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Lessons from Waitakere City Council, New Zealand

Carolynne Stone

Waitakere City Council, New Zealand

Thank you for inviting me to speak at this Sustaining Our Communities Conference.

Waitakere City Council adopted the Agenda 21 ethos in 1993. At that time our Council voted to set the city on a path towards sustainable development and we have maintained that commitment for almost 10 years.

In the time available to me I will briefly outline key aspects of the City s journey towards becoming an Eco-city, and try to give you some idea of the regional and national context associated with that journey.

I will focus on the way in which Council has sought to integrate land use and transport development, social development, economic development and environmental protection and innovation.

Waitakere City is located in the western sector of the Auckland Region. It has a population of approximately 170,000, within a regional population of approximately 1.3 million.

The City enjoys a spectacular physical environment, almost enclosed by harbours and the oceans of the Pacific and Tasman Sea. Waitakere is 1/3 urban, 1/3 rural and 1/3 wilderness. It has long been a dormitory area, delivering workers to other parts of the region.

The city s peoples are ethnically diverse 13% Maori, 13% Pacific Island, nearly 10% Asian and the remainder predominantly of British origin.

The Council that was elected in 1992 was committed to reshaping Waitakere in several significant ways: to halt threats to the Waitakere Ranges and to restore the ecological foundation particularly of the urban area; to promote local economic development; to reduce commuter flows and provide local jobs particularly for young Maori and Pacific Island residents; and to make communities safer, stronger and more self reliant.

Waitakere s approach comprised two core strategies.

• First, natural capital (the environment) would be sustained and restored by making the city more compact and enhancing the quality of the urban environment. This consisted of promoting urban villages by encouraging and providing for significant growth in densities and mixed use in areas adjacent to key transport nodes and routes. Other activities include an urban revegetation program involving planting of approximately 100,000 plants each year, primarily along streams and within reserves.

• Second, partnerships with community, business, Maori and other groups were (and are) critical to securing the change in investment patterns, to changing the nature of town centres, providing for public transport, generating local employment, decreasing environmental impacts of growth, improving community participation, security and access to health and educational services. Waitakere s approach is to maximise engagement with stakeholders on key issues to both the community and Council.

Within these core strategies of promoting natural capital and partnerships, the Council has focused on investing in and securing change in eight interlinked areas:

• creating urban villages

• catalysing public transport

• economic growth, more local jobs

• green network extension (including stormwater management)

• waste reduction

• sustainable water/wastewater management

• social well-being increased

• democracy strengthened/increased.

This program has placed the pursuit of sustainable development at the core of the City s activities.

The town centre of New Lynn provides a good example of how Council has pursued its goals. The city has built its urban growth strategy on the development of three main urban centres, one of which is New Lynn.

One of the Council s core strategies has been to promote development of town centres located adjacent to the rail corridor. As investment in commercial and residential properties has increased the viability of walking, cycling and public transport has increased.

In New Lynn Council has used the charette method of preparing a town centre development plan. This involved working with property owners and residents and has resulted in a plan that is widely supported. Important elements of the plan have been implemented including a 300 unit medium density property development, a large reinvestment in the shopping mall by AMP and the provision of a new community centre by Council which employs a range of sustainable building elements.

It is worth noting that citywide the share of medium density housing as a proportion of all units built has increased from virtually nil in the early 1990s to 50% of all units built by 2000. This was funded by private sector investment.

New Lynn has begun to develop a more vibrant community life. Recent developments involving the community include moves to promote a Chinese market signalling the first steps at working together between Council and the local Chinese community.

Partnerships with the local community have been core to our activities in terms of advocacy and the delivery of improvements to the city. This report has described the status of education, health and welfare in the city and provided a basis for service providers to engage in discussion with each other and government agencies to identify methods of improving service provision.

Looking nationally, Council s sustainable development program was adopted within a national context that during the 1990s sought to specify the role of local government more clearly. During the late 80s and through the 90s central government sought to optimise commercial approaches within the public sector. For local government this brought a number of key changes:

• bigger, fewer units

• A requirement to produce coherent, short and mid term planning and budgeting and public accountability instruments long term financial planning is now required also

• specific public consultation requirements, including with Maori

• governance changes that saw elected representatives as policy makers and Chief Executives responsible for executing legitimate political agendas.

