Sometimes, reporting on Auckland Council’s relationship with its least-favoured island is like watching a birthday party game of whack-a-mole – a frenzied seethe of children on a sugar high grabbing for the hammer to pummel down every upstart idea and citizen and preserve their own mushrooming agendas.
Currently, it’s a planning tsunami, although there is also something perverse in Auckland Council doubling the number of toilets at Matiatia (though possibly it’s for the queues waiting and waiting to go get a ferry back to town). This while the nearest and most beautiful of villages up the road faces another summer with plastic portaloos centre-stage in a view that any Mediterranean coast would envy.
Somewhere, poised to prevent any upstart ambitions, is a council employee (or perhaps a whole department) hanging on to an already-allocated $400,000 budget while waiting for a semi-mythical additional grant from the ministry of tourism before making the financial commitment to extend the truly horrible single-toilet shed at that serves the whole village.
Meanwhile, officials and our elected local board have been busy over the last two years working out what they and a very constricted lineup of ‘stakeholders’ think should happen on Waiheke over the next 30 years. Especially what should happen so Waiheke can be locked into the city’s urban Area Plan.
Waiheke’s draft 30-year-plan and its far more devil-in-the-detail ‘topic papers’ was unleashed on the island hard on the heels of the first Covid lockdown in July and public feedback closed the day after the second lockdown was imposed less than a month later in August. If you missed it, that was because a national election and a fairly urgent Covid recovery was occupying us at the time.
Apparently, no matter.
There was a scrambled response from the wider public and, presto, the plan is due to come out in time for one of the Local Board’s two remaining meetings before Christmas. There appears to be some hurry to get any necessary participatory democracy from the community lined up to take place over the summer holiday.
It’s an unattractive trick but, like the diminishing range of democratic public engagement over decades of the supercities’ successive District Plans, it works so well for the institution you can count on it.
The area plan itself came with a parallel consultation on the Waiheke Local Board’s own three-year plan – a confusion that spread like treacle through the Council’s labyrinthine website feedback mechanism – and Gulf News sought, under the Local Government and Meetings Act, answers on the scope of the consultation behind the draft document.
Two months later and having received the LGOIMA answers, we now know that no less than 13 iwi groups were consulted over the two years, mostly by officials, and the list of external organisations and people in this process included eastern-Waiheke landowner Berridge Spencer and Waiheke businessman Tony Pope.
Meetings were also held with the public health service, Department of Conservation, Hauraki Gulf Forum and Fullers.
A mere dozen other Waiheke and Rakino community groups also had a say.
Redacted or not, their meeting notes make interesting reading, particularly since the present Local Board elected this time last year to hear information relayed from officials behind closed doors.
Currently also on the table and in its late stages is an omnibus Reserves Management plan which is also apparently being groomed for public feedback over Christmas. Revealed and then delayed in this month’s local board meeting, it profoundly affects all of the island’s beachfront access parks as well as more significant reserves including Te Huruhi’s recreation reserve and beachfront.
Selling the confidential workshop format last October and with all this fairly critical strategic planning in prospect, the board’s relationship manager said open meetings and active social media may lead to ‘rarking up’ of the community and statements by other, opposing board members being taken and reported out of context. Board members may, he said, become victims of bullying behaviour on social media.
Shielding the process from early notice and public scrutiny would also enable senior officials to be frank with elected board members without fear of ‘reputational damage’ and board members would get to hear proposals from the Transport and Panuku property CCOs “that they would rather reveal in private”, he said.
It’s not a nice game.• Liz Waters