Goodbye to 2010 – the longest year

First of all I extend readers the Compliments of the Season and hope everyone is having a happy Christmas holiday.

As one gets older – the more the time seems to go faster.  When one was a kid, years were epic events, now they seem so fly by.   But this last year was different.  It was always pretty clear that 2010 was going to be an unusual year.  The Super City reform was the biggest change facing Auckland local government since the abolition of the provinces in the 19th century  – and then there was a small matter of the council elections.  But one thing I didn’t expect was the year to turn out to be so long!

I started my web site in July – most of the major events associated with the last months of the ARC, the election campaign, the formal dissolution of the ARC and the establishment of the Auckland Council have been well covered in my various posts.

However the postings don’t cover the whole year – and so I propose to fill in the gaps – and cover in some detail some of the important events I was involved in up to July – which I guess will help explain why my impression that 2010 was so eventful – and so long.

I guess my overriding concern at the start of the year – my last year as the chairman of the ARC was to extract as much out of the office – in terms of getting things done – as I could – while I could – before the ARC, and its chairman were consigned to history.  Even if I had felt pretty confident about winning the election (though nothing in politics can be taken for granted) – I was very much aware my time as chairman of the ARC was clearly running out.  One of the most corrosive things for the soul I believe is regret.  At the start of the years I was determined that I wasn’t going to look back at my time in office and have regrets for not doing this or doing that – while I still could.

 Surveying the year from the lofty heights of the last days of 2010 – I want to take one last look back at this very eventful – very long year.

 Those who know me – or who follow this blog – will be familiar with my keen interest in natural history and how I  tried where possible to weave personal activism in the area of conservation biology into my job as ARC chairman.

Offshore Island Research Group

As it happens the first noteworthy event I was involved in, early in January 2010,  was to join a party of naturalists, Ewen Cameron, Mark Bellingham and John McCallum on a boat trip to a number of rarely visited small islets and stacks in the inner Gulf – to the south and east of Waiheke. Some 25 years or so ago, ‘back in the day’,  these men were young scientists, members of what they called ‘the Offshore Island Research Group’.   I had long admired their activities , and their entrepid scientific adventures – exploring and surveying small remote islands mainly in the Hauraki Gulf and northern New Zealand.  Their work had been written up (but not always published) in papers typically authored ‘McCallum et al.).  So it was a honour to be asked to join McCallum et al.   In brilliant weather we set off from Rocky Bay in John McCallum’s work boat to visit and explore in turn Koi, Passage Rock, Frenchmans Cap, Gannett Rock, Tarahiki, Ponui and Pakihi.   It was a fantastic day out on the Hauraki Gulf and I guess the highlight was when we discovered a late fledging grey-faced petrel still in its burrow on remote Tarahiki.

 Hillary Trail Opens

A couple of days later I was back in my office at the ARC preparing a speech – delivered later that day at the wonderful ceremony held at Piha to formally open the 80 km Hillary Trail.   Actually it was Peter and Sarah Hillary who did the opening, while my friend and colleague Sandra Coney chair of ARC Parks and Heritage -whose idea the long trail was – officiated.  Also present was Lady June Hillary, a sister of Ed Hillary, Minister of Conservation Hon. Tim Groser, Waitakere Mayor Bob Harvey who came up with the idea of naming the ARC’s long trail after Ed Hillary and of course lots of other guests including Super mayoral contender Len Brown.  The Hillary Trail was a huge achievement for the ARC and will become internationally famous – a major drawcard for visiting adventurist travellers and locals alike.

 The next day I was at Newmarket (along with the other main contender for Super Mayor John Banks) as Transport Minister Steven Joyce formally opened the Newmarket rail station.

