Update - Wednesday 24 June 2020

COVID-19 Local Government Response Unit main page

Extension of the Epidemic Notice

Today Government issued the Epidemic Preparedness (COVID-19) Notice 2020 Renewal Notice 2020 (the Renewal Notice).

This Renewal Notice extends the Epidemic Preparedness (COVID-19) Notice 2020 (the Principal Notice) to 24 September 2020.

As we have noted in previous updates to you, a number of amendments relevant to local government remain in force while the Principal Notice is in force.

While these amendments continue to remain available to you over this time, with the return to normal operations under Alert Level 1 you may wish to consider what is an appropriate practice for your communities and council. For example, you may wish to provide both online and physical access to council meetings and related material.

The following provisions will remain in place until the Principal Notice expires 24 September 2020 or is revoked:

  • The amendments to enable council meetings via audio or visual link to meet quorum requirements regardless of Council Standing Orders.
  • The provisions enabling council meetings to be open to the public through online access and to post meeting agendas, reports and minutes on council websites rather than physical locations.
  • New members of Council can continue to make their statutory declaration (oath of office) via audio or audio-visual link.
  • Rates rebate applicants can complete the statutory declaration requirement via audio or visual link.
  • The Order-in-Council mechanism for making further changes to by-election timing and provisions enabling local authority chief executives to delay the commencement of by-election timeframes remain available.

Some of the temporary COVID-19 related legislative amendments have specified revocation dates that are not tied to the Epidemic Notice being in force. Those relevant to local government include:

  • Amendments to streamline the process for amending a long-term plan which amends audit requirements for long-term plan amendments, if the amendment is COVID-19 response or recovery related and is necessary in order to meet statutory deadlines – remains in force until 1 August 2020.
  • Amendments to provide more flexibility in the special consultative procedure process if urgent decisions relating to the COVID-19 response are needed – remains in force until 1 October 2020.
  • Amendments to the definition of public notice to place a “reasonably practicable” caveat on the requirements for inclusion in a newspaper –remains in force until 1 November 2020.
  • The extensions providing for bylaws that would otherwise be revoked by section 160A of the Local Government Act 2002 to continue in force until 30 June 2021 - remains in force until 1 July 2021.
  • Amendments to the Resource Management Act to allow for RMA hearings to be held by audiovisual link, video and certain documents to be made available online. These changes will have backdated effect from 25 March 2020 and remains in force until 31 October 2021.

Alert Level 1

  • The return of COVID-19 cases at the border over the last week is a reminder that COVID-19 continues to be a global issue and we need to remain vigilant and prepared to respond to any resurgence of cases.
  • While restrictions/requirements on businesses are lifted at Alert Level 1, we encourage councils to continue to promote best practice within your communities for good hand hygiene, cough etiquette and to support people to keep a diary of activities through displaying the contact tracing QR codes.

New programme to assist foreign nationals in serious hardship

  • DIA is administering the recently announced Assistance for Foreign Nationals Impacted by COVID-19 fund, which will launch on 1 July 2020.
  • The programme will provide temporary, in-kind assistance to eligible foreign nationals to help meet basic needs such as food, accommodation and advisory support. No cash payments will be offered.
  • DIA is partnering with an NGO, who will be responsible for the delivery of the Programme within communities, including providing direct assistance to foreign nationals.  The NGO provider will be announced in the coming week.
  • DIA is working closely with the Civil Defence Emergency Management (CDEM) to ensure an effective transition in the support of Foreign Nationals between CDEM and the NGO.
  • There is robust work being done behind the scenes at DIA to confirm the NGO partnership and ready an online capability for public use by 1 July.  A large amount of policy work and stakeholder engagement is also being carried out to support the launch of the programme.
  • We will provide further information on this programme and what this will mean for your communities in our next update.

Extension of the Epidemic Preparedness (COVID-19) Notice 2020

  • Yesterday we sent a stand-alone bulletin noting the Government has issued the Epidemic Preparedness (COVID-19) Notice 2020 Renewal Notice 2020 (the Renewal Notice).
  • This Renewal Notice extends the Epidemic Preparedness (COVID-19) Notice 2020  (the Principal Notice) to 24 September 2020.
  • As we have noted in previous updates to you, a number of temporary amendments relevant to local government remain in force while the Principal Notice is in force.
  • While these amendments continue to remain available to you over this time, with the return to normal operations under Alert Level 1 you may wish to consider what is appropriate practice for your communities and council. For example, you may wish to provide both online and physical access to council meetings and related material.

