National Park Village housing crisis

This is the general area of the National Park ward, part of the Ruaepehu district. Most of the population is rural, with the main population centres all being small with permanent populations of around 200 each in National Prk, Raurimu and Owhango. The ward is unusual in the it also represents the interests of the population of Whakapapa Village at the base of Mt Ruapehu.

National Park Village is the major population and business centre in the National Park ward. It has a permanent population of around 200 but commercial beds for over 1000 visitors and a disproportionately large number of businesses for its size. It enjoys the distintinction of being New Zealand’s highest town @825 metres above sea level.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

National Park Village is the gateway to Tongariro National Park, including:

  • the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, one of New Zealand’s best day walks.
  • The Northern Circuit, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, that skirts Mt Tongariro and circumnavigates Mt Ngauruhoe.
  • The Round the Mountain trail, around Mt Ruapehu.
  • Whakapapa Skifield, one of the most popular, if not the most popular, snow tourism attractions in New Zealand.
  • A range of shorter day walks including Tama Lakes, Taranaki Falls, Silica Rapids and Tupapakurua Falls.
  • Nodes on the Te Aroroa Trail and National Cycle Way that run the length of New Zealand.

While COVID-19 is having an obviously effect on tourism around New Zealand, smaller centres like National Park are more likely to come out of this crisis better than larger tourism-oriented centres like Queenstown and Rotorua.Things will change but most businesses here will endure and will still need staff in numbers greater than the local supply.

National Park Village has a crisis, a housing crisis. A large number of businesses mean staff numbers out of proportion to the village’s size and permanent population. It’s alpine environment means that winter commuting from other centres like Turangi, Taumarunui, Raetihi or Ohakune (each 40-50km away) can be problematic assuming that staff have vehicles in the first place.

Staff may or may not have their own vehicle and those that do not have no public transport service to rely on for daily travel to/from work or even for shopping/life support/sanity. It is understood – and has been for a long time – that staff working in National Park businesses need accommodation in the Village.

The rise of Bookabach and AirBnB over the last decade mean that there are no incentives for local home owners to offer long term accommodation that can be used by staff. The rewards and flexibility of short term rentals simply outweigh any perceived advantages of longer term relationships:

  • Short term rental rates approximate weekly rates for lon term rental.
  • Properties remain availbale for owner’s use.
  • High turnover and rewards mean less incentives to invest in healthy homes compliance for heating and insulation.
  • Short term rentals offer less perceived risk of dodgy tenants.

The Department of Conservation maintains its own staff accommodation estates in Whakapapa and National Park Village. Traditionally, surplus accommodation in these estates has been available to staff from other local businesses. However, the primary purpose of that accommodation is for DOC staff and as local Treaty resolutions firm up, there is a possibility that these estates were be part of the resolutiuon package.

Whakapapa Village

The work around for many businesses in National Park and Whakapapa Villages is simply to provide accommodation for its staff. The four major employers in Whakapapa Village all provide staff accommodation as do the larger proportion of businesses in National Park Village. This is usually in the form of a house or houses owned by the business and available to staff as a flatting environment; or accommodation providers putting aside for staff a proportion of what would otherwise be income earning accommodation. Either way, this is a considerable overhead cost for each of these businesses.

In the last three years there has been increasing pressure on seasonal accommodation for winter ski field staff. That has been mitigated to some extent this year with borders being closed and RAL et al having to depend more on locals for staff. As economic recovery continues, so will the need for full-time and seasonal staff drawn from outside the ward and the district.To its credit, RAL provides transport for its staff: ultimately though, this overhead will cap out as staff are forced to live further and further afield.

These issues are not new nor are they unknown. Last year, community leaders expreseed their concerns at the detrimental effects of the lack of long term rental accommodation in the National Park ward, especially National Park and Raurimu Villages. Not only does the lack of accommodation directly affect local businesses but it also ripples out into reduced school rolls; smaller recruiting pools for local emergency services and reduced coverage where members may be forced to live out of reasonable response times; and reduced domestic business.

The Ruapehu District Council has recently received approval for Government seed funding for housing projects in the Ruapehu district. This has been the result of various internal studies looking at both district needs and the potential for the district to benefit from COVID recovery initiatives. I’ve attended a number of those internal council workshops and community board meetings and raised these concerns. It was quite clear from the most recent workshop that having received this approval, the council didn’t actually have the faintest idea what to do wit it or where to apply it.

In an attempt to remedy this, the Council has conducted housing huis in Taumarunui, Raetihi and Ohakune – nothing in the National Park ward. The Council’s response to challenges on this is that residents of the ward can submit directly to the council if they want to make their views known.

