Postcards from Taumata Island: Winter doldrums, worries for Wellington, no confidence in Carterton District Council, and dangerous roads

Low lying mist early in the morning is a constant now, as the winter doldrums peak with just a few days before we start to see the light returning at either end of the day. Our neighbour, an elderly gunsmith with a wicked twinkle in his eye tells us that it has been mild, so far.

I have given up on mowing the lawn and with the first lambs being born and daffodils appearing you could be forgiven for thinking that we’ve just skipped the entire winter season and jumped to a slow start spring. But, like all New Zealand, we know that Fake Spring starts to appear in the next few weeks before the heavy weather and wet returns.

It has been wet here, but quite warm after the days of frosts at the beginning of June. Horse covers have been put back in the stables and the dog complains about the heat from the fire at night rather than lying prone in front of it.

I see that Wellington’s water woes continue, though instead of the water rising through the city streets it is the stuff falling from the skies that is causing slips and issues. I am always baffled as to why the city does not mitigate itself against the weather instead of running Lego competitions and having all-out public fights about cycle lanes.

It seems since I last wrote that nothing much has changed over the hill as it were, with Councillors still devolving into cliques and filling their associated social media feeds with platitudes toward each other. At the same time, the CBD continues to struggle, the unemployed numbers increase significantly, and businesses collapse.

Government project pipelines are still firmly closed with no sign of shovel-ready work appearing anytime soon and the WCC seemingly in the same boat. Promises of work to get people employed have not occurred but no doubt the handful of people working on the Convention Centre are happy to have jobs.

Back on my side of the Carterton District Council is not loved that much at all. A recent survey saw that just 46% of people had confidence in the Council, while only 35% considered they were getting value for money. This has plummeted since the latest Council was installed.

Those are quite shocking figures because even with a high margin of error (I don’t know what the margin was), it’s a substantial proportion of residents that has no confidence in their Council nor believes that their money is being well spent.

You would expect the Chief Executive and Mayor to stand up and have something to say about that. The Mayor was nowhere to be found on the issue, and the CEO had this to say;

Jane Davis, council chief executive, said the authority was “confident it delivers its services in a very cost-effective way” but the survey showed it “could do a lot better at explaining its activities and the costs to ratepayers and residents”.
“Addressing its communications about how rates are spent will be a core focus over the next year,” she said.

No Bang for Buck

I wonder if the majority of Council CEO’s have the same playbook. Rather than acknowledging that there is a clear issue that needs to be addressed, they throw it back on the community dismissively with a “you just don’t understand” reply. No doubt, the Council will be inundated with PR companies trying to explain away the poor results rather than taking a long hard look at themselves.

Traffic issues in the valley are also apparent. The stretch of highway from Featherston to Masterton is frankly a death trap, regardless of whether it is in the towns or on the main highway. Crashes are the normal, serious ones as well, and we frequently hear the volunteer siren day and night as well as the emergency helicopter flying overhead.

Just like the WCC the Council’s here seem powerless to enact any real change and almost ambivalent about consultation. They also do not, on the face of it, appear to be putting any real pressure on the NZTA who is responsible for SH2 at the very least.

In response to community concerns this week the South Wairarapa District Council had this to say;

SWDC’s Euan Sitt, group manager partnerships and operations, said that a district-wide review of road speed limits was coming, but wouldn’t happen until a 12- to 18-month public consultation period – it also wouldn’t include any of the state highways.

“As mandated by central government, SWDC will be undertaking a district-wide review of road speed limits,” Sitt said.

“Over the next 12 to 18 months, there will be a community consultation process, followed by implementation of new speed limits where appropriate.”

Residents in the danger zone fearful

And you thought that the WCC was bad with consultation. Despite a clear danger to residents in the area, the best the Council can promise is a process that could take well over a year and a half. Worse, that will not include SH2, so it’s pointless.

The NZTA were even more dismissive;

Emma Speight, NZTA’s agency director of regional relationships, said that before state highway limits could be changed, the agency would have to perform a speed review.

“We commence a technical assessment which takes into account crash history, average vehicle speeds, volume of vehicles on the road, and development of surrounding areas.

“We also complete informal council, partner and community and road user engagement, which is an important step for speed reviews.”

Speight was able to confirm that a speed review of SH2 was coming, but said the agency was still “finalising the exact timing”.

Now, all that data Emma talks about in the first sentence is already available. Worse, engagement is “informal”, likely to mean that they do not have to listen to it at all. And despite the increasing accident rates, the NZTA does not even know when they will start looking at it.

Interestingly, I could not find a single MP, Mayor, nor Councillor who even bothered to respond to what is an outrageous dismissal of resident’s concerns. It is then absolutely no surprise that confidence in local Council is incredibly low.

I drove over to Flatpoint Beach on Sunday. It is a west coast beach that you access through the Gladstone area with a road that is not for the faint-hearted with several kilometres of narrow, winding, gravel roads before you arrive.

It is worth the trip, like Tora for those of you who know it, or a mostly undeveloped Riversdale. A small scattering of expensive baches with “KEEP OUT – PRIVATE PROPERTY” signs liberally applied lead you to a wild beach with what promises to be excellent surfing.

As weeks go by, we are starting to explore our backyard and find it quite amazing. The geography, native bush, natural landscapes, and the ability to travel to it all in a short period is impressive. Though, the further you go, the more pine plantations you see, which is a shame given the alternatives and the fact we will need all the fertile land we can get in the future.