Groundhog day

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    On Tuesday, the Guardian reported our much-admired director general of health taking a Covid-19 test to show us that those long swabs and spine curling grimaces are really not so bad. It was, at least, less painful than tackling Billy Weepu on the rugby field a couple of weeks ago, with bruises to show for it, he said cheerfully. 

    It was to be our last day as a global posterchild for Covid management. Before midnight, the axe had fallen on our long run of fortune and Aucklanders were headed back into level 3 lockdown. 

    It was hard not to feel it as a visceral blow, but also something of a groundhog day. We haven’t learned enough yet. Electioneering in the old crush’em political mould had been driving kindness into the corner. Auckland Council, from behind hermetically  sealed ‘workshop’ doors, had knifed citizens’ budgets to deal with revenues apparently lost from planning and other non-rates fees and charges. 

    A punitive dose of austerity was being administered and, on the island, the Local Board’s 30-year Area Plan – a document to sink our Essentially Waiheke goals for the island and the gulf for good – was circulated for a derisory three weeks’ study by the community. 

    Reassuringly, it brought out the grit in a still-dynamic community responding to the challenge of coming up with a wholesome vision of Waiheke and its waters in 2050.

    Cheerful, colourful nights to savour, two early-evening sessions on housing equity and solutions evolved at the Waiheke Resources Trust.  Some of us had battle scars going back decades to the heady days when the Essentially Waiheke document was first written to cement a balanced and restorative future for Waiheke and the gulf islands in council lore.

    Others, already showing the strain, were  deeply frustrated 20 years later at the current issues of housing affordability. Top and centre were Auckland  Council’s manic planning regime of charges which have created an unfortunate bias towards high-end B&Bs, a derisory number of new houses and pathological control of any innovation. 

    Why – in an uneasy interregnum between a civilisation-threatening  pandemic, a national election and the aspirations we may have for a post-covid switch to a kinder and more inclusive global society – has the community found itself obliged to assess the success of current policies and practices in local government on Waiheke and develop a meaningful goal for how it might want Waiheke to look in 2050. In literally a couple of weeks.

    The project has been occupying council officials since 2018. They had a year to ‘establish the project’ and another eight months to develop a draft plan. Included were copious, behind-closed doors workshop briefings with the Waiheke Local Board – all this before it was put out for ‘haveyoursay’ public engagement a matter of weeks ago.

    Here is broad brush cotton wool about inclusive communities, people frolicking happily in local parks, healthy children, pristine streams, curving beaches and wholesome aspirations for Māori.   

    In all meaningful issues, benighted citizens must, again, come up with solutions that the council has refused to contemplate in 30 years. 

    There is no sign that clever infrastructure, place-making architecture, a generosity towards housing initiatives or actual changes to generate a diverse (rather than a financially privileged) community will suddenly appear. 

    After the feedback process, officials have given themselves two months to analyse feedback and finalise the draft plan before it is adopted in November, when it will become a platform to fold us into the city-wide, and entirely urban, Auckland Unitary Plan. 

    Since the haveyoursay feedback process was due to end on Thursday, some extension should be made when the current lockdown is lifted.

    It’s doubtful that our role in the Hauraki Gulf as a jewel to be treasured is intended to survive. The rich and varied vision we as residents might want for our island and its magnificent gulf in 2050 is far too important to us to leave it at such a perfunctory level and Gulf News will continue to empower community debate on the many solutions we will need over the next three months.

    We wish everyone a safe and unalarming return to lockdown. Stay warm, love the ones you are with, call friends and keep the dictionary handy if the grandchildren are on a spelling jag.  Liz Waters

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