Getting the Dirt on Dunedin

LitterAmerican writer Bill Bryson said “I see litter as part of a long continuum of anti-social behaviour” and in Dunedin we have our share of anti social people who through either laziness or ignorance tarnish our city’s reputation and visual appearance. This was the topic of discussion amongst City Councillors recently when faced with some rather graphic images of the state of cleanliness of our streets. While the contractual arrangements made by the Council were also reported it seems that Councillors had mixed responses to the problem and sought more information from Council staff. Perhaps its simply a matter of generating a wider level of civic pride amongst the community to ensure that the issue does not continue to raise its dirty head in the public arena further. What is clear is that the problem of street and landscape cleanliness is something that has been an on-going issue throughout the City at various times. Organisations such as Keep Dunedin Beautiful have worked tirelessly on public education, community programmes and city awards since 1967. With the passing of the Litter Act in 1979 and the establishment of Keep New Zealand Beautiful the group now has a national organisation for support and advocacy.

One of the issues that came out of the recent City Council discussions was the role of Council in enforcing litter provisions. The Council have far-reaching (but largely unused)  powers for the policing and enforcement of litter control on private and public land under the provisions of the Litter Act 1979.  There is also provision for the development of bylaws, the warranting of Council staff to act as Litter Control Officers and the issuing of infringement notices. While education and the development of civic-minded culture of citizens in our community is the most desirable outcome to keep our city clean and litter free, the use of these provisions could be undertaken in the most blatant and serious cases. For example the fine for depositing litter  in a public place by an individual can be up to $5,000. Another issue that has often been raised regarding the University area is the menace of broken glass in the streets. The Litter Act 1979 allows for 1 months imprisonment or a fine of $7,500 for anyone wilfully breaking glass in a public place. These enforcement provisions should be part of the City Council’s toolbox in their efforts to keep our city clean and its community’s safe from this problem.

Overseas research on littering shows that the reasons for littering are more complicated than simple laziness or apathy.  Many human factors determine or influence littering behaviour including, the socio-economic conditions of towns and suburbs,  gender (males litter more than females) and age (younger people tend to litter more). Other physical factors also determine littering behaviour including the type and availability of rubbish bins in urban or rural settings and even the packaging type of products people buy may influence their choice to litter or not. Whatever the reason for littering many people in our community find it unacceptable in their streets and environs. Dunedin needs to use a combination of active enforcement, education, civic pride, investment and strategic thinking to make a positive change in our town. We cannot rely on the goodwill of volunteers to do the dirty work, all citizens must share the littering load.

Kids Clean Up

Children supporting Keep NZ Beautiful after a local clean up in their area


Follow the Yellow Brick Road

One of the most famous lines from “The Wizard of Oz” is when Dorothy says to her little dog “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” That particular line has become a cultural metaphor used when we visit places or see things  that are not familiar to us and we relate them back to our own personal vision of the world. That same cultural metaphor may well apply to the proposals being put together by the Dunedin City Council for the Otago Peninsula.

The Dunedin City Council road widening programme will include reclaiming 5-8 metres of the Otago Harbour shoreline along a 13 kilometre stretch from Burns Point (near Vauxhall) to the entrance point of Taiaroa Head. It will cost the City Council nearly $28 million over 9 years, with a further 66% of the construction subsidised by the New Zealand Transport Agency. That’s a total project fund of $84 million. The driving force behind this development has been the Council’s desire to create better cycling and pedestrian access to and around the Peninsula from Portobello and Harrington Point Roads. Traffic safety has also been mooted as the justification for the project and on the face of it that sounds reasonable. However, like all things the devil is always in the detail, and this project requires deeper financial, landscape and ecological scrutiny.