National Park Community Board meeting 13 October 2020

From the brief to the Community Board on Tuesday evening, it would appear that the Ruapehu District Counmcil has decided that its contribution to the housing initiaive will be land ie land that it owns. That’s not much good to National Park where the council doesn’t own any significant land but where arguably the need is greatest – if anyone is serious about maintaining and fostering economic development in the district.

The council has been clear that it is looking for a low risk options for its housing initiative. Investing in long term rental accommodation in National Park IS LOW RISK. These are tenants that don’t need assistance or subsidisation: they are all in jobs and receiving wages. Further, most if not all of them, bring skills and experience to the district. Historically, many of them put down roots here and eventually buy their own home, start families and contribute to the community in many ways. They are assets.

They are also assets that are declining jobs here because they can not find accommodation, especially for couples and families. One family spent a year living in a single room accommodation in one of the lodges until they were able to secure a rental home; there are couples sharing a room in flalting arrangements because long term rental accommodation is so hard to find.

Privately run rental accommodation offers little security to individuals, couples or families because the incentives for owners to sell are so great. I ended up buying a head of my schedule when my rented home was sold last last – ironically, its new owners contacted me this week after I raised this issue on local Facebook pages and they confirmed their intention to make it availbale for mlong temr rentals once the current refurbishment is complete.

There is a clear need for DOC-style estate in National Park Village. By this I mean a mix of one or two bedroom apartments and three bedroom houses similar to the current DOC estate. To avoid the attractions of short term commercail rentals, this estate needs to be run by central or local government – or in partnership with business agencies where the provision of long-term rental accommodation is protected.

If the Ruapehu District Council’s contribution is to be land only, there is land suitable for such an estate on the market in National Park Village as I write. It won’t be there for long.

The need in National Park Village has been articulated to the Council on many occasions, from both perspectives of welfare and economic development. What this requires is that the Council move with speed that is greater then that which it is accustomed to. Not just wisely-nodding heads that then go off and do whatever they want to to do.

I’m proposing that that Ruapehu District Council:

  • acqiure land in or close to National Park Village specifically for the development of a housing estate for staff employed in local businesses (including agencies like National Park Primary School).
  • Independently or in partnership with a government or private agency construct a rental housing estate for couples and families employed with the ward.
  • Consider opportunities to boost availbale renayl accommodation during peak seasons pending the outcome of COVID recovery. This may include establishing transport conenctions to housing in Owhango, and other centres north of National Park (south of the Village may be challenging in winter).
  • Adopt a strategy and polciies to ensure that accommodation remains available to meet the need in National Park i.e. to restrain the temptation for greater ROI through short term rentals.

This is the low risk option for the Ruapehu District Council.

It contributes to economic development in the district.

It addresses social and welfare issues arising from the lack of long term rental accommodation in National Park Village.

It operates at market rates, reducing risk and outlay for the Council.

Ruapehu District Council Social and Affordable Housing


Taps Off – really…?

Chapman water_0001

This attack on the Ohakune Volunteer Fire Brigade was published in this week’s edition of the Ruapehu Bulletin. It is an apparent response to this notice published by the Ohakune Volunteer Fire Brigade a fortnight or so ago:

As of today our water delivery price will be going up to a minimum charge of $200 then anything over the 1 hour there will be an extra charge of $25/15 minutes.
We have had to renew our water carrier approval license and also now need to do regular water hygiene checks. With part of the requirement we need to do a yearly audit so now we also have to pay the council for the water, I do want to make it clear that this is not at the council’s request it’s a requirement for our certification.
We are no longer allowed to deliver water with the same truck that was used for fire service duties so as a brigade we still wanted to maintain servicing the community in both water deliveries and fire fighting capabilities so we purchased another tanker at a huge cost to the brigade.
This is still a voluntary and non profit making service with continued running costs rising we have been forced into these changes. Any outstanding invoices owed to the brigade you have 2 weeks to clear on old pricing then from the 1st March you will be charged the new rates.
Regards
CFO Keith Watson

The Ohakune Volunteer Fire Brigade is as its name suggests, and like all the other fire brigades in the Ruapehu District, a volunteer fire brigade. That means that all its members freely give of their own time to provide this essential service within our communities. This commitment comes at the cost of significant disruption to personal and professional lives, is not without frequent physical risk, and comes with the sole reward of a job well done.

On top of its significant commitment to maintaining (it’s not all riding on a fire engine under lights and siren: there’s a major training requirement for all members as well) and delivering an excellent firefighting capability in Ohakune and the broader Ruapehu District, the Ohakune Brigade voluntarily provides a water delivery service in the community. The only payment sought for this service is to cover the direct costs of compliance, certification and delivery: there is no profit margin and no person gets any financial reward for providing this service.

