Fairhall Cemetery is one of several which will see the cost of burial plots double over the next five years. Photo: Chloe Ranford/LDR.

Burial law revamp could prove costly

Paula Hulburt and Chloe Ranford

 

A revamp to burial laws could see council bosses forced to hike up fees if forced to take on extra responsibilities.

Marlborough Council could be let counting the cost of any changes to the 56-year-old Burial and Cremation Act, costs which would be passed to the public.

But council are pushing back against extra responsibilities which could see costs climb again.

The move comes just 15-months after a price increase which came into effect on July 1 this year.

Council manages eight cemeteries across Marlborough at Ward (Flaxbourne), Seddon (Awatere), Omaka, Fairhall, Tua Marina, Picton, Havelock and Rai Valley.

Burial fees range from $2145 for a natural burial at Fairhall Cemetery to $981 for an adult burial interment and $193 for ashes to be interred

A Law Commission report says the Burial and Cremation Act is outdated and recommended a raft of changes.

It put forward 127 recommendations to modernise the law that governs death, burial, cremation and funerals in New Zealand.

Changes could see council take on the responsibility for maintaining headstones and monuments which could also raise legal questions about who owned what.

This would come at a “significant cost” to the council, with the “only option” being to increase cemetery fees or rates.

“The council already deals with a number of family conflict issues with cemetery plots and while on the one hand it can be said, ‘we are used to it,’ the reality is that every case is distressing where this occurs,” its submission says.

The council also opposed a suggestion that councils should be the ones to decide whether a family could dig up a body or ashes from a burial place for the same reasons.

It also did not want to become tangled in family disputes.

This was also the case for a new rule which, if approved, could see the council expand its eight cemeteries to include separate burial sections for military personnel or groups of people with common requirements, it said.

Submissions on the act close on 31 October at 5pm.

Dogs may become a common sight in Blenheim’s town centre. Brodie, Maisie and Hadley MacDonald with Kip. Photo: Matt Brown.

Barking up the right street

Dogs could be allowed in Blenheim’s town centre after council loosens the leash on a blanket ban.

At a meeting of council’s Environment Committee this morning, a review of the region’s Dog Control Policy and Bylaw was approved.

Now the public will get the chance to have their say.

Council have approved the appointment of a subcommittee to hear opinions on the review, headed up by councillor Jamie Arbuckle.

It’s important to recognise the role that digs play in peoples’ lives, Jamie says.

“We want to ensure that our bylaw is up to date and fit for purpose.

“The council recognises the positive role that dogs play in the lives of their owners and the community, but we need input from dog owners and the general public.”

Councillors Barbara Faulls, Thelma Sowman and Nadine Taylor will also sit on the review committee.

If it gets the final go-ahead, the bylaw will allow leashed, under control dogs into the CBD.

Councillors are also recommending that the restricted area around playground areas increases from 3 to 10 metres.

But Blenheim’s Pollard Park and Ward Beach will remain off limit to pet pooches.

The public consultation period will begin on Friday 18 September and will run for six weeks, before closing at 5.00 pm on Monday 9 November.

Hearings are scheduled to take place in early December where members of the public will have the opportunity to speak to their submission.

The Sub-Committee will then review all submissions and make their final assessment before presenting the proposed policy and bylaw amendments to the Environment Committee. Once adopted by the Environment Committee, the policy and bylaw will be presented to the full Council for final adoption early next year.

All dog owners will receive a letter advising them of the policy and bylaw review and how to make a submission should they wish to.

Council is required to review the policy and bylaw every 10 years. The last review was completed in 2012.

Today’s decision is subject to ratification by the full Council on Thursday 17 September.

Mechanical compliance coordinator Duncan Jarvie oversees the heating systems at both Wairau and Nelson Hospitals. Photo: File.

Smart heating solution to smelly problem

Wairau Hospital water heaters could use gas generated from landfill to help cut carbon emissions.

Marlborough District Council are looking at ways to help slash greenhouse gases from Bluegums landfill on Taylor Pass Road.

While methane is currently burnt off, it could help power the hospital boilers instead.

An independent study showed using the gas would help the hospital reduce its carbon emissions.

Council solid waste manager Alec McNeil says council and Nelson Marlborough District Health Board and were currently discussing its findings.