In a 2011 Council report the Otago Peninsula route did not even rank within the top ten in terms of safety, accident history, population, topography and demand. However, the same report recommends that the Peninsula be given priority since the 2011 Annual Plan because the City Council had already undertaken work at Vauxhall and Macandrew Bay. Which raises the question, what is the real reason for this project?  Looking through the City Council’s Cycling Strategy there is some description of the benefits to tourism, but the strategy has no data and only a recommendation that further research is required to understand this dimension of cycling use. So despite not ranking as a priority in the City Council’s own assessment, the Council decided that because work had already been undertaken it should continue. Yet the Council seems confused as to why it undertook that work in the first place and how it came to that decision. That’s misguided and muddled thinking.

The reclamation of Otago Harbour’s rocky shore and intertidal zone will have a significant effect on the ecosystem of the harbour and the associated food web of the Otago Peninsula. Current estimates of the total reclamation undertaken by the City Council will total 11 hectares, and that may actually exceed 14-16 hectares when looking at the proposed extent of the reclamation described in the proposal. Which is ironic given that the City Council’s Cycling Strategy suggests that “cycling improves the quality of our natural environment and minimises environmental impacts because bicycles are the most energy-efficient land transport vehicles.” Well that’s probably quite reasonable, providing you don’t destroy almost all of the intertidal shoreline habitat from Vauxhall to Taiaroa Head with reclamation and then cover it with an oil based asphalt pathway.

The environmental impacts of this project on the health and functionality of the harbour are immense. Reclamation will result in significant loss of rocky shore and intertidal sand flat habitat, damage and loss of traditional fish breeding sites, and changes in the tidal structure of the harbour that will deplete further intertidal areas. The destruction of the interrelated food and habitat web in the harbour could be catastrophic on many bird species such as shags, spoonbills, wading species, and marine birds that populate the harbour and its environs. Which is ironic given that most of the Peninsula tourism market is based on bird life, the Royal Albatross, Blue Penguin and the Yellow-eyed Penguin.

There are also significant implications for the landscape with the destruction of the harbour landscape features that have become part of the natural and modified character of the Otago Peninsula for over 150 years. Many older landforms that were once part of the original harbour and cliff edges for thousands of years are to be demolished to make way for the smooth. One area of particular concern to the Society will be the removal of all of the trees on the harbour’s edge from Burns Point to Glenfalloch.

Climate change and sea level rise considerations also need closer consideration with this proposal. The report “Climate Change – Impacts on Dunedin” by  Professor Fitzharris suggests that natural ecosystems will be particularly at risk from the sea level rise associated with anthropogenic climate change. Which raises further questions of the sustainability and wisdom of reclamation in the face of these predictions. Professor Fitzharris clearly demonstrates that the “harbour side shoreline, including the entrance to Otago Harbour” will be one of five specific hot spot areas vulnerable to climate change. He goes on to state that “rock protection walls around Otago Harbour will need to be continually strengthened and eventually raised.” The Fitzharris report clearly indicates that coastal communities like the Peninsula may experience severe risks of inundation by a 1-in-100 year storm surge which “will more than double after 2040” and this will lead to on-going coastal erosion. Where is the forward thinking in the face of mankind’s worst environmental disasters when the City Council is planning to reclaim the harbour and build new walls which may well not stand the long term impacts of sea level rise?

The really sad thing about this proposal though is that the citizens of Dunedin know virtually nothing about it. The level of public consultation undertaken by the City Council and the Otago Peninsula Community Board has been very quiet indeed. The City Council presented the proposal to the Community Board on May 24th, 2012 and little was reported at the time. Indeed the Community Board were asked to provide feedback to the City Council by the 29th June 2012, but have never reported what that feedback was to the community. It begs the question, if both political arms of the Council were making these plans 9 months ago why did the public only get the opportunity to comment on them in March 2013, and only for a trifling 4 weeks?

By no means does the Society not support the need for cycling and recreation, our organisation has supported public recreation for 125 years, but where is the sustainable rationale behind this scheme? If this proposal is allowed to come to fruition it will irrevocably damage the biodiversity, landscape and tourism brand that defines both our harbour and the Otago Peninsula. If that happens there will be many people in Dunedin saying “I’ve a feeling we’re not on the Peninsula anymore.”


