council computer systems to talk to each other. This might be called the Integrated Council Information System. INCIS for short. Tread carefully, Rodney, because you tread on community dreams."
    Did you say "INCIS" - what was that?

    That last paragraph is the key one today – with news that upgrading Auckland Council’s new computer systems will cost ratepayers around $500 million.

    In a previous life I spent ten years working on very large scale computer projects. Mostly in the UK, and even wrote a book about it: Computer Media, Published by Comedia in 1984 I think. You can still buy copies on Amazon. The behaviour of IBM was a core theme of my book. But I digress.

    Almost 20 years ago New Zealand went through its last INCIS crisis. Only that time it was the Integrated National Computerised Information System developed by IBM for the NZ Government and Police. This was to deliver a single computer system with some 3,500 desktop terminals for a cost then of around $84,000,000. Supported by a business case of course – apparently Treasury believed it would save $300,000,000 through reductions in frontline staff.

    After running for about 4 years, with the budget up to $130,000,000, and apparently 900 variations to the functional specification already documented as the scope grew, the Government pulled out of the project. Counter-claims and threats of legal action flew between New Zealand Government and IBM. There are some great bits of archive on the internet about this, starting with this summary of the Ministerial Inquiry into INCIS.

    A key finding of that inquiry was this:
    2.2.1 The scope of INCIS has never been satisfactorily addressed in the documentation. In the initial Information Systems Planning exercise the scope was defined as 'intelligence within the Police'. At no time were the boundaries set, or the role of INCIS defined and set in context within the Police.
    Ring any bells here? For Auckland Council? NZ Herald’s report today suggests there’s no ownership of this amalgamated council computer project. It appears to have a life of its own. Mr Ford and the Transition Authority have washed their hands of it, Ex-Hon Rodney Hide has too, and even the Mayor (though - to be fair - he did inherit this can of worms.)

    While abolition was playing out in the last days of ARC I did talk with technical staff. There were several council computer systems in Auckland that used the same SAP platform. So they could be integrated. It would require the others to be changed and integrated. But this didn't happen. There were clear favourite Councils in the transition process (ie some whose systems and staff were largely carried over intact in amalgamation), and others that were entirely abolished. I am advised the initial plan to "integrate" the 8 or so different council computer systems was to build a web-based front end, layer it over the old systems, and leave it up to this layer to interpret which database to update etc etc. What was to follow that in the longer term, and how successful that preliminary stage would be - nobody could say.

    What is happening now is a predictable consequence of the approach to amalgamation that the Transition Agency favoured: disintegration followed by top-down rebuilding. This has led to massive institutional fragmentation. The consequences of this will be felt most sharply in parts of the organisation responsible for computerised information systems.

    Auckland Council’s computer system development, its new INCIS, has the potential to get very out of hand, very quickly. Bad, early decisions, have very expensive consequences later on. Once Council commits to a development pathway it can’t easily change horses. So the CEO's comforting words that the expenditure of $450 million is "over the next 10 years" are not of any great comfort. Especially if it's good money after bad. At the very least we need to learn from the old INCIS which took years, great cost and wasted effort before the decision to cancel. There are benefits in maintaining separate computer systems: resilience; performance bench-marking, for example. In the days of distributed processing and extremely powerful desktop computing, one big central computer doesn't necessarily mean better.

    Council's Governing Body needs some very good – and probably very expensive - advice now. This cannot be left to fester.

    If you’d like to see how the previous New Zealand INCIS played out in media and among the discussion threads, check these bits of archive.

    Tuesday, May 24, 2011

    All that glitters is not economic gold...

    We had the budget last week. Many expected a more savage set of cuts and a more concerted attack on the deficit. Most commentators who traditionally support the Key Government have been muted at best about it. It's really business as usual with the Christchurch earthquake being the only place where the rubber is really hitting the road. It's so public there. So many peoples' lives and assets affected.

    The budget predicts GDP growth to be 4% in 2014. Though where that growth will come from is not clear. Even IRD don't agree with Government tax revenue forecasts. Burble burble. Economics, economics. Not my forte. Just trying to get lined up for my main message here.

    What I'm picking up is that more and more commentators are asking the question: what is New Zealand's economic development going to be based on in future? What is the long term plan for that development? What do we need to be doing now, so we can be in good shape to deliver on that longer term economic development plan?

    Fool's Gold hurts national wellbeing...False Gold. This is my main message. The National Government has - more than any other Government that I can remember - acted as if New Zealand has just been colonised. It's slash and burn and extract the quick gold. Emphasis has been on extraction at all costs - at any cost. These last few weeks the media has been chocka with stories about what dairy farming is doing to New Zealand's environment.

    White Gold....The Business pages are stacked with graphs and tables about butter fat prices. White Gold. So worth having that landscapes no self-respecting farmer would ever have turned into a dairy farm - are now stacked with cows - and irrigated from dawn till dusk. I talked to an accountant mate about this. He told me about his training, "what we first got told was unwritten Rule Number 1. Rule number 1 in New Zealand is farmers pay no tax." I asked him about this and he said, "simple. They're in debt. They've got loans from overseas investors to buy their land and farm plant. All the revenues get ploughed back into interest payments. New Zealand doesn't see any of that money - bugger all anyway. Revenues from dairy don't benefit the New Zealand economy. And the IRD hardly gets a cent...."

    And this is where the real cost is. For New Zealand. I'd like to see an honest benefit/cost calculation done on NZ's white gold industry. It makes a grown trout-fisherman cry to see what's happened to the lakes around Rotorua due to dairy farming. And long term data suggests it's doing the same to Lake Taupo and to rivers in parts of Southland. Nitrates from cow piss and poo that are in the ground now will flow into our natural water courses for another 20 years. Even if dairy farming stopped now. And as technology has transformed dairy farming (think of all those automated milking factories funded by overseas investment) it's not as if there's lots of farm labourers being paid, taking that wage into local shops and feeding the local economy. Far from it. They're unemployed now - lots of them - can barely afford a block of cheese and a litre of milk. Any capital gains once debt is repaid are not subject to tax either. Untaxed extraction benefits subsidised by nitrated natural waters and an increasingly methaned atmosphere.

    Black Gold.... Whether it's fantastic coking coal from places like Pikes River coalmine, or lignite from Southland, the Government is right behind it. We might not burn it here, and if we don't then there's always China after a bit of cheap fossil fuel energy. I haven't seen recent financial analyses of this "economic" activity. But you can bet your bottom dollar that apart from a little bit of royalty that the government might be able to extract, coal mining's a bit like white gold mining because the mining companies have had to invest so much in building the mine, the tunnelling, and all of the other stuff, that the revenue from the coal will again be paying the bank, the overseas investor.

    And where does this cost get factored in? What would happen if the coal companies were required to pay the carbon charge as soon as the black gold was hauled out of the ground? This picture shows the painful truth of what happens to that coal - and sometimes to the lignite when it can be forced to burn clean by blowing in lots of air, and by having pollution cleaners in the stacks. The truth is that clean-burning coal doesn't look as if it's doing anything bad. A bit like cow piss and poos. That nice white steam is chocka with Carbon Dioxide. Yes we breathe it out - but not on this scale. Look at this post: Earth's air before coal. That's the subsidy cost we give to our children.

    Gold Gold.... And here we have the real McCoy. Gold gold. Sure I know gold is used for other activities. Funny how gold (and silver) prices rocket in a recession. The Government got pretty keen on allowing gold mining on the Dept of Conservation Estates. Gold mining still happens in New Zealand - quite big scale in MacCraes Flat, Central Otago. Is this what New Zealand has to do, to keep up with Australia? Thing is - our geology is very recent compared with Australia. The easy gold has gone from here. There never was that much in the first place. Went in a big rush in a few years. That wealth probably did do something for NZ's economy back then. Some miners stayed here to spend it. But today's gold mining operations are big investments. Again, overseas investors heavily involved. Largely automated operations. Not much employment...

    Doesn't really matter which gold mine you look at in New Zealand, they're all pretty damaging. Just now the Government has agreed to spend millions cleaning up the Tui mine tailings at Te Aroha. This picture's at Waihi. The Martha Hill mine. Big deep pit in the heart of Waihi. In the background the tailings area. Heavy metal etc contaminated fines. Sure they're all contained behind tailings dams. But not very pretty. Risky. It's all so short term. That's the essence of a colonial approach to economic activity. Slash and burn. And for NZ it's death by a thousand cuts. None of this "gold rush" does New Zealand any real long term good. Because it's all going to come to a sticky end when the resource runs out. By definition.

