Rodney didn’t speak, Rodney roared
In spite of the rain and short notice, Ascension’s banquet hall was packed to the rafters.
The choice of venue had many pondering his motives, and many a facetious inquiry was fielded as to whether Dr Lockwood Smith would be shouting the first drink.
The pressure for a public meeting had initially come from the Warkworth Community Liaison Group, and was addressed to the office of the minister for local government, Hon Rodney Hide. In the event it was the member for Rodney, Dr Lockwood Smith’s office that responded, saying that he would host a meeting to discuss the select committee’s recommendation to split Rodney, in the Masonic hall.
While the Freemasons have had a long presence in Warkworth, their numbers have never been enormous and Mahurangi riverbank building is licensed for a mere 60 people. Locals, aware of the mounting uprising against the select committee recommendation that the northern Rodney district be moved into Kaipara district and the Northland region, persuaded Dr Smith’s staff that a much larger venue was necessary.
In calling the meeting to order, Dr Smith explained that the Soljan family had provided the venue free of charge. The applause mien host received was muted then, but thunderous later.
Initial speakers tended towards favouring anything but ‘join Auckland’, emphasising northern Rodney’s rural nature. Repeatedly the assertion was made that, together with Kaipara, ‘we would be in charge of our own destiny’. But as the boisterous but largely good-natured meeting wore on, speaker after speaker expressed grave misgivings about whether a Rodney–Kaipara could withstand Auckland’s growth pressure. Repeatedly the sprawling subdivisions of Mangawai were cited as the inevitable reflection of what occurred without strong regional governance. Its chairman of made a brief attempt to assert that Northland Regional Council’s care of the environment equalled Auckland’s, but the meeting seemed unconvinced.
From the outset, applause for retaining the existing boundary was decidedly stronger that that for the majority decision of the select committee, so by time Dr Smith summed up, in favour of the ‘safer’ option, there was little dissent, aside from the curious and hollow last-ditch claim in its dying minutes that the meeting ‘had been stacked’.
It is hard to fault Dr Smith’s management of the meeting, particularly given that he was expected to encourage support for the National Party-chaired select committee position. Which he did, playing, as he put it, devil’s advocate—to the extent that the editor protested: ‘Lockwood, you are steering the meeting!’ But while clearly the local member would have been equally happy to report to cabinet tomorrow morning that the locals so distrusted Aucklanders that they would prefer the option of merging with Kaipara, at least he can now say with a straight face that, try as he may, the vast majority was having none of it.
Perhaps the strongest argument for the existing boundary to remain where it is for the present is that neither the cost and disruption of an amalgamation northward nor any potential benefits and drawbacks can assessed until for the future arrangements for Northland’s governance are formally assessed—it could be argued that the Mangawai would be better protected if the region’s boundary was moved northward.
What was never in doubt was that for the Mahurangi to find itself in the Northland region would have seriously set back efforts to restore the harbour. Certainly, a plan B would have been quickly devised, but all bets were off in respect to what the vastly-stretched Northland Regional Council could support—best not even go there!
Low points Rodney district councillor June Turner’s vicious verbal rebuke of an elder she’d mistaken for an interjector, and her breathtaking assertion that the conservation department could take over the northern regional parks. Also-rans: Speakers purporting to represent communities, while fudging their mandates.
High points The speeches (in order of appearance) by regional councillor Christine Rose, Matakana developer Richard Didsbury, Matakana Coast Wine Country chairman Ras Sutherland, Ōmaha Beach Community chairman Graham Painter, and the two Ti Arai Point activists whose community, with regional council help, saw off a monstrous development proposal.
Two standouts Darryl Soljan, who explained he hadn’t intended to speak nor had the opportunity to confer with his family—charmingly, he is known to refer to his role at the wine estate as the navigator—gave a coherent and heartfelt account of why he considered the regional support and protection was essential for his vision for Matakana. This drew deserved and rapturous applause and handed Dr Smith, and no doubt the prime minister, a perfect clincher. Western Ward district councillor Greville Walker, provided ‘secretarial services’, detailing the predominance of speakers opposed to the Pūhoi–Makarau line (26 speakers offered a qualified recommendation: 18 to keep all of Rodney in the single city; eight supported the division as proposed) going on to summarise levels of support in his ward for remaining within the region.
Those who defended the proud achievements of regional governance, since 1954, on Saturday deserved to sleep the sleep of the just, and dream of a more cohesive metropolis and of even better protection for its beautiful hinterland.
Rodney Hide might not have spoken on Saturday, but Rodney roared.