Dunes in the Hourglass

The drawn out debate over the use of John Wilson Drive has been centred around people’s rights to access, or more accurately their right to use that access by vehicle. The political debate  disintegrated into a blatant popularity contest without any reasoned argument on what actually would provide the greatest benefit to the city. Councillors wanting the drive reopened to vehicles that spoke at the recent council meeting, only discussed their own embarrassment over the continuing issue. Not one councillor offered any clear vision for the reserve and this was the real reason that such a poor decision was made. It was never about making the right choice, it was always about councillors extricating themselves from their own lack of vision for the reserve. That speaks volumes for the people who are governing this city.

Ratepayers are now faced with a $160,000 speedway that is being masqueraded as a scenic drive. Yet with the failure of the Councillors to decide on the speed limit of John Wilson Drive means there is a likelihood that those costs may balloon out even further. Once again in Dunedin we see a fundamental  lack of political understanding for the need to create value from environmental and landscape spaces using appropriate capital investment. Instead we are presented with an ephemeral populist decision based on individual political need rather than the real needs of the community. The important questions that councillors should have been asking, but failed to ask were;

As a reserve John Wilson Drive has been set aside within the greater Ocean Beach Domain reserve for the purposes of Coastal Protection. That reserve status sets it aside with a weather eye on the protection of the city areas immediately behind the remaining dunes. In the last 20 years (and realistically for the last 120 years) Ocean Beach Domain has been under considerable environmental pressure along with the much maligned St Clair sea wall. During the last public consultation  on the reserve the physical and financial recommendations to keep the reserve in a holding pattern were $4-8 million over ten years and a possible $8-19 million for retreat and further wall construction. Those estimates only include the area from adjacent to Moana Rua Road to the St Clair sea wall, which means there has been little wider consideration given to the dunes eastwards to Lawyers Head. This raises the issue that the ratepayer will invest $160,000 to keep John Wilson Drive open, but has no certainty over its long-term stability. Worse, the road development continues to narrow the opportunity to repair and strengthen the dune environment for the very purpose that the reserve was created for in the first place. Given the instability and uncertainty of Ocean Beach Domain is this really the best option for the expenditure of $160,000?

John Wilson Drive is an anachronism to a time when men thought they could tame nature and make it submit to the collared will of an engineers ruler. Watching the Ocean Beach dunes washed into the Pacific Ocean is proof that nature has certainly slipped its collar and the waves are barking at our heels.

So what are the alternatives for John Wilson Drive? The Dunedin Amenities Society have consistently advocated that a change of use is required to ensure that the reserves dune environment can become sustainable for the future protection of our city. That change of use can provide more effective recreational, economic and environmental outcomes that will provide for the city and its community in the face of the many challenges to our city’s future. That requires innovative thinking and a deeper understanding of those future challenges, something that the Council in its “bite the bullet” mentality has failed to deliver in its recent decision.

The Dunedin Amenities Society believes that by reintegrating the road back into the natural  landscape with planned revegetation and removing the intrusiveness of vehicles the reserve could recover its natural form and function. By bringing people back into this area and using creative recreational and ecological restoration the city would create a coastal space that could provide a potentially lucrative alternative link with the coast, urban centre and the Otago Peninsula. It’s not just about  banning vehicles, but undertaking innovative change and development that creates opportunities for our community in a wide variety of ways. That means promoting and developing our biodiversity and landscape assets in a coherent way that adds value to the ratepayer’s investment. It also means understanding change, being brave and having a vision for the reserve that extends past the wish list for today and actually planning for tomorrow.

