Editorial - Community Consultation

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by John Ogden

 


Most readers of this magazine will know that the GBI Environmental Trust has been advocating a thorough community consultation process on the future of the Island’s ecology, and the links with tourism and economy, for several years. “Thorough” is a key word here, because unless the vast majority of people get to air their views, any resulting consensus leading to decisions can be derailed by a minority who didn’t get to have their say. We’ve had several ‘surveys’ which were quite thorough in their methodology, but resulted in reports containing environmental recommendations many of which were never implemented. (1)

If Environmental Strategic Planning is to have any meaning it must be based on good research and sound economic evaluations. Significantly, it must also be supported by community participation. The community needs to set the goals, and then figure out ways to achieve them.

In the recent marine spatial planning (GBI) exercise, we have seen that mail-dropping questionnaires doesn’t really work as a method for gathering community views; only c. 10% of the forms were returned. The community is understandably fed-up of being asked to fill in forms which result in — zero (I could use a stronger phrase). At least one important point did come out of this exercise though; a relatively high response rate from off-island ratepayers. That occurred in the CRESA survey and the mining debate too, showing the high level of concern for the Island’s environment among non-resident ratepayers. Residents and non-residents are to a degree mutually dependent, and often united in their values – it is a synergy that should be fostered.

For this reason the Trust supports a “Series of Community Conversations” approach recommended by Auckland Council in a report to the Local Board (May 22nd ESP meeting). Basically this means small-scale discussions on particular topics in local neighbourhoods, perhaps in people’s houses or associated with a social event. The key element would be that such meetings had an impartial independent ‘facilitator’ to pose possible scenarios or questions, to keep track of the discussion, and attempt to summarise views at the end. Not an easy job in some cases, but at least a new approach more likely to generate mutual understanding and respect than is sometimes shown in public meetings. If this method of consultation is agreed on, key questions that the Trust would like to see discussed are the level of concern for biodiversity decline and ways of stopping it.

In December 2012 the Local Board proposed a plan change to Auckland Council to allocate $100,000 to the community consultation process, with a view to identifying the predominant environmental concerns in the community. The GBI Trust supported this, and many of our members also responded positively. Unfortunately it appears that the money, to be taken from the toilet cleaning budget (!), had already been removed by Auckland Council, so it wasn’t actually available for a ‘plan change’. Soon after this we had a major fire, and any ‘spare cash’ was clearly going to be allocated to restoring the burned area – and a rapid response was required. The Board nominated c. $60,000 to the clean-up and restoration process, including weed control. However, the area is mostly under Department of Conservation control, so the Local Board had to make application to Auckland Council to take over “Control and Management” of the area, facilitating infrastructure boundary changes (Claris Airstrip, Dump), developing new recreational facilities and protecting biodiversity. The Board presented a very strong case for this, but Auckland Council and DOC must agree to it before any progress can occur.

So, one way or another, the $100,000 sought for community consultation has disappeared. The current council Report to the Local Board indicates that the consultation can be done for c. $15,000. If it can, that is good, but it seems a small allocation for the scale of the exercise envisaged.

It also seems unlikely that “a series of community conversations” can be completed (or even started), by the current Board. Local Body elections occur in October. The new board will need to follow through on these initiatives, and this I suggest should be a consideration in casting your vote! Off-Island people who pay rates on property on Great Barrier can vote in both their place of residence and in another place if they pay rates. You can access the information by emailing me , or on Auckland council web page – look for: “Do you live in one area and pay rates on a property in another?” and “enrolment form for ratepayer electors”.

Enrolment deadline:
16 AUGUST 2013.
http://www.aucklandcouncil.
govt.nz/ENaboutcouncil/howcouncilworks/elections/documents/ratesinsert2013.pdf

Meanwhile, a quarter of a million rats eat their way through the fauna and flora of Great Barrier, like a slow invisible fire, consuming at least 86,000 potential birds, unknown numbers of skinks, geckos and invertebrates every year, and slowing the transition from scrub to mature forest. I vote to stop that!

(1) For example, the CRESA Report. Centre for Research, Evaluation and Social assessment. Draft Visioning Statement 26/10/05; Final Report 2006.