    Green Gold.... Which brings me to Green Gold. The last frontier outside most city metropolitan urban limits. So many hearts set on subdivision. The rhetoric is all about housing affordability and so on. But these arguments are fundamentally about freeing up rural land for another form of short-term wealth extraction. When it's over, it's over. Can't do it again. But that's not the plan. The plan is, now, we, want, to turn this paddock into money. Developers do it because they can. Serious quick profits can be made, and have been made. All it takes is to convince Government to change the laws around MULs, allow developers to take quick profits from subdivision, rather than requiring a true cost contribution to the real costs of the infrastructure that will network those new lots into the existing urban framework.

    The true costs of the sort of unplanned sprawl that New Zealand developer larikans love and want and argue for, is hard to quantify and disputed. The apparent freedom that goes with living the lifestyle dream in the country is that somewhere else, someone has to dig up more of the black gold that is needed to power the cars that are needed to get you to the amenity most families rely on: schools, shops, cafes, entertainment. Let the new "happy" homeowners pay the true costs of their alienation from urban amenity, for decades. And don't forget: bail-out the development companies that took the biggest risks with this particular "gold mine".


    As we know from going to the dentist, the thing about extractive economic activities is that they leave a great gaping hole. Tomorrow's children can't go to those places and do that thing again. It's gone.

    Which brings us back to the start of this.

    So when will we get some of that long term thinking that most are calling for from our Government? Some investment in economic development that is not so devastatingly extractive. And I haven't even talked about silver gold (fish), and pine gold (monoculture forestry).

    Auckland and Wellington sit high in the Mercer Quality of Life Surveys - not because of our extractive approach to economic growth, but despite it. But boy oh boy, New Zealand's economic future is teetering on the brink of a black hole.

    Parking Policy and Development in Japan

    Was interested to read in NZ Herald last week about the debate in Auckland Council over provision of car parking buildings in CBD areas - notably Auckland CBD and Manukau CBD. Liked the comment from Cllr Mike Lee that he supported car parking that supported public transport, but not parking that competed with public transport. Good line. But what does it mean?

    These are a few slides from a presentation about parking in Japan.

    Parking policy interested me when I was in Japan a few weeks ago, and I blogged about it upon my return: Japan approach to TOD and POD thinking... and Travel demand management: Malaysia Vs Japan.

    I liked this presentation from a Japan-based look at parking. Useful approach....

    The presentation appears to be about an investigation into Japan's downtown parking policies. Interesting to see the upfront "disconnect" between parking management and downtown revitalisation. In my experience this "connect" between downtown economic activity, and the provision of car-parking in New Zealand towns and cities is unquestioned and unchallenged....

    These two slides outline the present policy in Japan - which the writer would like to see changed. (He wants to see more public provision of car-parking). Car-parking is NOT provided by the public sector in Japan. It is almost all private. You MUST HAVE your own off street park at home, and elsewhere it MUST be provided by the shop you visit or presumably the place where you work.

    And this is where it gets very interesting. Public provision of information about the availability of parking does occur, and private businesses are not discouraged from providing parking for shoppers to its businesses. But I emphasise here the fact that streets are NOT for parking... This last point (7) is of consdierable interest and relevance for Auckland...

    It appears that from 2000 there was an "environmental assessment law" introduced for the location of large scale retail stores in "local suburban and rural areas" (read: Albany, Westgate, etc). Which "resulted in a severe economic and cultural decline in downtown". Interesting. Then in 2006 this law was amended prohibiting location of stores of >10,000 square metres in non-commercial districts and in rural areas. I appreciate that the zoning of Albany and suchlike permitted the location of large scale retail stores there. Pack and Save in Wairau Valley is interesting. We are good at permitting large scale retail away from our more mature and developed centres across Auckland Region. And we know - anecdotally - that it rips the guts out of existing centres. Cultural decline. Wonder what the RMA would say about that effect?

    House on a Raft Foundation

    This site is next door to me. And it's been interesting to see the building process unfold. No foundations approach. Straight on the clay. Interesting because there has been criticism from builders in Christchurch that this is an expensive approach. Don't think so... The site was scraped flat to clay. The a thin layer of scoria added....

    You can see Lot 1 here - with its edges laid out on top of the scoria and clay. The sites were dug down a little - because they will be three stories high. So there's some retaining walls required and stormwater collection....

    This is Lot 2 of this Devonport subdivision. You can see the wastewater pipes sticking up...

    The wastewater pipes in close up. I scraped back the scoria. You can see how shallow they are just grooved into the clay. (I guess this is the one vulnerability - if the land moves - earthquake - then these down pipes would be snapped off where they enter the ground. Easy to fix I guess though... later...)

    These polystyrene blocks - when they arrived - I thought: "great underfloor insulation..." But that's not what they are for. I guess all that PVC needs to go somewhere. Cheap space taker in foundations... First, black plastic sheeting goes down as you can see, and the blocks are ready for placement....

    The plastic sheeting doesn't curl up the boundary boards. Just flat on the scoria... The waste water pipes have collars of polystrene around them....

    Then the polystyrene blocks get put in position. You can see the spaces between. These will form the ribs which are the main strength of the foundation base....

    The blocks are a precise distance apart - measured by these little black plastic spacers...

    Then the steel gets added. A crucial part of the structure of the foundation which is a sort of raft. It can be tilted - eg by an earthquake - and then re-levelled. Hence the attraction for Christchurch...

    The reinforcing is laid on top - placed on more black plastic spacers to give exact separation. And you can see reinforcing rod laid in the gaps between the blocks...


    Then along comes Mr Concrete and pours it. I thought the blocks might want to float up, but the concrete gets poured on top first, then flows into the gaps, andf there is no tendency for them to float. All very perfect....

    Then the building goes up. Like a rocket. No floor studs interestingly (on the ground floor)...

    This pic gives an indication how the wood framing is fixed to the foundation... where metal girders are used - these are bolted to studs which appear to get drilled and set into the concrete....

    This same view from outside... I will be interested in how the building is clad, and how rainwater runoff is managed...

    But for now, I will content myself with trying to be a good planker inside. With a little help from my friends and a piece of 4 by 2....

    Eventually got there. Got for the abs and the back muscles. Not sure that this is very good for you. But interesting...

    Emily was a natural...

    Monday, May 23, 2011

    Western Reclamation Transformation Apace

    The Western Reclamation transformation work is proceeding at break-neck speed. The direction for this was largely determined before Auckland Council arose from the abolition of Auckland City Council and Auckland Regional Council. It has been implemented by Sea + City, which has been rebranded and bits added to form the Waterfront Development Agency (WDA). This posting is a step in time - a few weeks ago - as development has unfolded. Starting at the South Eastern end, this is where steps down to the water are being formed. This picture shows the temporary sea wall built to keep the sea at bay while steps are hewn out of the reclamation...

    Near the steps is the rapidly developing Marine Event Centre. This was Auckland City Council's baby. Looking at it now you wonder about the need for the McCully Cloud on Queens Wharf. It's a pretty high spec building. Great you would think for exhibitions when there are not marine events being run out of it (like the Volvo Round the World and such like...)

    The Marine Event Centre looks pretty good close up too. High spec. I haven't even been inside it yet. Shows - I suppose - what sort of gap existed between Auckland City Council and Auckland Regional Council...

    This is one of my favourite bits of the transformation. This is North Wharf - looking South East. Detailed pavement work is being carried out here, but the old rail sidings remain...

    This is a wider shot of North Wharf looking South East. You can see the Net Shed building to the right. It has been restored to a very high standard. It is still recogniseable as a corrugated iron shed. That's good. It will be interesting to see how the Net Shed gets used....


    Stepping through the Net Shed, and turning round to look North West along Jellicoe Street. See how wide it is. Room for substantial street tree planting. Wide pedestrian pavements. You can see Sanfords here, Net Shed to the right. Remember that the ASB Building - and ancillary parking buildings etc, with sky walk between - is to be built beside Sanfords....

    This is another favourite for me. The Six Pack Cement silos. Lots of character here...

    And a lot of silo detail has been retained. This will be highly valued as time passes. Good call...

