Channel Magazine publisher Aidan Bennett has put his hand up in recent weeks for election to the Devonport-Takapuna Local Board. The Takapuna resident says his focus if elected will be preparing our little slice of paradise for the future. He has teamed up with two prominent local identities, Danny Watson (of Belmont/Bayswater) and Toni van Tonder (of Devonport), to offer a fresh approach for the local board that has struggled for many years to overcome its differences. During the campaign he sat down with Danny and Toni to provide this interview for Channel Magazine. To cover why they are standing and just what the ‘fresh approach’ will be.
AIDAN BENNETT: Toni, the idea for the ‘a fresh approach’ was unanimously agreed on very early in our plans to run for the local board. What does this mean from your perspective?
TONI VAN TONDER: Working as the Business Improvement District Manager in Devonport has given me a close insight to how our Local Board operates and behaves. Very early on it was clear to me that we’ve got people in the role who have been there too long, who favour ego over outcomes and who aren’t willing to genuinely engage or move their stake. This is something all three of us observed and so our motivation to stand was to offer ‘a fresh approach’, one that was about working collaboratively with each other and with community, and about showing respect instead of being combative. Our city is experiencing growing pains, that’s to be expected. Rather than fight our future, we want to pave the way for an excellent future. That’s our fresh approach.
AB: Danny, you didn’t take much convincing to join our team. Why did you want to put yourself forward to serve your community on the local board?
DANNY WATSON: Many that live in our community will get involved with coaching (as I have), running groups or just volunteering to help out in many and varied ways.
Politics seems to be a different issue, to a certain level you lose your anonymity.
I have lived most of my life in close view of the public, so am used to that and am not afraid to stand up and be counted.
The Council write the cheques to spend our rates, let’s make sure we get our share when it comes to development in our area.
AB: Toni, I have come to know you via a few things in recent years. The Devonport Arts Festival; the Kaipatiki Project Environment Centre and more recently as the Manager of the Devonport Business Association (BID). So you have a real diverse background in the arts, environment and business. How will this help you if elected to the local board?
TVT: Yes, I think our relationship spans nearly a decade! I’m definitely privileged as my work and community involvement offers me a unique advantage when stepping into the Local Board role. To my mind, when you combine business, arts and the environment, you’ve pretty much got the formula for a great life. I want to see vibrant and thriving town centres where locals shop locally and job creation is made. I believe being immersed in creative and thoughtful art (be it in events and activations or in our built environment) can inspire and uplift us, and most importantly if we protect the earth and position every person as kaitiakitanga (guardians) of our natural environment, then we all live better, healthier and more connected lives.
AB: What do you guys see as being the main issues facing our little slice of paradise that a local board that you are elected to can have an influence on?
DW: A growing population. We cannot avoid it nor the challenges it brings. We need more housing, enhanced facilities and some good old fashioned forward planning. Not for the next five years but for the next 50 years, and we need to get it right.
TVT: For me it’s about supporting businesses and families to move further on their journey towards greater sustainability. This is a bit of a catch-all statement, as it encompasses all sorts of things; ensuring our city’s growth is done so in a sustainable way (building up, not out), seeing that our stormwater overflows are resolved and our waters/beaches are clean and safe to swim in, learning more about the commercial contaminants being washed into our Wairau Estuary and supporting businesses to manage this in a way that doesn’t scare them, pushing for more frequent (and zero carbon) public transport options that make the departure from car-use a no-brainer, improving walkways and cycleways, making sure they deliver children safely to school gates and adults to places of work, helping our town centres and the Business Improvement Districts to deliver place making, events and activations, bringing in footfall and encouraging job creation, making sure our reserves and pocket parks are cared for and that skate parks, playgrounds and facilities are appropriate for young and old. It also means helping our Community Recycling Centre to divert waste, and it means funding our Community Gardens and any other locally-driven initiative that provides opportunity for people to get outside, connect with each other and protect and love our greenspaces.