Just a little sidenote on the Ohakune Volunteer Fire Brigade’s tanker capability. This is community-funded i.e. the Ohakune community raised the funds for these tankers themselves. In addition to providing a great capability to Ohakune firefighting operations, the new 18,000 litre tanker (18,000 litres is about 9 times what a normal fire engine carries onboard) provides a reliable water supply for firefighting in areas not supported by mains water supplies and where there may not be an available alternate water source like a stream or water tanks.

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18,000 litres of water on the hoof (c) Ohakune Volunteer Fire Brigade

To be this into a local context, while the main water supply in National Park Village is being repaired this week, there will be insufficient guaranteed mains pressure for firefighting in the Village. To ensure a viable water supply during this period, the big Ohakune water tanker will be ‘attached’ to any major firefighting callouts in the Village.

Chief Fire Officers are busy people. They have to:

maintain the same skills as their firefighters.

be prepared, at the beep of a pager, to deal with a range of contingencies including flooding, fallen trees, detaching roofs, assistance to ambulance, motor vehicle accidents, hazsubs spills and leaks, and  a whole raft of different firefighting challenges.

be on top of all the administration required to make a fire brigade function.

do all this without pay or reward beyond the knowledge of a job well done.

Chief Fire Officers have better things to do than endure and respond to vexatious and petty attacks from the likes of John Chapman.

John Chapman signed his letter as a member of the National Park Community Board. I have spoken with members of the National Park Community Board and at no time have any concerns regarding the water delivery service provided by the Ohakune Volunteer Fire Brigade been raised with the Board, let alone discussed at a Board meeting or progressed to a resolution of any form. I would think if the National Park Community Board was going to adopt any resolution regarding this service it would be one of support and appreciation.

Certainly, support and appreciation has been the unanimous and common theme amongst members of the National Park community since Mr Chapman’s letter was published.

It’s unlikely but perhaps some members of John Chapman’s own community in the Waimarino-Waiouru ward have some concerns about the increases in water delivery costs. This is something that they would need to raise with the Waimarino-Waiouru Community Board, a group quite capable of managing local issues within their own ward. Not only is in appropriate for John Chapman to (ab)use his position on the National Park Community Board to launch an attack on a matter in another ward, his actions implies that Community Board in that ward is unable to function without Mr Chapman’s input. That is most definitely not the case.

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This from comments on the letter on Facebook. John Chapman, it would appear, is actually a local firefighter himself, rural, I believe. One can imagine that his brigade’s next training session may be somewhat ‘interesting’, the conversation potentially robust…

This is not the first time that John Chapman has (ab)used his position as a community board member to launch petty attacks against local community members. Last year he conducted a campaign against the Chair of the National Park Community Board because she would not bow down before his (allegedly) superior political experience. His motion of no confidence in the Chair was soundly defeated with community members speaking on behalf of the Chair and acknowledging her long commitment and contributions to the community.

More recently, John Chapman took advantage of his position on the National Park Community Board to read out an interminable personal statement relating to his vendetta against anti-1080 signage at Waikune. This related to provocative statements he had made on the National Park Community Facebook page – this purports to be representative of the community but is really just another soapbox for John Chapman – which had resulted in some backlash from the community. His actions on this page are totally independent of his membership of the National Park Community Board and Mr Chapman needs to learn that actions have consequences and that the Community Board is not there to act as a shield when his actions generate consequences. The targets of this vendetta attended this meeting and it is a credit to them that they calmly opted to not rise to his provocation, leaving him alone in the mud.

Perhaps it’s time for Mr Chapman to consider whether he truly does represent the community of the National Park ward. If he hopes to do more for the community, then he needs to reconsider his game plan. If he hopes to use his Community Board activities as a springboard for higher office, he should realise that his current conduct is unlikely to endear him to the voting public.

If John Chapman thinks community board membership is just about lashing out at those who dare to disagree with him, maybe he needs to stand down and seek such solace in some overseas socialist nirvana…

 

 

 

“I don’t know”

I-Dont-Know

via The Wisdom of Saying “I Don’t Know” | On Being

The Wisdom of Saying “I Don’t Know”

I was recently reading a book about a medieval saint. Every day, people came to ask the saint questions about life, the world, faith, the heart, the path, politics, and more.

One person came and asked a question about the law. The saint simply answered, “I don’t know.” Another had a philosophical question. The saint, again answered, “I don’t know.” All in all, 29 people came and asked questions. To each and every one the saint answered, “I don’t know.” It was when the 30th person asked a question that the saint said: “Oh, I have something to answer about this one.”