    Then we get to the small wharf and harbour complex at the North Western end of Jellicoe Street. It's being reclaimed so boats can easily come and go. It's a great space because of the wharves that almost encircle the water space... so much potential. This is where I saw (in my vision for this place) a lot of character and heritage boats being moored....

    ...but I think there is a real risk of this space being lost to big yachts and commercial boat parking... This would be another great Auckland tragedy of the commons. We are so good at letting go of what is of great public value and potential, and letting commercial interests get title and rights. Short-term boat parking and moorage fees call the tune. When really - this place could be of enormous public interest - a sort of heritage destination anchor at the end of Jellicoe. This is why we have one Auckland Council. If there is a genuine interest in maritime heritage at Auckland Council (not just lip service) - make sure this space is not commercialised.

    Queens Wharf Clouds Over....

    video
    You might be wondering how Queens Wharf is unfolding. So here's a bit of video I took on my cell phone from the ferry. It looks very PVC which you would expect. And very cream. Hard now to see Shed 10 which is emerging in a coat of white paint. And when you are on Queens Wharf - to the East of the McCully Cloud - you will certainly have your view of Princes Wharf, Northcote and the Harbour Bridge blocked by the cloud. (I mention this because the ARC's Plan Coastal made a big thing of protecting that particular sight line. But I guess the cloud is temporary. I hope so anyway).

    The early artist pictures of the McCully Cloud that were made available to NZ Herald et al were all shown in a night scene. Lots of coloured lights flaring off the cloud's shiney skin contrasted nicely with the more conservative lighting of Auckland CBD in the background. An Adman's dream probably. A landscape architect friend of mine commented at the time, "always beware of designs that are shown at night with coloured lights...". He explained that coloured lighting is a great way of avoiding scrutiny of the thing in plain daylight. Which is what we have to look at all the time now. Interesting in form to be sure, but quite a significant unvaried blot on the landscape. Lacking in "articulation" as architects might say - though it creeps along like the slug it has been compared to.

    Difficult for the "man-in-the-street" to ever see the McCully Cloud from the point of view of the artist who prepared those early images that captured the hearts of those who bought the idea. (POV is helicopter at night hovering above the end of Queens Wharf looking up Queen Street).

    The experience inside will be an interesting one. Lots of coloured lighting needed I would expect in the middle. Not a lot of windows admitting direct sunlight. Each end should be good though, with the use of clear PVC so at least you can see the sky and the sun can shine in.

    Because the McCully Cloud is being used as a sort of NZ Expo for RWC visitors - those who've come to do business anyway - I imagine the inside will contain stands for exhibitors. Quite a lot of stands I guess given its size. The proof of the pudding will be in the rates that are charged per square metre for each stand. Some places will be that much more attractive than others.

    Wouldn't do for the McCully Cloud to be half full.

    All that glitters is not economic gold...

    We had the budget last week. Many expected a more savage set of cuts and a more concerted attack on the deficit. Most commentators who traditionally support the Key Government have been muted at best about it. It's really business as usual with the Christchurch earthquake being the only place where the rubber is really hitting the road. It's so public there. So many peoples' lives and assets affected.

    The budget predicts GDP growth to be 4% in 2014. Though where that growth will come from is not clear. Even IRD don't agree with Government tax revenue forecasts. Burble burble. Economics, economics. Not my forte. Just trying to get lined up for my main message here.

    What I'm picking up is that more and more commentators are asking the question: what is New Zealand's economic development going to be based on in future? What is the long term plan for that development? What do we need to be doing now, so we can be in good shape to deliver on that longer term economic development plan?

    And this is my main message here. The National Government has - more than any other Government that I can remember - acted as if New Zealand has just been colonised, and it's slash and burn and extract all the quick gold. It's whole emphasis has been on extraction at all costs - at any costs really. These last few weeks the media has been chocka with stories about what dairy farming is doing to New Zealand's environment.

    White Gold....The Business pages are stacked with graphs and tables about butter fat prices. White Gold. So worth having that landscapes no self-respecting farmer would ever have turned into a dairy farm - are now stacked with cows - and irrigated from dawn till dusk. I talked to an accountant mate about this. He told me, "what we first told was rule number 1. Rule number 1 in New Zealand is that farmers pay no tax." I asked him about this and he said, "simple. They're in debt. They've got loans from overseas investors to buy their land and farm plant. All the revenues get ploughed back into interest payments. New Zealand doesn't see any of that money - bugger all anyway. Revenues from diary don't benefit the New Zealand economy. And the IRD hardly gets a cent...."

    And this is where the real cost is. For New Zealand. I'd like to see an honest benefit/cost calculation done on NZ's white gold industry. It makes a grown trout-fisherman cry to see what's happened to the lakes around Rotorua due to dairy farming. And long term data suggests we are doing the same to Lake Taupo. And nitrates from cow piss and poo that are in the ground now, will flow into our natural water courses for another 20 years. Even if it stopped now. We know that as technology has transformed diary farming, think of all those automated milking factories, more overseas investment, it's not as if there's lots of farm labourers being paid, taking that wage into local shops, and extering an economic multiplier effect. Far from it. They're unemployed now - lots of them - can barely afford a block of cheese and a litre of milk.

    Black Gold.... Whether it's fantastic coking coal from places like Pikes River coalmine, or lignite from Southland, the Government is right behind it. We might not burn it here, and if we don't then there's always China after a bit of cheap fossil fuel energy. I haven't seen recent financial analyses of this "economic" activity. But you can bet your bottom dollar that apart from a little bit of royalty that the government might be able to extract, coal mining's a bit like white gold mining because the mining companies have had to invest so much in building the mine, the tunnelling, and all of the other stuff, that the revenue from the coal will again be paying the bank, the overseas investor.

    And where does this cost get factored in? What would happen if the coal companies were required to pay the carbon charge as soon as the black gold was hauled out of the ground? This picture shows the painful truth of what happens to that coal - and sometimes to the lignite when it can be forced to burn clean by blowing in lots of air, and by having pollution cleaners in the stacks. The truth is that clean-burning coal doesn't look as if it's doing anything bad. A bit like cow piss and poos. That nice white steam is chocka with Carbon Dioxide. Yes we breathe it out - but not on this scale. Look at this post: Earth's air before coal.

    Gold Gold.... And here we have the real McCoy. Gold gold. Sure I know gold is used for other activities. Funny how gold (and silver) prices rocket in a recession. The Government got pretty keen on allowing gold mining on the Dept of Conservation Estates. Gold mining still happens in New Zealand - quite big scale in MacCraes Flat, Central Otago. Is this what New Zealand has to do, to keep up with Australia? Thing is - our geology is very recent compared with Australia. The easy gold has gone from here. There never was that much in the first place. Went in a big rush in a few years. That wealth probably did do something for NZ's economy back then. Some miners stayed here to spend it. But today's gold mining operations are big investments. Again, overseas investors heavily involved. Largely automated operations. Not much employment...

    Doesn't really matter which gold mine you look at in New Zealand, they're all pretty damaging. This one's at Waihi. The Martha Hill mine. Big deep pit in the heart of Waihi. In the background the tailings area. Heavy metal etc contaminated fines. Sure they're all contained behind tailings dams. But not very pretty. Risky. It's all so short term. That's the essence of a colonial approach to economic activity. Slash and burn. And for NZ it's death by a thousand cuts. None of this "gold rush" does New Zealand any real long term good. Because it's all going to come to a sticky end when the resource runs out. By definition.

    Green Gold.... Which brings me to Green Gold. The last frontier outside most city metropolitan urban limits. So many hearts set on subdivision. The rhetoric is all about housing affordability and so on. But these arguments are fundamentally about freeing up rural land for another form of short-term wealth extraction. When it's over, it's over. Can't do it again. But that's not the plan. The plan is, now, we, want, to turn this paddock into money. Developers do it because they can. Serious quick profits can be made, and have been made. All it takes is to convince Government to change the laws around MULs, allow developers to take all the profits from subdivision, rather than requiring a true cost contribution to the real costs of networking those new lots into the existing urban framework, and let the new "happy" homeowners pay the true costs of their alientation from urban amenity, for decades.

    The true costs of the sort of unplanned sprawl that New Zealand developer larikans love and want and argue for, is hard to quantify and disputed. The apparent freedom that goes with living the lifestyle dream in the country is that somewhere else, someone has to dig up more of the black gold that is needed to power the cars that are needed to get you to the amenity most families rely on: schools, shops, cafes, entertainment.