Back to the islands – near…

The day after that, (we are still in early January) I travelled down to Crusoe (or Papakohatu) Island which lies half way between Waiheke and Motuihe Island along with ARC scientist Matt Baber and my old friend Dr Weihong Ji of Massey University to release shore skinks into the islands virtually pristine environment.  Crusoe is one of my favourite places where over the last 14 years, with the help of ARC Biosecurity and natural Heritage people, I progressed my original 1996 MSc survey into a personal ecological restoration project for the 0.7 ha island – including the eradication of mice.  For more info on Crusoe and lizard releases – see elsewhere on this site:…gacy-programme/

…and far

Then three days later I was on a plane with my long-term friend nd colleague, field scientist par excellence, Sandra Anderson bound for Tahiti to join Dr James Russell – himself a rising star of conservation science.  Our ultimate destination was a lonely motu in the Tetiaroa atoll 60km north of Tahiti, French Polynesia – called Honuea where working in the sweltering heat and forcing our way through near impenetrable pandanus we assisted James in a 3 week scientific experiment/come rat eradication project. This ended rather dramatically when we were airlifted off the atoll with only the clothes we were wearing (and a few personal effects like passports, wallets, iPhone and toothbrush) by the French military in the face of an onrushing hurricane threatening to overwhelm the island. Fortunately a couple of weeks later thanks to the authorities and Air New Zealand we got all our luggage back.

Then back in Auckland – the very next day I attended to Island Invasives Conference at Auckland University’s Tamaki campus to hear James deliver an excellent PowerPoint summary of his Tetiaroa research.  For more on Tetiaroa – see

Queens Wharf – and the Mayoral Forum

The next week it was back into the old battleground – the Auckland Mayoral Forum to present a proposal on behalf of the government for a cruise ship terminal on Queens Wharf in time for the Rugby World Cup. This time the mayors led by John Banks (who must have thought it would help his Super Mayor ambitions) had decided to dig in and oppose government plans to build a cruise ship terminal on Queens Wharf.  The Mayoral Forum turned out to be a fiasco “We don’t want a boat shed on Queens Wharf!”.  This was in my view a dismal lack of leadership from the mayors and I was left to fight a solo battle on behalf of the government – a situation not without some irony.  I took some pleasure in criticising the Mayors and Mr Banks in particular in the media conference immediately after.

Super City – the battle for Auckland

Then it was time to confront the government on its plans to weaken the so-called Super City – especially by restricting the responsibilities of elected politicians and handing as much power as possible over to the hand-picked CCOs.  

The Transport CCO in its originall form was virtually designed to be totally unaccountable to the Auckland ratepayers who were providing half its funding.  Supported by ARC CEO Peter Winder and senior manager Christine Perrins we delivered a fairly devastating critique to the parliamentary select committee – which got a lot of media converage. As did a follow-up ‘op-ed’ article I wrote.

The effort wasn’t wasted and obviously helped pressure the government to dial back some of the more odious provisions in the original Bill.  Clearly the government’s attitude to empowering Auckland was and is deeply ambivalent.

Shakespear Sanctuary fence launched

Then soon after that in memorable ceremony on Shakespear regional Park we hlaunch the predator-proof fence which would help make Shakespear Regional Park a pest-free ‘mainland island’ nature sanctuary.  I first advocated for this in a paper presented to the ARC regional parks committee back in 1995.  It is enormously satisfying to see projects like this – usually considered a bit radical when first proposed – after all these years on their fulfilment.

Hauraki Gulf Marine Park celebrations

Late in February we travelled down to Motutapu to join with the Conseervation Minister, Kate Wilkinson and Gulf conservationists led by the doyen of conservationists the wonderful Jim Holdaway, and local body people – along with local Iwi, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park.

This was followed up by a trip to Motuihe Island a couple of weeks later to release a second consignment of little spotted kiwi.

To cap off the celebration Auckland Museum and the ARC arranged an all-day seminar at the museum where I was asked to deliver a keynote speech on conservation projects across the Gulf.


Fighting Pine Harbour sludge dumping

But conservation is not just about turning up at bird releases. 

Despite all the high sounding platitudes, our natural environment is still under constant attack from those who want to exploit it.  The fight to protect nature therefore must be unrelenting. Opposing inshore dumping by those who wanted to use the Hauraki Gulf as a dumping ground had been one of my motivations to go into politics in the first place.  It was in an anti-dumping campaign Greenpeace action in 1992 that I was arrested for the first and only time in my life. The practice of dumping over the last 15 years has been thankfully phased out by major players like Ports of Auckland and the major marina owners –  with the unfortunate exception of Pine Harbour Marina Ltd.

