The law of averages


    It’s not easy being told you’re average – but there it is in black and white.

    46.7. That’s me.

    Smack bang in the middle of page eight’s colourful graphic – and setting the groundwork for the next 35 pages-worth of the draft Waiheke Area Plan’s 30-year vision, is the stark statement that I am Waiheke’s Mr Average. 

    The figures (tastefully displayed by a birthday cake logo) reveal the median age of the island’s population (15.5 percent of whom are under 15 – compared to 20 percent in Auckland, and 22 percent of whom are 65 or older – compared to 15.6 percent in Auckland) is 46.7. Born the start of January 1974. (Nearly a decade earlier than Auckland’s equivalent Mr Average.)

    And that’s when it struck me. This 30-year plan is the rest of my life. I’ll be pushing 80 the next time something drops through the letterbox urging me to have my say over the long-term future of where I live. If this isn’t the time to fight for where and how I want to see out my days then I don’t know what is.

    At the very root of that fight for me is a simple decision, to guard what we have to try to avoid change or adapt what we have to make the most of how the world (and Waiheke) will undoubtedly change over the next three decades. And it’s a decision that is beholden on all of us to take seriously.

    Exactly a year ago, then Auckland councillor Mike Lee stood at a Waiheke Local Board meeting and spoke very strongly about the guardianship of the island’s way of life. He warned against the “deregulatory hurricane” of Auckland Council’s Unitary Plan formed by a body that’s “very much of the growth ideology; that it is always good and there is no downside”. We are now faced with a 30-year vision that states boldly on page 11 that “This area plan will help inform the eventual incorporation of the islands fully within the scope of the Unitary Plan”. Fully.

    It is therefore more important than ever for those who worry that this “growth ideology” is incompatible with a concerted strategy to tackle, say, the climate crisis, to gather and agitate against the potential for Waiheke to become just another Auckland suburb.

    There are also plenty of projects listed in the draft plan that seem to offer a genuine roadmap for adaptability. These range from the seemingly mundane “new and improved public toilets close to bus stops” (page 36), via the interesting “establishment of a tourism school” (page 34), and “comprehensive redevelopment of the ArtWorks complex” (page 37), to the genuinely revolutionary idea to work with private operators  to “investigate opportunities to use Mātiatia as an access point for transport services to other islands and other key destinations on Waiheke” (page 27), and the exploration of opportunities “with the Piritahi Marae Trust to provide papakāinga housing for their elderly and to improve the community and recreational services they offer to Māori and the wider community at Blackpool” (page 38). 

    And then there’s the wildly loaded language of ideas such as “Private landowners could be incentivised to help significantly improve recreational walking and cycling connections across the island. 

    “This may mean exploring opportunities for easements, land exchanges and reconfiguration of open spaces through boundary adjustment. Disposal of underperforming property assets and using the sale proceeds to reinvest in our park network, could also be considered.”

    Each of these “actions” carries a truck-load of repercussions that have to be thought and fought out before they can be decided upon. And the more heads the better when it comes to finding ways to make them float.

    So now is the time to mobilise. If you haven’t already read the plan, find it online or head over to the local board offices to pick one up. And then find people to discuss the plan with. 

    There are two more community drop-in sessions planned for Passage Rock from 9.30am to 11.30am on August 1 and 10am to midday at the library on August 7 and all sorts of community groups who can help you get to grips with the main issues.

    For example, there’s a public forum to discuss ongoing housing issues on Waiheke at 6pm on Wednesday 29 July at the Sustainability Centre at which panelists will present a variety of opinions followed by an open discussion. 

    I may be average when it comes to Waiheke, but I truly believe that there must be nothing average about how we approach the next three decades. Taking part in this process is vital – as is gaining a good understanding of the choices we have before us. • James Belfield 


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