These reforms generated significant instruments for giving effect to the political commitment to long term sustainable development of the City. For example, the City engaged the public in extensive consultation on the future development of the city via the development of its District Plan. This enabled local communities to consider what they wanted for the places they lived. The requirements to undertake long term financial planning have provided a basis for Council to consider explicitly whether it is spending its money in the most effective ways to achieve sustainable development.

The reforms can also be seen to have played a part in facilitating the development of a Regional Growth Strategy. This is a negotiated, non-statutory agreement reached between the region s seven district/city Councils and the regional council. It outlines the way in which the region should develop over the next 50 years and relies upon a strategy essentially the same as that promoted by Waitakere. It focuses growth in places that reduce environmental effects, supports local employment and promotes the viability of public transport.

On the other hand the market oriented, limited intervention approach can be seen as a dis-empowering element in some important areas. However, there was no nationally supportive context to this, it was not seen as an area of activity that the government wanted to involve itself in. Council was not able to develop a coherent and explicit climate change program as such. Instead it engaged in a wide range of activities that had climate change value, such as promoting energy efficient buildings and reduced reliance upon car based transport. At a time when the government wanted to rely on the market to deliver outcomes, but no market mechanisms existed to account for greenhouse gas pollution, New Zealand was not able to develop the type of wide ranging and coherent response to climate change that Australia has been able to produce through the Australian Greenhouse office and the ICLEI programs.

Now, however, central government is accepting a more direct role for local and central government in achieving environmental, economic and community goals. For example it has elected to buy back the rail corridors within the Auckland region in order to facilitate a significant rail service upgrade. For its part Waitakere City Council intends going ahead and implementing the Cities for Climate Change program, hopefully as a pilot for wider adoption of the program in other parts of the country.

Council has made significant progress in some areas in terms of its goals for sustainable development. Our town centres are stronger than they were they are more diverse in terms of their employment base and the range of services they provide, growth pressure has been largely focused on centres and there is strong support for the centres based strategy. It appears that we have now secured commitment to a significant upgrade in rail services and that this will happen over the next few years. On the other hand we have not been able to alter the basic travel patterns within the city car based travel still provides the over whelming majority of trips and is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Three areas have been critical for Council in promoting sustainable development over the past decade. These things will remain central to our work and are being enhanced:

First: Council leadership three Councils since 1992 have sought to give effect to the objectives of a strong local economy and town centres within a sustainable environmental setting. Council has through its commercial activities led by example in town centre development and in its major property developments (Harbour View). Integral to these city building programs have been initiatives involving and showcasing the city s artistic and heritage strengths.

Second: Council has established and maintains a wide range of partnerships, which enables it to engage in a continuous process of development and evaluation of activities that help promote sustainable development.

Third: Marrying coherent local government initiatives with appropriate accountability initiatives. Council has sought to properly link its strategic, corporate and environmental plans. It continues to seek ways to make the rationale for decisions more transparent and to allocate the costs and benefits of decisions more fairly. In this area Council is seeking to improve its triple bottom line assessment of project choice and implementation. Also, at a Council and national level it is arguable that a platform for pricing policies is emerging which more correctly reflects the true cost of resources and activities. This is especially true in the areas of water management, transport and greenhouse gas emissions. Council s intention to adopt the Cities for Climate Change program reflects this movement to improve the basis of our decisions to achieve eco-city goals. CCP s measure to manage philosophy will help us to assess whether we are in fact putting our energy and resources into the most effective areas to achieve eco-city results.

However, these instruments will only work well if they are intelligently integrated with city planning that provides people with real choices in terms of living near their work place, using less polluting transport options, and providing opportunities to reduce waste generation.

I hope this brief snap shot of Council s goals and activities over the last 10 years provides a useful starting point for the discussion to follow.

Websites to refer to:

• City Council home page:

• Council Eco city link:

About the author

Carolynne Stone has been a Councillor with Waitakere City Council, New Zealand, since 1992. At the beginning of this 10 year period the Council decided to adopt a sustainable development framework for the city. Carolynne is currently the Deputy Mayor of the City and Chair of the Council’s strategic policy committee. She also represents the Council on the Regional Growth Forum and Regional Land Transport Committee. For four years she was the Council’s advocate for children and youth. She currently Chairs the City’s Community Injury Prevention Committee, which has guided the Council through to receiving World Health accreditation as a Safe City. She is especially active in promoting development of integrated land use and transport investments, sustainable building and safe cities.

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