The move comes as the DHB look at replacing Wairau Hospital’s aging boilers.

“They [the Wairau Hospital] are at a crucial capital replacement junction.

“They know the current system has maybe 18 to 24 months of life left. But once they make a replacement, that’s them locked in for 10, 20 years,” Alec says.

The hospital averaged about 1000 tonnes of coal burnt a year over the last eight years.

Connecting the landfill and hospital sites would see council lay 4.1 kilometres of pipes, costing between $1m and $1.5m.

Once down, the system would cost $20,000 a year to manage.

The council would charge the hospital for the gas to help cover the cost of supplying it.

A charge rate had not yet been sized up, but the council was not looking for a “profit centre”.

Nelson Marlborough Health finance performance and facilities general manager Eric Sinclair says the board was considering a range of options to replace Wairau Hospital’s coal-fired boilers, including the council’s landfill gas option.

Landfill gas was already used to power a boiler at Nelson Hospital, which turned it into building heating and hot water.

“The collection and destruction of the landfill gas reduces the amount of more harmful gases from being released from the landfill into the atmosphere and the smell normally associated with landfill,” says Eric.

The landfill generated about 1.4 million cubic metres of methane a year and can provide enough gas for up to another 30 years, even if it closed tomorrow.

Bluegums Landfill is expected to take rubbish until 2054.

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Council parks and open spaces manager Jane Tito says the council wanted to provide a “safer option” in Ward. Photo: Chloe Ranford/LDR.

Freedom camper money making plans amuse

Rural township residents are laughing off suggestions a new freedom camping site will bring in money.

About 30 Ward residents burst into laughter at a meeting last week after a Marlborough District Council staffer suggested freedom campers’ cash would benefit the town.

Ward is one of three new sites proposed under the council’s draft freedom camping bylaw.

But despite overwhelming opposition for the site, Ward farmer John Hickman took a one-man stand at the meeting.

John had earlier emailed members of local community group, the Flaxbourne Settlers Association, calling for residents not to “throw up barriers.”

“I just want everyone to keep an open mind,” he says.

But local mechanic Mike Hole says he objected to his taxes funding other people’s holidays.

The proposed campsite was located by a creek damage during the 2016 quake and which flooded in extreme weather, he says.

Council released its draft bylaw earlier this month, which included a Marlborough-wide ban on freedom campers that were not self-contained.

The bylaw would restrict freedom camping in Blenheim, Renwick and Picton to designated sites.

But in Ward, campers would still be allowed to park up anywhere. Rai Valley was the same.

Council parks and open spaces manager Jane Tito says the council wanted to provide a “safer option” in Ward, instead of having campers parked along the state highway.

Council staffers advised they were not documenting people’s opinions and asked the meeting’s attendees to submit on the proposed bylaw before the deadline of September 7, at 5pm.

It was recommended residents outline where they felt freedom camping should be banned in Ward, while Kaikōura MP, National’s Stuart Smith, suggested the community put forward an alternative site.

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Marlborough District Council solid waste manager Alec McNeil hopes PONG will offer insight into the region’s bad smells. Photo: File.

Council turn to technology to keep bad smells at bay

Bad smells are set to be logged via a new online odour reporting system in a bid to keep them at bay.

Known as Prevailing Odour Not Good (PONG), the system will record and severity of the stench.

Council staff hope the move will offer some insight into where and why unpleasant smells happen.

Solid waste manager Alec McNeil updated colleagues about the move at a meeting in July.

In his report, he explained that he wanted to see the formal reported process strengthened.

“Currently odours are notified to council either direct to the department responsible for the site in question.

“While each odour complaint and follow up action is recorded, there is not a readily accessible culminative picture of odour reporting across the region.

“This will provide a data base recording of odours as experienced by the community.”

The new PONG system will provide staff with a searchable dashboard of offensive smells.

In terms of costs it has only been internal staff time as the systems and technology are already in place.

On-going issues should highlight a persistent problem almost straightaway, says Alec.

“Persistent, objectionable odours … should show a spike of complaints within a particular locale.

“Operationally, the source of the odour would be identified and a mitigation approach taken to reduce the potential for further impact.”

