Rotorua District Council

19 Nov 2015
Rotorua racing towards sustainability

Rotorua and its approach to urban sustainability reminds of us of the deep interconnectedness between cities and communities and their natural environment.

Internationally famous for its natural environment, steaming geysers and natural hot springs, beautiful lakes and forests, Rotorua is now taking major steps towards social equality and equity, water custodianship and sustainable, appropriate economic development.

The celebration of Rotorua’s commitment to the UN Global Compact has a timely alignment with the launch of the new Global Sustainable Development Goals. The city’s collaborative approach is very much in line with the global thinking that all parties need to be engaged in driving sustainable development at the local level and that all areas need to be considered – the social, cultural and economic alongside the environment.

Rotorua is working across this full spectrum in its engagement at the Leading-level of the UN Global Compact – Cities Programme.

In the Cities Programme, Leading-level cities and regions are “conscious of their roles as civic leaders and global citizens and also work to improve the knowledge and practices of other cities and regions. They actively and meaningfully engage their citizens and other stakeholders in their planning and projects”.

Our first city in New Zealand, Rotorua is currently undertaking a comprehensive diagnostic through the Global Compact City Scan, the first step in its commitment as a Leading-level city, and the basis from which to develop a UN Global Compact City Action Plan.

A cross-sectoral working group, led by Councillor Janet Weipa under the Sustainable Living portfolio and facilitated by Rosemary Viskovic, has been leading the City Scan process, which identifies and evidences the region’s challenges and documents its initiatives.

The City Scan diagnostic looks at the city through the lens of the Ten Principles, broadly grouped into the areas of social development, environmental sustainability and governance and participation. Particularly evident in Rotorua, culture weaves its way across the three areas. Completion of Rotorua’s City Scan involves a broad consultation across the community. This is currently underway.

First Meetings – Te Arawa iwi

Rotorua holds particular significance to the Mãori of New Zealand for a number of reasons. It was settled by the iwi of Te Arawa several centuries ago, now some 42, 000 people, who comprise 13 iwi (tribes) and 60+ hapu (sub-tribes) whose traditional landhold and water rights are legally recognised through the Treaty of Waitangi and other legislation.

Professor Ralph Horne and Elizabeth Ryan from the international secretariat of the UN Global Compact – Cities Programme recently visited Rotorua. On arrival they were given a very warm traditional welcome from Mãori staff at the Rotorua Lakes Council (pictured left).

They also had meetings and workshops with a number of groups including the Te Arawa Lakes Trust and the Te Arawa Partnership Working Party (pictured below).

Roku Mihinui spoke about the Te Arawa Lakes Strategy Group, which provides leadership to improve water quality. The group is working to ensure the lakes within the Rotorua district – and their catchments – are preserved and protected for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations, while recognising and providing for the traditional relationship of Te Arawa and their ancestral lakes. It grew from the Te Arawa Lakes Settlement Act 2006, which included aims to restore Te Arawa’s ability to exercise kaitiakitanga (guardianship) responsibilities in relation to the Lakes.

There is a strong and bold recognition of the importance of culture, whereby cultural values are the baseline of all actions.

New forms of iwi and local government partnership and governance

A partnership model has been developed to strengthen the relationship between the Rotorua Lakes Council and Te Arawa for the future of Rotorua, and to unify iwi and support their leadership.

Tatau Tatau is the motto of the Council – Rotorua Lakes Council and Te Arawa working together for the good of Rotorua. Tatau Tatau – We Together ‘ – We will honour the past, empower the present and strengthen the future.