Read the Society’s Coastal Vision

Read John Wilson Drive – the Beaten Track

Read John Wilson Drive Revisited

Read Ocean Beach Domain Environmental History

Down by the Waterfront

Dunedin City has largely  been shaped by its natural environment, with its steep hills and gullies running outwards to the harbour and the wide flat estuarine wetlands of south Dunedin known as Kaituna. The physical geography dominated early colonial development around the harbour due to the accessibility to the port for shipping transport and the narrowness of the available commercial land for the early city to be constructed upon. As Dunedin moved from a pioneering city after the gold rush into a commercial and manufacturing capital, and with the expansion of the rail corridor, so the city needed width to expand and grow. Reclamation of the harbour continued to allow commercial and industrial expansion. So, the city that we know today is a historical, landscape and architectural narrative of settlement, expansion, growth and change in much the same way that Winston Churchill wrote ” we shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.”

The consideration of the future shape of the city in relation to development has been brought firmly to the local consciousness with the lodgement of a notified resource consent proposal to build a multi storey hotel on Wharf Street. The proposal is for a hotel of 27 floors (including a basement) which will contain 215 bedrooms, two restaurants, two bars, a swimming pool and will include 164 self-contained apartments. The proposed Wharf Street hotel has a dominance of physical presence in the city that has not been seen in Dunedin before. High rise development of this type has not occurred in the harbour precinct in Dunedin, though there are examples of smaller high-rise buildings  in the central business district of the city.

The development has certainly polarised opinion about the scale, appropriateness, design and connectivity to the existing built and natural landscape of the city. Accompanying those arguments is the perceived future financial benefits of the hotel to the city’s economic future and whether such a development will generate robust economic vitality and sustainability in Dunedin. There’s certainly no doubt that private sector investment in the City’s economy is desperately needed, as Dunedin grapples with the shuddering of the global economy. However, there is no in-depth analysis of the economic factors given in the consent lodged for the development. Indeed it’s one of the weaknesses of the Resource Management Act 1991, that economic “effects” are not included in the assessment of effects for any application. Which is why the Dunedin City Council must ensure that this proposal’s financial sustainability is investigated thoroughly and vigilantly to ensure the economic viability of this proposal. Moreover, that information needs to be made publicly available to reassure Dunedin citizens that such an analysis has been undertaken. Nothing could be a worse advertisement for private sector investment in Dunedin or our landscape for that matter, if we are left with either a half completed or empty hotel languishing on our waterfront for years to come.

The physical access to and from the site is less than ideal at Wharf Street and this raises the question as to whether the hotel proposal will require the upgrading and redevelopment of access so as to provide better proximity for the hotel and its users. That type of infrastructural change is normally the preserve of the City Council and deeper clarification is required as to whether the city will be asked to contribute to this aspect of the project, and at what cost? One example of the potential for the Council’s contribution can be found in the application documents and states;

There are (sic) existing pedestrian connectivity between the site and the CBD, the harbour edge and other key facilities/attractions for hotel guests. In international terms those connections are reasonable, but in the Dunedin context, they are less than ideal. There are other opportunities but they require input from a much wider group of stakeholders if they are to become serious propositions. These can be explored if others are interested.” The question has to be asked here “who are the stakeholders that would have input and what are these serious propositions that can be explored?” Does it mean that the Council will be asked to commit financially to dealing with the pedestrian connections that are “less than ideal?”

An additional proposition is described in the developer’s transport report that suggests;

“… Thomas Burns Street car park could provide an appropriate storage location. Survey shows that this is an efficient use of an existing underutilised resource. Moreover, it lies within 350m of the development site.” 

It’s worth noting that this land is owned by the City Council and if the mitigation of transport effects for this development are to come  from the use of Council property, where is the information from the Council describing that agreement? Other aspects of the application that directly affects Council owned assets include the shading of the harbour basin reserve immediately opposite and the spatial effects on the Chinese and Queens Gardens. Under normal circumstances Council departments managing Council property can be considered “affected parties” and can comment on applications in that role. The City Council needs to provide citizens with an indication of how they view those effects on Council owned assets and how they intend to protect or preserve the public’s interest in the management of those effects with this application.

