Paper wars

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    Just before the summer, Auckland Council officials descended on the Waiheke Local Board and announced public consultation for Local Parks Management Planning or, as it is now lovingly referred to in official circles, Waiheke’s LPMP.  

    Specifically, we are being asked to ‘have our say’ for an omnibus management plan to cover the literally hundreds of the island’s reserves and remnants we live near, weed, amble through and generally hold dear.

    The island had eight reserve management plans when the former Auckland City stopped doing management plans due to budget constraints: Alison Park, Anzac Reserve, Blackpool Park, Palm Beach Reserve, Pōhutukawa Reserve, Trig Hill (Puketutu Reserve) and Te Huruhi Reserve, plus the legacy Third Avenue Reserve and County of Waiheke – Management Plan for County Reserves which covered 63 parks. 

    Isn’t this sudden zeal to catch up all in a hurry a bit unkind on ratepayers, board members said, given Christmas and all. Most citizens already had plans for the holiday season that didn’t include a little recreational council submitting.

    As a sop, the consultation process was given a few more weeks although even after having downloaded the Local Parks Management Planning – Uniquely Waiheke Background Information, I still know precious little about how to address the issue. And I am a long-time pro in the field.

    Only after several tortured hours with agendas and meeting minutes did I ascertain that the consultation does apply, for example, to the Te Ara Hura walkway track on the regrettably weed-infested slope next door into which island visitors disappear by the hundreds – sometimes on bicycles. All clutch bedraggled council maps like some sort of holy grail.

    Do we ratepayers really need to set an alarm and get up before dawn to write yet another 600 words on the subject of our favourite neighbourhood open space – its kokopu, its weeds, its ecology and its folklore – so officials can know that we still want them to “improve our community’s health and wellbeing by providing quality recreational facilities”? 

    Where’s the accountability in that?  

    Unfortunately, the online research also showed that elements like investment priorities, implementation plans and park maintenance are “beyond the scope of this work”. 

    ‘We want to hear from you’ may be in big green print but half a dozen earlier consultations were reduced – by that same council hegemony – to the same glut of platitudes. 

    They, too, were first lightened of any real citizen content in some council back room and then abandoned entirely in the harsh light of rampant weed growth and the permafrost of council parsimony.

    A written confirmation that we still want council to “ensure access to sufficient public land and reserve space”, given the current council mania for money-grubbing, begs the question of imminent divestments if we don’t show enough interest. And if nothing more sinister, it’s too fatuous to be useful.  

    Once, of course, this was core business. The long-gone Waiheke county council automatically kept a mowing contract for the above-mentioned track and kept it open to walkers for years before the land was taken as a subdivision ‘reserve contribution’ and weed-control succumbed to supercity budget constraints. 

    On Te Huruhi beach, partly obscuring the track, a derelict 14-foot boat full of rubbish has been on the tideline for two years with Auckland Council compliance and the Harbourmaster’s department run by Auckland Transport carrying on a desultory argument over who will remove it.

    Like the orange netting cutting off public walkways and unmaintained beach infrastructure all over the place, it is plain lazy. 

    The island last got consulted on a ‘refresh’ of the Essentially Waiheke document in 2016.  It will take until early 2020 to line up the statutory ducks to turn out a ‘Uniquely Waiheke’ reserve management plan. 

    Waiheke’s “unique character & heritage” does indeed need to be “protected & enhanced” and budgeting for a committed team of long-term arbourists and mowing contractors would do more for the island’s open spaces than all the ‘recreational facilities’ ideas that ever washed through the council’s budgets.  It doesn’t seem much to ask.

    Untold millions are so easily secured for this sort of serial paper-pushing, for unconsented and unwanted council works and even for top-flight legal specialists to pursue prominent ratepayers through the courts. 

    Without specific and measurable resources to genuinely put feet on the ground, it’s just words. And  in a climate where the bureaucracy both makes and breaks rules to suit itself, they are untrustworthy words at that. • Liz Waters

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