By Pauline Stewart
“ …All over the country, business people tell me about the layers of central and local government compliance to be met before they can serve a single customer.” This is quoting Chris Luxton, page A3 of the New Zealand Herald, Saturday 26 November. This was part of the “rebuilding better” article. ACT, Green, Labour and National all had a say .
Chris Luxton’s quote applies to a local situation which is not isolated. This situation involves a good and hardworking citizen and her neighbours who have a justifiable complaint. On the other side are several good well-meaning people who work for Thames Coromandel District Council (TCDC) and Waikato Regional Council (WRC).
It seems that the layers of compliance and working out who needs to take responsibility are in reality, so frustrating and difficult that one might think they are designed to have the complainant, or customer give up and drown in the ocean of emails that reflect double speak, and are empty of outcome. Correspondence reveals an inability to resolve the issue and shifts the responsibility back to where the concern was first raised - in the hands of the citizen who has no power to wield.
Tania is the person in the spotlight, and she came to The Informer to tell her story. Other names are not stated to protect the people dealing with the complaint. Tania deserves better and so do her neighbours.
The issue is dust
Tania and her partner purchased their home 20 years ago. It is not in a high-end part of Whitianga, but it is a residential zone, and she pays her rates and holds down two responsible jobs. Their home is one of a group of about 15 houses and she knew, when she bought her home, that it was opposite a concrete manufacturing plant. But the road was a through carriageway then and the town was less industrial in terms of its requirements for concrete and building activity.
“When we brought the house, there wasn’t much traffic but when they changed the road to a ‘no exit’, all the trucks have to come past and out again the way they came in - between the concrete and pumping place so all the traffic for - Veoila Water, Go Bus, OPC (Ocean Products Columbia) Moana Pacific, Interisland Trucking, Allied Concrete, Peninsula Pumping and Whitianga Concrete. Dust clouds come from the paper service road and the Old South Road. They cover everything and it is daily, except when it I wet. It is a hazard to our health, and it is an unreasonable amount of dust to have to live with.”
On 22 October, 2020, Tania sent her first email to TCDC to try and get some easement on managing the dust. The response she received was, … ‘sounds like a roading issue.’
“The person at the reception did put my email on a few people’s desks,” says Tania.
“She put it on to the Roading Manager’s desk. The email I received back said it is the tenants who are aligned to the access roads’ responsibility to control the dust. The Roading Manager at the time did not inform any tenants that there had been a complaint. His email suggested that I had to get hold of the tenants on the road as the tenants had to control the dust, but there are a lot of tenants. They are not horrible to us; they are just carrying on their business - the main road has large dusty unsurfaced verges. The dust from the service roads blows out onto the main road and is carried further by all the trucks. Trucks that are not owned by the businesses aligned to the road, but using the services of the tenants, are also causing the dust problem. I could see it was more than a tenants’ issue, but somehow it was all up to me and I had no authority. I thought there might be a resource consent whereby conditions of their operating include keeping the dust down. I asked about this, and the Council told me to go to the website and look at the consents of every one of those businesses. One of the businesses went back to 1980 and the road was not very wide then. No rules had changed, but the whole road was entirely different.”
Tanya was not on her own in experiencing an intensive dust problem. All of the residents in her street physically took in their complaints to TCDC. They were greeted and told that this matter would fall under Waikato Regional Council as an air contaminant/ air pollution matter. This person told Tanya. “We’re having a number of these complaints, and we are urging everyone to contact WRC directly.”
“So, says Tanya, it was not a TCDC issue, and that meant no phone numbers were taken down and no names. The office sent everyone to WRC. It was like we had never been there,” says Tanya. “After Waikato Regional Council(WRC) received our complaints, a gentleman (name supplied but not used) ) from WRC called me. It was all through phone calls not emails. He was pushing for the dust suppressant and that’s when the sealing came. It came in January 2021 and only lasted two months but the effect was felt immediately. It was very good. The suppressant showed us the effect that could be permanent if the road had wider sealing in all directions and if the paper road issue was addressed. It costs $8,000 to do the suppressant and I was told that ‘ it will go into 2022/23 budget.’ That one man organised all of this and we were very thankful. That same person told me, ‘We acknowledge that there is a dust problem’, but he also said he was leaving the WRC. That was 2021 and nothing has been done since.”