I was called on to assist the good people of the Pohutukawa Coast Community Association (PCCA) of Beachlands in their David and Goliath resource consent hearing battle with Pine Harbour Marina.  Pine Harbour Marina Ltd had sought permission to continue to dump dredgings in the Whitford embayment.  Locals had complained about this for years but officialdom (including sadly ARC coastal officers) had not listened.  PCCA had originally asked me to assist in November 2009, knowing of my long-term opposition to inshore marine dumping.  It was then I started writing what turned out to be a 14,000 word submission.  Fortunately the hearing was adjourned for 3 months which gave me time to finish it.  When I finally delivered it to the hearing panel in April – it took me over 2 hours.  However it must have done some good, for despite Pine Harbour having the best ‘experts’ and lawyers their money could buy – and the PCCA having very little by way of resources – the hearing panel chaired by Leigh McGregor declined the application.  Congratulations to Grant George, Kane Glass and the members of PCCA.

Auckland Seabird Seminar Day

While I was on Tetiaroa I received an invitation to sum up and chair the final session of a Seabird Seminar at Auckland University organised by scientist Matt Rayner.  It is always a relief to escape from the office and the madhouse of politics – even for just a few hours.  Because of  the usual lack of time my speech was only thrown together during the conference but my role was to sum up the essential points made by the expert presenters – leading world authorities on the subject:  Chris Gaskin, Helen Gummer, Colin Miskelly, Henrik Moller, Matt Rayner, Graeme Taylor and David Towns.  As their presentations were so impressive – and succinct – chairing the final discussion and summing up turned out to be a real pleasure.

Thanks to Matt Rayner for the invitation.

Railway Stations

2010 was a big year for railway station openings in Auckland  – I think I attended all of them – which were opened by ARTA at regular intervals right through the year  – Newmarket, Grafton, Avondale, Kingsland extension, Onehunga, and New Lynn.  I guess the highlight for me was the opening of Onehunga – first of all for the sheer size of the crowd (massive!) – and because it took 8 years of political battling to achieve it.  Patronage on the Onehunga line is now exceeding even the most optimistic expectations.…in-grand-style/

Queens Wharf  again – the McCully plan, ‘the Cloud’, ‘the Tent’, ‘the Slug’…and Shed 10.

It was around this time that Queens Wharf came back on the front burner when Murray McCully came to see me with a proposal for a temporary glass and plastic building on the wharf.  The idea it  would serve as ‘Party Central’ (in place of the cruise ship terminal vetoed by the mayors) during the Rugby World Cup.  McCully’s idea was to site the structure his people had called ‘the Cloud’ on the site of the dilapidated Shed 10.  The story of the not-so-temporary structure was somehow leaked to the NZ Herald which reported rumours of workers working around the clock to build a massive canvas tent.  Naturally McCully’s ‘Cloud’ for a time became widely known as ‘The Tent’.    Things got worse – when artists’ impressions were released  to reveal it clearly was not a ‘tent’ – it began to be called rather unfairly – ‘the slug’.   (Fortunately it’s now back to ‘the Cloud’).  A couple of days before the special Council meeting I called to deal with the McCully proposal I was given a heritage assessment of  Queens Wharf and its sheds (that had apparently been completed months before) along with a letter from Sherry Reynolds of the Historic Places Trust imploring us to protect the buildings.

This obliged me to reconsider the buildings – Shed 10 in particular – in their wider heritage context.  The NZHPT concerns were shared by other councillors like Sandra Coney, Christine Rose, Brent Morrissey, Joel Cayford and Paul Walbran.

Accordingly the ARC decision to go along with the McCully ‘Cloud’ proposal was predicated on formal consultation with the NZHPT about the sheds.  In my book ‘consultation’ has a legal meaning.  It was a process I intended to take seriously. Soon after, along with Peter Winder I was invited to Wellington to meet Minister McCully with Historic Places Trust CEO Bruce Chapman and Sherry Reynolds.  On the plane down I studied the heritage reports carefully to prepare myself for the meeting.

