Back as the future

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    The new government is consciously out to do serious harm to the lives of working people and families, the Green Party was saying alongside many other critics this week.

    We also know it has promised a resumption of oil and gas exploration, thereby slumping us into the climate change denial category at the COP28 world conference, while Pacific leaders are clearing their decks for fierce action against our new public policy on climate change. So it is hardly top news that Auckland, and Waiheke in particular, are to be plunged into years of penny-pinching on the norms of the local government expectations.

    Auckland’s former status as a capital of the Pacific is gone in an hour. As is our own ability to provide a quite extraordinary tourist destination.

    We have taken a lot for the team, with whole budgets disappearing over recent years, but an equally arbitrary city hall intention to starve the Waiheke Local Board of 70 percent of its capital funding is still extraordinary.

    Waiheke’s social demographic is astonishingly wide but on average, household incomes for residents have been  $20,000 lower than on the isthmus which has always given us a unique perspective as a community.

    That is probably changing, but we have always punched well above our weight on social and environmental affairs and big island issues, like various unpalatable Mātiatia developments, have cut across all class lines.

    As an island, everyone eventually has to rub along – and if we are to repel the threats inherent in the council’s forecasts of even more intense austerity, we are going to have to pull together again.

    No one can put up with pristine beaches reeking of rotting algae all summer.  Or bounce through potholes on the main road. Public beaches should not be littered with abandoned vessels trailing rigging and underwater weed. The landscapes and trees protected by longstanding green belts didn’t survive by accident. The various communities have had to fight for every step forward in recent city planning documents over the last 30 years.

    No one can present a respectable front for a tsunami of summer visitors with such a miniscule capital spend on infrastructure.

    There are remedies we will have to set up ourselves. Last summer’s algal stench on the western beaches  – not at the time known to be toxic – drove residents to rake it up themselves.  Potholes, a senior council staff member told me recently, could only be fixed if there was a complaint, so ring the hotline, register your pothole  or concern and get a complaint number.  MSM newspaper letters are a public litmus test of values.

    Ever since the 1980s, successive waves of new residents have concluded, with dismay but some justification, that Waiheke is a badly run suburb. Of course, we aren’t a suburb at all and we are surrounded by the most extreme natural beauty, vitality and social abundance, but the queues for ferries, the traffic midden that is Mātiatia, the suitability of basic infrastructure such as public toilets, signage popping up faster than rabbits and fragments of cycle lane on the island’s arterial road don’t help.

    Council has stalled all the biggest issues for decades and it will take a concerted community effort and expertise to dig them out of the stasis.

    Risk-averse council logistics have all but extinguished street events and community festivals, including the famed Onetangi Beach Races, and the island’s empty halls are no doubt amassing data to show that the community doesn’t need them and they can be sold along with their highly lucrative land. Money for a community swimming pool was raised decades ago when one could be provided for a little over a million dollars. The council actually told the local board and the pool committee at the time that it was not interested at such a low price.

    Nearly a decade-long island campaign to take on Fullers and Auckland Transport over ferry funding and bringing the service under public regulation was, tellingly, defeated at the eleventh hour with another tranche of reports – and within three days of election results that promised the change of government.

    So there’s plenty to be going on with in the New Year.

    It’s worth remembering that in our local government, big, unpleasant things happen at this time every year, slipped in and quietly disappearing before officials are back from the holidays. Auckland Council’s senior managers aren’t coming out of this at all well and we need to be challenging the culture very clearly. Otherwise, we’ll get more of what we have already got – and that feels pretty terrifying. • Liz Waters

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