‘Dust problem’ becomes ‘alleged dust nuisance’
The following italics are actual extracts from emails between May 2021 and now, either from TCDC or WRC. In between these, Tania’s actions or words are quoted.
May 10 2021 - from TCDC “I can confirm that Thames Coromandel District Council is now preparing options for a dust seal of the area shown on the attached plan as an immediate action. Investigating options for including it in the out of cycle budget request for permanent two coat seal ..”
Tania - “We waited , till November as I thought it was good of them to write and it showed their intentions, but nothing happened. Then in November 2021 more emails which did my head in.”
TCDC Engineer - “Many thanks for the video clips (which the resident obtained because she was asked to). We are collecting evidence and we will be in touch with you as soon as some action has been made.”
Tania - “I sent these video clips because in his most recent correspondence, the overwhelming presence of dust is suddenly referred to as ‘alleged dust nuisance.’
10 January 2022 “ At present council has not further plans…. Removed from the budget of the Council’s long term plan..”
17 March 2022, TCDC engineer …“We are looking into the sealing of the paper road section to alleviate the dust issue. We can’t give you a timetable as there was no budget allocation.
We are not doing any dust suppressants. Sorry for the time involved… we have to follow the correct procedure…….There is no national record that measures dust.”
Tania - sent the person, a link that is a dust measuring resource. His response was that the link is related to new and pre-existing industrial sites and not to roading. Tania says that this is roading but much more; the dust does include industrial sites.
25 May 2022 WRC “Would you please advise if you are suffering from the dust…
I am emailing you in response to the complaint made by you. TCDC team is looking into the dust issue… we don’t have funding.”
August 2022 TCDC “Tania thank you…., I have been advised that you were communicated to re…….Given the complications involved, we cannot give any indication of when further action will be taken. The report will be presented to the Council at the August 2022 meeting, I will email you when this is completed.”
15 September WRC “I’m not sure if you have heard from……..(name left out) He said that funding has been approved to asphalt the road. But this wont get approval till 23/24. But in the meantime TCDC still has a responsibility to keep the dust down. If you do need to call us here at the WRC…”
30 September TCDC “Good morning Tania, At this time Thames-Coromandel District Council has not acknowledged that there is an issue with dust at this site, and have no plans or funding for any mitigation measures. The allegation of dust nuisance is a subjective matter, and in the absence of any national guidance on methods to empirically measure actual nuisance and its effects, Council does not accept liability. If you are able to provide a national standard that measures nuisance from dust, I would be happy to reconsider the matter….”
No date on this extract – Manager TCDC concerning Allied Concrete across the road from the residents. “The proposed works in the area relate to the rationalisation of road reserve and removal of an ongoing health and safety risk to road users from the operation of the adjacent concrete works. This has been proven on site, and council staff are in discussion to progress the project……this is commercially sensitive so we cannot tell you how long it will take…”
Tania concludes: “I am doing this for my health and for the health of my neighbours. They can’t all keep objecting, as I’m doing, though some have tried. They all have the same trouble. Are there other people in my situation who just feel overwhelmed by emails that don’t really make sense.? All the correspondence goes from ‘Thank you…and we are going to do..” to….’This is out of our hands and all the best…’ I believe people at their word which happens to be emails these days. People just don’t seem to be able to make anything happen. I have 53 basic emails and they have other emails attached that I am asked to read. One day a worker was sent out to check the dust but the night before, it rained heavily. Common sense says to me that they can’t possibly be measuring dust as the ground was very wet.
This problem is long term. Marlborough district council had to do something for their residents. We own our homes; we work hard at jobs and we need to be taken seriously and not in ten years’ time or when a long term plan budget has room for it.”