However the meeting in the Minister’s beehive office turned out to be somewhat different than the exchange of ideas I expected.  Rather then an open discussion to find a way through the problem, the Minister launched forth into a monologue, subjecting the hapless NZHPT people to a long and rather stern lecture.  Seeing their discomfort I began to feel pretty uncomfortable myself.  After that I decided to consult some trusted heritage expert friends – as well as the NZHPT to try to find a way through.

The red gates open after decades – Queens Wharf become ‘Peoples’ Wharf’

Meanwhile returning to our original objectives on the afternoon of Anzac Day 25th April Queens Wharf was formally opened to the public by Minister McCully for the NZ government, and myself on behalf of  the ARC.  It was a superb day and Aucklanders turned out in force – the Navy patrol corvette Rotoiti especially attracting thousands of visitors.  Queens Wharf in many respects had become a 3 hectare regional park, prime harbourside open space – right at the front door of the CBD.  I am sure it will turn out to be one of the ARC’s most important legacy projects.  A place where ordinary citizens can go to commune with the sea – and get up close to ships.

Bellbird translocation to the inner Gulf.

In May my focus went on overseeing plans to translocate bellbirds to Waiheke (Whakanewha Park and the Fenwick Reserve and Motuihe Island).  This was to be honest one of my hobby-horses and I saw it as a classic ‘do it while you can’ legacy project.  The original concept hammered out in 2008 with the support of Rob Fenwick and John Laurence of the Motuihe Trust was pretty audacious – 150 bellbirds transferred simultaneously to three release sites in one combined operation.   The project had been planned for 18 months.  ARC conservation scientist Tim Lovegrove who managed the whole opeation – one of the country’s leading ornithologists – made it even more complex (and more scientifically interesting) by proposing two source areas rather than one (Tawharanui and Tiritiri Matangi) thus also broadening the founder gene pool – and by agreeing to a last minute request from Landcare Research, Hamilton adding on another 50 birds to be released in the Hamilton gardens.  The simultaneous translocation of 200 birds to 4 widely dispersed sites would make the operation the largest and most logistically complex NZ bird transfer ever attempted.

Early in May teams of field volunteers set to work mist-netting birds on Tiritiri Matangi and at Tawharanui Regional Park – where I drive up with ARC scientist Matt Baber to thank them.  Then later the same day I was on the plane to Melbourne to deliver a paper on Auckland transport to the UrbanRail Conference.

A week after my return from Melbourne it was exciting to be present on Waiheke and a couple of days later on Motuihe island to help release consignments of bellbirds into their new environment.  There was huge public interest on Waiheke and a huge staff and volunteer effort was put in.  As I say the plan was bold and ambitious – elegant even – but not without risk.  The Landcare Hamilton Garden release did fail almost immediately as released birds rapidly dispersed – one finding its way back all the way to Tiri. On Waiheke some birds also rapidly dispersed. Remarkably one bird flew over to Motuihe where it was identified when it visited a feeder station – and then soon after flew back to Waiheke.  Extraordinary!

I spent some time out of the office in May and June doing radio telemetry monitoring (let the paper work wait for a day!).

Many birds stayed in the release areas at Whakanewha and Te Matuku peninsula for some months visiting the feeders until the early spring but after that sightings gradually fell away.  There is evidence to suggest bellbirds remain on Waiheke but in low numbers.  On Motuihe (the strategic reserve) a small number of birds including at least one bird from Waiheke have settled and now appear to be breeding.  This at least gives cause for hope for long term success.  These Motuihe birds – reinforced by a growing population on Motutapu (which have according to some reports been joined by some of our released banded birds) will eventually form a stable metapopulation in the inner Gulf.  Hopefully in the not-too-distant future as hoped, bellbirds will be regularly visiting the Auckland mainland as well as Waiheke.  The outcome of this experiment underscores the importance of removing rats from islands like Waiheke.

I was very pleased as a result of this project to get to know two young scientists who made an impressive contribution to the monitoring and therefore the scientific results of the project, David Bryden who carried out the monitoring for the ARC on Waiheke and a young French scientist Adrien Lambrechts who carried out a similar role for the Motuihe Trust. 