Especially terrible smells getting a lot of complaints would trigger emails to staff so action could be taken.

The council run Bluegums landfill site has come under fire in the past from nearby residents.

As the only mixed waste site in the region, getting up to 65,000 tonnes of waste each year, smells can waft over the southern end of Blenheim.

Council adopted several issues to help including covering the working area at the end of the day and operating an odour suppressant system – using a high-pressured irrigation style spray system.

The public can help keep bad smells at bay by reporting any they come across.

Council hope to put the system live after full council approval in early September.

“Raising community awareness of the availability of the PONG function will be crucial to achieving engagement,” says Alec.

Marlborough District Council is looking at banning non-self-contained vehicles from its freedom camping sites. Photo: Chloe Ranford/LDR

Freedom camping challenge could face legal threat

Marlborough council may face legal challenges in their bid to ban freedom campers in vehicles that are not self-contained.

Council staff want to ban vehicles without toilets from its freedom camping sites under a draft bylaw, released last week.

The bylaw was sparked by ongoing concerns that freedom campers were using Marlborough’s green patches as a toilet.

But at a public meeting in Renwick last week, council’s parks and open spaces planner Linda Craighead said the ban was not straightforward.

The council anticipated legal challengers she says.

“As with a lot of legal matters, there are some lawyers who feel we can ban non-self-contained units, and some lawyers who think we can’t.

“We’re going to have a go and see how we do,” she says.

Speaking after the meeting, Linda said the Freedom Camping Act, which guided the bylaw review, said councils “must not absolutely prohibit freedom camping” in their regions.

“Some believe that if you make freedom camping self-contained only, you’re prohibiting freedom camping for a number of people in the community, which goes against the act,” she says.

“Others argue that you’re still making provision for freedom camping, just that it’s restricted to self-contained. We already do other restrictions like limiting the number of vehicles at a site.”

To receive a self-containment certification, vehicles must have a toilet, portable or fixed, which must be able to be used inside a campervan with “sufficient head and elbow room”.

Under the bylaw, non-self-contained campers could be fined up to $200 by the council’s freedom camping enforcement officers.

This was in line with neighbouring Nelson City Council’s bylaw.

The council was aware of some individuals or organisations who might challenge their draft bylaw, but Linda says challengers had to submit on the bylaw then take their case to the High Court.

One attendee says he was concerned campers would not use their toilets, even if their vehicle was certified as self-contained.

“I hear stories of these people hiring campervan rentals.

“There are companies that put a seal over the toilets in the van. These cheeky companies are saying; ‘If you don’t break the seal to use that toilet, we will give you that bond back’. It’s wrong,” he says.

The bylaw says it is an offence to improperly dispose of waste.

Linda says infringement notices were “challenging” as the act prevented the council from fining more than $200. If the camper challenged the fine, it was not worth the costs of going to court.

A freedom camping report written by an independent expert earlier this year says the council’s approach of ‘educating first’, rather than fining, has led to a lower infringement tally than other regions. Last summer, the council issued seven fines, while Nelson issued 245 and Queenstown issued just under 2500.

An audience member asked how the council would manage homeless people who did not have toilets in their vehicles.

Linda says officers would contact relevant services.

The bylaw proposed no changes to the Renwick Domain camp site, which allowed up to 10 campers between 6pm and 9am.

Submissions on the bylaw would close on September 7 at 5pm.

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Marlborough District Council is proposing a controversial freedom camping site in Koromiko close under a new bylaw. Photo: Supplied/Marlborough Express.

Carry on Freedom camping?

Council bosses are looking for feedback on freedom camping as they look to review their freedom camping bylaw.

A month-long consultation process is underway, and the public are encouraged to have their say.

Parks and open spaces manager Jane Tito says now is the time for the community to be heard.

“We know freedom camping is a challenging issue in Marlborough and New Zealand.

“Following last year’s Annual Plan process, and in consideration of the submissions and presentations received from the community in recent years, council agreed that a review of the Freedom Camping bylaw was required.

“The new bylaw aims to provide a long-term, sustainable approach to the management of freedom camping in Marlborough, aligned with our neighbouring regions of Nelson, Tasman and Kaikōura,” she says.

The Freedom Camping Control Bylaw 2020 is available to read online on the council’s website.