    As we know from going to the dentist, the thing about extractive economic activities is that they leave a great gaping hole. Tomorrow's children can't go to those places and do that thing again. It's gone.

    Which brings us back to the start of this.

    So when will we get some of that long term thinking that most are calling for from our Government? Some investment in economic development that is not so devastatingly extractive. And I haven't even talked about silver gold (fish), and pine gold (monoculture forestry).

    Auckland and Wellington sit high in the Mercer Quality of Life Surveys - not because of our extractive approach to economic growth, but despite it. But boy oh boy, New Zealand's economic future is tettering on the brink of a black hole.

    Tuesday, May 31, 2011

    Three Kings for a Blast from the Past


    Last night, 30 May 2011, there was a meeting of the Three Kings Quarry Site Liaison Group (SLG) in the Hall of Three Kings Primary School. It was well attended because Winstone's - who run the Quarry - had given advance notice of its intention to recommence blasting operations in the floor of the quarry. Former Auckland City councillor Greg McKeown was in the chair as "mediator" by agreement with the various parties (Winstones, Three Kings United, South Epsom Planning Group, Puketapapa Local Board of Auckland Council). Christine Fletcher and Cathy Casey - local Auckland Councillors - were also in attendance. Cathy told me that the last SLG meeting held toward the end of last year - was the most acrimonious meeting she had ever attended! Hence a bit of agreed mediation.

    My report from the meeting here is selective. The meeting started with short presentations from Three Kings United (Dianne Hill summarised their concerns as truck movements, aquifer pollution), South Epsom Planning (Dick Bellamy spoke of concern about future zoning of land when Three Kings is filled in, aquifer pollution, and worries about vibration, noise effects of blasting), and Puketapapa Local Board (Nigel Turnbull said it was "top of the list for us" Three Kings outcomes).

    But clearly the main purpose of the meeting was to hear from Winstones. Present was Andrea Cave - Environmental Manager, Mike Harris - Engineering Geologist, Bernie Chote - General Manager, Tony Carpenter - Quarry Manager.

    Mike Harris was up first. It appears there were a load of unanswered questions from the acrimonious meeting that Winstones had committed to answer. These related to site monitoring and were presented in a cluster of densely detailed power point slides. Interesting. We learned that the dewatering had drawn the water level down from 57 metres above sea level, to 34 metres above sea level. And that level had been held since 2002. Winstones operate 59 boreholes to monitor the groundwater. The key information related to absolute settlement and differential settlement of surrounding land. I think he told us Winstones have about 70 survey positions which they monitor to measure land subsidence. There are various triggers if differential settlement exceeds levels like 1 in 2000 between survey points. It appears some of those survey points have been "anomolous" because of effect of nearby tree roots pushing up local land levels etc. In summary it appears that overall land levels have subsided by about 75mm over a ten year period, but that there has very little differential settlement (this is what might cause cracks in buildings, foundations etc)...

    Questions were asked about whether the water level would be lowered further (answer wasn't clearcut); whether the water that was discharged into Manukau was tested (No, but when the landfill is discharging then we may? / will? again - answer a little fudged); this led to another question about dischared water about duties to to test quality of water (answer this time was once landfill comes on will have to test the discharged water...)

    Andrea Cave took the floor then (no photo. sorry). After speaking about the Env Court decision, it was her job to speak about the blasting proposal.

    Turns out the Auckland District Plan (Isthmus) permits quarrying operations including blasting, subject to standards being met. These were particularly esoteric. For example:

  • 95% of blasts undertaken shall produce peak particle velocities not exceeding 5mm/second...

  • ... noise created by the use of explosives shall not exceed a peak overall sound pressure of 128dB...
  • In answer to a question from the floor it was established that the last time there had been a blast in Three Kings Quarry was 15 or 16 years ago. It struck me that this blasting provision in the district plan was a bit of a throw back - a blast from the past - that had somehow survived various reviews and plan changes and was still there, lurking, waiting to be dusted off....

    Andrea cave then explained the proposed Blasting Sirens Procedure, which is apparently derived from Winstone's Quarry Management Plan. This is set out here:
    Once blast area has been isolated, the shot firer will:
    5 minutes before the blast sound 5 short bursts of the siren
    30 seconds before the blast sound 1 long burst of the siren
    (The siren will be audible to all parties within the confines of Lot 1 DP 37020 being Three Kings Quarry)

    This led to considerable interest from the floor, and Bernie Chote stepped up to field them. Apparently the original procedure called for a 5 minute long siren, audible within The Three Kings Shopping Centre and very widely heard. "Very loud indeed" he said. Hence the lesser warning being proposed. Someone wanted to know about shift workers sleep. Chote said that was one of the reasons they wanted to tone it down a bit.

    He explained Winstones wanted to invite the SLG to attend a blast in July. Andrea had told us that a company called Red Bull is the specialist blasting company they propose. Apparently they did some work in Khyber Pass and Newton to enable pipes to be laid through basalt. They'd done the blasting without any trouble. Mr Chote took more questions:

    Q: How big will each blast be? A: 50 kilos of explosive each time in 20 drilled holes.
    Q: How long does a blast last? A: 3 to 4 seconds and then it's all over.
    Q: How many will there be? A: We plan one blast each week for the next 18 months.
    Q: Why are you doing it? A: We want to level the floor of the quarry.

    Mr Chote did not go on to explain why the floor needed to be levelled. But I can guess. It will make it easier to engineer a structurally robust fill, not subject to differential settlement - because it will be even - and so more valuable for building because it will support medium density and more. There was no information presented about the future use. However it makes sense to maximise that value for the shareholder (Fletchers). Steps are being taken to plan for this longer term future....

    Mr Chote ignored the question behind the pained complaint from the floor from one man, "I was promised by Winstones a long time ago that there would be no more blasting....". Silence fell after that. But not for long.

    Veronica has been involved in this issue for a long time. Dust on her house. Noise and so on. She wearily re-iterated the plan: "blasting twice a week for a year. Why more, after all that you have taken? haven't you taken enough. You've taken two Kings. There's only one left. Stop. Please....

    Dick Bellamy asked a lot of question in the course of the evening. At this point he wanted to know from Mr Chote, "what about fly rock?" After a little bit of discussion it turned out he meant that 50 kilos of explosive was very powerful and could throw loosened rock a long way. Apparently there had been houses with big rocks in their backyards after blasting in the past. Mr Chote assured him, "there will be no fly rock..."

    And here's me sitting in the back row taking notes. The residents were quiet it seemed to me. Well behaved. A bit mute really. It is a bit stunning to be told that your neighbour is allowed to start blasting after 15 years silence. And they don't even need a resource consent to do it. All because of an old bit of planning that should have been updated and tidied - I think - years ago. It's not even as if the material is like gold or something valuable - that is being mined - its like tidying up the site before subdivision. Even the Ports of Auckland Ltd backed off from explosives in the Rangitoto Channel when getting ready for bigger ships. And as for comparison with Red Bull's tiny charges in Khyber Pass - 50 kilos is a bloody big bomb. Disruptive and dangerous. If Winstones were serious about minimising the impact of this - they'd follow the Khyber Pass example and use lots of little charges. Chip away at it. Rather than seriously rock everyone's boat.

    Court Decision: Three Kings Quarry Fill

    On the 18th of May, 2011, Judge Smith signed the decision of the Environment Court relating to various appeals and the referred application for the proposed and disputed Fletcher Concrete & Infrastructure Ltd/Winstone Aggregates Ltd "cleanfill" at Three Kings Quarry Mt Eden.

    In a nutshell, the decision upholds the original consents, grants the referred application, though all are subject to changed conditions. And there are significant changes to the conditions. Some of which raise questions which I address below.

    Overall I thought it an unusual Environment Court decision. It's the first time I can recall reading an Environment Court decision that makes no, or virtually no, reference to law or case law. It has been judged and determined on the basis of material facts and expert evidence. There's at least one very good reason for that: it is a decision that will be very hard to appeal to the High Court. Environment Court decisions can only be appealed to the High Court on a point of law.

    So. No points of law = Little possibility of an appeal. Interesting.