Wynyard Heritage Tramway

During my visit to Melbourne I presented my paper – as indicated below

Among other things this focussed on the appalling blunder made by Auckland’s ‘city fathers’ in 1956 when they ended Auckland’s very popular tram services and ripped up 72km of tracks.  After the conference I was able to meet officials in the Victorian state government to discuss the possibility of their making available a couple of heritage trams for our proposed waterfront heritage tramway in Auckland.  Returning from Melbourne my enthusiasm rekindled at the possibility of returning trams to the CBD I was dismayed to discover that despite a nearly a year of study noone had come up with practical solution on how to get the tramway based in the Wynyard Quarter connected to Britomart.

Fanshawe Street was out – as it was an extremely busy arterial – and the Auckland City transport officials would clearly not likely to be impressed with the road being dug up to build tram lines.   The ‘iconic bridge’, despite much hype from Auckland City in 2008 had also been put on the back-burner.  A scheme to run a tram line from the Wynyard Quarter along narrow winding Viaduct Drive was likely to cause issues with the on-road parking, and conceivably neighbouring apartment residents could be disturbed as the trams squeaked around the tight curves.  It all looked a bit grim.  It then occurred to me – why not just make a start and leave the getting to Britomart problem for the future. One rainy night, late in May after work I drove down to the Wynyard Quarter. Turning into Halsey Street from Fanshawe Street, I slowly drove the length of Halsey before turning left into Jellicoe.  I drove along Jellicoe passed the Sanford fish market until I reached Beaumont and turning into Beaumont and headed back south.  When I reached Gaunt I turned left again and stopped once I reached Halsey.  The distance on my odometer measured exactly 1.5km.  Not very much – but it would do for a start.

The next day I proposed to staff that we run with this very basic configuration.  Another advantage to this approach was that it relatively cheap to build.  Peter Winder raised the idea with John Dalzell of Sea +City Projects Ltd, the Auckland Regional Holdings subsidiary charged with developing the Wynyard Quarter – now part of the Waterfront Development Agency.  Thankfully John liked it – (for some time he had been given thought to the tramway idea  which was originally promoted to the ARC in 2009 by Cam Pitches of CBT and tram enthusiasts from MOTAT) but was concerned with costs and the practicalities.  But my solution was do-able and affordable – and pretty soon after the tramway became Sea +City official policy.

However another major technical issue emerged when concerns about overhead electric wires and possible difficulties that this could cause with heavylift loads – i.e. new or partially built yachts, with masts and spars being carried by truck.  Sea + City’s immediate response was to investigate battery powered trams.  I was very doubtful whether that would work but at least it showed Sea + City’s genuine commitment to the tram idea.

Soon a more sensible solution emerged when Sea+City came up with the idea of running the tramway along Daldy Street (the future ‘linear park’), parallel with Beaumont Street. This had the benefit of avoiding the marine industry area.  Sea + City then employed Motat’s tramway expert Colin Zeff to head up the project and give or take the odd bureaucratic issue, it has never looked back.

Of course nothing good ever comes easy.  From 1956 on, Auckland’s history has been littered with periodic large-scale plans to restore light rail – which raise hopes for a time but invariably end in failure.   The last of these was in 2001.  The idea of a fairly puny ‘heritage tramway’ designed as a tourist attraction, while it deflected the attentions of the official public transport bureaucracy (which most certainly would have crushed it) but the ‘heritage tramway’ also drew scorn from certain self-styled cultural high priests – and even the usually positive Brian Rudman.   One the other hand, enthusiasts, naïve in the extreme, wanted our tramway to at once be connected through Ponsonby to the Motat line at Western Springs.   My response – better our tramway to be sniggered at by arty snobs than be crushed by Auckland City Council, MoT, NZTA, the private bus companies et al.

