What is happening in the small neck of the woods called the Horowhenua is a power struggle between conflicting agendas.
On one side of the boxing ring stands Horowhenua District Council Mayor Michael Feyen, supported by councillor Ross Campbell holding the towel and the water bottle in the background.
On the other side of the boxing ring stands deputy mayor Wayne Bishop with his supporters; the eight remaining councillors (although there are signs the amount of blood being spilled is getting too much for some).
The ref is the CEO!
Unfortunately for Mayor Feyen the referee of the boxing match is council’s chief executive David Clapperton, which is why the result will always seem to be in Cr Bishop’s favour because both Cr Bishop
and Mr Clapperton have mutually beneficial interests. Mayor Feyen alluded to the source of the power struggle in comments to the media when he said, “There seems to be much at stake for some in council…and that he had ‘severe concerns’ about conflicts of interest within the council.”
His comments came in the seismic wake of an aborted council meeting on Wednesday last week when mayor Feyen attempted to give a report on issues he is concerned about.
The majority of councillors walked out before he could finish, resulting in the lack of a quorum. At an extraordinary meeting held on the following Monday there was further disruption.
Deputy mayor Wayne Bishop presented a new report – not included in the previous Wednesday’s agenda – which slammed the mayor before a vote of no confidence in the mayor was passed. Councillors Piri-Hira Tukapua and Christine Mitchell were noticeably absent from Monday’s meeting.
The facts are worrying
Let’s turn to the facts to establish the source of this power struggle.
Fact number 1: Deputy mayor Wayne Bishop is a multi-million dollar land developer with a number of land developments in Horowhenua.
Fact number 2: Cr Bishop has financially and personally benefitted by approximately $1 to $2 million since council voted out development contributions in 2015.
Fact number 3: The majority of council’s in New Zealand collect development contributions from land developers to help pay for improvements and replacements to the essential infrastructure – water and wastewater – caused by population growth and new builds connecting to the existing infrastructure.
Fact number 4: In November 2016 a company was listed with the Companies Office naming council’s chief executive David Clapperton and his wife Catherine Whitehouse as 50/50 directors and shareholders of a company called Kai Tipu Ora Limited.
Fact number 5: The company is listed under an industry code covering “Land development or subdivision (excluding construction).”
Fact number 6: The address of both directors listed on the Companies Office website is their residence on Fairfield Road.
Fact number 7: Wednesday’s Chronicle contained a half page advertisement for a new Levin subdivision called Fairfield Palms on Fairfield Road “situated in the desirable north-east sector…offering 28 generously apportioned freehold residential sections….Fairfield Palms Limited is a collaboration of two local building construction companies.”
Land development’s pivotal role
Is the direct involvement of the Deputy Mayor Wayne Bishop and Chief Executive David Clapperton in land development the source of what the conflict is about?
Council is consulting now on proposed changes to the District Plan which would unleash widespread new build and large scale residential development in all residential towns in Horowhenua with an existing essential infrastructure.
Early next year council is also formally starting consultations on a 20 year Long Term Plan (LTP), to determine the priorities of council from 2018 to 2038. Meanwhile two land development projects on the north east of Levin and a new medical centre in the commercial sector of Durham Street included in a 2008 Horowhenua Development Plan (HDP) are already being rolled out at a rapidly increasing pace by the council before the LTP priorities are even decided on.
Changing the development rules
Now steps are being taken to roll out the third stage of the 2008 HDP even though council says the plan is apparently being “reviewed.”
The third phase of the rollout recommended in the rural and implementation plan section of the 2008 HDP includes changing District Plan rules to free up land development in residential areas. “The Development Plan actions will be prioritised, and will be implemented based on the available Council resources….It is noted that in respect of implementation of growth areas, that these are likely to be implemented through changes to the Horowhenua District Plan and zone and rule changes.”
District Plan changes included in the 2008 HDP mirror the proposed changes to District Plan provisions the public is being consulted on now including medium density provisions, bare minimum lot sizes and revision of residential rules to enable standard and low density new builds. The new build objectives of the recently announced Fairfield Palms sub-division resonates with a comment made in the 2008 HDP that council should “Consider implementation as joint venture with landowners to develop first examples to ensure quality and provide leading example.”
What is the real public interest?
Some would say, so what, growth is good, right? However, the weight being applied to driving a land development agenda few in the district appear to even be aware of, is having a corrosive effect on democracy in Horowhenua.
‘Despite evidence to the contrary, councillors in Cr Wayne Bishop’s corner get upset when Mayor Feyen says decisions made by council and councillors are “pre-determined.” However, there is a growing body of evidence that this is the case. One and one really does make two when we combine the growing body of evidence with the facts that at least one councillor and the chief executive of the council are directly involved in land development.
Furthermore driving a land development agenda appears to be having an effect on the integrity of council reports. No environmental or cultural impacts were included in the council report on proposed changes to District Plan rules to allow for greater density, despite the fact there are many well known impacts.
These include a well documented inability of the essential infrastructure to handle increased demand as well as increased pollution effects on Lake Horowhenua in Levin and increased
So does a pre-election promise by Mayor Feyen to address environmental and cultural matters and have a council that acts with transparency and accountability, make him part of the problem or part of the solution?
An answer to that question helps to explain why so much chaos and dysfunction reigns in the heavily out-numbered boxing ring that the council has become today.
Indeed there will be far more blood on the floor and many more rounds to go before the final bell rings on this boxing match.
But it won’t matter how well Mayor Feyen fights. It seems to me, that because Mr Clapperton is the referee, he will always declare Cr Bishop the winner !