    Another interesting aspect of the decision are the directions made by the court. Essentally the Judge, with his two commissioners, has redrafted the conditions that were circulated at the hearing. The redrafting reflects the Court's detailed decisions. The Court has directed that the parties to the Hearing (Winstones, Watercare Services Ltd., Envirowaste Services Ltd., Auckland Council, Three Kings United, South Epsom Planning Group, St Lukes Environment Protection Society) consider the redrafted conditions and "submit final wording" within 30 days. The court does not say how the parties will get together on this. However the court goes on to order: "if parties cannot resolve final wording", then the applicant must file "its proposed wording within a further 10 working days" and so can the other parties. "The Court will then make its final decision on the wording."

    The detailed decision makes an interesting and accessible read - probably because it does not get into the black letter of the law and case law. Below I set out my more detailed notes on aspects of the decision, by decision paragraph number....

    [37] acknowledges that consent conditions proposed by Matheson (Winstone's counsel) addresses a number of issue raised during the course of the hearing and we acknowledge is a significant change from the conditions of consent granted by the Council, or even those suggested in the first brief of evidence from Mr Sargeant... Thus Winstones acknowledged the need for changes in their approach in the course of the hearing. But their proposed conditions only became available in the last moments of the Environment Court hearing.

    [45] Notes that it is up to Auckland Council to identify HAIL sites. (A comprehensive list of activities that carry a contamination risk is the so-called Hazardous Activities and Industries List (HAIL), compiled by the Ministry for the Environment (MfE).) In other words the decision here is that it is ultimately up to Auckland Council to be up with the play - for all of Auckland - as to what sites have (or have not) contamination risks. The obligation falls to Council, not to Winstones, in that regard.

    [46] Cites fill figures that essentially support the "dilution is the solution to pollution" argument. That there will be so much "clean" cleanfill, that almost any amount of contaminated cleanfill, won't make a difference.

    [54] Peculiar discussion about no more than minimal adverse effects, and a de minimus effect which Counsel accepted... could be disregarded... (cited Mayley v Manukau City Council). No clear decision here though...

    [61 - 63] deals with cleanfill. It is appropriate to include maximum concentrations for contaminants..... The only argument related to whether it had the potential to alter the chemical constitution of the groundwater to such an extent that it could have an effect on either people or the environment.

    [71] ... materials that can be put in the site are ones that occur in the Auckland region, and will almost always be natural materials... we have no reason to believe that they will be atypical of the material types occurring in the region... relevant to that consideration is our conclusion that it is the mass contaminant levels of the entire fill which will have the impact, not particular loads... (This is another statement of the "dilution is the solution" paradigm.)

    [72] Our reasoning for this is that possible groundwater contamination from the fill is based upon the amount of water moving through the fill and that infiltrating on the site. In addition to that moving through the fill itself are the other waters being received at the dewatering well from th4e surrounding 600 hectares. In those circumstances, the dilution of any fill leachate by other groundwater has been variously estimated by differing witnesses between 18 to over 100. Thus, any contaminant in any leachate from tjhe fill would be futher diluted... (This text raises the interesting assumption that the de-watering is to continue in perpetuity, though it was initially done to lower the water table to allow quarrying. As if de-watering is a sort of de-facto leachate collection and treatment - through dilution - system, that is then discharged to the Manukau Harbour. Further minising the risk of this leachate seeping down into, or flowing over the lip of the crater and into, the aquifers underground.)

    [74] given req for pre-approval for any known HAIL risk sites, we consider that the potential for casual loads to significantly change the mass parameters are de minimis (This is really at the heart of the decision. It imposes huge load on Council to identify HAIL sites, that is the reliance.)

    [76] ... nevertheless we accept there is a very small risk that gross non-compliance by contractors could escape oversight....

    [81] ... our overall conclusion is that the application by its nature is one which would avoid adverse effects on human health and the environment by the utilisation of cleanfill materials... conditions avoid any potential adverse effects and give a very high level of confidence that there will be no effect on human health or the environment...

    [82] ..we conclude that the application is for fill within the parameters of TP153...

    [83] ... in reaching this conclusion we have assumed that the application will be... including a condition to continue water extraction from the well on-site... (This is an interesting requirement. Judge Smith talked about this during the hearing. There were vague discussions. In this decision there is an unusual take on the environment is that which is existing, an odd sort of permitted baseline. Because there is de-watering now, that is "the environment"...)

    [88] Conditions section of decision... Court requires that Council is able to undertake full sampling tests at the cost to the applicant at least twice a year at random intervals. It is intended this would comprise no more than two core samples (or composite samples) for testing... (On the face of it this is a fairly dramatic intervention by the Court, but it does depend on Auckland Council acting on it. As it must on HAIL site identification for example.)

    [89] Relates to condition 19, and proposes three levels of MAV% triggers and related actions. There is considerable detail in how this would work. Basically it is all based on levels of contaminants that are found in the water drawn from de-watering, and tests relate to the NZ Drinking Water standards - rather than to the level of contaminants that may be permitted in the fill that is dumped there. This approach is linked to the court's interest (but not hard out requirement) in de-watering. It is this water that will be tested for contaminants. I suspect there will be considerable room for discussion and negotiation over this between parties. (BTW, I understand the original discharge consent that permits the dewatering water pumped by Winstones from the Three Kings Quarry and piped into the Manukau Harbour - has been "lost". This consent becomes critical when it is envisaged that pipe will be used to pump leachate into the Manukau - not just relatively clean dewatering water. Where is this consent? Does it permit Winstone's to pour landfill leachate into the Manukau...?)

    [90] Startling comment: we agree with those who criticise the current conditions as suggesting you can obtain resource consent for breaching the conditions of consent...!!! This led to specific decisions to ensure conditions don;t have this effect.)

    [94] ... Certification by the manager is required prior to the commencement of filling (Presumably council's manager. This would serve to get Auckland Council on board. Think about things. Before certifying....)

    [101] Reference to original Council decision ...provided sampling regime and methods for managing the quality of the cleanfill are rigorous then the proposal will fall within the term "cleanfill"... It is also the Auckland Council that will need to be rigorous. So much depends on it carrying out its duties...

    [104] Mr Matheson tells that his client is particularly concerned about trade competition and the potential for Envirowaste to appeal the substantive decision and thus delay the implementation of the consent. Given that concern we will address the application for a general fill resource consent on its merits... (This is an extraordinary admission it seems to me.)

    [137] ...consents could be combined in a single consent for controlled fill... (The court moves away from the words "cleanfill" as was suiggested by various parties, and goes with "controlled fill".)

    It will be interesting to see how the parties handle this decision. In particular the way the Court has chosen to incorporate the Winstone de-watering system into an informal leachate extraction and treatment system. This must have implications for the discharge - but no-one can find that permit. Yet.

    Council Computerisation Reality Check

    In April 2009, the Listener Magazine ran an investigative piece which considered the new National Government’s proposals to restructure Auckland local government. It was a good piece. And I wrote to the Listener’s Letter page shortly thereafter….
    I trust that Minister of Local Government Rodney Hide reads your warning that he should hasten slowly in reforming Auckland Local Government.

    This would be the biggest merger in New Zealand’s history with $23 billion in assets and the jobs of 6000 at stake, let alone the hopes and dreams of Auckland’s 1.4 million citizens. It is important to get this right…..

    Last week Auckland learned the Royal Commission recommended without good reason the abolition of Community Boards, and for many good reasons the retention of existing City Council structures. This week we learned that Government intends the exact opposite by abolishing City Council structures and retaining Community Boards. Unfortunately, neither approach provides Auckland the critical mix of local scale to deliver big urban regeneration projects, balanced by local representation.

    Undeterred by criticism so far, and determined to complete this reform before elections next year, Government proposes an Establishment Board with its own statutory power to force change.

    Topping its list must be the job of getting eight council computer systems to talk to each other. This might be called the Integrated Council Information System. INCIS for short. Tread carefully, Rodney, because you tread on community dreams."
    Did you say "INCIS" - what was that?

    That last paragraph is the key one today – with news that upgrading Auckland Council’s new computer systems will cost ratepayers around $500 million.

    In a previous life I spent ten years working on very large scale computer projects. Mostly in the UK, and even wrote a book about it: Computer Media, Published by Comedia in 1984 I think. You can still buy copies on Amazon. The behaviour of IBM was a core theme of my book. But I digress.

