Sunday, 29 May 2016

We are wrecking our rivers

I've been a trout fisherman scouring the nations waterways since childhood. Over the decades I have seen the deterioration of our rivers, streams, and lakes. There are increasing numbers of cattle in our streams and I now increasingly have to to pick my way across grossly polluted stream edges-- bogs full of urine & faeces. The water itself is often green with weeds, and algal mats darken the stream beds. Some rivers, particularly in the South Island have been abstracted to a trickle in summer. Some water is undrinkable.
All this has coincided with the intensification of farming, and latterly to conversions of dry country to irrigated dairying .
As a kid, like all NZers of that time, I used to swim in any river, stream or lake. Now increasingly, we are told of the high proportion of these waterways are unsafe, and there are health risks. The current aims for water quality are to be safe for paddling & boating only.
We have to change this --for our health, for our recreation and for our economy. Our clean green image is suffering. Our economy must suffer too as we depend so much on agriculture and tourism--both very sensitive to the cleanliness of our environment.
We need strong regulation to protect our water standards, then real enforcement measures to put these into effect. We can raise money from charging farmers for industrial irrigation water , and bottling tom fund schemes to help farmers fence-off and plant around our waterways--this will reduce the ability for animals to overwhelm the ability of the ground to absorb nutrients and pathogens. Planting trees will also help reduce sediment loss to our fresh water from erosion.
Here is a letter to the Otago Daily Times I had published in February 2016--

Dear Editor,

Your photo of a cow fouling a pristine river ( ODT, 28 January) graphically highlights the increasing pollution of our national waterways by cattle. I and my fellow fishers see the widespread effects of unrestrained cattle compressing and pugging waterway edges into excreta-soaked bogs. Mr Hunt of Federated Farmers Otago makes the point that intensive dairy farming is different, but says “cows walking through waterways in the Matukituki Valley is a legitimate farming operation”.

Dairying clearly needs more restrictions. But high country beef farmers should not be allowed to pollute without restriction either. They need more monitoring, and given their private profits should bear most financial responsibility for fencing off their waterways. But, given the difficulties of fencing on their terrain, should they not be given some financial incentives from local or central government? I’d approve of my tax money subsidising our precious environment in this way. ( 148 words)

 Yours sincerely etc

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Zealandia--one of the jewels in Wellington's crown

This photo of a magnificent Kaka was taken by Tom Lynch, a prime visionary in the creation of Zealandia: an 'on-shore island' of conservation in Wellington, within a few minutes trip from the Beehive. Zealandia has been constructed for the protection of our greatly endangered small remnant of a once-prolific bird paradise. These birds, along with other unique animals, once thrived on an isolated, mainly mammalian-free group of islands called New Zealand. Representatives of these rare birds, reptiles and fish now have safe sanctuary in the middle of the capital city.

The kakas were screaming overhead as I walked to my post in the valley early today. Uplifting. I was privileged to be part of a gang of volunteer helpers to run the 'open day' at Zealandia.  A gold coin donation was enough to visit and experience the growing attractions. When I knocked off in the middle of the day, 1400 visitors had already been admitted on a fine, calm day.

I support Zealandia as a superb conservation effort--a place of education for our own people & those visitors from afar. It needs our whole-hearted support.We among all the mammals have been paramount in the downfall of these wonderful creatures, destroying their habitat and introducing other predators. The kaka are being bad-mouthed for some damage they cause to trees in residents' gardens in the halo zone around the sanctuary. But do they threaten us the way we do them? --even their very existence? I say, leave them be, and celebrate their revival--after all, who were here first?

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Hey you cyclists--Give Way!

So, Wellington City Council has decided to scale back its original wide safe cycling and walking trail along Hutt road after businesses along the route prevailed. And some of these businesses park or demonstrate their vehicles for sale on Council road reserve ( see above right).

 If the Council can't remove cars from their own land, how are  they going to abide by their promises to the community made in their Wellington Cycling Framework 2015 document? Here's some of their very sensible promises--

"On-street parking will be removed in some locations to make space for the proposed cycle network. The loss of on-street parking is a common occurrence when new walking and cycling facilities are built. When determining how to use a transport corridor, the Wellington City Council gives priority to safety, pedestrians, cycling facilities, bus stops, bus lanes and traffic flow over other uses"
Note this is about on-street parking--and these vehicle are on the footpath!

