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Local Government

Not enough autonomy for Community Boards

There is much conversation about the role of Community Boards and their effectiveness.
 |  Richard Shelford-Woodcock  | 

Chairperson of Whitianga Residents and Ratepayers Association Richard Shelby-Woodcock.

This is not specific to the Coromandel Peninsula, as I am aware of other districts raising a particular line of conversation around their being no ability to effect change at the community board level. Their autonomy is consumed by a process that has evolved over the years which results in hamstrung bodies.

This process is a trickle-down effect from central government by way of legislation to TCDC, through the Mayor and CEO, then Councillors and finally Community Boards.

The legislation is very much energy consuming, requiring a lot of implementation. We have a degree of centralised leadership which does not allow for decentralised empowerment.

This makes establishing the kind of skills required for community board elected members very hazy. I think we don’t always get it right.

I have three major questions as Chair of The Whitianga Residents and Ratepayers:- How can our Community Boards operate with more autonomy and therefore with more effectiveness? What degree of autonomy is the Council going to give our Community Boards? What is the role of residents and ratepayers in relation to Community Boards?

The Community Boards cost the ratepayer a decent amount, so they need to be effective and have the ability to work closely with residents and be able to effect change, consulting with Council but not merely being a channel to Council. After all, the theory is the elected members of a community board have more local knowledge and a stronger relationship with their local communities and are committed to being out and about listening to their community.

Communities have many skilled people

I see the role of Whitianga RRA is to take relevant concerns, issues and ideas to the Community Boards and assist the elected members in getting resolution to these.

That happens in part but what has evolved is that these presentations at community boards are transferred to staff members and then often a consultant.

This is to get expertise opinions and research that is not available among the staff. The staff look after processes.

Though there are elected Council members at community board meetings also, there is still the layer required to take proposals to the Council.

Too much time is taken for any return on the matter brought forward and often detail and accuracy are lost in the transference of that issue. The initial energy is lost and long tracts of time pass by without decision, let alone any real practical steps towards achievement.

A classic example known to me is a gentleman who took a risk with his home which was on the beach front. The risk he took was to implement action to save his house from storm destruction.

He could not get a response to his concerns through the process we have set up, so went ahead with what he understood was a practical solution he was prepared to pay for himself.

Not only did he take the risk; but the council fined him for defacing the beach on his own property.

After a whole series of storms, his home was left intact with a good degree of beach front remaining as protection which set his property apart from adjacent properties.  Now, I am not proposing people just go ahead and do their own thing. All small steps need to be connected.

However, there needs to be power to develop communities within the community.

After all, the people who live here have the most investment in their environment and more often they bring a lifetime of skills in particular areas.

Residents and ratepayers’ groups require assurance their concerns and plans can be heard, discussed, modified with their elected members without a total separation to staff and consultants who then have the only access to council process.

Conversely, ideas coming from staff need to be brought to their communities for discussion and modification before budgets are decided as the people are largely paying the bills through rates and fees.