    Almost 20 years ago New Zealand went through its last INCIS crisis. Only that time it was the Integrated National Computerised Information System developed by IBM for the NZ Government and Police. This was to deliver a single computer system with some 3,500 desktop terminals for a cost then of around $84,000,000. Supported by a business case of course – apparently Treasury believed it would save $300,000,000 through reductions in frontline staff.

    After running for about 4 years, with the budget up to $130,000,000, and apparently 900 variations to the functional specification already documented as the scope grew, the Government pulled out of the project. Counter-claims and threats of legal action flew between New Zealand Government and IBM. There are some great bits of archive on the internet about this, starting with this summary of the Ministerial Inquiry into INCIS.

    A key finding of that inquiry was this:
    2.2.1 The scope of INCIS has never been satisfactorily addressed in the documentation. In the initial Information Systems Planning exercise the scope was defined as 'intelligence within the Police'. At no time were the boundaries set, or the role of INCIS defined and set in context within the Police.
    Ring any bells here? For Auckland Council? NZ Herald’s report today suggests there’s no ownership of this amalgamated council computer project. It appears to have a life of its own. Mr Ford and the Transition Authority have washed their hands of it, Ex-Hon Rodney Hide has too, and even the Mayor (though - to be fair - he did inherit this can of worms.)

    While abolition was playing out in the last days of ARC I did talk with technical staff. There were several council computer systems in Auckland that used the same SAP platform. So they could be integrated. It would require the others to be changed and integrated. But this didn't happen. There were clear favourite Councils in the transition process (ie some whose systems and staff were largely carried over intact in amalgamation), and others that were entirely abolished. I am advised the initial plan to "integrate" the 8 or so different council computer systems was to build a web-based front end, layer it over the old systems, and leave it up to this layer to interpret which database to update etc etc. What was to follow that in the longer term, and how successful that preliminary stage would be - nobody could say.

    What is happening now is a predictable consequence of the approach to amalgamation that the Transition Agency favoured: disintegration followed by top-down rebuilding. This has led to massive institutional fragmentation. The consequences of this will be felt most sharply in parts of the organisation responsible for computerised information systems.

    Auckland Council’s computer system development, its new INCIS, has the potential to get very out of hand, very quickly. Bad, early decisions, have very expensive consequences later on. Once Council commits to a development pathway it can’t easily change horses. So the CEO's comforting words that the expenditure of $450 million is "over the next 10 years" are not of any great comfort. Especially if it's good money after bad. At the very least we need to learn from the old INCIS which took years, great cost and wasted effort before the decision to cancel. There are benefits in maintaining separate computer systems: resilience; performance bench-marking, for example. In the days of distributed processing and extremely powerful desktop computing, one big central computer doesn't necessarily mean better.

    Council's Governing Body needs some very good – and probably very expensive - advice now. This cannot be left to fester.

    If you’d like to see how the previous New Zealand INCIS played out in media and among the discussion threads, check these bits of archive.

    Tuesday, May 24, 2011

    All that glitters is not economic gold...

    We had the budget last week. Many expected a more savage set of cuts and a more concerted attack on the deficit. Most commentators who traditionally support the Key Government have been muted at best about it. It's really business as usual with the Christchurch earthquake being the only place where the rubber is really hitting the road. It's so public there. So many peoples' lives and assets affected.

    The budget predicts GDP growth to be 4% in 2014. Though where that growth will come from is not clear. Even IRD don't agree with Government tax revenue forecasts. Burble burble. Economics, economics. Not my forte. Just trying to get lined up for my main message here.

    What I'm picking up is that more and more commentators are asking the question: what is New Zealand's economic development going to be based on in future? What is the long term plan for that development? What do we need to be doing now, so we can be in good shape to deliver on that longer term economic development plan?

    Fool's Gold hurts national wellbeing...False Gold. This is my main message. The National Government has - more than any other Government that I can remember - acted as if New Zealand has just been colonised. It's slash and burn and extract the quick gold. Emphasis has been on extraction at all costs - at any cost. These last few weeks the media has been chocka with stories about what dairy farming is doing to New Zealand's environment.

    White Gold....The Business pages are stacked with graphs and tables about butter fat prices. White Gold. So worth having that landscapes no self-respecting farmer would ever have turned into a dairy farm - are now stacked with cows - and irrigated from dawn till dusk. I talked to an accountant mate about this. He told me about his training, "what we first got told was unwritten Rule Number 1. Rule number 1 in New Zealand is farmers pay no tax." I asked him about this and he said, "simple. They're in debt. They've got loans from overseas investors to buy their land and farm plant. All the revenues get ploughed back into interest payments. New Zealand doesn't see any of that money - bugger all anyway. Revenues from dairy don't benefit the New Zealand economy. And the IRD hardly gets a cent...."

    And this is where the real cost is. For New Zealand. I'd like to see an honest benefit/cost calculation done on NZ's white gold industry. It makes a grown trout-fisherman cry to see what's happened to the lakes around Rotorua due to dairy farming. And long term data suggests it's doing the same to Lake Taupo and to rivers in parts of Southland. Nitrates from cow piss and poo that are in the ground now will flow into our natural water courses for another 20 years. Even if dairy farming stopped now. And as technology has transformed dairy farming (think of all those automated milking factories funded by overseas investment) it's not as if there's lots of farm labourers being paid, taking that wage into local shops and feeding the local economy. Far from it. They're unemployed now - lots of them - can barely afford a block of cheese and a litre of milk. Any capital gains once debt is repaid are not subject to tax either. Untaxed extraction benefits subsidised by nitrated natural waters and an increasingly methaned atmosphere.

    Black Gold.... Whether it's fantastic coking coal from places like Pikes River coalmine, or lignite from Southland, the Government is right behind it. We might not burn it here, and if we don't then there's always China after a bit of cheap fossil fuel energy. I haven't seen recent financial analyses of this "economic" activity. But you can bet your bottom dollar that apart from a little bit of royalty that the government might be able to extract, coal mining's a bit like white gold mining because the mining companies have had to invest so much in building the mine, the tunnelling, and all of the other stuff, that the revenue from the coal will again be paying the bank, the overseas investor.

    And where does this cost get factored in? What would happen if the coal companies were required to pay the carbon charge as soon as the black gold was hauled out of the ground? This picture shows the painful truth of what happens to that coal - and sometimes to the lignite when it can be forced to burn clean by blowing in lots of air, and by having pollution cleaners in the stacks. The truth is that clean-burning coal doesn't look as if it's doing anything bad. A bit like cow piss and poos. That nice white steam is chocka with Carbon Dioxide. Yes we breathe it out - but not on this scale. Look at this post: Earth's air before coal. That's the subsidy cost we give to our children.

    Gold Gold.... And here we have the real McCoy. Gold gold. Sure I know gold is used for other activities. Funny how gold (and silver) prices rocket in a recession. The Government got pretty keen on allowing gold mining on the Dept of Conservation Estates. Gold mining still happens in New Zealand - quite big scale in MacCraes Flat, Central Otago. Is this what New Zealand has to do, to keep up with Australia? Thing is - our geology is very recent compared with Australia. The easy gold has gone from here. There never was that much in the first place. Went in a big rush in a few years. That wealth probably did do something for NZ's economy back then. Some miners stayed here to spend it. But today's gold mining operations are big investments. Again, overseas investors heavily involved. Largely automated operations. Not much employment...

    Doesn't really matter which gold mine you look at in New Zealand, they're all pretty damaging. Just now the Government has agreed to spend millions cleaning up the Tui mine tailings at Te Aroha. This picture's at Waihi. The Martha Hill mine. Big deep pit in the heart of Waihi. In the background the tailings area. Heavy metal etc contaminated fines. Sure they're all contained behind tailings dams. But not very pretty. Risky. It's all so short term. That's the essence of a colonial approach to economic activity. Slash and burn. And for NZ it's death by a thousand cuts. None of this "gold rush" does New Zealand any real long term good. Because it's all going to come to a sticky end when the resource runs out. By definition.

    Green Gold.... Which brings me to Green Gold. The last frontier outside most city metropolitan urban limits. So many hearts set on subdivision. The rhetoric is all about housing affordability and so on. But these arguments are fundamentally about freeing up rural land for another form of short-term wealth extraction. When it's over, it's over. Can't do it again. But that's not the plan. The plan is, now, we, want, to turn this paddock into money. Developers do it because they can. Serious quick profits can be made, and have been made. All it takes is to convince Government to change the laws around MULs, allow developers to take quick profits from subdivision, rather than requiring a true cost contribution to the real costs of the infrastructure that will network those new lots into the existing urban framework.