The issues of context, design, impact on the skyline and other visual effects on the landscape are very subjective in planning terms, but are significant to this application if the city is to give legitimacy to its recently published “Dunedin Towards 2050 – a Spatial Plan for Dunedin.” Just how objectives and policies of the Spatial Plan will be adhered to with such bold statements as, “Manage the location and design of prominent buildings …and any associated car parking does not detract from the overall amenity of the city” or “protect significant view corridors from key vantage points to key heritage buildings, the Harbour and hills.” seems increasingly difficult when faced with this proposal.

The City Council must show some leadership here and endeavour to provide real answers to some difficult questions that both the developer and the Council have been eerily silent on to date. That means ensuring that the City Council as the consent authority and as a landowner asks the right questions before going to hearing, and shares that information with the public. Unfortunately, those questions do not appear to have been asked and we’re left to ponder what is the economic and physical prospects of this development. That uncertainty is not good for the city’s business and social morale.

Economic Development Strategy

The recent Draft Economic Development Strategy undertaken by the Dunedin City Council was an opportunity for the Dunedin Amenities Society to put its views on the economic pathway outlined for the city. The development of such a strategy is an important step for the future of Dunedin, but it’s not the first time that the Society have advised the Council and its citizens that Dunedin has much to offer. In September 1888 Dunedin lawyer and Society co-founder Alexander Bathgate read an address to the Otago Institute entitled “The development and conservation of the amenities of Dunedin and its neighbour-hood.” Bathgate outlined a vision for Dunedin that blended the conservation of native biodiversity and landscape with the smoothing of the rough edges of the colonial city.

What was remarkable about Bathgate’s address is his realisation that Dunedin could play a major role in the tourist industry and that such an industry would become a key economic driver for the burgeoning Dunedin economy. Prophetically he stated; “Beauty in itself or in its surroundings is a pecuniary valuable attribute to any town. We have much to attract the passing stranger, and these attractions may be so added to that he may be induced to linger longer in our midst and perhaps even cast in his lot amongst us…” If he was prophetic about the tourism opportunities Dunedin could create he was equally concerned that Dunedin citizens did not appreciate what was available to them; “I do not think that the people of Dunedin as a rule are fully alive to the beauty and attractiveness of their city, and there are but few, if any, evidences of that love for, and pride in our own romantic town, which might not unreasonably be looked for from the inhabitants of such a highly favoured city.”

 It seems difficult to believe that what Bathgate wrote and presented to a stunned but enthusiastic audience in 1888 is just as relevant to Dunedin today. While his rhetoric and his belief in acclimatisation are typically Victorian, his passion for Dunedin and its environment are just as vibrant 124 years after the address was written. Indeed one could argue that his address is of even greater importance to Dunedin now, particularly in the face of the destruction of our built heritage. In 1888 Bathgate identified apathy for the preservation of such values that today we seem to have taken for granted. It seems that public apathy has continued to dog the city into the new millennium. Our natural environment and our built heritage appear to be at a crossroads in Dunedin, complicated further as Dunedin grapples with its economic path.

The Draft Strategy only deals ephemerally with the issues of biodiversity, sustainability, landscape and city vibrancy and describes Dunedin as a “compelling destination.” Yet in many respects both private and public enterprise have failed to invest deeply and meaningfully in a planned campaign to make Dunedin a compelling destination. In fact Dunedin sells our recreation, landscape, and ecology assests rather short.. Which means that we fail to reach our residents, potential immigrants, investors and tourists alike. Our public parks, walking tracks, heritage areas and open spaces are very poorly interpreted and promoted to a local, regional, national and global audience. So, if we are serious about creating new business and new opportunities we must promote as a matter of everyday life what our city has to offer as a lifestyle and landscape location to create interest in investment from other areas.

Within the Draft Strategy   four small city examples were provided as potential models for Dunedin’s direction. While such models are admirable, its worth taking a closer look at what these cities actually provide and what makes them attractive and viable business communities.
• Cambridge promotes its recreation and open space as well as its world-class botanic gardens.
• Leuven has outstanding, woodlands, heritage buildings, botanic gardens and city parks.
• Adelaide is one of only three cities in the world (including Dunedin) that has a Town Belt.
• Kingston is a premier cycling, outdoor recreation and world heritage area.

