Waiheke Local Board chair Paul Walden’s motion to Thursday’s board meeting starts with a concern which most would hardly rate as a weighty matter: Who’s in charge of a small roadside reserve & toilet block at Onetangi?
But he’s turned the question into a mission statement, and one that other local boards around the region know well: They know who’s supposed to be in charge, but that doesn’t mean the job is being done, either properly, or adequately, or even at all.
They also know that if the local board is in charge, the budget will be small.
Take the case of the consent application for a crossing permit over the road reserve on the Strand, which the board became aware of in December.
Mr Walden wrote: “The function of this parcel of land is aligned with being a local purpose reserve, rather than a road corridor. It serves no roading function at all. This is an unusual parcel of land and there is no clear reason for it to be classified as road reserve. Currently the parks team have no oversight or responsibility of this parcel of land or the public toilet, nor is there the ability to forecast or respond to infrastructure growth demands.
“The board provided feedback to the consent planner that creation of a road crossing on the road reserve would compromise the asset and restrict future development. They also noted that in circumstances such as this, where there is a council facility on road reserve, they would expect that that road be stopped and the parcel of land be reclassified to a (for example) local purpose public utility reserve.
“This would ensure that the status of the land is aligned with its use and the toilet is managed by the appropriate council department with sufficient asset management plan budget. This will also result in responsibility for the amenity resting with the local board, as per the decision-making table, and the facility could be developed as required.”
Mr Walden is asking in his motion for Auckland Transport to start the process of stopping the road, classifying the land as local purpose public utility reserve and asking that the local & sports parks department manage the toilet block.
Onward to greater change
But all that’s the small beer of what Mr Walden wants to tell the council’s governing body. From that road reserve example, he takes the council through the governance structure that was enacted, decisions that ought to have been made but haven’t been, to the resultant lack of funding or budget – or analysis – to support visitor growth projections on the island.
Mr Walden said the Local Government (Auckland Council) Act defined the roles the various parts of the new council would have and, for Auckland Transport, providing for toilets & public amenity infrastructure in the road corridor wasn’t one of its roles. Auckland Transport obviously agreed because, he said, “they have no growth forecast, targets or any other planning considerations for these assets”.
The act also stipulated that non-regulatory decision-making “should be exercised by local boards unless an Auckland-wide decision will better promote the wellbeing of the communities across Auckland”. As an alternative, Auckland Transport could delegate decision-making responsibilities, but no delegations were in place.
The board had prepared a submission to the Local Government Commission concerning the translating of current decision-making responsibilities into action, due to the lack of resources &/or understanding of the governance model and the board’s role in local place-shaping activities & local strategic visioning. This submission is on hold while awaiting legal advice, which Mr Walden said had not been forthcoming.
Managing visitor demand
From there to the bigger picture: The island’s local board has aspirations for tourism growth that respects the local lifestyle & environment, for which it wants more regional funding, but Mr Walden said the structure wasn’t in place to measure what’s needed, let alone provide the right infrastructure & facilities.
“The board appreciates the economic benefits of tourism, but wants to see safeguards for the environment in place to protect what is special about Waiheke, and more regional funding to meet the costs of additional demands which visitors place on infrastructure, services & facilities on the island.”
Mr Walden said the board had been trying to obtain figures on visitor growth following promotion of Waiheke as Auckland’s premium visitor attraction: “It has been difficult to obtain actual visitor numbers from ferry operators due to purported commercial sensitivity; however, figures now being obtained from Ateed (Auckland Tourism, Events & Economic Development) & Auckland Transport indicate Waiheke is accommodating 1.5m+ visitors/year and this is expected to increase.”
Mr Walden said credit card data showed a 44% increase in visitor spending between 2013-15.
“What is clear is that there is huge tourism growth evident & forecast, however there is no structured means to consider or respond to infrastructure growth demands. Our local facilities are struggling to cope with demand during peak periods. The board receives regular complaints from constituents about overloaded toilet facilities, rubbish & public transport issues.
“The Waiheke Local Board plan outlines the board’s aspirations in regards to tourism on the island. This is primarily about managing the population increase in a way which benefits Waiheke without compromising local lifestyle or the environment.
“The board have advocated strongly to the governing body during the long-term plan process to assess demand and plan for the growing visitor pressure. Discretionary funding the board allocated to support increased service levels during peak times was taken as savings during the long-term plan process [part of $300 million in budget cuts].”
Call to review strategic visioning
Mr Walden wants the council’s governing body to review the responsibility for local decision-making in line with the principle of subsidiarity as outlined in the Local Government Act. Apart from what happens in the road corridor, Mr Walden said this change should also include strategic visioning projects involving council-controlled organisations.
The centrist argument is that the council’s governing body is best positioned to achieve greatest efficiency. The way the Government legislated the super-city into being in 2010, operation of the council’s commercial arms was taken out of direct political control by being placed in the council-controlled organisations (thus reducing council control).
The third tier, the local boards, don’t even manage mowing of reserves in their area – which, on present schedules, will be one of the tasks that fall to voluntary community effort unless the council takes a better grip of how responsibilities are shared out between governance tiers.
Yet it’s this third tier that should be the primary council face, responsible for engendering community spirit & energy. At the moment the local board tier’s battle is all uphill. Mr Walden is not alone in seeking more rational management & funding – and if there’s any question about whether his quest is rational, keep in mind the drive-in Onetangi reserve toilets.
Link: Waiheke Local Board meeting, Thursday 28 April, Notice of motion – Local decision-making & visitor growth
Attribution: Local board agenda.