Humbled by 2010–2013 Rodney Local Board
Before the meeting began, one of the local board members offered up a prayer: that the meeting might close by 5 pm. Service as a local body representative is famously thankless work.
The work has been doubly thankless for the inaugural Auckland region local board members, who had endless responsibilities but few powers, particularly in the early months of the Auckland’s new governance arrangements. Some local boards, while exploring the extent of their powers, sought ultimate control of assets within their physical territory. A particularly egregious example was where the Waitakere Local Board wanted control of Waitakere Ranges Regional Park, from the 20 Auckland Council councillors with region-wide decision-making responsibility.
The entire purpose of the first regional governance legislation, the 50th anniversary of which is in six weeks time, was to provide regional infrastructure. Thanks largely to Judge Arnold Turner CMG, the legislation provided for the purchase of ‘regional reserves’, which today number 26, cover 42 000 hectares and receive more than five million visitors per year, three-quarters of them Auckland residents. This network of regional parks, the singularly most popular outcome of regional governance, would not have been possible under the parochial days prior to 1963, when it had been a struggle to extend regional open space greatly beyond that which was purchased to safeguard the city’s drinking water supply. By geographical necessity, regional parks are often going to be located away from areas of highest population, making it impracticable for the Waitakere Local Board to take financial or democratic responsibly for 16 000 hectares of regional parkland that, in the words of the original legislation:
…would be of benefit to the inhabitants of two or more local districts.
Similarly, it would have been impracticable for the Rodney Local Board to shoulder responsibility for the nine regional parks within the Rodney Ward.
It is not just the uneven distribution of regional parks that dictates that they should be administered by Auckland Council’s governing body—the mayor and 20-member council. The network is greater than the sum of the parts, in terms of the richness and sheer number of locations available to regional park visitors. There are also economies of scale available in staffing and operating a network of parks of this magnitude. Friends of Regional Parks, under the chairmanship of Bill Burrill, a previous long-serving regional parks committee chairman, strongly advocated for control to remain with the governing body, and the misguided attentions of the Waitakere Local Board were seen off.
None of this is to say, however, that local boards don’t have a crucial role to play, as a conduit between locals and ‘their’ regional park. In this regard, support from Rodney Local Board for the Mahurangi Regatta, the Mahurangi Coastal Trail, and for Auckland Anniversary Weekend 2016 has been unstinting. At Monday’s meeting, the last before next month’s local body elections, the editor, at short notice, was offered three minutes in which to ask for the board’s help in pitching 2016’s Auckland Anniversary weekend as the official celebration of the 50th anniversary of the coastal regional parks, with the opening of Wenderholm Regional Park.
Three minutes is not a lot of time to outline a major event. But because the board members were already sympathetic with the concept and had already taken the opportunity of discussing it with the Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development northern manager, the speaking spot merely had confirm that the community and its local board were on the same page. Copies of the Mahurangi Cruising Club’s fabulously attractive yearbook, provided to ensure that all board members were aware as to just how stunning a visual spectacle the Mahurangi Regatta is, added to the end-of-term atmosphere, that was also very much to do with the promising performances of Emirates Team New Zealand that and the previous morning, and the loss of race four by eight seconds was not denting optimism that Auckland Anniversary Weekend 2016 might be the prelude to the next America’s Cup, on the Waitematā.
It is frequently claimed that voter apathy is responsible for the extremely low rate of voter participation in local body elections—little better than half the number voting in central government elections, which itself is worryingly low.
The single cause for reticence, however, is lack of confidence of the myriad aspirants, their competencies, or their policies. The utility of political parties, at their best, is that they package policies and select suitable candidates to represent them. Even highly motivated voters are hard-pressed to glean sufficient information on candidates through media coverage to make well-informed decisions. A further issue is that while postal voting would appear to make participation easier, it also robs the process of a sense of occasion, and it is all too easy to leave the forms unmarked and unposted, come the closing of the polling. The courage of the Porirua City and Manawatu District councils in volunteering to take part in an online voting trial in 2016 is to be strongly commended, as is the Labour Party’s provision of online voting in its current leadership election. Certainly those who chose to vote online after receiving their PIN and password by mail this week will wonder why Aotearoa is not already leading the world in this respect, rather than playing catch-up to Estonia and Geneva.
Given how supportive the Rodney Local Board has been of the Mahurangi Action Plan, and how well-versed on Mahurangi issues generally, Mahurangi voters are in the happy position of having a virtual ‘Mahurangi Action Party’, in the current board members, most of who are standing for re-election. One who is not, however, is Tracey Martin, who will concentrate on her duties as a list member of Parliament. This leaves incumbents Steven Garner (current deputy chairman) and June Turner, and eight others competing for three Warkworth Subdivision places. By voting for only Garner and Turner, strategic Mahurangi voters will best ensure that these two strong supporters of the Mahurangi Action Plan are re-elected.
Incumbents representing other subdivisions of the Rodney Local Board territory, and seeking re-election, are James Colville, Warren Flaunty, Thomas Grace, Bob Howard (current chairman), John McLean and Brenda Steele. Both from their familiarity with the Mahurangi Action Plan, and the constructive and collegial working relationship evident at Monday’s meeting, it is to be hoped that these board members all get to serve for a further term. In his Federated Farmers of New Zealand role, James Colville was a strong supporter of the open-ground indigenous species establishment trials. He also weighed in with the Mahurangi Regatta, and at the funeral of his friend Peter Oxborough, driving the Scotts Landing shuttle bus to relieve some of the inevitable vehicle congestion there. Brenda Steele, meantime, reported to the meeting that, during discussions with Auckland Council planners on the open spaces strategy, board members in took the opportunity to push the Mahurangi Coastal Trail concept—with such solid support, the editor’s attendance was scarcely necessary, and nor did it jinx consideration of further support for the Mahurangi Farm-Forestry Trail—the board, sometime later in the afternoon, voted to contribute $5000.
In summary, those who toiled on the Mahurangi Action Plan in the final years of the regional council, and who feared for the future of the initiative under the new, unified, regional governance structure, have been done proud by the local board members mentioned here. So rather than risk helping to elect some candidate about which too little might be known, Mahurangi voters can safely support Steven Garner and June Turner for a further term of office.
Or for that matter, in the case of Steven Garner, in his tilt at the Auckland Council itself.