Stewardship

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    There was never much doubt that we would get through this summer with difficulty.  A few years ago, we as a community looked wistfully at the Unesco biosphere concept that enabled bijou Australian holiday destinations like Noosa and the Warmington Peninsula to retain some real grasp on their local distinctiveness, bits of Spain to regenerate their historic perspectives and many small and beautiful places to share the lessons of overwhelming fame as international tourist destinations.
    It would, some of us felt, enable the Hauraki Gulf to have some effective teeth when it came to marauding coach-loads of somnolent visitors, a city council with an entrenched regime of ‘preferred suppliers’– often a euphemism for blatant but strangely arbitrary favouritism – and a largely hostile city planning department that isn’t averse to a bit of social engineering to enable a ‘better class of people’ to inherit our rather favoured niche in the universe.
    Maybe the Aucklanders who only discovered us this summer will forgive us the fiendish ferry queues and bumper-to-bumper main road traffic. Maybe not. The New Zealand Herald again found another label to slap on us, as it does so every summer –  a silly-season reporter assignment that starts with a bit of a dig at our pretensions and progresses to unsubstantiated conclusions that will serve no-one.
    Few of us here want to be judged on the tribal behaviour of some of our summer visitors. Selfies with chardonnay and the helicopter are not our resting state.
    The city tourism entity, having taken over the original, and local, visitor information centre and run it down over years, suddenly abdicated responsibility before Christmas. Which left long-suffering and sometimes benighted visitors to seek what succour they could from the village’s shopkeepers who found themselves begging beds and dredging personal friendships to help hapless trippers.
    Restaurateurs tore their hair out trying to juggle bookings, only to find their jangled diners then being left on the wharf at the end of the night, too.
    Longstanding tour businesses and new competitors found themselves sharing the shambolic Matiatia keyhole turnaround with double-decker tourist buses thrust into service by Fullers – already perceived as a favoured player the previous summer.
    Local people raged at the sight of flowering roadside pohutukawa being ravaged to make headroom for the monstrosities and were told to be thankful they had on-board toilets – another woeful shortfall in Waiheke’s public facilities.
    The island’s stable core of citizens had foreseen and made individual preparation for solutions. Not least with a newly-released review of the long-standing Essentially Waiheke planning document that is still highly relevant in keeping the island’s understated elegance intact.
    We – and the document – define ourselves as a boutique visitor destination for interesting and engaged travellers. Businesses subscribe to it. Residents plant their feet and cling to its findings. Consequently, we have retained our well-treed streetscapes, regenerated coastal pohutukawa forest and kept abundant sea views.
    We see ourselves as a visitor destination, not a suburb ripe for sewers and infill housing, an offshore Ibiza spin-off or a haven from the hoi poloi for the wealthiest.
    That the democracy-deficit Auckland Council and its Council Controlled Organisations retained different and larger-scale aspirations remains a cross to bear, especially when it came to planning.
    The last rewrite of the District Plan for Waiheke and the Hauraki Gulf was accomplished with planning officers recommending that all but a handful of the 5000 local submissions be disregarded. Council legal representation during the mediation stage was vicious. The 14 turgid volumes of rules and regulations – each a ream thick – tied the island’s planning up in knots.
    None of that helped when the city then handed the contentious Matiatia marina planning directly to the Environment Court on a vote taken after irritated councillors we had never heard of had been diverted round the council building to vote.
    It came out well after a massive court hearing that set a long-forgotten benchmark for respectful community engagement in its own affairs. However, the million dollar cost still rests on Super City ratepayers, the Environment Court itself and the Waiheke community – despite the court’s ruling for recovery of costs.
    Later this year, the Local Government Commission will determine the future of proposals by both Waiheke and North Rodney to break away from the deeply flawed Super City. At the very least, it should set alt-right-wing Rodney Hide’s monolith on a path for its elected local boards to be given greater powers to determine issues of community importance.
    It’s a complex world. If we learned anything from 2016, it was that arrogant, centralizing government that strips too many of its citizens of the ability to find workable solutions is going out of fashion fast. • Liz Waters

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