Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Rodney's riddle leaves regional parks caught in power struggle

Rodney Hide. Photo / NZ Herald
Rodney Hide. Photo / NZ Herald

Call it Rodney's Revenge. Last election, the creator of the Auckland Super City, Minister of Local Government Rodney Hide, was railroaded out of Parliament by his so-called mates. But his memory lives on, thanks to a little riddle he slipped unanswered into the city founding documents.

He created a Super City, with a powerful central core and a constellation of satellite boards. What he did not do was define who would do what. With an evil chuckle he left it to the super mayor, powerful council and puny local boards to fight it out.

A year on, Rodney has gone, but his divisive curse flourishes. This month's battle du jour is over governance of the regional parks.

There can be only one victor and that's the Super City, which Parliament declared the boss. But that doesn't stop the starving from yapping when their master teases them with a bone.

Doing the rounds of the local boards recently was an "issues paper" from the city centre, seeking input on the "allocation of non-regulatory decision-making responsibilities".

It tempts them with talk of power-sharing on a wide range of subjects such as regional planning, Auckland-wide facilities and services, parks and libraries.

It's in the area of regional parks that a couple of local boards have made a sudden lurch for control. On October 26, the Waitakere Ranges Local Board resolved that "decision-making and oversight of the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park should be allocated to the Waitakere Ranges Local Board as this would better promote the well-being of the communities that live within the regional park ..."

The move seemed to embolden the Hibiscus and Bays Local Board to make a grab for control of the two regional parks in its bailiwick, Shakespear and Long Bay, and to encourage other boards to do the same.

"Regional parks that are within a local board area should be classed as local activities and the decision-making and funding should reside with the relevant board."

It's a trend which has horrified a wide range of environmental and conservation-oriented organisations, including Friends of Regional Parks, Waitakere Ranges Protection Society, Waitakere Forest and Bird, Manukau Harbour Restoration Society, Friends of Maungawhau, Long Bay Okura Great Park Society and many others.

"Without the regional parks, Auckland cannot become the world's most liveable city," says Arnold Turner, the first parks chairman of the old Auckland Regional Authority.

Long-time Auckland Regional Council parks chairman Bill Burrill echoes those words, saying: "The Auckland Council was entrusted with an integrated network of 26 regional and specialty parks managed by a skilled team of park professionals and rangers for the benefit of the whole Auckland community. Auckland Council must retain governance and budget responsibility."

All of this is so obvious, it seems unthinkable that those running the city centre would even think of toying with the locals in such a cruel way.

That's unless the unthinkable is true, and the mayor and councillors really are planning to pull apart one of the few truly regional treasures they inherited from the old system.

But there I go, falling into the trap set by Rodney's riddle, and implying there's a right answer to the local versus regional conundrum.

What I am certain about is that the old network of 26 regional parks was the most loved and respected institution in Auckland's old local body set-up.

Whatever trepidations I had when the restructuring of local government was announced, I was confident the day couldn't come soon enough for the professional culture of the regional parks service, epitomised by its rangers, to take under its wings the sadly neglected, city-run volcanic cone parks and repair years of neglect experienced under local control.

The regional parks have been accumulated over more than a century through the generosity and rates of all Aucklanders. The specialist knowledge and skills of the staff match that of the Department of Conservation.

Talk of splitting the network is heresy and Mayor Brown must say so.

- NZ Herald

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Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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