Confused by recent media speculation, several ratepayers have asked me to explain what is going on. In other words, they want to know what is Council’s true position on tree canopy and the use of an offset scheme.
Some recent media coverage suggests that the tree canopy stuff is only on the Mayor’s agenda and not necessarily that of Council. We are hearing that the Mayor is ignoring members of Council. That he is running his own agenda as if it is Councils. We are also hearing that the voices of some of the members are not being heard.
This is disturbing in as much as it perhaps demonstrates disunity within Council ranks. Such a suggestion or inference is disturbing to me. It has the potential to undermine the effort we have made to address this very important climate change issue. Surely this is not the case.
We identified that the loss of tree canopy was perhaps our biggest climate change challenge. We, therefore, have spent much time and energy trying to find ways to combat this loss.
Members have floated many ideas in both formal and informal workshops. Eliminating many options as either not possible legislatively or too expensive or difficult to administer, we homed in on three possible solutions.
The result was that Council resolved unanimously in September of 2020 to do three things.
Firstly, to write to the then Minister for Planning. The purpose was to seek a change in the DPI Act. A change that would enable Council to introduce financial incentives to support the retention of trees on private property. Importantly, we focused only on properties undergoing new development.
The same motion dismissed a similar incentive for established properties. Suggestions in the media to the contrary are wrong.
It also called for Council to workshop applying a “universal” increase in the general rates. Then discounting this “universal” rate for properties that exceed 15% tree canopy cover. This was undertaken.
The motion sought to use a rate offset scheme to provide an income source that would enable us to purchase property on which we could plant trees. It recognised that we simply do not own enough property ourselves on which to plant trees. Mitigating the loss of trees we are experiencing must therefore focus on private property.
The Council considered a subsequent motion earlier this year to take the “universal” concept out to our public to seek their views. A motion moved by me which was defeated 7 votes to 4. My blog of February 4 this year responds to that defeat.
In January we also unanimously approved the Mayor’s report. His report included seeking the Minister’s support for change to the legislation to facilitate Council considering an offset scheme.
I would suggest that this means Council recognises and accepts the Mayor’s conversation with the Minister. Actually, a series of Planning Ministers, given the revolving door that occurred under the previous Government. Hence the time it has taken to get to this point.
The then Minister advised us that the Act provides us with that opportunity, noting it would still need their approval. That was great news.
Because it is a rating matter, we would have to put it to our community just like we do with our budget each year.
Armed with that advice the Mayor, our CEO & I (in my role this year as Deputy Mayor) visited the new Planning Minister, Nick Champion.
The message we took to him was that we were keen to do this. Before putting it to our community, however, we felt it appropriate to seek his assurance that he would favourably consider it if our community supported it. He, in turn, felt it would be good for a bipartisan approach. The Mayor then sought and received the necessary support from the local member David Pisoni. The Liberal opposition then issued a media release confirming they would.
While we have not yet received any written assurance from the Minister, I believe we can now take this proposal to our community.
This will require qualifying what we are looking for from our community. Another motion I expect will need to be put in the chamber. A motion by the way to only have a trial rate offset scheme, not a permanent one. Such a motion therefore would need to be revisited at the end of the trial of course.
I would hope that Council would approve such a motion when presented. A motion that we simply will ask you whether you would support a rate offset scheme. For my money, this is a no-brainer. You tell us rather than us decide whether this is a fair rating strategy or not.
With the recent media attention and the defeat of my motion of January, I am not that confident though. We decided then for you that you would not accept the “universal” approach.
I dare say we will have exhausted the effort to improve our tree canopy cover if this is not agreed to. This will put this work to bed. That is whether Council seeks not to get your input, or whether you don’t approve because you see it as penalising ratepayers. Or of course by the Minister.
So! As I concluded in that blog post of February 4…. why wouldn’t we?
Council’s true position on Tree Canopy will be revealed when that question is answered.