Here's some more promises--

"We will prioritise moving vehicles and active modes of transport (such as walking and cycling) over parking".  And--

"The priority for limited public space must be for the movement of people and goods rather than car parkingChoosing active transport makes it easier to include exercise as a part of your daily routine increase your quality of life and your sense of wellbeing".

The Council has listed all the right reasons to promote cycling lanes in their introduction--

"We’re building a cycling network because smart cities cycle. Cycling is a cheap and healthy transport choice and it helps to reduce traffic congestion. Being able to get around by bike makes our city a more attractive place to live, work and visit". 

And WCC knows about the research which shows that businesses seldom lose, and most often win  when more cyclists are attracted in front of their premises on new cycle lanes--

"Following the installation of cycleways in San Francisco, 60 percent of retailers reported seeing more residents shopping locally and 40 percent experienced an increase in sales as a result".

Wouldn't be nice if cyclists didn't have to give way to businesses who still see only disadvantage and mistakenly, a diminished bottom line when cyclists come near them in their numbers?

WCC--Is it not possible to stand firm on the commitments to your public?

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Transport bosses admit motorways don't solve congestion--but build them anyway

I have today ( 12 May 2016) had myletter to the 'Wellingtonian' printed (see below) In addition to the motorway building mentioned in the letter, NZTA is planning to spend billions more on its 'tunnel-to-tunnel' Roads of National Significance motorway build through the town belt. This route will be well away from Newtown, a major centre of population and the site of Wellington Hospital and the zoo.

I believe these new roads should not be built. They are the wrong choice going on the wrong route--last century's solution. And even the transport bosses admit they will not solve congestion. Instead,  modern, all-electric, high-capacity and frequently running light rail linking the railway station with the hospital and airport should be planned for now: just like cities in Australia , Europe , North America and elsewhere are doing. This is the mass public transport option most suitable for Wellington's cramped CBD and beyond. Buses just won't do it on the spine--not enough capacity required to facilitate the major mode shift required from harmful private car dominance with its emissions, pollution, encouragement of physical inactivity and crashes--all major health threats.  High frequency smaller electric buses feeding the central rail spine will complete an urban renewal plan for Wellington--fit for the 21st century.

Image of LRT in Wellington with kind permission of Brent Efford

My letter follows--

Dear Editor, 

 Paul Swain, Wellington Regional Council’s transport leader announces that Wellington is about to get its biggest ever transport programme –estimated at $2.5 billion on highways over the next 6 years ( Wellingtonian 28 April). But on RNZ ( 9 September, 2015) in discussing congestion charging, he stated “ You can’t motorway your way out of problems”. Also, NZ Transport Agency’s Southern regional boss, Jim Harland ( youtube, May 2016) states “ We can’t just assume that motorways, even with more lanes, will solve congestion”. What they both agree on is the place of public transport.

Am I missing something here? We tax-payers get to pay eye-wateringly large sums on motorways, which even the transport bosses say won’t solve congestion, but they say public transport will.

So it’s obvious. The money should go on more linked buses and trains. This should  include high-capacity light rail to the airport in Wellington city which would then be easily affordable. Let’s stop banging our head on the brick wall of so-called Roads of National Significance: they need to be stopped right now.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Airport runway extension a bad idea for Wellington

On 10 May 2016, my OraTaiao ( NZ Climate & Health Council) colleague Liz Springford and I presented on the annual plan for Wellington City Council. We had the chance speak on behalf  of our group of 500 NZ health professionals  opposing the runway extension proposal on climate and health grounds. Here is the letter to the DomPost published recently from our executive board--

Dear Editor,

 An independent emissions assessment of Wellington Airport’s runway proposals is urgently needed. At the moment Wellington is flying blind as neither the airport nor the Council know how much the extension will increase emissions. And they are predicting passenger numbers to double by 2030.

