The euphemistically named ‘Sea Change’ process is being led by a so-called partnership of mana whenua, local and central government. It has a budget of many millions of dollars, most of it coming from Auckland Council ratepayers. It has been variously described as the ‘best thing since sliced bread’ and ‘a massive under-hand carve-up of the Gulf by vested interests’. As the Sea Change website notes, the HGMSP will be ‘non-statutory but information from the Plan will be used to modify unitary, district, regional and coastal plans …’ More planning through the back door.
Why the Waiheke Local Board has to contribute $30,000 to this process is unclear. It seems they felt they really must spend some more of their residual 2014/2015 SLIPs Opex (Operational) fund before the end of Council’s financial year and didn’t have any other better ideas. Or was the Board alerted to the ‘Keep Our Beaches’ (the group opposed to any marine reserve on Waiheke’s northern beaches) submissions before Parliament this week and this is their attempt to influence the results of that process. Whatever the motive, spending $30,000 of ratepayers’ money as an ‘extraordinary’ item (that means it wasn’t on the open agenda for everyone to see) is yet another example of poor governance on the part of this Board.
The Board’s Waiheke survey results will apparently be tacked onto the draft HGMSP, which is currently nearing completion and hence the so-called need for haste. But the survey is entirely unnecessary. The draft Hauraki Gulf Marine Spatial Plan will be undergoing yet another whirl of expensive and wide public consultation – and that’s the time that public views on the location of marine protected areas should be canvassed - paid for from the Sea Change budget and free from local political manipulation.
The Waiheke Local Board’s actions raise several issues.
- They have demonstrated their lack of transparency and accountability by pushing through expenditure without permitting public scrutiny of the item. This ensured there would be no debate and no submissions from the public.
- The proposed survey is unsound, undemocratic and unnecessary. The people of Waiheke have already spoken on this issue through a petition to local MP Nikki Kaye.
- Chair Paul Walden (an outspoken supporter of a Marine Reserve on Waiheke’s northern beaches) and Deputy Beatle Treadwell (with her close Gulf News connections) will have control over the survey questions. Talk about letting the foxes into the hen house!
- A letter box survey has big credibility problems. Many residents who are not home will not receive the survey. Some rental properties may receive several surveys (as they did election papers during the last local body election). This leaves open the possibility that one person could fill out multiple forms. And the high percentage of Waiheke ratepayers who are not here full-time won’t even get a chance to have their say.
While we welcome a Waiheke community public opinion survey, Keep Our Beaches has grave concerns about this approach on several grounds:
1. The intention is for it to be undertaken by a PR firm with links to the board rather than an independent market research professional.
2. It is being rushed through without proper consideration in order to feed results into the HG Marine Spatial Plan draft report. Good idea to contribute to the plan in this way, but only if the survey is scientifically valid and properly conducted. It could also be fed into the plan at a later date – marine spatial planning is a process not a product.
3. The methodology in the Minutes of the 12/3 meeting is described as a postage paid survey to “resident ratepayers”. Obviously this disenfranchises residents who are not ratepayers ie rent rather than owning their own homes, and ratepayers who live elsewhere but have property here. We have been told that there was consideration to just sending the survey to those on the Waiheke Electoral Roll. Obviously this disenfranchises those who may well have properties or businesses on the island but who choose to be on the roll in another location, possibly where their main home is... Sampling frame is likely to have to be a combination of Waiheke Electoral Roll, Resident and Non Resident Ratepayers lists.
4. Survey design will have to be very well thought through – eg is a mail out in April / May well out of peak holiday season going to get a high / representative response rate? Should it be a telephone survey? Door to door? Online? Should it be supplemented by qualitative research?
5. Combining it with a survey on re-opening the Esplanade as discussed at the meeting would be a very bad idea as the issues are in no way related and the sampling frame may or may not be the same.
6. Questionnaire design is critical. The questionnaire will have to include elements of information as well as questioning. Will it be open ended or multi choice.
7. All this depends on clearly identifying the purpose of such a survey, and this is something we believe that the local board should collaborate with the obvious stakeholders at an early stage (as the Paul Walden agreed to do as part of our written support for their Plan’s goal to advocate for a network of marine protected areas). For example, the purpose may be to identify the level of knowledge of a range of marine protection measures and mechanisms from the least to most stringent (reserves are obviously just one measure at the most stringest end of the scale) and to identify a range of locations in the Hauraki Gulf in the area encompassed by the Local Board that would be acceptable for a range of measures.
8. As stakeholders in this whole issue, along with FOHG, we believe getting the parameters agreed and the science of this survey right will lead to findings that will be acceptable to the community and help reduce the standoff that currently exists.
$30,000 is a lot of ratepayers’ money to waste on surveys, especially ones that disenfranchise a large portion of Waiheke ratepayers. The whole process is being done with indecent haste and little thought. It is this sort of self-serving behaviour by elected representatives that tells us there is a need for a group to represent ratepayers’ interests.
If our elected representatives won’t represent ratepayers, then someone else will.