It occurred to me, in the weeks leading up to the Local Government Commission’s self-set deadline of Christmas for release of its findings on whether or not we and North Rodney could leave the Auckland Council, that it was going to be an embarrassing time for them to turn us down.
The tide on growth-at-all-costs with everyone peering over their shoulder to test the wind from Wellington seemed to have turned.
For a while there, surprisingly, it looked as if the governance issues dogging Auckland and central government through two huge amalgamation processes were going to get an overdue and useful forensic examination.
In the end, however, the Commissioners did sink the proposal, though perhaps not without some signs of discomfort.
There’s a vast difference between looking to find a problem, and looking to validate your opinion or, in this case, a political big-is-beautiful ideology.
Unfortunately, the courteous listening and often masterful group process that was employed during feedback sessions from the community over the last year were long gone.
In choosing no change for both areas, the commission’s findings point out that “The status quo is always a reasonably practicable option”.
I doubt that North Rodney residents are delighted with the news that they are important to the Super City as it manages “expected significant urban growth”. Nor are we on the island thrilled with the idea that the second – and always more viable – option for a district council status for Waiheke wasn’t even put to the test.
The status quo has given us damning state-of-the-gulf reports for decades, yet it seems we were given a fail, specifically because we are of insufficient size for a unitary authority with responsibilites for regional functions “including those related to large sensitive marine environments.”
Though we are on a population and cost level with hundreds of other towns throughout the country and generating twice their rates, it was apparently not worth considering.
Our elected representative on Auckland Council and Auckland’s former Auckland Regional Authority chairman, Mike Lee admits he, too, is surprised, “though I should not have been”, by the decision by the Local Government commissioners – and the clumsy way they went about announcing it.
“Surprised because the arguments about the grave defects in ‘super-city’ operations first raised by Our Waiheke are even more compelling now than when they first began their campaign in 2015.
“I am disappointed for Waiheke and indeed for Auckland because problems with the super-city are growing and public support declining,” he says.
“Instead of a creative solution including the provision for a referendum on options, including total independence (Unitary Authority) and independence over local matters (district council), the strong impression I have is that the commission has always been set against any breakaway from the super-city.
“In other words, the decision was predetermined.”
Does it matter?
The last 30 years, playing Oliver Twist in the drama of Auckland supercities hasn’t done much for our infrastructure, our planning or the price of our anachronystic, unregulated ferry route.
Waiheke isn’t still a bit of a jewel for no reason. Its difference, its small-scale villages and coherent landscapes weren’t dictated from Wellington, or from a City Hall that has seen us, mostly, as an irritating brat.
Having made myself intimately familiar with the discrepancies between what the council says it spends and what it does during our stymied bid for independence, I felt an additional sting to my rates revaluation this year.
It’s infuriating to hand over large sums of hard-earned money to an organisation that seems so far removed from our daily aspirations.
From our own perspective, and over many issues, we have seen frequent opportunities to explore solutions to the world’s issues, many of them useful as the planet’s populations pick themselves up and redesign how we live in a post-consumer world.
Instead, and for whatever reason, we got played in a frustrating, time-wasting game that was, presumably, designed to let a bit of steam out of our dissent and shut us up for a while. It’s worked before. • Liz Waters