The township of Pukekohe 50 kilometres South of Auckland is well known for its motor racing and horse racing events. Being within one hour’s drive of a major population centre and with fertile volcanic soil and warm moist climate the area boasts a large range of enterprises. Vegetable, horticulture, pipfruit, and pastoral uses compete with industrial and processing facilities for the water resource. Water is tightly contested and tensions can arise between irrigators and other industrial and processing demands. The majority of water abstraction is from bores but there is also takes from surface waterways and a limited amount of storage capturing runoff from the surrounding hills. The group is very keen to see the consent process to establish dams relaxed to enable them to capture winter rainfall and runoff.
With allocation of some underground aquifers maximised, attention is turning to deeper aquifers. Water out of these bores can have high pH and high sodium levels in some areas originating from the volcanic geology of the area and the proximity of some bores to the coast. Another issue the area faces is the abstraction of water that is not consented.
The dark-brown Granular soils, derived from weathered volcanic rocks, have been used for market gardening for many years. Their very strong structure allows them to be repeatedly cultivated without much physical deterioration. The vegetables grown in the Pukekohe area are essential for the large Auckland market, and provide about one-third of New Zealand’s fresh vegetable production. The total area in vegetable production is approximately 8000 ha.
The area falls under the jurisdiction of the Auckland Council (AC) previously the Auckland Regional Council (ARC).
The Franklin group covers a wide and varied area from the outskirts of Auckland, across the Waikato River to the catchment boundary in the south, across to Waiuku in the West and bounded by the Bombay and Pukekohe hills to the East.
Membership covers the range of productive uses in the area. Vegetable, horticulture, glasshouse and dairy are the predominant sectors with representation from each at meetings. There is a large vegetable growing fraternity.
The group has had very good representation from council with two long term employees who acts as the main conduit into council and also elected members of both the local and regional councils attending meetings. Committee members have affiliations to other industry organisations such as Federated Famers and the Pukekohe vegetable growers and Horticulture NZ so a wide variety of interests are kept in contact and covered.
The group holds no funds and does not charge a subscription. There is no formal process to select the members of the committee but the representative’s act on behalf of their sectors.
A proliferation of lifestyle blocks make it difficult to keep all the farmers engaged. Having the industry representation is important to cover this aspect as alot of this ground is consequently leased for vegetable production.
The group was formed in 1993 in response to a proposal from the Auckland Regional Council to substantially increase the water rate.
Process of initiating group
The proposed rate increase prompted a public meeting to be called by concerned ratepayers. From the meeting, held in the local Karaka Hall a committee was formed to represent the water user’s concerns to the council. A chairman and industry representatives were put forward to the committee from those assembled at the meeting and with help from the ARC. For the committee to have a legitimate voice it was important that representation covered all of the different sectors. This is a key aspect enabling the effectiveness of this structure.
Skills and attributes needed
Since its inception in 1993 the group has had the same chairman. The ability to put aside any self interest and look objectively at the issues has been a necessary attribute. His longevity can be partly attributed to the way in which he has approached the task and in turn the longevity of his leadership has also helped build relationships and kudos of the group. The ARC has been the main other party that the Franklin group have dealt with and the relationship they have built up is backed up by statements like “…we think they are most important” and “… excellent working relationship”.
The statement “the committee wanted to see water allocation treated fairly from year to year” gives an indication of the cooperative and fair culture within the group. To achieve this culture the communication and facilitation skills to explain, advocate and negotiate without upsetting other parties are necessary especially considering the variety of demands on the water resource in the area. As a representative group without any formal structure or recognition the ability of the spokesperson to advocate on behalf of and put across a point of view with authority is necessary.
When the group has been advocating at the early stages of disputes or when there is further demand on the water resources, the inclusive and together nature of the group putting across a consistent and clear message has enabled the group to gain the trust of the governing body.
Willingness to participate in a supporting and advisory role is evidenced by the chairman sitting through hearings. In a particular case there was some initial involvement but the group did not carry on and act on behalf of the individuals involved as the group’s resources were insufficient. The solidarity and ongoing commitment shown are marks of the group’s culture. The group is prepared to stand up and take a stance for the existing water users and smaller interests against competing demands. Although this is an admirable culture to have and is borne out of the initial reason for formation it may be more constructive to try and include the larger industrial and processing users as part of the group enabling dialogue to begin ‘inside the tent’.
The catalyst to form the group was to challenge the ARC on the water rate increase and this has been the ongoing focus for the group. The council review the charges each year and before they are set the group has a meeting to provide feedback in the form of submissions to the council. This primary focus of monitoring not only the water rates but also consent charges remains a focus but the role has broadened to more general water allocation matters.
With a strong relationship built up over the years the group also have an advisory and consultative role for the Auckland council. Their opinion is sought around consenting and water allocation matters and the group actively “back the ARC and team around water consent applications”. The group have been used as a support for council recommendations with decisions relayed through the group with endorsement as “they (AC) felt that it would be better if it came through us”. The group has been very supportive of the council endeavours to put in test bores, gathering data of water use and the recent installations of water meters.
