Every small community has its eccentricities, so why does ‘Midsomer Murders’ remind me so much of Waiheke? Well, let me tell you a story …
This is the legend of the long-standing and well-documented feud, between the Walden family and the Waiheke Golf Club. No-one knows what first set it off, but the feud started decades ago, at a time when the Waiheke Country Club developed a golf course on land on Onetangi Rd that was eventually acquired by the then Waiheke County Council as a public reserve. Golf courses are a common community asset, especially in smaller areas and Waiheke was no exception. The land was then leased to the Waiheke Golf Club, but the Walden family were not happy with the arrangements and proceeded to oppose the Golf Club lease at every possible opportunity.
The Waiheke Golf Club is one of the largest, if not the largest, community club on the island. Its Committee and 400 plus members tend the course with all the enthusiasm that any thriving community group puts into its activity. However, on-going opposition from the Walden family has prevented the Club developing the course as they would wish. Several years ago, in the latest twist in the decades long feud, Paul Walden (now Chair of the Waiheke Local Board) wrote to the Minister of Conservation, with the assistance of hard left Green Party list MP Denise Roche, claiming the lease issued by the Auckland City Council was invalid. Turns out, they had a point and the lease process had not been correctly followed.
Now, this might seem like a helpful gesture except that Paul Walden then became a member of the Waiheke Local Board and was in danger of being both judge and jury on the Golf Club lease issue. Considering the family interest, you might expect him to declare a ‘conflict of interest’ right up front, but no. It took a referral to the Council’s ethics panel to persuade him otherwise. Paul stood aside from the lease hearings, switched roles and instead submitted against the Golf Course lease (and other community leases on the land) as a member of Hauraki Gulf Enhancement Society, whose membership is primarily Walden family members. Since the granting of the leases, the same Society has mounted an objection through the Minister of Conservation.
So why is this suddenly of interest? Well, coincidentally, the Minister of Conservation has now delegated authority for final, final sign-off on leases on reserve land to the local authority; in this case, Auckland Council. The Waiheke Local Board agenda, 23 October contains an item on delegations to local boards. The Board has submitted to Auckland Council that the decision making on leases (inherited from the Minister) should be further delegated to the Local Board level. So - the sign off of the golf club and other leases would now be the business of the Local Board.
But wait, there’s more. Not only was the current Chair of the Local Board a submitter against the leases and a member of the Walden family, which has opposed the golf club activity on this land for many years, but the Deputy Chair, Shirin Brown, was also a submitter against the granting of the lease, and, beforehand, with Paul indulged in protest action against the Golf Club when they took their children picnicking on the club greens one day, much to the chagrin of those attempting to play a round of golf. Now, I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a conflict of interest to me.
The Golf Club lies very close to the extensive 51 hectare Walden property with its development potential at the end of Onetangi Rd, and which backs onto Trig Hill Rd properties. This is just one of many Waiheke land holdings owned by various Trusts, which involve the Walden family. The lawyer of Mike Lee, Councillor for Waitemata and the Hauraki Gulf, is Ron Walden. Does that mean that Lee will stand aside from making a decision on the Local Board submission? Was this the substance of the conversation Lee, Walden and Board Member Meeuwsen were having during their cosy lunch at a Waiheke café last week?
It is because local issues can give rise to intense personal disputes and conflicts of interest that some decision making is best kept at arms length. It is part of the checks and balances that keep us from rule by petty dictators. It is a fundamental of the rule of law that a person cannot be judge and jury in their own case. That is why the Minister’s delegation of final leases sign-off should remain at the Governing Body level and not the Local Board.
And that is why Tom Barnaby is such a good policeman. Despite living in the heart of Midsomer, he never has a conflict of interest and is concerned solely with the administration of justice through the rule of law. In Midsomer it seems the villains get caught and justice is meted out through the courts. Let’s hope this is also the case here and justice prevails.