    The true costs of the sort of unplanned sprawl that New Zealand developer larikans love and want and argue for, is hard to quantify and disputed. The apparent freedom that goes with living the lifestyle dream in the country is that somewhere else, someone has to dig up more of the black gold that is needed to power the cars that are needed to get you to the amenity most families rely on: schools, shops, cafes, entertainment. Let the new "happy" homeowners pay the true costs of their alienation from urban amenity, for decades. And don't forget: bail-out the development companies that took the biggest risks with this particular "gold mine".


    As we know from going to the dentist, the thing about extractive economic activities is that they leave a great gaping hole. Tomorrow's children can't go to those places and do that thing again. It's gone.

    Which brings us back to the start of this.

    So when will we get some of that long term thinking that most are calling for from our Government? Some investment in economic development that is not so devastatingly extractive. And I haven't even talked about silver gold (fish), and pine gold (monoculture forestry).

    Auckland and Wellington sit high in the Mercer Quality of Life Surveys - not because of our extractive approach to economic growth, but despite it. But boy oh boy, New Zealand's economic future is teetering on the brink of a black hole.

    Parking Policy and Development in Japan

    Was interested to read in NZ Herald last week about the debate in Auckland Council over provision of car parking buildings in CBD areas - notably Auckland CBD and Manukau CBD. Liked the comment from Cllr Mike Lee that he supported car parking that supported public transport, but not parking that competed with public transport. Good line. But what does it mean?

    These are a few slides from a presentation about parking in Japan.

    Parking policy interested me when I was in Japan a few weeks ago, and I blogged about it upon my return: Japan approach to TOD and POD thinking... and Travel demand management: Malaysia Vs Japan.

    I liked this presentation from a Japan-based look at parking. Useful approach....

    The presentation appears to be about an investigation into Japan's downtown parking policies. Interesting to see the upfront "disconnect" between parking management and downtown revitalisation. In my experience this "connect" between downtown economic activity, and the provision of car-parking in New Zealand towns and cities is unquestioned and unchallenged....

    These two slides outline the present policy in Japan - which the writer would like to see changed. (He wants to see more public provision of car-parking). Car-parking is NOT provided by the public sector in Japan. It is almost all private. You MUST HAVE your own off street park at home, and elsewhere it MUST be provided by the shop you visit or presumably the place where you work.

    And this is where it gets very interesting. Public provision of information about the availability of parking does occur, and private businesses are not discouraged from providing parking for shoppers to its businesses. But I emphasise here the fact that streets are NOT for parking... This last point (7) is of consdierable interest and relevance for Auckland...

    It appears that from 2000 there was an "environmental assessment law" introduced for the location of large scale retail stores in "local suburban and rural areas" (read: Albany, Westgate, etc). Which "resulted in a severe economic and cultural decline in downtown". Interesting. Then in 2006 this law was amended prohibiting location of stores of >10,000 square metres in non-commercial districts and in rural areas. I appreciate that the zoning of Albany and suchlike permitted the location of large scale retail stores there. Pack and Save in Wairau Valley is interesting. We are good at permitting large scale retail away from our more mature and developed centres across Auckland Region. And we know - anecdotally - that it rips the guts out of existing centres. Cultural decline. Wonder what the RMA would say about that effect?

    House on a Raft Foundation

    This site is next door to me. And it's been interesting to see the building process unfold. No foundations approach. Straight on the clay. Interesting because there has been criticism from builders in Christchurch that this is an expensive approach. Don't think so... The site was scraped flat to clay. The a thin layer of scoria added....

    You can see Lot 1 here - with its edges laid out on top of the scoria and clay. The sites were dug down a little - because they will be three stories high. So there's some retaining walls required and stormwater collection....

    This is Lot 2 of this Devonport subdivision. You can see the wastewater pipes sticking up...

    The wastewater pipes in close up. I scraped back the scoria. You can see how shallow they are just grooved into the clay. (I guess this is the one vulnerability - if the land moves - earthquake - then these down pipes would be snapped off where they enter the ground. Easy to fix I guess though... later...)

    These polystyrene blocks - when they arrived - I thought: "great underfloor insulation..." But that's not what they are for. I guess all that PVC needs to go somewhere. Cheap space taker in foundations... First, black plastic sheeting goes down as you can see, and the blocks are ready for placement....

    The plastic sheeting doesn't curl up the boundary boards. Just flat on the scoria... The waste water pipes have collars of polystrene around them....

    Then the polystyrene blocks get put in position. You can see the spaces between. These will form the ribs which are the main strength of the foundation base....

    The blocks are a precise distance apart - measured by these little black plastic spacers...

    Then the steel gets added. A crucial part of the structure of the foundation which is a sort of raft. It can be tilted - eg by an earthquake - and then re-levelled. Hence the attraction for Christchurch...

    The reinforcing is laid on top - placed on more black plastic spacers to give exact separation. And you can see reinforcing rod laid in the gaps between the blocks...


    Then along comes Mr Concrete and pours it. I thought the blocks might want to float up, but the concrete gets poured on top first, then flows into the gaps, andf there is no tendency for them to float. All very perfect....

    Then the building goes up. Like a rocket. No floor studs interestingly (on the ground floor)...

    This pic gives an indication how the wood framing is fixed to the foundation... where metal girders are used - these are bolted to studs which appear to get drilled and set into the concrete....

    This same view from outside... I will be interested in how the building is clad, and how rainwater runoff is managed...

    But for now, I will content myself with trying to be a good planker inside. With a little help from my friends and a piece of 4 by 2....

    Eventually got there. Got for the abs and the back muscles. Not sure that this is very good for you. But interesting...

    Emily was a natural...

    Monday, May 23, 2011

    Western Reclamation Transformation Apace

    The Western Reclamation transformation work is proceeding at break-neck speed. The direction for this was largely determined before Auckland Council arose from the abolition of Auckland City Council and Auckland Regional Council. It has been implemented by Sea + City, which has been rebranded and bits added to form the Waterfront Development Agency (WDA). This posting is a step in time - a few weeks ago - as development has unfolded. Starting at the South Eastern end, this is where steps down to the water are being formed. This picture shows the temporary sea wall built to keep the sea at bay while steps are hewn out of the reclamation...

    Near the steps is the rapidly developing Marine Event Centre. This was Auckland City Council's baby. Looking at it now you wonder about the need for the McCully Cloud on Queens Wharf. It's a pretty high spec building. Great you would think for exhibitions when there are not marine events being run out of it (like the Volvo Round the World and such like...)

    The Marine Event Centre looks pretty good close up too. High spec. I haven't even been inside it yet. Shows - I suppose - what sort of gap existed between Auckland City Council and Auckland Regional Council...

    This is one of my favourite bits of the transformation. This is North Wharf - looking South East. Detailed pavement work is being carried out here, but the old rail sidings remain...

    This is a wider shot of North Wharf looking South East. You can see the Net Shed building to the right. It has been restored to a very high standard. It is still recogniseable as a corrugated iron shed. That's good. It will be interesting to see how the Net Shed gets used....


    Stepping through the Net Shed, and turning round to look North West along Jellicoe Street. See how wide it is. Room for substantial street tree planting. Wide pedestrian pavements. You can see Sanfords here, Net Shed to the right. Remember that the ASB Building - and ancillary parking buildings etc, with sky walk between - is to be built beside Sanfords....

    This is another favourite for me. The Six Pack Cement silos. Lots of character here...

    And a lot of silo detail has been retained. This will be highly valued as time passes. Good call...

    Then we get to the small wharf and harbour complex at the North Western end of Jellicoe Street. It's being reclaimed so boats can easily come and go. It's a great space because of the wharves that almost encircle the water space... so much potential. This is where I saw (in my vision for this place) a lot of character and heritage boats being moored....

    ...but I think there is a real risk of this space being lost to big yachts and commercial boat parking... This would be another great Auckland tragedy of the commons. We are so good at letting go of what is of great public value and potential, and letting commercial interests get title and rights. Short-term boat parking and moorage fees call the tune. When really - this place could be of enormous public interest - a sort of heritage destination anchor at the end of Jellicoe. This is why we have one Auckland Council. If there is a genuine interest in maritime heritage at Auckland Council (not just lip service) - make sure this space is not commercialised.