In 2013, having committed to developing a new partnership model with Te Arawa as part of the Rotorua 2030 Vision, Council approached Te Arawa and asked them to consider how they wished to be partnered with. Backed by a legislative framework (s81 LGA and s6-8 MRA) that recognises the relationship of Mãori and their culture and traditions with their ancestral lands, waters, sites and wãhi tapu, there has been a lengthy consultation process with Te Arawa iwi and hapū (tribes and sub-tribes) to develop the model, followed by public consultation once Council had agreed in principle to the proposed model). The outcome of the two years of iwi, hapū and community dialogue is the establishment of the Te Arawa Partnership Board. Elections are currently underway for this new board, which will comprise 14 members, nominated by Te Arawa whãnui, endorsed by the Stakeholder Forum and elected by Te Arawa Whãnui. This is a new form of leadership for the Te Arawa which is tasked with representing Te Arawa’s collective interests. It is also accompanied by a Stakeholder Forum, which, amongst other things, has a role of accountability for the board and is a conduit for dialogue between the Rotorua Lakes Council and the Te Arawa whãnui.

Rotorua Lakes Council marks the moment of the city’s commitment to the UN Global Compact and Cities Programme

Over the last two years, Rotorua has embarked on an ambitious journey towards to a new form of sustainable development and community cohesion. Mayor Chadwick took office in 2013, having represented the region as a Member of Parliament for a numbers of years and held national positions as New Zealand Minister for Conservation, Women’s Affairs and Health, respectively.  Seeking to overcome a range of economic, environmental and social challenges and to build a positive future, the Rotorua Lakes Council, under the Mayor’s leadership, instigated lengthy community dialogue around a new vision for Rotorua, including the development of goals and a strategic plan. Changes were made to council structure, with councillors taking responsibility for portfolios (having formerly represented wards). These portfolios correlate with the new strategic plan and a new organisational structure.

The Rotorua 2030 Goals aim for a future that is:

  1. A resilient community … He hāpori pūmanawa – Inclusive, liveable and safe neighbourhoods give us a sense of place; and confidence to be involved and connected.

  2. Homes that match needs … Kāinga noho kainga haumaru – Quality, affordable homes are safe and warm, and available to meet everyone’s needs

  3. Outstanding places to play … Papa whakatipu – Recreation opportunities are part of our lifestyle; connecting us, transporting us and surrounding us.

  4. Vibrant city heart … Waahi pūmanawa – Our inviting and thriving inner city reflects our unique heritage and lakeside location

  5. Business innovation and prosperity … Whakawhanake pākihi – We boast a diverse and sustainable economy energised by our natural resources and innovative people

  6. Employment choices … He huarahi hōu – We are a prosperous connected community; growing our education, training and employment opportunities.

  7. Enhanced environment … Tiakana to taiao – We are known globally for our clean, natural environment, air quality and healthy lakes

One of Rotorua’s most recent sustainability initiatives is the Green Corridor, which was opened on the afternoon of 8 October 2015. The new bike path weaves through the central business district to the Lake Road. A massive crowd donned green garb and followed Mayor Steve Chadwick (centre) on the inaugural ride.

Water – the region’s gold and a focus of culture, heritage, much care and considered and lengthy community conversation

Rotorua is located on Lake Rotorua, which is within a region of 14 natural lakes. All are beautiful. Some have challenges with compromised water quality. There is a delicate balance to be achieved between surrounding land use and the impact on the lakes that are the centre of the region’s culture, history and environment and much of its social life.

Water is central to Maori culture and beliefs – Ko te wai ki te toto o Papatūānuku – Water is the lifeblood of Mother Earth.

Kei te ora te wai – If the water is healthy
Kei te ora a Papatuanuku – Mother Earth will be healthy
Kei te ora a Papatuanuku – If Mother Earth is healthy
Kei te ora tonu te Tangata – The people will be healthy

Rotorua’s community enjoys the most pristine drinking water. The city’s drinking supply is sourced from springs located within a couple of kilometres of the city centre. This water has been in the ground, untouched, for over 100 years. The water is plentiful but there are also efforts to increase the community’s awareness of its value and to conserve its use.

Rotorua’s waste water has been sent into the forests through a Land Treatment System that has been in effect since 1995. With time it has been less efficient at stripping the nitrogen and has also resulted in ‘wet feet’. The community was given responsibility to undertake a waste water treatment review. It has taken two years to find an alternative to this system, with many iwi and community groups represented. After considerable dialogue the group has decided to advise the Rotorua Lakes Council to distribute the treated waste water to the Lakes.

Report: Elizabeth Ryan

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