A final postscript – in August Peter Winder and I called on John Duthie at Auckland City to make a pitch that the ‘temporary walking and cycling’ bridge be made strong enough to carry trams.  John was rather taken aback but helpful.  A few days later he reported back that while the bridge deck would remain ‘temporary’ the piles and essential structure would be built strong enough to carry a tram track linking the Wynyard Quarter to Britomart – in the not too distant future.

With 150 tonnes of tram rails now on site, and two trams (to be painted in traditional Auckland tram colours) on their way from Victoria, our Wynyard heritage tramway has overcome all bureaucratic hurdles and is on track (excuse pun) for completion in mid 2011 and for an official opening by the Waterfront Development Agency next August.</a>‘i-am-t…-is-never-over/

Queens Wharf – finally sorted?

After taking soundings with a number of heritage advocates I respected and admired, in discussion with Sherry Reynolds of the NZHPT I proposed a pragmatic compromise for Queens Wharf.  The outer Shed 11 to be dismantled and re-erected in another appropriate maritime environment.  Shed 10 to be kept, repaired in new materials, and with NZHPT active involvement suitably modified to become Auckland’s new international Cruise Ship terminal.   This was in late May – despite my best attempts at persuasion it was to be almost 2 months in Mid July before the government would finally agree to this sensible solution.   This was rather frustrating because we were obliged to keep our solution confidential for weeks until the government agreed to it.  In the end – early in July I called a public meeting of the ARC to reveal that the ARC had indeed reached a settlement with the NZHPT – with which the government would not agree.  This was followed by a very large media conference.  Clearly this was a major political stand-off between the ARC and the government. A couple of days later I travelled (at my own expense) to China where I hoped to meet the Prime Minister at the Shanghai Expo in an attempt to convince him of the sincerity of our purpose and the sense of our solution.   The ARC councillors supported me on this – and while I was out of the country even the most conservative members held firm against media criticism and pressure from Minister McCully.  I did manage to meet the PM and make my case. In the end the government modified its hardline position and accepted the compromise.  The Cloud will be built at the end of Queens Wharf where Shed 11 stood and Shed 10 will be repaired and restored – to once again become a working part of our maritime heritage – as a cruise ship terminal – hopefully permanently.  The recent ‘launching’ ceremony of Carnival Lines Pacific Pearl accompanied by a huge public party on Queens Wharf demonstrated what a fantastic asset Queens Wharf is to Auckland.

Here I will stop – mid-July brings really brings my review to an end – the rest of the year, elections, the other ARC legacy projects, the election of Len Brown as Super Mayor, the emotional goodbye to the ARC and the hopeful beginnings of the new Auckland Council, the row over the CBD Link and the Holiday Highway, have all been pretty-well chronicled on this site.  Just getting this far (to July 2010) in this post has taken over 3,500 words.  

As for me at the end of this tumultuous year, despite all the high political drama in Auckland, I find my mind tends to go back to the three remarkable weeks in January and February when we stayed and worked on Tetiaroa.  I still visualise the scene at dusk looking across the lagoon at the lonely motu of Honuea, Horoatera, Aie, Rimatutu and Reiono, the frigate birds patrolling above and the harsh mournful cries of the noddie terns, the coconut palms bending in the breeze and the eternal boom of surf on the reef.

As I said – 2010 was a very long year.  So farewell 2010.

Best wishes for the New Year 2011

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2 Responses

  1. Lindsay says:

    Hi Mike
    Congratulations on a great year’s work. I hope the momentum will continue in 2011. Very encouraging to see the city in the hands of some true visionaries. Thank God the village idiot did not get reelected. His vision (and that of his C & R fellow travellers) seemed to consist of nothing other than keeping the rates down (while somehow funding $40b for the 2020 Olympics).

    Personally, I would rather you put the rates up, to fund a decent rapid transit system. In my household, as in thousands of others, we could get by with one car instead of two or three, thus saving thousands of dollars in capital costs, parking, depreciation and running costs.

    Keep up the good work.

    • Mike Lee says:

      Many thanks Lindsay. Your kind words very much appreciated. Auckland sublime natural qualities means we all need to lift our game if our built environment iand civic amenities are o aspire to the qualities of Auckland’s superb natural landscape and wonderful environment.
      Kind regards,

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