Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Now is the time to secure parks for the future

Generous and civic-minded past generations did it for us. The least we can do, is carry on the tradition. Photo / Peter Bromhead
Generous and civic-minded past generations did it for us. The least we can do, is carry on the tradition. Photo / Peter Bromhead

It is ironic that one of the greatest legacies, bad old inefficient and divided, pre-2010 Auckland bequeathed to the grand new united Super City, was a 43,000ha network of 27 regional parks built up over the previous 47 years.

It was a shining example of what Aucklanders, when working together, can achieve. But apart from filching the regional park service's pohutukawa flower logo, as the new Super City brand, this shining example of regionalism at its best, was quickly relegated to a back cupboard.

Perhaps, like Pol Pot, Len Brown and his officials didn't want to be reminded that not all that occurred prior to Year Zero was bad.

The other day, former regional parks chairman Bill Burrill and his lobby group, Friends of Regional Parks, popped up and did just that, rattling the cage at a recent meeting of Auckland Council's parks committee.

They called for the reinstatement of the regional park growth programme that began more than 100 years ago with the acquisition of land in the Waitakere Ranges and was followed up with the creation of the Auckland Centennial Memorial Park in the same area in 1941 to mark Auckland's first hundred years.

In the six years up to the birth of the Super City, the Auckland Regional Council added eight new parks to the network - an extra 1794 hectares, including 38.5km of coastline.

In the following six years of the new Auckland Council, just one substantial new park was opened, the 188 hectare Waitawa Regional Park on the coast near Clevedon. And that was bought nine years before, by the old ARC!

Alarmingly, as the Friends point out, despite the enthusiastic reception from councillors to the Friends' 50-year plan for reviving the park expansion tradition, not a penny has been budgeted by Auckland Council for capital expenditure on regional parks.

And the future doesn't look that good. Neither mayoral front-runner Phil Goff, nor his main rival, Vic Crone, bothered to even return the questionnaire on regional parks the Friends asked candidates to complete.

The regional parks don't feature in Goff's campaign promises, apart from a pledge to sustain and protect Auckland's "beautiful natural environment."

If ever there was a time for getting in before the developers and land-bankers and acquiring recreational land out in the wop-wops for future generations, it is now.

The closest he comes to expanding the network is his "urban forestation programme" in which he promises to plant a million trees across the region over three years. But that's hardly the same.

What the politicians seem to have forgotten is that the Unitary Plan they've just approved, is designed to accommodate 422,000 new dwellings over the next 25 years - close to doubling the number of existing dwellings built over the past 170 years of settlement.

The new plan has also loosened up the planning restrictions on the urbanisation of the rural hinterland.

If ever there was a time for getting in before the developers and land-bankers and acquiring recreational land out in the wop-wops for future generations, it is now.

Generous and civic-minded past generations did it for us. The least we can do, is carry on the tradition.

But for that we need more politicians with the vision of bureaucrats like Fred Jones and politicians like Arnold Turner - later a Land Court court Judge, and Jim Holdaway.

In 1963, following the creation of the Auckland Regional Authority, they had the vision to raise a $2 million loan to buy land for regional parks, the first being Wenderholm. Opened in December 1965, it was instantly popular with the public.

He subsequently wrote: "I am sure that as a result, the regional parks programme gained very substantially in terms of support by the public. Thereafter, purchases of land for regional parks never lacked strong public support."

It's advice that the present crop of politicians could take on board to their advantage.

Over the years, however cynical and critical, Aucklanders were about local politicians and council services, the one shining exception recorded in poll after poll, was gratitude for the regional parks service.

But instead of trying to harvest this goodwill for its own benefit, the Len Brown administration seemed intent on stamping it out. There was even a half-baked plan to break the regional park network up and put individual parks under local board control.

At the time, Arnold Turner said: "Without the regional parks, Auckland cannot become the world's most liveable city."

Hopefully, Auckland's new political leadership will get the message.

- 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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