The bylaw suggests closing the controversial Koromiko Recreation Reserve site to conserve the environment, but instead allow up to 10 freedom campers to park off Picton’s High St and Memorial Park between 6pm and 9am.

People need to ensure they make submissions or highlight other issues, Jane says.

“Once the submission period closes on Monday 7 September all submissions will be summarised in preparation for the hearings.

“The Freedom Camping Sub-Committee, chaired by Councillor David Oddie, will then hear submissions over a three-day period during the week of 14 September,” she says.

“Following the hearings, any amendments to the draft Marlborough District Council Freedom Camping Control Bylaw 2020 will be presented for adoption at the Assets and Services Committee meeting on Thursday 1 October.

“The Bylaw will then be ratified at the next scheduled Council meeting and adopted by Council prior to the 2020/2021 summer season.”

Visit Marlborough.govt.nz for further information.

Some of Blenheim’s old parking meters have been sold to Ashburton Council. Photo: File.

Marlborough earns extra coin selling ‘lollipop’ parking meters to Ashburton

A handful of Blenheim’s bruised and battered old lollipop meters are set for a swansong further south after being saved from the scrap heap.

The Marlborough District Council has managed to sell 21 of its coin-operated Duncan ‘lollipop’ meters to Ashburton, recycling the remaining 299 for free at a metal yard.

Ashburton District Council paid $3150 for the old meters, to replace damaged stock or use for parts.

Pay-by-plate meters have been gradually rolled out in Blenheim and Picton since June 2019, after old age and vandalism pushed Blenheim’s lollipop meters to breaking point.

Picton did not have lollipop meters, but its pay-and-display meters were upgraded to pay-by-plate. The final lollipop meter was removed from Blenheim’s streets in June.

Figures obtained under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act (LGOIMA) showed the new pay-by-plate meters were bringing in about an extra $300 a month before coronavirus hit.

Parking revenue was about $83,700 a month in Marlborough when lollipops reigned supreme, and about $84,000 after. This included figures from Blenheim and Picton’s parking meters and for the council’s car park building on Alfred St.

The council was unable to differentiate between parking meter revenue collected by Eftpos in Blenheim and Picton.

On top of the meters, the new PayMyPark phone app, also introduced last June, earned the council $415 in its first month. This jumped to about $4100 the following month, with revenue increasing steadily to $9700 by February, the last full month of data before lockdown.

The app, used by several councils across the country, went offline in March after a ransomware attack but later returned.

Councillor Brian Dawson, who held the parking and central business district portfolios, said feedback on the pay-by-plate and PayMyPark phone app had generally been positive.

“Some people had said they liked being able to just drop a coin into the old machines and go, rather than having to enter in their licence plate. Others have said to me that they really like using the app and it has made parking so much easier.”

The council waived parking fees in town centres during the coronavirus lockdown. It later agreed in May to roll out free parking in Blenheim and Picton to boost local businesses, which was extended in June until September 30.

The switch from lollipop to pay-by-plate was estimated to cost $543,600, well over the $330,000 budget set aside. This included $385,000 to install 42 new pay-by-plate meters, or $9200 each.

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A commuter is hoping more people will take up riding the bus. Photo: Matt Brown.

Bus service trial sours as passengers not on board

Council is sinking tens of thousands of dollars into a commuter bus service that is barely being used.

Two trial bus circuits designed to take commuters to work were launched near the end of February.

But the service is falling flat with an average journey costing around $70 per passenger.

One worried commuter says she’s always travelling solo and hopes more people will jump on board.

Retail assistant Cheryl Abrahams, from Blenheim, says she wanted to reduce her carbon footprint but fears she is making it worse.

“I’m wanting to make my carbon footprint smaller but, am I, as the only one on the bus?”

The bus services, two commuter lines and a bus from Renwick, are part of an 18-month trial service.

Cheryl Abrahams wants to reduce her carbon footprint but is often the only passenger on the bus. Photo: Supplied.
Cheryl Abrahams wants to reduce her carbon footprint but is often the only passenger on the bus. Photo: Supplied.

The east and west commuter lines each do two circuits in the morning and two in the evening – eight circuits each day.

