I led a group of representatives of the Brook Valley Community Group who were refused a hearing by Nelson City Mayor Rachel Reece at today’s “Public Forum”.
The Brook community requested a speaking slot in the public forum last week, but were told this morning that a decision had been made that it was more appropriate for the group to be heard by a sub-committee led by an independent consultant.
The Mayor claimed council powers had been delegated. I explained that delegating powers does not exonerate the responsible decision maker and the community wanted to engage with the full council, because their submission was about community wellbeing and democracy. The council had been elected to represent the people of Nelson and it was their duty to hear the views of the people.
The issue is the Council’s decision to apply to wind up the Brook Valley Community Group because they are unable to pay the court costs awarded for their attempt to stop the aerial poisoning of the Brook Sanctuary with Brodifacoum cereal baits.
The background to the Brook Valley poison case
Before the poisoning, the community raised many concerns challenging the privatisation and fencing of a public reserve, the non financial viability of the Brook Waimarama Sanctuary Trust, the instability of its fence, its undermining of the historic Dun Mountain Trail, the risk to the community, wildlife and ecosystems from brodifacoum poison, the excessive amount of poison used (32kg/ha) and the serial “goalpost changing” during the process culminating in former Minister Nick Smith passing amended RM Exemption Regulations to circumvent 44 conditions of consent imposed by an independent commission intended to avoid, remedy or mitigate effects of the aerial poisoning.
The court challenge exposed that the Minister had relied on an expired Code for Brodifacoum poison and an incoherent statutory regime that none of the responsible authorities appears to understand let alone enforce. The combined effect undermined democracy and important expectations of community engagement and public confidence in the rule of law.
Why is our government poisoning our ecosystems and foodchain?
Brodifacoum is the same rat bait that killed four tuatara at Natureland zoo, which is also funded by Nelson City Council.
The first Natureland tuatara was poisoned by eating a poison contaminated insect before the aerial poisoning of the 711 hectare Brook Sanctuary. Contamination of ecosystems, secondary kill and the bio-accumulative nature of brodifacoum were amongst the many concerns raised by Brook community representatives who tried to stop the drop.
The use of Brodifacoum is prohibited or severely restricted in many countries. DOC has stringent restrictions on the use of Brodifacoum due to its bio-accumulative effects and the cruel slow death it causes. Even the former pro-poison Parliamentary Commissioner expressed reservations about brodifacoum.
Since the four recent tuatara deaths in Nelson’s Natureland zoo, the EPA has agreed to review the use of brodifacoum in New Zealand, but this is too late to address residual harm from the 32kg/ha of poison baits spread in the once Class A waters of the former Brook water Reservoir catchment.
|Brodifacoum||Brodifacoum is a vertebrate toxic agent (VTA) targeting mainly rodents and possums. It is used in both domestic and commercial settings. It is categorised in Priority Group B on the basis of its high scoring both for human health risk and the environmental risk. Availability for home use and concern over persistence were contributing factors.|
Published research confirms a wide range of protected wildlife has been poisoned by brodifacoum in the past and much of the risk to other species has not been properly assessed.
“Toxicity and residues of brodifacoum in snails and earthworms
L.H. Booth, P. Fisher, V. Heppelthwaite and C.T. Eason
Landcare Research, PO Box 69, Lincoln 8152, New Zealand
A paucity of data regarding the effects of the vertebrate pesticide brodifacoum on soft-bodied invertebrates was addressed by laboratory evaluations of the toxicity and occurrence of residues of this anticoagulant in snails and earthworms. Brodifacoum was toxic to pasture earthworms at 500 and 1000 mg a.i./kg soil. These concentrations are higher than those likely to be found in the field following aerial application of Talon® baits; however, it is unknown what soil concentrations of brodifacoum may result from field applications in bait stations. We observed common garden snails feeding on cereal pellet baits containing brodifacoum, but no mortality was linked to exposure. Primary poisoning of native Powelliphanta snails by cereal brodifacoum bait is considered unlikely. The potential for secondary poisoning of these snails through consumption of invertebrates that have consumed brodifacoum should be further investigated”
For a summary of some of the legal challenges the Brook Valley experienced see:
Why is “our Council” trying to close down an important community voice?
The current issue is the council’s decision to try to wind up the Brook Valley Community Group due to its inability to pay court costs awarded to the council. The group is otherwise well managed and has no debts apart from court costs. The Brook Sanctuary appears to have already received insurance cover for its court costs.
Throughout the proceedings the Brook Valley proceedings which went from the High Court via the Court of Appeal to the Supreme Court, it was made clear that the Brook Valley community had very limited funds. The court and many court Registrars recognised the public interest of the Brook Valley case and that the community was unable to pay usual court filing fees or the full amount of security for costs and agreed the case should proceed.
