There is a furious debate over the future of the Takapuna Reserve which includes the generations old Takapuna Beach Holiday Park. Some Councillors want the campground gone to make way for a sailing centre against the wishes of many in the Takapuna community.
Contrast the differing attitudes of local Councillor Chris Darby and Chair of the Local Board Mike Cohen. Egocentric Councillor Chris Darby has reportedly told locals "higher rates and no debates get used to it ", while the more responsible Chair of the Local Board Mike Cohen says “we have an obligation to bring together all parties and hammer out a consensus over the controversial land.” I know which approach is more democratic.
Meanwhile on Waiheke it is Council staff who are cashing in on Council land. Each year tourists are shut out from Whakenewha campground because it is taken over by locals, Council staff and their mates who profit from lucrative holiday rentals. They let out their own homes for exorbitant rents while camping out cheaply on Council land.
Accommodation is at a premium on Waiheke as the Christmas holidays approach. Those on short term contracts or with clauses in their rental agreements that they must vacate over the Christmas holiday period are already being told they have to leave. At this time of year, holiday homes are required by landlords for their own family use or, increasingly commonly, for the lucrative summer rents they can attract. Many renters cannot afford the $600+ a week they are being asked to pay to ensure they can stay. Such figures are unaffordable for those on low wages and for workers helping out in the vital vineyards and hospitality industries.
Where do people go for the two months or more when they cannot afford a proper roof over their heads? Staying with friends is an option (assuming they have room and adequate water and waste-water facilities). Going off-Island might even work for some and the Auckland Council camping ground at Whakenewha Regional Park should be a good back-up plan. Shouldn’t it?
Well, they’re likely to be disappointed there as well. This is because many locals avail themselves of Council facilities at this time of year to make an extra buck for their own back pockets. Anxious to take advantage of the high rents available from holidaymakers they offer their own homes for rent to the highest bidder and instead camp out cheaply with their mates for a few weeks on Council land.
At first glance this might seem an acceptable practice but not when weighed against the needs of the temporarily homeless. Over the years this group of Waiheke home owners capitalising on their assets has increased so that there is no room at the ‘Council Inn’ for those genuine holiday makers from off-shore and those locals who really need the room. What’s worse is that Council officers are among those who regularly book the best camp site slots at the best times.
Council is a generous employer. Vacating one’s own home to take advantage of high holiday rentals is a choice, not a necessity. Some of these Council staff could well be in the $100k+ salary bracket. Sadly, the likes of the Hauraki Gulf Parks Advisor and a former Council arborist are among the happy campers. It is rumoured that Local Board members also profit from the homeless in this way.
This is not the use ratepayers should expect from their council campground. Locals with perfectly acceptable homes are preventing the campground being used for its intended purpose of providing affordable accommodation for tourists, and in Waiheke’s case, for those who are genuinely dislocated for a few summer weeks.
The knock-on effect is to damage the local economy which depends on tourism. It prevents those on the lowest incomes from having an affordable option when they are made to leave their long-term lets and dislocates essential workers in the hospitality industry. Some of these people are then forced into living in converted vans. Already they can be seen congregating in the car park at Onetangi Sports Park where Council provides toilets and showers.
Short of a few private landowners investing is quality, affordable rental opportunities this situation seems set to continue. Ratepayers already foot the bill for the public camp ground, now we just need Council to administer it in a fair and just manner.