Buried in Auckland Council’s 500 page-review of Auckland’s hard-won regional parks is a one-sentence proposal to put 21 regional and island regional parks amounting to 14,000 hectares of prime coastal real estate and 40km of coastline under the control of the Hauraki Gulf Forum.
At the same time, members of the Hauraki Gulf Forum itself are lobbying the government, in a parallel plan, to abolish the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park and transform itself into an unelected ‘authority’ with Crown and mana whenua appointees.
The new entity could set overall ‘vision and strategy’ and develop its own statutory plans that would prevail over council policies and central government decision-making, for all matters in respect of the Gulf, the regional parks and the city’s Hunua Range water catchment.
Forum members voted on Monday, approving the proposal by 11 votes to seven, with the majority of its elected members against the scheme.
Hauraki Gulf Forum co-chair and city councillor Pippa Coom presented the proposal and says there is a lot to be gained from a co-governance model, citing models for the Waikato and Whanganui Rivers and the Kaipara Harbour. Waiheke Local Board chair Cath Handley also sits on the Hauraki Gulf Forum.
There is little evidence of any public mandate for the stealthy and far-reaching proposal and the ideological changes, without any public oversight, which would allow for more commercial opportunity in both regional reserve land and in the Hauraki Gulf.
One-time Auckland Regional Authority parks chair Arnold Turner has pointed out that no logical reasons have been provided on how the parks or the gulf would benefit and warns that the change would be extremely detrimental to Auckland residents.
Former Auckland Regional Council chairman Mike Lee, who oversaw a big expansion of regional parks including Waiheke’s Whakanewha Regional Park, believes the moves are a clandestine raid on the region’s ‘crown jewels’.
The proposed transfer of 21 regional parks to the forum at the same time it is lobbying the Government to abolish the marine park and transfer itself into a “co-governed”, unelected authority should be a serious concern for Aucklanders, he says, while Councillor and Hauraki Gulf Forum member John Watson says the double-barrelled changes signal a significant change to the management and governance of the Hauraki Gulf and regional parks and lacks any sort of transparency.
Already more than 15,000 people have signed a petition organised by the Gulf Users Group which was established in opposition to the proposal and wants decisions on the Hauraki Gulf to remain fair, transparent and democratic.
It says that the voices representing the rights and interests of the region’s 2.2 million people, including those businesses making a living on the Hauraki Gulf, will be greatly diminished under the proposals.
“We strongly oppose any proposals strengthening the functions and powers of the Forum while at the same time placing this power in the hands of an undemocratic body with greatly reduced elected representation and accountability to the vast majority of the people of the region,” says spokesman Lee Short.
“We want to ensure that all decisions on the Gulf remain fair, transparent and democratic.”
“There was no public consultation beforehand, and I believe their decision is not in the best interest of Gulf users,” he said. “Nor is there an explanation as to how the proposed changes will be better for the Gulf”.
“As this decision potentially has huge ramifications, we are calling for a referendum on the issue at the local body council elections later this year,” he says.
It cannot be argued that the present Hauraki Gulf Forum has served the desperately depleted Hauraki Gulf very well and it’s mostly known for its three-yearly audits of disastrous declines in fish stocks and a good morning tea.
The Hauraki Gulf is a great treasure or, in the wrong hands, a highly lucrative commercial opportunity and, without resourcing or oversight, stewardship cannot be handed over to be dealt with by shadowy interests behind closed doors.
Nor do we need to look far for a more wholesome model under which the gulf can be restored and passed on to our future generations.
Every other district in New Zealand still has its own Regional Council.
Auckland lost its ARC to political double dealing in the 2010 Wellington-led amalgamation. Democratically elected and resourced from its own rates stream, it had a staff of 750 (mostly in uniforms, not offices), accounted for its own rates income, ran the great parks, arbitrated regional planning, maintained strategic assets and generally acted as a high-level democratic institution dealing with policy.
We could just ask to have that back. In the same referendum, perhaps. • Liz Waters