Nobody has been more vocal in their opposition to the waste of ratepayers’ money that has become the hallmark of Auckland Council than me. I have written many blogs over the last eighteen months alerting the public to various examples of Auckland Council waste, its bloated bureaucracy, its mortgaging of our future through debt, its lack of accountability and disregard for due process. But what Meeuwsen is proposing would be the BIGGEST economic disaster ever for Waiheke, with an even greater potential for unaccountability, favouritism and nepotism than we have come to expect from the current Local Board.
Along with the usual Waiheke Green rent-a-mob, the ‘Our Waiheke’ de-amalgamation campaign is recruiting supporters from all over via Facebook and, sadly, there is no end to the number of naive wannabe ‘revolutionaries’ who will join any anti-establishment campaign.
So let’s put this nonsense into perspective. What is a Unitary Authority responsible for? Well, everything on the government front that central government doesn’t do.
Auckland Council is a Unitary Authority but it’s easier to comprehend if you think about the combined functions of the former Auckland Regional Council and the Auckland City Council.
For a start - that’s public transport, environmental protection, coastal protection, water quality, pest control and regional parks. Then there’s Civil Defence, planning, District Plans, roads, footpaths, parking, bus shelters, local parks and equipment, play grounds, public toilets, rubbish and recycling, building inspections, engineering, libraries, community facilities, sports fields, noise control, animal control, by-laws, financial responsibility for all Council-owned (ie. public) property and buildings … and the list goes on. Staff for all the new departments will need to be housed which means a new multi million dollar Council building. And I doubt the new fashionable mopeds will be considered more suitable than the fleet of cars necessary for the many staff to do their job.
And whose money will be paying for setting up, staffing and maintaining this structure – well, yours and mine of course! And who expects to be making the decisions that control this cosy little ‘Our Waiheke’? Well, the current Board members of course and their faithful followers who are promoting the idea. Heaven forbid!
But it will cause some excitement for a while. The Gulf ‘Green Taliban’ News is already backing the proposal and the usual island rent-a-mob will get right behind it. They’ll cobble together a petition signed by 10% of the population and they’ll waste a lot of valuable time, effort and resources that should be put into fighting for Waiheke within Auckland Council, as the Local Board members were supposedly elected to do.
Yes, Auckland Council structure needs strengthening, local boards need to be given more responsibility and perhaps there should be some re-organisation to reflect the distinct difference between the North, Central and Southern regions of Auckland. Most especially, the role of the Mayor should be revisited to make this position less of a figurehead and more a genuinely working Mayor with greater accountability to the Councillors, local boards and the voting public. This nonsense about the ‘Mayor’s Vision’ and its attendant powers to economically over-extend the Council and drive through expensive and foolish vanity projects has got to be curtailed – by central government.
I could mention many other things that need fixing but what I cannot stand for is the wrenching of Waiheke away from its close connections with Auckland City as proposed by this breakaway group with the presumptuous name of ‘Our Waiheke’.
Since the amalgamation of Waiheke into Auckland City Council over 25 years ago our connection has only strengthened. While still shunning the title of ‘suburb’, Waiheke now has a quarter of its working population commuting to the city. It relies on people coming the other way for tourism, which is the mainstay of the local economy. That industry flourishes because of our inter-connectedness with city, regional, national and international destinations, providing local jobs, nurturing our vineyards, restaurants, cafes and olive groves, giving rise to a wide range of local businesses that service that economy. Thanks to Auckland Council and Auckland City Council before that, we now have a vastly improved local infrastructure to cope with both the tourist numbers and local expectations.
We have three ferry companies connecting us to the city with a frequency of service back and forth that is the envy of every Aucklander relying on public transport.
All this should be obvious to even the most confused local focussed only on the rash and disingenuous promise of rates reductions that could never happen under a tiny go-it-alone Waiheke Council. Why? Because there are no economies of scale from which to benefit; no spreading of the debt burden that would accrue when we have to fund future and present facilities. We could not rely on a bigger Council to stomp up the extra million dollars to repair the damage from a Cyclone Wilma, as happened in January 2011, or to fund a $5 million wharf upgrade to even one of the many wharves under local jurisdiction. We could never afford to upgrade the currently unsound road around the Eastern end of the island, let alone maintain the rest of the roading network and I haven’t even touched on the necessity of providing land for a local Council dump (who wants that next to them?) when we can no longer afford to barge the refuse to Auckland because we would finally being paying the true cost of doing this. And if anyone thinks the answer is ‘zero waste’, well that comes at a cost too, as the abortive, so-called ‘community-run’ Cleanstream experiment showed us.
Then there’s the HUGE cost of undertaking a new Unitary Plan process, because the Hauraki Gulf Islands District Plan (HGIDP), that only became operative in September 2013 (after almost 9 years in the making) will no longer be applicable and so on and so on .……
The 1989 Waiheke anti-amalgamation move ultimately fizzled because it didn’t stack up economically and failed to get sufficient local support. Nobilangelo Ceramalus’s 2008/9 bid to amalgamate Waiheke with Thames/Coromandel was ridiculed by locals, opposed by the Thames Coromandel District Council itself and soundly rejected by the Local Government Commission. And the Meeuwsen sideshow will eventually go the same way. But what these all have in common is that they take up a vast amount of time, effort and money.
What Meeuwsen’s ‘My Waiheke’ proposition means is that all thinking, honest, hard-working Waiheke ratepayers who are concerned about their futures, finances and property values will now have to spend their precious time fighting these latest de-amalgamation antics (as if we didn’t all have plenty of other things to do). And that’s exactly what is happening.
The opposition is swinging into action. A group of ratepayers is forming who are deeply concerned about the financial and economic implications of this latest waste of time and money. If you want to get involved or simply want more information about the issues you can contact me by email on firstname.lastname@example.org