Priceless or a handy few billion bucks

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    This week, the Waiheke Local Board voted to investigate a proposal to shift our Whakanewha Regional Park into the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park. (See story page 6)

    This has the potential to be irreversible, at a time when the lead agency underpinning the marine park is the Hauraki Gulf Forum, which is not an elected body. It is currently asking central government for legislative changes to further tinker with its own constitution of selected government agencies, mana whenua and a handful of selected councillors, and board members. Perhaps as few as three.

    It’s hard not to see this breaking up of the hitherto sacrosanct regional parks network as signs of a power play for the literally billions of dollars of legacy regional park real estate that Auckland accumulated and stewarded, some for nearly two centuries, others like our own Whakanewha Regional Park, established by a handful of citizens of this feisty offshore island in the early 1990s.

    I don’t suppose everyone sees the parks network as a treasure store of wild spaces, literally as old as the hills and magnificent. Natural spaces, places of respite from urban development, with free access for all Aucklanders and held in perpetuity for future generations.

    On the other hand, the cost of freedom is eternal vigilance and if we don’t bother to know what we have got ‘til it’s gone, shame on us. 

    There are rich pickings to be had if the sanctity of Auckland’s Regional Parks and the Gulf itself are slid off and parcelled out in a lolly scramble at the end of a neoliberal free-for-all. That was always going to happen and now it is a distinct possibility.

    Our regional parks are our democratic spaces, accessible to all residents regardless of income, background or where we live in the region.

    These essential values must be maintained in perpetuity, as well as the parkland itself.

    The advocacy group Friends of Regional Parks told the board in recent correspondence that neither the mayor, councillors nor staff had been able to tell them what benefits would be gained by this move that couldn’t be attained under current council management or what problems exist that can only be addressed by the changes. “Council staff have told us that by including Policy 45 (Section 7, Book 1) in an adopted Regional Parks Management Plan, this inclusion could occur without further public discussion and once the parks are included in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park they can’t be removed,” the group said.

    “The [group] supports improving the health of the Hauraki Gulf and we believe the regional parks are playing a role in that improvement now. We see no benefits to including regional parks in the Hauraki Marine Park that couldn’t occur under the current management. We do foresee a break-up of our regional park network with multiple decision makers, diverse management objectives and duplicative, expensive management structures that may not be aimed at what is best for recreation and conservation for all Aucklanders.” they said.

    The action open to citizens at this moment lies in education and informed debate in the next few months before the local-government election year, when it behoves us to have the strong conversations that will turn the tide on, among other things, our council’s managerialist culture.

    To the same end, I remind all Waiheke residents and small local park users that the Waiheke Local Parks Management Plan is open for public consultation until May 16). The aggregated plan specifies and encompasses every scrap of parkland and residual coastal margins, as well as recreational reserves and esplanades. It pays to check what is envisaged for any such local gems on the Auckland Council website.

    The question raised by last week’s case is not the shuffling of Whakanewha out of the regional network and off to the marine park (from which it may be hard to extricate, and which would be a precedent).

    It’s why we would do so.

    There’s always a reason for doing things, including in the public sphere.  The question is whether it’s a good one. • Liz Waters

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