Figures from council, show passengers have taken 248 trips on the commuter bus and 342 rides on the Renwick line since the beginning of the trial to 30 June.

“All of council’s bus services were heavily impacted by the COVID pandemic,” a council spokesman says.

The commuter component of the Renwick service and both the Blenheim services were stopped from 26 March to 1 June – with full services reinstated on 2 June 2020.

Over the 30-or-so days the trial has been taking passengers, and spread out over the eight loops each day, that works out to about one passenger per trip.

The $135,442 programme, now nearly a third of the way through, is costing roughly $70 per passenger.

Cheryl, who lives in Witherlea, says it’s a no-brainer to take the bus, and thinks if more people knew about it, they would use it.

But she says bus stops don’t have the timetable for the early commuter bus posted and she’s never seen any advertising for it.

“Council has done a poor job of advertising,” she says.

“Reducing traffic by even just 5 per cent would make a huge difference. To your wallet and traffic.”

She says she was the only one to catch the east bus line into town last week and says the bus driver told her she was only the third person he had picked up since February.

Cheryl usually bikes to work, but when the weather is poor takes her car.

“Where I work there’s no all-day parking,” she says.

“To get parking, I have to walk the same distance as to the bus stop.”

It costs about $4 a day to park in a long-term carpark in town – the same amount as a return bus fare.

“I’m thrilled that it does exist,” says Cheryl.

Deputy mayor Nadine Taylor, left, will lead the new council team. Photo: Matt Brown.

New council team to tackle Covid-19

A new council super group has been formed to help Marlborough get back on its feet after lockdown ends.

Led by Deputy Mayor Nadine Taylor, The Economic Action Marlborough (TEAM) group will draft an economic recovery plan over the next month.

In a bid to help the region recover from the impacts of the Covid-19 crisis, council bosses are first looking at how big the economic impact is.

A four-stage plan is helping staff decide the best way forward.

“Council is designated as the regional lead during emergencies and COVID-19 is the biggest challenge Marlborough has faced in our lifetimes,” Nadine says.

“We’ve already announced council itself will spend over $60 million of capital expenditure in 2020-21 and similar spending over each of the next three years.”

The TEAM group looked at four phases for recovery. From the current ‘Respond’ phase dealing with the immediate lockdown issues to moving to a ‘Resilience’ phase. This will see the focus shift to maintaining cashflow and jobs.

The ‘Return’ phase will see a bid to expand services again and a final ‘Reimagination’ phase where a new normal was developed.

Nadine says council’s role is extended to support a wider recovery, working with key sectors and agencies to mitigate COVID-19’s effect on Marlborough businesses.

“Staff worked over the Easter break to bring together the TEAM group and provide the background papers.

“We’ve got a very strong group now underway on helping steer our region through the economic impacts the virus is creating.”

“We are taking particular note as we start our work on the impact of COVID-19 on our tourism and hospitality sectors,” she says.

Ongoing information on how local businesses are faring will continue to be provided by the Marlborough Chamber of Commerce and Business Trust Marlborough.

Councillor Mark Peters told the group he was bringing together a meeting of some Marlborough accountants and lawyers prepared to provide advice and insight on business responses to COVID-19 across the region.

“The information from all these sources which now includes that welcome input from accountants and lawyers will help build a quality picture very quickly of what we are dealing with and allow us to accurately target our recovery efforts,” Nadine says.

Yesterday’s first TEAM group meeting included an update from Ministry of Social Development regional commissioner Craig Churchill who says further Government support programmes would likely focus on projects that are ready to go and creating jobs while navigating through the likely impacts of COVID-19.

This could include projects that expanded social housing.

Nadine says while the TEAM group represents a good cross section, it cannot include all sectors and will be supported in its work by an Industry Advisory COVID-19 group, to be chaired by councillor Gerald Hope.

Representatives from the wine, aquaculture, forestry, tourism and farming sectors, as well as a mandated iwi representative, Port Marlborough, Marlborough Chamber of Commerce and Ministry of Social Development have joined council in the group.

Mayor John Leggett, who sat in on yesterday’s first TEAM group meeting, says it is encouraging to see such a good group has been pulled together to face the major challenges ahead.

“We’ve all got to get behind this initiative to keep Marlborough moving,” he says.