Extension for annual reporting deadlines for local government – joint statement with the Office of the Auditor-General

  • With the unprecedented challenges that COVID-19 has created, we are aware that meeting statutory annual reporting deadlines, while maintaining core services, may be a challenge for local government.
  • The Government is proposing legislation to extend the statutory reporting time frames for a range of public sector organisations by up to two months. The proposed changes depend on the legislation passing before the House rises.
  • We are working with other agencies to provide a coordinated and consistent approach to time frames for annual reporting across the public sector.
  • For local government, this likely means an extension towards the end of the year. This proposal is designed to benefit councils and auditors alike by relieving pressure on the system.
  • If deemed necessary to your organisation, an extension would not be a new “target” to hit. If you can meet the reporting deadline for annual reports within the original timeframe, please do so.
  • If there are delays in passing the Bill, there are other mechanisms that could be used to provide a similar extension if necessary, such as an Order in Council under section 261 of the Local Government Act 2002.
  • To maintain trust and confidence, auditors need to prioritise the audits of information significant to the financial statements of the Government and organisations participating in debt and equity markets.
  • Please note that the need to prioritise could mean that although you might be ready for the auditor, the auditor might not yet be available. In the meantime, please keep the lines of communication with your auditor open. 
  • We are aware that receiving clarification of the final reporting date is important as you prepare both your annual report and 2021 long-term plans. We will keep you informed of any changes to the Omnibus Bill process, including extension dates when the Bill is drafted, through these regular updates.
  • If you have any questions regarding the proposed changes, please send them to the Response Unit inbox: LGCGcovid19response@dia.govt.nz

Recovery Reference Group Update

  • At the 19 June Recovery Reference Group meeting Wellington City Council (WCC) Chief Executive Barbara McKerrow and her team gave a presentation on WCC’s COVID-19 response and plan for recovery (PDF, 2.4KB) and the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development (MHUD) attended to discuss their mahi in COVID-19 Recovery.
  • A short overview from the Reference Group meeting are provided below for your information.
  • One particular point of discussion was how local government as a sector can better highlight our successes, noting across all councils the monumental amount of good mahi behind response and recovery planning.
  • This update provides a mechanism to share stories of success and lessons within local government. However, moving forwards the Reference Group will also be considering mechanisms to share successes more widely as appropriate.
  • If you have questions for MHUD with regard to their COVID-19 Recovery mahi discussed below, you can send these via us at LGCGcovid19response@dia.govt.nz

Presentation from Wellington City Council

  • WCC presented their experiences during the COVID-19 response and their approach to recovery and revitalising Wellington after COVID (attached).
  • As with the Queenstown presentation, this is a preliminary account of the Wellington story provided to you so that we can learn from those aspects that are both unique to WCC and similar to your council’s experience.

Management adaptations to support response

  • Acknowledging this was likely the same for all councils, WCC characterised the initial response phase was ‘demanding’ as WCC worked to understand the impact of COVID-19 and how best to support the communities.
  • The Reference Groups noted the particular challenges of standing up CDEM Groups that were designed to respond to a different type of emergency, and noted the lessons from COVID-19 may have for these in future, particularly on the ways of working virtually. 
  • WCC identified that such an unprecedented situation could not be managed using a BAU approach and pivoted to a crisis management approach within the council, with a programme of coordinated change in partnership with iwi, business, agencies, and CCOs.
  • Barbara also reflected on her experience of meeting the rapid demands on council CEs to produce leading edge and competitive COVID response and recovery plans, noting that CEs cannot do this alone and acknowledging the partnership and support of other council CEs, SOLGM and LGNZ in helping navigate this.
  • Mayor Foster has also established a City Recovery Panel to support him in his role.

Regional collaboration

  • WCC noted a large part of their initial response and recovery involved strong regional collaboration across the wider Wellington region, and upcoming recovery plans, such as those addressing tourism will also require regional collaboration. 
  • Discussion with the Reference Group raised how this can introduce challenges of losing individual council needs within regional plans. WCC noted that regional relationships work best with clear objectives to help identify/acknowledge the unique needs of specific councils while supporting collaboration on collective objectives.

Knowledge and insights to support planning

  • WCC experienced an early impact of COVID-19, with tourism slowing dramatically even prior to the national lockdown. As the draft Annual Plan had not yet been consulted on prior to lockdown, WCC undertook a process to revise the Annual Plan to reflect this revenue loss.
  • WCC reflected on the challenges of undertaking this process during lockdown in the context of also putting in place measures to transition staff to safely work from home, standing up and resourcing CDEM Groups, and facing mounting pressure to strike a 0% rates increase.
  • WCC also produced a draft pandemic response and recovery plan that was published on their website. This plan is intended to be agile and adjust over time but gives visibility to businesses and communities on how WCC intends to reduce the initial burden of COVID-19 and recover quickly.
  • The attached presentation also includes preliminary results of a survey conducted to help understand how people are experiencing COVID and how WCC can best support communities in light of these insights. WCC intends to conduct a follow up survey in 4-6 weeks time to form a picture of the evolving phases of COVID recovery. 
  • WCC intends to utilise the upcoming LTP process to produce a clear understanding of the economic recovery for the city with a collective vision for revitalisation.