One out of 30. The rest of the time, the saint realised that silence was an improvement over words.

Many many years ago, when I first stumbled into the world of knowledge management, lessons learned, best practice knowledge transfer, rah, rah, rah, I subscribed to a lot of feed and pages and sites. The sole survivor of all of these is David Gurteen Knowledge Letter. Monthly, it drops into my inbox and I have a quick scan…some months, I can just flick it off, others there will be a little nugget that strikes a chord…such was the case this morning…

idontknowgurteen

That lead me to Omar Safi’s blog post on saying “I don’t know“, the opening paragraphs of which are quoted above…sometimes strength is not in knowledge but in ignorance; strength is being able to say “I don’t know“, strength is not feeling that internal pressures or external influences are compelling you to provide a response when the honest answer is “I don’t know“.

In searching for an appropriate image to open this post, I found the “I don’t Know” post on the Friday Food for Thought blog which also gelled with my thoughts and the ‘Inkling theme of today’s WordPress Daily Prompt…basically, if you haven’t an inkling that just shut up…

No one expects everyone to know everything. In most case, people respect more someone who can say “I don’t know” instead of presenting ignorance as knowledge. this is particularly true here in the way we manage our visitors, domestic and international.

Tongariro National Park is probably one of the most accessible national parks in the world. It is only a four to five hour drive from the international terminals in Auckland and Wellington: you can land in New Zealand and be in the Park in less than five hours. And on the rescue helicopter thirty minutes later. OK, that’s an extreme example but it’s happened. Because it is so easy to get to the Park, sandwiched between four state highways (1, 4, 47, 49), visitors often do not naturally feel that it offers a great deal of risk, compared to expeditions in the south of the South Island where you definitely feel that you are leaving the safety and security of civilisation behind you.

Visitors ask for information. They seek it from websites and via email before they leave home; they seek it over the counter and by phone once they are here. They ask in Visitor Centres and i-Sites – credible sources of information – but also in accommodation, in bares and in restaurants, where they person they are asking may not have been here much longer them, or have much more knowledge than them – but can still respond with a misplaced aura of confidence. They may not know at all, they may think they know, they may be simply regurgitating something they heard, they may just want you to go way. If they don’t know, they should say “I don’t know“.

And if you’re in the information game, be prepared to offer the same advice “I don’t know”. You may be able to to steer them towards a source that may be able to assist, you may just have to leave them to consider their own options, lacking the information they seek. Then their actions are their responsibility. Once you offer information, you (and your organisation if you’re at work) become part of that responsibility chain…like it or not…

There’s little helping someone who doesn’t ask for advice but those who do should be assured of either getting a credible accurate and relevant response to their inquiry, or be told “I don’t know“. Consider perhaps the example of Suzannah Gilford, who was rescued of Mount Ruapehu just before Christmas last year. Her account of her experience is well-written and a good read. Inspired to ascend Mount Ruapehu, still carrying an icy cap, she did seek information to support her decision-making…

Arriving in Whakapapa Village, I received mixed advice on climbing Mt Ruapehu… “You need an ice axe and crampons…”, “Sorry no guided tours yet, but there will be in 2 years time…”, “The mountain is sacred so we’re asking people not to go to the crater…”, but encouragingly the lady at the foot of the mountain explained, “You can go wherever you like… there are no signs yet, but everyone just makes their own paths in the snow.” She couldn’t advise how bad the snow was, nor how long it would take to reach the crater, and had no maps to sell, but suggested people were up there trekking and I couldn’t wait to see for myself!

One systemic informational failure after another. Pretty much every one of those statements was incorrect at the time (the ice cap is now substantially reduced). Locals are quick to apportion 100% of responsibility for rescues on those needing to be rescued but here is a smart young lady who knew what she didn’t know, who asked the questions and received in return a bewildering mishmash of inaccurate information. Who cares whether it was the DOC Visitor Centre or the Ruapehu District Council i-SITE, that she visited? Whoever she spoke to, if they could not respond credibly and authoritatively, just had to say “I don’t know

One would like to think that both parent organisations have a regularly reviewed FAQ for such every day questions in and around Tongariro National Park; a document that protects the individual, the visitor and the organisation. In the absence of such, a simple “I don’t know” may have been the safer option for Suzannah and the Ruapehu Alpine Rescue Organisation (RARO) rescue team that assisted her off the mountain…

It’s not quite as simple as the some would have us believe “…try as I may I could never explain, what I hear when you don’t say a thing…”

Sometimes you just have to say “I don’t know“…