Nelsonians interview mayor candidates about climate change

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From left, Nelson mayoral candidates Kerry Neal, Rohan O’Neill-Stevens, Richard Osmaston, Tim Skinner, Nick Smith with Matt Lawrey speaking.
Photo: RNZ / Samantha Gee

After hundreds of homes in Nelson were damaged by severe flooding last month, residents were given the chance to ask questions about sea level rise, climate change and environmental concerns to those vying for mayor in the region.

The position is up for grabs with incumbent Rachel Reese stepping down after three terms.

A debate was held at Founders Park on Tuesday by Brook Waimārama Sanctuary, Forest and Bird, Nelson Environment Center and Nelson Tasman Climate Forum. The public submitted questions with a focus on the environment that were submitted to candidates by a panel.

Asked about their priorities for future-proofing against significant weather events, veteran politician and Nelson’s former MP Nick Smith said the council needed a plan to mitigate the effects of climate change.

“The magnitude of repairs from the August events is likely to be in the tens of millions of dollars and will dominate the work program for our municipality for the next 18 months…and a really critical part of that work is making sure we build more resiliently. “

While good work had been done on climate change, “there has been too much of the bold statements and too little of the practical actions where our council can make a difference”.

Since leaving parliament, Smith has been the project manager of New Zealand’s largest wind farm in Turitea, saying his passions have been science, entrepreneurship and the environment.

His top environmental priorities were to stop burning coal in Nelson, double the number of electric vehicle charging stations to expand the EV network, and improve cycling, walking and public transport in Nelson.

A question about how the council should deal with the impact of sedimentation in the marine environment sparked debate and three-time Nelson City Councilor Tim Skinner said the organization needs to up its game.

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He said there was half a foot of sediment covering Delaware Bay after the recent floods.

“It worries me a lot and it’s something I think we need to get on top of as a region. It’s not just us as a municipality, it’s a partnership with those other landowners.”

Skinner cited housing, preserving native forests and addressing consumerism as his top environmental priorities heading into the election.

Environmental priorities

First councilor and one of the country’s youngest mayoral candidates, Rohan O’Neill-Stevens, said that when it came to tackling sedimentation, expanding and improving the banks of the riverbanks was the first step.

“It also means looking at the land uses we allow within our watersheds, such as unified forestry which is a major contributor to sediment in all our estuaries. These are things we can control and there are things we can do.” and we need a council and a mayor willing to do them.”

Nelson mayoral candidate Rohan O'Neal-Stevens speaks before a public meeting, with (seated from left) Matt Lawrey, Kerry Neal, Richard Osmaston, Tim Skinner and Nick Smith.

Nelson mayoral candidate Rohan O’Neill-Stevens speaks before a public meeting, with (seated from left) Matt Lawrey, Kerry Neal, Richard Osmaston, Tim Skinner and Nick Smith.
Photo: RNZ / Samantha Gee

O’Neill-Stevens said the region faced major environmental challenges, from biodiversity loss to widespread environmental degradation, or loss of water quality and a growing risk of flooding and damage from climate change and sea level rise.

“We should be proud of what we pass on to future generations and at this point I think it’s safe to say we can’t be proud of the environment that would be passed on, but that’s something we can change.”

Its environmental cues include decarbonising the region’s transportation network, creating a compact, walkable city through urban design, and stepping up and resilience planning for climate change.

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On forestry, three-time city councilor Matt Lawrey said the council had a moral obligation to do the right thing for the environment.

“The main cause of sedimentation in the Maitai River is forestry and we lose sight of that, we talk about how it is a taonga, we talk about how we are going to protect it, but the municipality remains in the game of clear forestry and it has to come out.”

Feral cats were another hot topic for Lawrey, who endorsed mandatory desexing and microchipping of cats to protect native fauna and flora, as well as a possible limit on the number of cats per household.

His top priorities were to get Nelsonians on electric buses when they were introduced next year, create a more compact city that meant people didn’t have to rely on cars, and make sure the waterfront was built to cope with the effects of climate change. .

Former Nelson city councilor Kerry Neal, reportedly the country’s oldest mayoral candidate at 84, told the audience that he was the only real environmentalist in the room because he “hadn’t polluted the side streets with placards or anything like that”.

“I was a three-term councilor in the 1970s and ’80s when councilors could do things…I left a stack of handouts there on the desk of a list of achievements that took place during that time, then very serious , councilors were hands-on.

“Today these people are disabled because local government regulations have restricted their activities.”

He said the council was still debating the Southern Link 68 years after it was first proposed, showing that things had not progressed very far.

Neal said he found that dish soap and water were effective at removing aphids from swan plants and that he was a little concerned about eels eating ducklings in the Maitai River.

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His top environmental priority was to ensure there was a plan with a clear direction to address the problems facing the city.

“If you look at the plan, it’s obviously so obscure that you can build a library at sea level, but you have to tell everyone to go to higher ground, how ridiculous is that.”

The proposed $46 million redevelopment of Nelson’s library was also a hot topic, with the majority saying they didn’t support the riverside location.

‘Money doesn’t exist’

Former pilot Richard Osmaston, who is running for mayor in six counties, said the system was broken and corrupt.

The debate was an opportunity to sell his cashless agenda, which he first promoted when he unsuccessfully ran for mayor of the region in 2013.

“I propose that we leave the monetary system completely if we want to survive. There is a so-called Resource Based Economy where everything is free and everything is voluntary, that is crucial.”

Are top environmental priorities?

“Borrow as much money as you need to do the right thing, because the money doesn’t exist, it’s pretend.

“After that it’s easy, pay for everything you need … if the people need it, start with the people at the bottom who are really desperate and the rest will sort itself out and we will soon forget all the money and it will just be a ghastly piece of history as we move from barbarity to enlightenment.”

John Wakelin was the only mayoral candidate absent from the debate.

In a message read to the crowd, John Wakelin said that if elected, he would “fire all those individuals who waste tariffs”.

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