The group acts as an initial point of contact for growers if they have questions around water uses and charges. If they cannot be answered the questions are referred onto the council. This purpose is not one that the group set out to fill but has been a natural progression with the relationship and contacts built up and is an important role. The group see themselves as a complimentary role with the council.
There has been strong political support for the group under the old ARC structure but that support and input is not guaranteed under the new AC structure. There is a new ‘Rural advisory panel’ (RAP) being set up that has been suggested could take the place of the FWUC. The group see themselves working well and hope the new council will keep the structure on. As the group is not a officially sanctioned committee of the council they do not need any endorsement from AC for them to carry on and with the recognition by the council that community consultation and involvement in policy development is essential the networks and relationship built up over time would be invaluable as a vehicle to engage the water user community.
An issue that the group see is a need to have a process in place to revise how water is allocated. This hints at the future role that the group could have in helping to develop and inform statutory processes. The Rodney district above Auckland is a similar area and the group and the council have expressed disappointment that there is not a similar organisation there. The ability to compare issues and push a united message to the council as a sister organisation would strengthen any message being promoted.
Without the ability to resource and a formal structure to be legally representative the group is limited in its ability to advocate and have substantial input into statutory and legal processes. This is not the primary purpose of the group and the informal committee structure has served it well to achieve the purposes that it has taken on. It is able to act in a coordinating, advisory and support role but may struggle to take a lead role if it needed or wanted to.
The representation of all the different sectors within the group enables a wide network of communication channels to be utilised. Word of mouth and phone calls are used to extend messages out from the committee to other industry networks such as the Federated farmers and Vegetable Growers at monthly meetings and informal discussions. If there are issues that the group are dealing with reports will be given at the other industry organisations meetings by the respective representative.
Notices in the local papers are used, mainly by the council and a newsletter from the council to consent holders has been used with items of note included in it.
Meetings are held, usually once a year to primarily to discuss the water rates. These are held at a central business premises and are open to everyone and include all the representatives from the productive sectors and councillors and council representatives. Two representatives from each sector usually attend the committee meetings.
A key contact has been maintained with the council throughout the existence of the group. The fact that the chairman and the two council representatives have remained constant has fostered a consistent and open channel of communication with the regional authority and is a strong factor in the success of the group. The group feel it is very important to keep the council involved and attending meetings, both elected representation and staff.
Under the new AC structure there is uncertainty as to who will represent them from the new council. Whether the same emphasis on being involved will remain and whether the same personnel will be involved. With a change in personnel, councillors either not being re-elected or retiring and staff being assigned to other positions there is potential to lose much of the institutional knowledge and contacts that have been built up.
Equally the current chairman has signalled that he is wishing to step down in the near future so the continuity and succession planning within the group is critical to retain that knowledge within the group and not have it vested in any one person.
Franklin water user committee has no formal structure. This is not seen as a hindrance however it was noted that “… if issues in future… need to have the ability to put pressure on the Auckland council”. The group does not charge a subscription fee and one of the members acts as the secretary. The ARC has in the past provided resources and support for the group.
The group runs on a committee basis with representatives from each of the sectors, usually those that are of a high standing in the respective sectors or community. No formal process to elect members or who should be represented means that potentially there is no consistency of involvement, personnel and commitment. The process of shoulder tapping of those that are significantly involved or affected is the method used to find replacements. This has served the group well with some very capable, younger generation coming through but as yet there is no push or process to formally induct them into roles. The comment from the chairman, “… difficult to get out, especially if running alright” hints at the lack of preparedness from others to step up but also the confidence that the group has in its current leadership.
The chairman has been in this role since the beginning and describes his leadership as very ‘laid back’ leadership “…if all going well just let it go”. He was elected chairman at the initial meeting because he was a water user in the district and was already involved in the industry representation with involvement in Federated Farmers. Being a reasoned and firm speaker with clear points and thoughts his communication skills are crucial to the role. He is able to take well thought out stances on issues that he is not afraid to voice. Developing relationships, as evidenced by his rapport with his staff and his longevity in the role allows him to compliment his communication skills. He has very open communications with people and is prepared to say if he is unsure of something and ask the question to get an answer. A long association with other industry bodies namely Federated Farmers of which he is an executive member for the Auckland area allows him to be well connected across the region and to avenues of influence. The chairman is backed up on his committee with equally well connected and capable committee members.
An aspect that he felt was important as the chairman is being prepared to put in time and effort being the face of the group and water users. Committing time and effort outside his immediate sphere of interest is important as a leader. This is evidenced by sitting through hearings not directly related to his business or area. Seeing the value in the group he is able to look further afield and consider that a similar group in the Rodney district would be of value to that district and strengthen their position. This regional and wider view is important to bring perspective to the Franklin group.
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