Local folk: John Davies

Stillwater resident John Davies hasn’t ruled out having another go at getting into politics after failing to get elected onto the local board last time around. Despite his many interactions with bureaucracy, which have not always been positive, he remains optimistic that politicians, in the main, have good intentions. He spoke with Terry Moore about finding ways to make a difference outside of Council.

Council needs reformation. It seems to me that the people’s vote to place representatives in that system is mitigated by bureaucracy. There is too much official input and not enough local power and influence. My belief in politicians is that they have stood to do good. I don’t know of any, in this country, who put themselves up for nefarious gain – certainly not in our neck of the woods anyway. The process of putting yourself up for election is very straightforward and is an example of the system working well. I was disappointed not to get elected, however our local board is proving to be functional. The problem with Auckland Council is the way that John Key and Rodney Hide set it up – largely disenfranchising the boards. In any case, there are certainly a lot of ways you can get involved in your community other than politics.

I chair the Estuary Arts Centre Trust and am a Trustee of the Life Education Trust Rodney – the latter means I am often found at fundraising sausage sizzles outside Bunnings. The most fun I have had while fundraising was Z Energy’s Good in the Hood, where I spent a few hours at Z stations in Kumeu and Riverhead with a person dressed as ‘Harold the Giraffe’. The kids know Harold and even people in their 20s came up and said they had good memories of him.

I’ve lived in Stillwater for four years and before that was in Arkles Bay. We moved to the Hibiscus Coast because my wife, Ruth, wanted to live by a beach. She had her 40th birthday in a house we rented on Manly Beach and not long after that we moved here. Unbeknownst to me, she had spent every weekend since that birthday looking for a house on the Coast.

I have never been an artist, but I am a filmmaker and film seller, so my interest and passion is for that kind of media. I’ve always been in the business in one way or another since school. After school I went into selling, and sometimes making, corporate training films with my family’s company. At the moment I’m working on a documentary as the logistical planner and story editor. I moved to Stillwater after a major business calamity that left me having to repay debt, so I chose to sell up and move. I was running two cinemas – Academy Cinema in the city and the Victoria in Devonport. A Trust managed to acquire the Devonport cinema and I helped it in its presentation to convince North Shore City Council to buy the building. Council owns it but the Trust had to turn it into a sustainable business – it wasn’t.

They are managing to keep it going, but I had spent a lot of money over two years propping it up – it cost me around $500 a week to keep it going. I had enough and at the same time The Academy was failing. In Devonport, the feedback was always great but it stopped growing at 80 percent of the target.  It’s because the audience came just from Devonport, not further afield, and it reached saturation point. We had three screens and figures tell us there is a screen for every 10,000 people: if you don’t have that kind of reach, you can’t keep going. The Academy cinema was destroyed in the process of turning Lorne Street into a ‘shared space’. The work took place in the Rugby World Cup year and there was immense time pressure – Auckland Transport’s contractors worked so hard, night and day, jackhammering. And the impact of every one of those jackhammers reverberated into the walls of the cinema, so people stopped coming. We lost all our major film festivals, which were our lifeblood. At the same time Council had increased the rent by 100 percent and I went broke. I lost 75 percent of my revenue for 12 months and that was not sustainable. So I sold up and paid the taxman. I tried hard to convince Council that the rent increase was not sustainable. That whole experience led me to stand up in front of people at the last local body elections and say, “Auckland Transport is evil”, which was received with a mix of laughter and applause. They described me in a NZ Herald article at the time the problems with the Academy were going on as “difficult to deal with”. One thing I’ll say in Auckland Transport’s favour, though, is that they can fix dangerous potholes – one morning when I was working at Manly Liquor I told them about one in the village that cars were swerving and doing U-turns to avoid and they fixed it that same day.

I’ve worked at Manly Liquor for nearly two years – a job I applied for because I love wine. Of course there are elements of the drinking culture and industry that are horrendous, and I’ve had to turn customers away who are problem drinkers but I also have great conversations giving advice and helping people. I went into liquor retail after losing the cinemas. I had to find a job, and quickly. I started at Liquor King in Whangaparaoa Road and it went from there. It’s a lot of fun selling wine  – liquor consumed responsibly is very enjoyable and an enhancement to fun occasions. I tease my customers, telling them that some wines are trash and they can get a better one if they just pay $1 more.

Stillwater is a fantastic little community; I am treasurer of the Stillwater Residents Association and also on the Penlink Now team. The only difference in opinion in Stillwater is over Penlink and the other controversial issue is the speed limit on the main road. I was originally against Penlink when I lived in Arkles Bay because of environmental concerns – I could see that a whole lot of mud would come down the river once building of that road began. Then I started to think about the things that were promised to the people who bought into developments east of Stanmore Bay. They bought there on a promise from the Rodney District Council that Penlink would be built. It didn’t come, but no one stopped the developments from happening and now we are in the state we’re in on the peninsula. The reality is that Penlink will potentially save lives, improving our emergency access. When Rodney District Council knew it didn’t have the money, it should have stopped promising that Penlink would happen. It’s now an honour-bound issue. West of the motorway they’re going to develop every piece of green land right up to Kumeu and the infrastructure just isn’t there. Although Penlink has been brought forward, the money is still not committed and it won’t be actually happening until those bulldozers get going along Cedar Terrace and the hills above Stillwater. The fact is that in the last 30 years, if you bought in Stillwater, you would know there is a bridge going in at some stage. I bought there, by the river, knowing it was coming and being fine with that. I may notice some noise. I accept that in Greater Auckland we can’t afford to be NIMBYS. We are going to have to do things like this if we want to keep good access. Unlike the Dynamic Lanes that are coming on Whangaparaoa Road, at least Penlink is safe. As I said, Auckland Transport is evil and that project is just not safe.


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