Recovery fund

  • WCC created an $8m Recovery Fund to activate the city post-COVID through supporting community events and creative initiatives. This fund has created an aligned funding source for the community with clear and consistent council-approved criteria for access.
  • This fund was created, utilising a number of pre-existing council administered funds that had similar, but now less relevant objectives and purposes (in a post-COVID context).
  • Discussions at the Reference Group reflected on how this was comparatively a large fund, compared with what other councils may have available. WCC noted this reflects WCC’s size, pre-COVID levels of funding to the creative/events community in Wellington as an important investment in the city, and that this investment is seen as a key element of their recovery plan to regain and maintain confidence and excitement/activity back into the city. 
  • The first funding applications have been received and are likely to be released shortly. This will complement work undertaken by WCC and Wellington NZ (CCO) to maintain a busy calendar of events through the remainder of 2020.

Capturing successes

  • Leading into COVID-19, Wellington had a strong business and creative sector, history of CDEM emergency planning and responses, and strong mana whenua relationships. COVID-19 has provided opportunities to re-engage these relationships and to re-ignite the sense of partnership as we move through response and recovery into revitalisation.
  • Alongside those initiatives discussed above, some successes of note include:
    • accommodation support to house the homeless community and wider support of food banks etc.;
    • partnership with Paperkite and their Rippl app, working to ensure businesses are supported in utilising council funded licenses for this app, and working in conjunction with the Government Contact tracing app;
    • free access to the zoo and Zealandia to encourage people back out and to promote confidence post lockdown; and
    • working with WellingtonNZ to launch the We Wellington and Wellington Unlocked campaigns to support a message of confidence in returning to activities in the CBD and encouraging people to buy local.

Discussion with MHUD

  • Prior to COVID-19 MHUD and Kāinga Ora (KO) were already working to address some large-scale issues with ambitious Government objectives to increase public housing and address housing affordability and homelessness.
  • COVID-19 has the potential to amplify some of these existing issues, while also introducing new challenges, such as possible large decreases in the number of residential construction projects being consented and banks growing more conservative with potential buyers and developers.
  • MHUD and KO are working to cushion this impact, working closely with the Construction Sector Accord, but challenges of this size will take large scale solutions.

Initial COVID-19 Response

  • Heading into the initial COVID-19 response, MHUD and (KO) had a focus on keeping people in safe, consistent accommodation over the lockdown period through legislative amendments to stop rent increases and supporting local efforts to house homeless communities.
  • MHUD acknowledged the crucial role local authorities, and organisations such as city missions, played in these initiatives to house the homeless. Particularly referencing the WCC efforts, MHUD expressed how local knowledge, relationships and support mechanisms for those homeless members of the community has been key to the success of these programmes.
  • In this space COVID-19 has provided an opportunity to start homeless individuals on a pathway to longer term housing. While we are starting to see a return of some individuals to the streets at the lower Alert Levels in very limited numbers, this has not returned to pre-COVID numbers. MHUD will continue to work with these individuals as we move from the use of motels as emergency accommodation, into transitional housing and into more longer term public housing.

MHUD and COVID-19 Recovery

  • Initial modelling, drawing on lessons from the global financial crisis, predict that without government intervention, there is potential for a larger reduction in the residential construction sector resulting from COVID-19 and a much slower recovery.
  • While MHUD’s recovery work programme is still being refined, their focus will be to cushion this effect through increased delivery of public and affordable housing. This will include the delivery of 8000 new public houses and $40m investment in partnership with iwi on provision of papakāinga recently announced. 
  • MHUD’s recovery work to date has been able to leverage the existing knowledge base that was built over the last year of engagement with councils and industry bodies across the urban development areas. This has enabled MHUD to provide advice on the RMA Fast Tracking Bill and the CIP shovel-ready projects to support consideration of those projects that may collectively unlock land for development.
  • While the above initiatives will be a start towards cushioning the potential impacts of COVID-19, MHUD continue to provide advice to decision makers on other mechanisms to support development.
  • To support this, MHUD encourage councils to continue to provide data and insights you are seeing on the real trends in the residential consenting environment to help MHUD continue to understand the impact of COVID-19.
  • During this discussion, Council representatives on the Reference Group raised the importance of MHUD interventions and developments to take into account the individual and unique nature of the receiving environment and the impact on communities. Council infrastructure and investment is often required to ensure local community specific needs are met during and after development.