AB: You guys are both te reo speakers which I have been impressed with. What led you to learn te reo and how do you use this in every day life?
TVT: I have to tell you, I’m not a te reo speaker, I’m an aspiring speaker. I’ve studied te reo for four years on and off (between each of my children) and can now get by with simple sentences and obviously understand the tikanga. For me it has always been about celebrating what makes New Zealand unique. I don’t want my children to enter the big wide world with no understanding of Māori language or culture because I know it will make them feel proud and connected to the wairua/spirit of Aotearoa.
DW: My whanau put me up to learning te reo and it adds value when we are looking at our landscape. All of the points of interest within our backyard of the North Shore have colourful histories and much of that is locked up in te reo. Time to share some of those gems.
AB: Toni, during this campaign planning we have talked a lot about future focused decision making. Why is this important for our local board?
TVT: Like the rest of the city, our area is experiencing growing pains and to date these haven’t been managed well. I view these rapid changes as an opportunity to drive better outcomes for everyone. With our large population growth we need more housing, and our infrastructure must catch up. This provides an exciting opportunity to strengthen the relationship between our built and natural environments. We can shape our urban landscapes to better reflect our diversity and push sustainable outcomes. as well as providing people the chance to engage and participate in volunteer opportunities, activations and events. We shouldn’t be scared of Auckland’s future, we should be energised by it. We know so much more now about what a quality life looks like – this growth and change provides us a chance to get it right. That’s why we’re talking a lot about a ‘future focus.’
AB: Danny, you have spoken a great deal about the need to communicate when we have been formulating our campaign. That this will play a big part in restoring confidence in the local board. For a long time you have been in that business as a broadcaster and with other things you are involved in. What will good communication look like on a local board with Danny Watson involved?
DW: Sometimes there is a stalemate in conversations between the council and community boards, just saying NO, or slamming the door shut doesn't work. We need to find ways of dealing with the problems and if we want to get progress and change we need to keep those lines of communication open; At both a Council level and with our community.
AB: I drive electric cars, an electric bike and also get around on an electric scooter. I am excited about SkyPath. I know you both share my thinking that solving our transport problems needs a multi-faceted approach with an eye firmly on a different future in terms of transport. Roads are important, but so is public transport and the many other ways of getting around in the future. What is the fresh approach we should take to solving our transport issues?
TVT: We need to work constructively with Auckland Transport to get people moving from A to B. It’s too often that we hear the ‘it’s not good enough – we have to hold them to account – we demand x, y, z political rhetoric. Has anyone tried simply being at the table, taking a wider view, and considering closely the demands of our future? There are so many layers to transport – yes we need another crossing (ideally including electric rail) over the harbour, yes we need to look at how our current roads can be improved to minimise congestion, yes we need more regular and frequent buses to our areas, yes cycle paths and walk paths need to be wide, and safe and well connected – can we please stop moaning about it and just get on and do it? As an aside, I can’t wait for the Sky and Seapath; it’ll probably take me no more than 15 minutes to blat into the CBD on my electric bike and with views to die for. It can’t come soon enough. People’s behaviour is changing, our future is not single-occupancy motor-vehicles, as much as some want to hold on to that.
DW: The Waterview tunnel was laughed at in the planning stage, now it is a huge success. Start digging the long tunnel from Ellerslie to Albany and the second one from near Waterview or Epsom across to the Shore. It spreads the load and in the event of major accidents or a natural disaster we have options for getting in and out of our city. Bite the bullet and start now.
AB: In one sentence tell our Channel Magazine readers why they should put a tick beside Aidan, Danny and Toni when voting opens on September 20th…
DW: We are an interesting cross section of your community, living and working within it. Give us permission to bring a fresh approach for us all.
TVT: If you want future-focused and quality people, who understand this role, to represent you on the Local Board then giving us three ticks should feel like the most natural thing to do. I can pack a lot into a sentence!
Want to ask a question, email Aidan, Danny and Toni at: afreshapproachDTLB@gmail.com