The importance of access to justice for all, is one of the long identified concerns with our justice system. Chief Justice Winkelmann wrote an important speech on this several years ago.
The role and duties of council
The council is elected by Nelson residents to represent them. The Local Government Act requires community engagement. It was amended last year to explicitly require councils to promote community wellbeing.
Democracy is eroding in New Zealand and around the world. The public are slowly realising that many elected representatives and public servants have become disconnected from the communities they represent and have little awareness of their public law duties. The public are also poorly educated on their rights and responsibilities to maintain an effective democracy. The machinery of government is in disarray. There is rarely accountability for decisions.
If we want to retain even a semblance of democracy, community engagement and infromed represntation must be put before bean-counting. The Nelson City Council and other Councils have both duties and choices. They can only make informed decisions if they engage with the public they represent. No just the wealthy, but the poorer communities too. The Brook Valley Community Group should be celebrated and supported by the Council for its efforts to represent its citizens. It should be encouraged, not destroyed.
I am becoming increasingly frustrated working from the outside and constantly facing barriers to access public information and be heard. My focus is now shifting to politics. I was recently appointed as co-leader of the NZ Outdoors Party. Its vision is promote community and environmental wellbeing and democracy so we can create a thriving country for our children and our children’s children . We are shoulder tapping real people (not career politicians) who are expert in their field and have a proven history of walking to walk (not just talking the talk). If you know anyone with these attributes who has the courage to make a stand for our future, please let us know and encourage them to join us.
Its amazing how rapidly like minded individuals and communities find each other when the need arises. Lets see if we can assemble enough momentum in the next few months to give people power a voice in Wellington so we can – in the words of like minded overseas colleagues “Keep the Bastards Honest”.
Meanwhile, reviewing Local Government and the adequacy of mechanisms to hold them to account have just moved higher in my priorities. Surely any decisions should be well informed by an array of interests and be made to promote the public interest. Hey we live here- please ASK US FIRST!
The submission that the Nelson Council refused to hear is below:
PUBLIC SUBMISSION TO NELSON CITY COUNCIL FOR COUNCIL HEARING 13 Feb 2020
MORATORIUM ON RELEASE TO 10am Thursday 13 February
By Sue Grey LLB(Hons), BSc, RSHDipPHI for Brook Valley Community Group Inc
I appear to raise council’s awareness about conflict between its obligation under the Local Government Act. The council has statutory duties to promote community well-being and engage with communities. Its recent actions in choosing to try to terminate a community group which has a long history of representing community interests in one of the lower socio economic parts of Nelson- the Brook Valley Community Group – are in conflict with these duties.
The BVCG has a long history of constructive and responsible advocacy for the Brook community. A schedule is attached
BCVG’s represents the views of local and often elderly citizens who would not otherwise be heard. That is why hearing its views is so important.
BVCG raised ongoing concerns about the reclassification, privatisation, fencing, locking, poisoning, ongoing subsidisation with substantial public funds and now charging for access to the former Nelson water reservoir known as the Brook sanctuary.
The Brook Sanctuary has been a massive white elephant that has blocked free community access to a once much loved public reserve, divided the community, reduced its former role in education and undermined democracy and community engagement.
The community raised legitimate concerns- many of which have been proven correct- including the instability of the land for a predator proof fence, the undermining and long term disruption of the historic Dunn Mountain Trial, the inevitable poisoning of native species such as ruru and weka and secondary bykill from the brodifacoum poison (which simultaneously killed 4 tuatara at Natureland) and the lack of financial viability of the project despite the peppercorn rental for the public land and multi-million dollar and considerable injections of ratepayer and other public funds.
The community challenged some of the decisions through the courts, to the highest level. The court recognised the importance of access to justice despite the community’s disclosed lack of funds, reducing security for costs and waiving court fees.
Now council staff seek to liquidate Brook Valley and close down its voice.
I’m here to ask for two things:
- A transparent inquiry and report on what the Nelson Council has learned from the Brook Sanctuary project and what actions will be taken in future to better protect the public access to public land, its use of ratepayer funds and its engagement with affected persons who have legitimate concerns;
- 2. An agreement that consultation, community engagement and community wellbeing must take priority over the discretionary debt collecting functions of the council- with the council walking the walk and withdrawing its action seeking to wind up the BVCG.
https://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/113274413/natureland-and-brook-sanctuary-miss-out-on-council-funding-bids “We’re acting today as though we’ve got money to burn, well I want to report to you that this council has no money, it’s got no money it’s ratepayers’ money, and people are struggling.”
Walker said the sanctuary would “never” be self-sustaining financially.
“We currently give them $150,000 per year, and they still want another 50. The sanctuary will always remain a bucket with no bottom as far as the ratepayers are concerned.”