    Queens Wharf Clouds Over....

    video
    You might be wondering how Queens Wharf is unfolding. So here's a bit of video I took on my cell phone from the ferry. It looks very PVC which you would expect. And very cream. Hard now to see Shed 10 which is emerging in a coat of white paint. And when you are on Queens Wharf - to the East of the McCully Cloud - you will certainly have your view of Princes Wharf, Northcote and the Harbour Bridge blocked by the cloud. (I mention this because the ARC's Plan Coastal made a big thing of protecting that particular sight line. But I guess the cloud is temporary. I hope so anyway).

    The early artist pictures of the McCully Cloud that were made available to NZ Herald et al were all shown in a night scene. Lots of coloured lights flaring off the cloud's shiney skin contrasted nicely with the more conservative lighting of Auckland CBD in the background. An Adman's dream probably. A landscape architect friend of mine commented at the time, "always beware of designs that are shown at night with coloured lights...". He explained that coloured lighting is a great way of avoiding scrutiny of the thing in plain daylight. Which is what we have to look at all the time now. Interesting in form to be sure, but quite a significant unvaried blot on the landscape. Lacking in "articulation" as architects might say - though it creeps along like the slug it has been compared to.

    Difficult for the "man-in-the-street" to ever see the McCully Cloud from the point of view of the artist who prepared those early images that captured the hearts of those who bought the idea. (POV is helicopter at night hovering above the end of Queens Wharf looking up Queen Street).

    The experience inside will be an interesting one. Lots of coloured lighting needed I would expect in the middle. Not a lot of windows admitting direct sunlight. Each end should be good though, with the use of clear PVC so at least you can see the sky and the sun can shine in.

    Because the McCully Cloud is being used as a sort of NZ Expo for RWC visitors - those who've come to do business anyway - I imagine the inside will contain stands for exhibitors. Quite a lot of stands I guess given its size. The proof of the pudding will be in the rates that are charged per square metre for each stand. Some places will be that much more attractive than others.

    Wouldn't do for the McCully Cloud to be half full.

    All that glitters is not economic gold...

    We had the budget last week. Many expected a more savage set of cuts and a more concerted attack on the deficit. Most commentators who traditionally support the Key Government have been muted at best about it. It's really business as usual with the Christchurch earthquake being the only place where the rubber is really hitting the road. It's so public there. So many peoples' lives and assets affected.

    The budget predicts GDP growth to be 4% in 2014. Though where that growth will come from is not clear. Even IRD don't agree with Government tax revenue forecasts. Burble burble. Economics, economics. Not my forte. Just trying to get lined up for my main message here.

    What I'm picking up is that more and more commentators are asking the question: what is New Zealand's economic development going to be based on in future? What is the long term plan for that development? What do we need to be doing now, so we can be in good shape to deliver on that longer term economic development plan?

    And this is my main message here. The National Government has - more than any other Government that I can remember - acted as if New Zealand has just been colonised, and it's slash and burn and extract all the quick gold. It's whole emphasis has been on extraction at all costs - at any costs really. These last few weeks the media has been chocka with stories about what dairy farming is doing to New Zealand's environment.

    White Gold....The Business pages are stacked with graphs and tables about butter fat prices. White Gold. So worth having that landscapes no self-respecting farmer would ever have turned into a dairy farm - are now stacked with cows - and irrigated from dawn till dusk. I talked to an accountant mate about this. He told me, "what we first told was rule number 1. Rule number 1 in New Zealand is that farmers pay no tax." I asked him about this and he said, "simple. They're in debt. They've got loans from overseas investors to buy their land and farm plant. All the revenues get ploughed back into interest payments. New Zealand doesn't see any of that money - bugger all anyway. Revenues from diary don't benefit the New Zealand economy. And the IRD hardly gets a cent...."

    And this is where the real cost is. For New Zealand. I'd like to see an honest benefit/cost calculation done on NZ's white gold industry. It makes a grown trout-fisherman cry to see what's happened to the lakes around Rotorua due to dairy farming. And long term data suggests we are doing the same to Lake Taupo. And nitrates from cow piss and poo that are in the ground now, will flow into our natural water courses for another 20 years. Even if it stopped now. We know that as technology has transformed diary farming, think of all those automated milking factories, more overseas investment, it's not as if there's lots of farm labourers being paid, taking that wage into local shops, and extering an economic multiplier effect. Far from it. They're unemployed now - lots of them - can barely afford a block of cheese and a litre of milk.

    Black Gold.... Whether it's fantastic coking coal from places like Pikes River coalmine, or lignite from Southland, the Government is right behind it. We might not burn it here, and if we don't then there's always China after a bit of cheap fossil fuel energy. I haven't seen recent financial analyses of this "economic" activity. But you can bet your bottom dollar that apart from a little bit of royalty that the government might be able to extract, coal mining's a bit like white gold mining because the mining companies have had to invest so much in building the mine, the tunnelling, and all of the other stuff, that the revenue from the coal will again be paying the bank, the overseas investor.

    And where does this cost get factored in? What would happen if the coal companies were required to pay the carbon charge as soon as the black gold was hauled out of the ground? This picture shows the painful truth of what happens to that coal - and sometimes to the lignite when it can be forced to burn clean by blowing in lots of air, and by having pollution cleaners in the stacks. The truth is that clean-burning coal doesn't look as if it's doing anything bad. A bit like cow piss and poos. That nice white steam is chocka with Carbon Dioxide. Yes we breathe it out - but not on this scale. Look at this post: Earth's air before coal.

    Gold Gold.... And here we have the real McCoy. Gold gold. Sure I know gold is used for other activities. Funny how gold (and silver) prices rocket in a recession. The Government got pretty keen on allowing gold mining on the Dept of Conservation Estates. Gold mining still happens in New Zealand - quite big scale in MacCraes Flat, Central Otago. Is this what New Zealand has to do, to keep up with Australia? Thing is - our geology is very recent compared with Australia. The easy gold has gone from here. There never was that much in the first place. Went in a big rush in a few years. That wealth probably did do something for NZ's economy back then. Some miners stayed here to spend it. But today's gold mining operations are big investments. Again, overseas investors heavily involved. Largely automated operations. Not much employment...

    Doesn't really matter which gold mine you look at in New Zealand, they're all pretty damaging. This one's at Waihi. The Martha Hill mine. Big deep pit in the heart of Waihi. In the background the tailings area. Heavy metal etc contaminated fines. Sure they're all contained behind tailings dams. But not very pretty. Risky. It's all so short term. That's the essence of a colonial approach to economic activity. Slash and burn. And for NZ it's death by a thousand cuts. None of this "gold rush" does New Zealand any real long term good. Because it's all going to come to a sticky end when the resource runs out. By definition.

    Green Gold.... Which brings me to Green Gold. The last frontier outside most city metropolitan urban limits. So many hearts set on subdivision. The rhetoric is all about housing affordability and so on. But these arguments are fundamentally about freeing up rural land for another form of short-term wealth extraction. When it's over, it's over. Can't do it again. But that's not the plan. The plan is, now, we, want, to turn this paddock into money. Developers do it because they can. Serious quick profits can be made, and have been made. All it takes is to convince Government to change the laws around MULs, allow developers to take all the profits from subdivision, rather than requiring a true cost contribution to the real costs of networking those new lots into the existing urban framework, and let the new "happy" homeowners pay the true costs of their alientation from urban amenity, for decades.

    The true costs of the sort of unplanned sprawl that New Zealand developer larikans love and want and argue for, is hard to quantify and disputed. The apparent freedom that goes with living the lifestyle dream in the country is that somewhere else, someone has to dig up more of the black gold that is needed to power the cars that are needed to get you to the amenity most families rely on: schools, shops, cafes, entertainment.


    As we know from going to the dentist, the thing about extractive economic activities is that they leave a great gaping hole. Tomorrow's children can't go to those places and do that thing again. It's gone.

    Which brings us back to the start of this.

    So when will we get some of that long term thinking that most are calling for from our Government? Some investment in economic development that is not so devastatingly extractive. And I haven't even talked about silver gold (fish), and pine gold (monoculture forestry).

    Auckland and Wellington sit high in the Mercer Quality of Life Surveys - not because of our extractive approach to economic growth, but despite it. But boy oh boy, New Zealand's economic future is tettering on the brink of a black hole.