Auckland Transport gets a spray over weeds

By Andre Hueber


Auckland Council's transport chairman Mike Lee says Auckland Transport should not be involved in the controversial issue of roadside weed spraying.

Under the Local Government (Auckland Council) Act, the transport agency has been in charge of the spraying since amalgamation but Mr Lee, who sits on the Auckland Transport board, says that doesn't make sense.

In a heated meeting of the council's Environmental and Sustainability Forum last week, to discuss future spraying policy for the whole city, Mr Lee criticised the decision made by the Auckland Transition Authority to delegate the transport agency responsible for roadside spraying.

"It's my personal view that the transport agency has been given more responsibility than is sensible," Councillor Lee says.

"These types of issues should be the responsibility of local boards."

Auckland Council is in the process of formulating its weed-management policy, which covers spraying in parks and reserves.

At the same time, there is an Auckland Transport review covering roadside spraying. That review has drawn flak, with opponents of chemical spraying annoyed it is being carried out in secret without public consultation.

At the forum meeting last Wednesday, Auckland Transport's planned weed-management policy was effectively rendered powerless, after Auckland Council said it could override it. Council officers said Auckland Transport's policy needs to be developed in collaboration with council to ensure "consistency of weed management and control across the organisation".

It was recommended that Auckland Transport contributes to the council's planned policy and "act consistently with it once it is finalised".

Auckland Council community policy and planning manager Rob Cairns says the council can "instruct" its council-controlled organisation, Auckland Transport, to comply with its policy.

The former Auckland City Council area has had a spray-free policy since 1998, and the Waiheke Local Board, which sits within it, made a submission to the forum that it would like to see the historic policy applied across all of Auckland.

"But we're concerned that Auckland Transport will override anything that comes out of council's weed-management policy," says the deputy chair of Waiheke Local Board Jo Holmes.

"We've battled for a long time for the policy we have now - we wouldn't want to see it changed."

The transport agency was reviewing legacy council policies regarding roadside weed control but hadn't decided whether there would be one policy for all areas or a variation. At the moment, some parts of the supercity use agrichemicals and some don't.

Mr Lee supports the Waiheke Local Board submission, saying the former Auckland City Council's policy is "an enlightened one" and it would be a mistake to depart from it.

Following discussion, the forum agreed to recommend the Waiheke Local Board submission to Auckland Council, and communicate support for "an environmentally safe and sustainable weed treatment that has the support of the local community".

REDUCTION OF CHEMICALS A GOAL

Mr Cairns says the council recognises a desire to reduce agrichemicals such as glyphosate (commonly known as Roundup) although their use is necessary for certain plants.

Councillor Richard Northey suggested the minimisation of chemicals be included as an objective of a weed-management policy, but councillors Cathy Casey and Wayne Walker want more than that - they pushed for an aspirational goal of no chemicals at all.

Mr Lee said those with rural interests would be alienated by such a "lofty and unrealistic" position. "Is it appropriate to formulate such a far-reaching policy, which also has a major economic aspect, and implement it without consulting representatives of rural industries?"

Councillor Des Morrison agreed, saying dairy and beef industries would be reluctant to play ball if there was a"thou shalt" directive.

"I don't have a problem with where you want to get to, but I do have a problem saying upfront that what's we're going to do."

An amendment supporting "minimisation" was eventually passed.

Mr Cairns said until the council decided on a new weed-management policy, the legacy policies would stay in place. The forum also discussed timelines, with concern that the policy's deadline of October next year is too far away.

Forum members agreed to try to speed things up. A draft policy is expected to be released next March.

One of the steps to take place in October and November is to present a draft discussion paper to all 21 Local Boards, along with other interested parties including the Weed Management Advisory, Department of Conservation, and Friends of Parks groups.

Weed Management Advisory spokeswoman Hana Blackmore says the decision to develop a regionwide policy, allowing the public and Local Boards to have a say, is a "huge leap forward".

Her group was concerned that if different policies were adopted in different areas, local boards such as Waiheke would be forced to pay for non-chemical alternatives. "It's right that each community should have control. No local board should be faced with not being able to achieve an aspirational goal because their ratepayers have to fund it."

Weed Management Advisory (WMA) spokesperson Hana Blackmore says she is "extremely concerned" about Auckland Transport's weed policy plans, more since asking the council agency to supply her with the wording of their weed management contracts. She put in an Official Information Act request and says AT told her it would cost $760. Ms Blackmore believes that is "totally unreasonable" and if the information isn't forthcoming she'll complain to the Ombudsman.

WEEDING OUT INFO CAN COST

Auckland Transport spokesman Mark Hannan says the agency is entitled to charge for its labour and materials involved in supplying any such information under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act.

"Our rate in that regard is $47.50 (incl GST) per half hour and in this case we estimate it will take eight hours to collate the requested information," he says.

See WMA on Facebook.

Auckland Transport runs a no-spray register for streets that opt out and weed their own properties. See http://tinyurl.com/nosprayregister

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- The Aucklander

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