Porirua is about to grow, and grow fast and big.
Three major developments are planned for the north of the northern ward: Plimmerton Farm, Mt Welcome (the deer farm just south of Pukerua Bay) and Gray’s Farm in Pauatahanui. According to information PCC provided with its Growth Strategy, these could include at least 2,500 new houses and another 7,000 extra people.
Plimmerton Farm is the first out of the blocks; 2,000 houses and more than 5,000 people. You’ve probably seen the plans, with a shopping centre, retirement village and school. This will seriously impact the surrounding landscape and environment, the most precious part of which is Taupō Swamp, an outstanding wetland on the other side of State Highway 1.
Taupō Swamp is a Significant Natural Wetland and is one of the largest remaining harakeke swamps in the Wellington region. It’s home to 19 indigenous bird species (six with a national threat ranking), nine indigenous freshwater fish species (four classified as At Risk-Declining). It has a diverse community of more than 200 plant species. It’s already under pressure from water and sediment runoff from farming and surrounding roads and railway line, weed invasion and pest animals.
However, there is a lot we don’t know about the surrounding land. There is no independent peer reviewed base line study of the nature and extent of the freshwater systems within Plimmerton Farms. And there aren’t any in-depth studies showing how these systems contribute to the ecology of the area. There’s a lot of water runoff from Plimmerton Farm. A planting day organised in the swamp recently had to be postponed because the area was flooded, and the rain hadn’t been that heavy. What will it be like when there are more hard surfaces such as roofs, roads and hard landscaping feeding water towards Taupō Swamp? The developers say they will make the site hydrologically neutral, but haven’t been able to show that this is possible over the whole site.
I’m part of a group of people supporting the Friends of Taupō Swamp and Catchment (FOTSC) to protect the swamp against any damage from the development. We are very concerned about the potential impact on the swamp and want PCC to tread very carefully on this. PCC is trying to rush through a District Plan change to rezone the land as residential using a fast track approval process called a Streamlined Planning Process (SPP) before the election. This will send the District Plan change to the Minister for the Environment to approve, and take it out of the Council’s hands. We want PCC to wait until after the election so the new council can take charge of the process. That new council might include many of the same people who made the initial decision to go down this route, but residents haven’t seen the details of this change and we deserve to have a say on what’s really being proposed — regardless of the election.
The Porirua development programme, funded by the government to the tune of $1.5 billion, will build at least 2,000 new privately-owned houses, build or renew more than 2,000 state houses, and add another 6,000 or more people to our city. Councillors voted to adopt a fast-track SPP approach for this, as well.
Across Porirua, the population is projected to grow by up to 29,000 in the next 30 years, living in an extra 9,000 new homes. All on new roads, with new water and sewer pipes, and all the other new infrastructure neighbourhoods need. The funding to support the development and the new infrastructure needs to be sustainable, too. The infrastructure needs to be future-proofed, built to withstand whatever climate change might throw at it, and be affordable for this and future generations. These new communities also need all the social and recreational facilities that make a neighbourhood a great place to live — and the council has to pay to build or look after most of them.
We might have a 30-year Growth Strategy, but that doesn’t mean we’re ready for it.
Underpinning everything the council does is the ability to pay for the services and facilities it provides. Councils are severely limited in their ability to raise the money they need to pay for new infrastructure. Porirua’s home ownership patterns and the council’s lack of investments contribute to our high rates. However, there are serious structural funding problems that affect every council in the country, particularly the cities that are growing. Sadly, things haven’t changed much since I worked on the Shand Commission of Inquiry into local government rates in 2007, and the solutions seem as far away as ever. Porirua is going to be on the hook for some very big bills over the next few years as a result of the planned developments. The recent Productivity Commission’s draft report on Local Government Funding and Financing highlights the problems growing cities like Porirua face and provides some solutions. The solutions they suggest aren’t impossible, and the Commission could have gone a lot further, such as the government sharing GST with councils. However, any changes require the government to come onboard, and for local government to push for change. Our rates are already high and PCC can’t keep squeezing the same people to pay for every new thing forced on it. I would push for PCC to look for different ways of funding infrastructure, while working with Local Government New Zealand and other organisations to pressure the government to make a fair contribution to the costs it imposes on councils.
There’s almost a perfect storm heading towards Porirua — rapid growth and repairs to ageing infrastructure combined with our limited rating base and income sources. We can’t rely on growth to pay for all our future needs, and we don’t have many new funding tricks we can use.