What we do know is that that climate change is the greatest threat to global health and our economy. Also known is that aviation is a significant source of climate-damaging emissions: of the average Wellingtonian's footprint of 5.3 CO2eq tonnes annually almost 20% is from domestic flights. Overseas travel contributes much more. For example, one person flying return to Hong Kong adds 4.0 tonnes, and London return 7.9 tonnes.

The world has agreed on a pathway towards zero net global emissions this century. Successful, thriving cities will act accordingly, but the runway extension takes Wellington in exactly the wrong direction - for our economy and for our health.

The airport runway extension plans need to pass an emissions climate health check right now.

Dr Russell Tregonning, for the  Executive Board OraTaiao: The NZ Climate and Health Council

Monday, 9 May 2016

Bikes on buses

Bikes on public transport vehicles will be essential to link healthy cycling with public transport, particularly in our hilly inner city. So, we ( those fit enough) will bike to work downhill and get taken back home up-hill. Or if it's too far to do both legs, even on the flat, just do one--either to or fro work.
This is the way we will have to go as we wean ourselves off unhealthy private car transport to mass public and active transport. This to counter the deteriorating climate, reduce our fossil fuel burning and inactivity-related diseases ( cardiac, respiratory, obesity, diabetes, some cancers etc).

Worries about taking bikes on buses in the crowded inner CBD can be solved if we rid our city of  the diesel-polluting large buses in favour of all-electric transport along the spine ( railway station to hospital and airport). Light rail will do the trick there--all cycles on-board. Easy. Done overseas ( I've taken my bike on light rail in Vancouver and seen how easy). Smaller buses and all-electric trolleys serving the suburbs-to-spine won't be crammed up along Lambton Quay in their long lines at peak hours. They can be fitted with external bike racks which overseas don't seem to  pose danger to pedestrians ( see photo below of bike rack on Vancouver which I've used. Worries about delays in getting bikes on didn't seem to be a problem there--passengers were more the cause of any delay.

We need to put light rail back on the agenda for Wellington City to benefit all in our whole region--not only the cyclists. High-capacity, quick, frequent, reliable and clean; taking private cars, necessary for some, off our crowded roads. Good for people and the economy.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Press release announcing GW candidacy

For immediate release


A leading Wellington surgeon with a strong environmental agenda is to be a candidate for the Regional Council in the October elections.

Dr Russell Tregonning, a local orthopaedic surgeon for 37 years and past president of the New Zealand Orthopaedic Association, says he will campaign to make the Wellington city and its environment more healthy for all its citizens including improvement in water quality with exclusion of stock from all waterways, swimmable rivers and clean beaches.

“I will fight for fast, efficient public transport with low or no emissions, more pedestrianised streets and safe cycling routes, and an increase in city parks and green open spaces.” Among his priorities, he says, is for the Regional Council to put light rail back on its transport agenda, and to retain trolley buses meantime. “Diesel buses are dinosaurs. Their emissions pollute the environment, and also our lungs.”

He wants Wellington to become a world leader in combating climate change. He says the Regional Council should base all its decisions on moving forward to a low carbon future. “Such policies would be good for people, good for business, and good for future generations.”

Dr Tregonning says the Wellington region – like the whole country – is facing unprecedented threats to its fragile environment, brought on by climate change and backward-looking policies. “Our model has tended to be America, instead of the enlightened and progressive European countries that have introduced a raft of measures to reduce carbon emissions, enhance the liveability of their cities, and improve the health of their citizens.”

Russell Tregonning has an impressive record in local and national affairs playing a leading role in many environmental and public health bodies. Locally, in Waterfront Watch, the Great Harbour Way Trust, and Chaffers Park – Make It Happen which was responsible for the creation of Waitangi Park. He is a founding member of FIT – Fair Intelligent Transport Wellington and Wellington Ciclovia, He is a guide at Zealandia, a member of Cycle Aware Wellington, the Wellington FlyFishing Club, and he was a medical officer for the Wellington Rugby Union. At national level he is an executive member of OraTaiao: the New Zealand Climate and Health Council, a member of Fish and Game NZ, Forest and Bird, and Wise Response, a broad coalition of New Zealanders asking the government to assess imminent risks to New Zealand.

5 Anne St., Wadestown, Wellington.  Phone 027 444 6805