Auckland Council’s stealthy move to break up the regional parks network

If you thought what Auckland Council is doing at Western Springs, and at Dove-Myer Robinson Park with the national Erebus memorial, was pretty bad, what’s been planned for our regional parks and the Hauraki Gulf is even more concerning.

Auckland’s 28 regional parks have long been considered the ‘jewels in the crown’, the pride and joy of Aucklanders with an outstanding international reputation. Originally the creation of visionary regional politicians like Dove-Myer Robinson, managed by uniformed park rangers, they are an iconic part of Auckland’s beach and bush lifestyle. 

Te Arai Regional Park – one of the last major acquisitions of the former Auckland Regional Council. Purchased in 2009 for and to be held in perpetuity for the people of Auckland.

In my years of service for Auckland, especially as the chair of ARC regional parks committee (1992-1995) and chairman of the ARC (2004-2010), I was involved with the acquisition of about one third of these regional parks, some of which were enormously difficult to achieve. I also worked with PM Helen Clark in 2009 to amend the Local Government Act to ensure our regional parks were protected in public ownership in perpetuity.

Unfortunately Auckland Council, true to form, has again been floating the idea of effectively breaking up the regional parks network. Hidden away in its 460 page Regional Parks Management Plan which went out for consultation late last year is policy 45, to ‘investigate’ the formal transfer of 20 (or 21) coastal parks including much-loved Tawharanui, Wenderholm and Long Bay, as well as the Hunua Ranges, including five water storage lakes, into the DOC managed Hauraki Gulf Marine Park. This amounts to 17,700 ha of land owned by the people of Auckland, much of it priceless coastal real estate. 

The planned transfer is in response to a written request in October 2020 from the ‘co-chairs’ of the Hauraki Gulf Forum, Nicola MacDonald and Cr Pippa Coom – without any authority at that time from the Forum. But here’s the kicker, the proposed move is happening at the same time the very same people are lobbying the government to transform the Hauraki Gulf Forum into a ‘co-governed’ Hauraki Gulf authority, and for the ‘removal of the ‘Marine Park concept’’. In plain English abolishing the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park!

When the word got out about this double-play scheme, there was a public outcry. In response the council, launched a spin campaign, suggesting critics which included Judge Arnold Turner, one of the original founders of the regional parks network, Bronwen Turner, chair of ‘Friends of Regional Parks’ and Sandra Coney, a long-standing chair of the regional parks committee, and myself, were spreading ‘mis-information’. Despite this some 4684 public submissions were lodged opposing the regional parks transfer. 

Furthermore, ignoring Local Government Act principles of public consultation, the council has refused to make available independent legal advice on the proposed parks transfer, despite LGOIMA requests, resulting in my having to appeal to the Ombudsman. 

In the face of this public opposition, from what I could pick up when I made my submission to the council hearing panel on 20 May, council officers may be modifying the offending policy 45. However policy 271: ‘Management transfers: Consider the transfer of management in whole or in part, of: regional parkland to a relevant public agency or iwi authority…’  it seems will be staying. 

Only three out of seven Auckland representatives on the Hauraki Gulf Forum voted with the bloc of iwi members in February to support radically changing the governance of the Hauraki Gulf. One of them was Waiheke Local Board chair Cath Handley and another was local councillor Pippa Coom. In contrast Councillor John Watson (May Ponsonby News) continues to speak out against the scheme to in effect hand over regional parks to a parks-unfriendly, undemocratic, ‘co-governed’ Hauraki Gulf authority. For doing this, Watson is now the subject of a formal code of conduct complaint from Coom and Handley in what appears to be an attempt to intimidate him. The principle of free speech and that our parks are owned and managed for the people of Auckland – all of them – is being steadily undermined. Did anyone vote for this?

This article is published in the June issue of Ponsonby News

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