Introduction: With councils heading into their first full year since Local Body Elections, we asked the regional chairs in our coverage area what they think their authority’s biggest challenges are.
Newly-elected Waikato Regional chairman Russ Rimmington says the message, loud and clear, from his region’s voters back in October was their biggest concern is climate change. And so his council has already began implementing new structures to put more focus on this.
Described as “ground-breaking”, the regional council has created a new committee with a specific focus on climate change.
“What I detected when standing [in the elections] was the wave of concern from residents – right up and down the country – of climate change and how that is affecting the world, and how we all are responding to it,” says Russ, who put public transport and freshwater as voters’ next two standout concerns.
Russ says his council’s Climate Action Standing Committee will especially address climate change issues and work to get more knowledge on what the issues are. “From data, I believe the amount of carbon that’s been collected in the atmosphere over 300 years – it’s doubled in the last 30 years.
“While we don’t want to bankrupt the country, we will be looking at how we can reduce this. One would have to be blind if you couldn’t see the changes in the atmosphere.
“Much of Australia has been on fire in recently, and when I was in Northern Russia in early-2019 the whole of Siberia for three days there was no sun, it was smoke.”
And so WRC has 12 committees, including four new committees: Freshwater Action, Climate Action, Infrastructure and Special Projects, and Regional Connections.
“This means the work previously planned and monitored by the Integrated Catchment Management Committee has been reassigned to specialist committees of council to complete the significant volume of work expected of us.”
Russ says fresh water remains the number one environmental issue for Waikato residents and is a priority for central government.
“WRC has a big role to play in this space. We notified a ground-breaking plan – PC1 – three years ago to improve the health of the Waikato and Waipa rivers, and we’ve been providing strong direction to the Government on its own changes to improve the health of New Zealand’s waterways,” says Russ.
And with the council’s public submissions process for PC1 closing last year, in what form it will finally be adopted could now be influenced by the Government’s similar but not-always-aligned freshwater proposals.
“WRC does not think all proposals in the Government’s Freshwater proposals do align to PC1.
“In some instances we see economic imposition on farms in the Government’s proposals – and we don’t want to see farming go broke. It’s our major export-earner, yet at the same we’ve got to say: ‘How we can make it a more sustainable environment – and move quickly to do so.
“And we are certainly working with the Government, not against them, but it’s got to be doable.”
Full details of WRC’s new committee structure are at: waikatoregion.govt.nz/committees-and-councillors