Each small city example actively promotes its environment and landscape as a key component to the attractiveness of their respective city. It’s the promotion of those values that creates an environment of vibrancy that brings people to establish businesses and settle in these cities. The Draft Strategy utilises the chocolate box pictures of Dunedin’s landscape and streetscape for promotion and effect, but look closely around Dunedin and there is a much deeper opportunity that is being lost here. The Dunedin Amenities Society stresses the need to create a meaningful promotion and interpretation programme of our landscape, heritage and ecology. Such promotion is urgently needed in traditional and electronic media so that as a city we can create the necessary vibrancy and interest for citizens and visitors alike.

ORC takes action on old mans beard

It was pleasing for the Dunedin Amenities Society to see the recent enforcement action taken by the Otago Regional Council on private properties with infestations of Old Man’s Beard in Dunedin. This work is well beyond due from the Otago Regional Council as it grapples with the enforcement and implementation of its Pest Management Strategy.

In 2008 the Society mapped 180 sites of this weed on private properties adjacent to the Town Belt Reserve and presented that information to ORC staff. The Society presented that same information to the Otago Regional Council’s 2011 Annual Plan so that action would be taken for the protection of the Town Belt. After all, it is fruitless for the Dunedin City Council to spend ratepayers funding on weed eradication in the ‘Belt if the available seed source on private properties is not removed also.

It is hoped that the Regional Council will continue its good work and make further progress on problematic areas such as Serpentine Avenue, Mclaggan St and the areas between George St and Queen Streets. Hopefully too, they have removed the Old Man’s Beard growing in their Stafford Street car-park and highlighted by the Society in its 2011 submission.

This weed is a serious threat to Dunedin’s native forest landscape and needs urgent continued vigilance to contain and eradicate it from our city.

See the Society’s 2008 Old Man Beard Research

The Irony of Old Mans Beard – Article by the Society on their 2011 Submission to the ORC

ORC takes action on old mans beard | Otago Daily Times Online News

The Irony of Old Mans Beard

Portrait of Friedrich Nietzsche, 1882; One of ...
Image via Wikipedia

The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote ” the surest sign that two people no longer speak the same language is that both say ironic things to one another but that neither senses the irony.

If Nietzsche had been attending the Otago Regional Council Annual Plan hearings last week he would have seen how prophetic his words really were. The Society submitted that the Council’s failure to enforce the provisions of the Pest Plant Management Strategy and the provisions of the Biosecurity Act in Dunedin City is seriously affecting the city’s’ reserves and our biodiversity. Not only is the Otago Regional Council not speaking the same language as the Otago community, but it failed to understand the irony of the Dunedin Amenities Society’s’ submission.

In 2008 the Society identified and mapped 180 sites of Old Mans Beard on private property adjacent to the Town Belt, and presented that information to the Council for enforcement. After three years of inaction that information was presented to the Councillors again in the 2011 Annual Plan. The irony of the presentation is that from within the Otago Regional Council car park a large flowering sample of Old Mans Beard was taken to this years Annual Plan and presented to the Councillors.  To find such a virulent pest plant in the car park of the very organisation that is charged with the management of  this weed speaks volumes for an organisation that is failing our community and our environment. 

The Dunedin Amenities Society does not place the blame for this on Council staff, but on Council management and Councillors who are failing to resource their staff appropriately to take action. The other bitter irony is that the Dunedin City Council pays thousands of ratepayers dollars in controlling this weed species on our parks and reserves. Yet there is every likelihood that such work is futile because the Regional Council will not enforce its own Pest Plant Strategy on adjacent private land and the controlled sites become reinfested after each flowering year.  The Dunedin Amenities Society says its time that the Otago Regional Council began speaking the same language as our city and its community and show our region that it has the capacity to act appropriately.

Map of Old Mans Beard Presence