Brian Rudman
Brian Rudman is a Herald columnist looking at Auckland and national issues

Brian Rudman: Cash for volcanic cones upkeep would show Crown remorse

Minister of Treaty Settlement Chris Finlayson. Photo / APN
Minister of Treaty Settlement Chris Finlayson. Photo / APN

On Friday, the Minister of Treaty Settlement Chris Finlayson fronts up to a special meeting of Auckland councillors to outline the council's role in the co-governance model hammered out between the Crown and local iwi, for 11 of Auckland's 50 or so volcanic cone reserves.

The big question is, will he be offering any Government cash for ongoing maintenance of these reserves, to demonstrate the Crown's genuine contrition for past wrongs.

Without continuing government funding, the proposed settlement could be seen as another episode of Crown trickery, lumbering Aucklanders, both Maori and Pakeha, with the burden of funding not just a new statutory governance board, but also the upkeep of what will remain, in effect, Crown reserves.

Volcanic Cones Society spokesman Greg Smith says if the Government is handing back the title of the 11 maunga to the Maori as part of a treaty settlement deal, then the Crown should pay.

The settlement is on behalf of all New Zealanders, not just Aucklanders and the governance proposal is a minefield that Auckland Council should stay right out of. It's hard not to agree.

Instead of Auckland Council, which currently administers the reserves on the Crown's behalf, entering into a co-governance arrange with local Maori, Mr Smith says the non-Maori partner should be the Department of Conservation. Let the Crown's conservation arm fund and co-govern what have been for a century or more - and in effect will remain into the future - Crown reserves.

Early last year, when Mr Finlayson first announced plans to transfer title of the 11 maunga to local Maori - subject to conditions which, in effect, left them as Crown reserves, except in name - my heart fell. The creation of the Super City had, for the first time, opened up the chance to bring all of Auckland's volcanic reserves under one supervisory body.

The obvious candidate for the job was the highly respected Auckland regional parks administration, which is now part of the new Super City structure. Unfortunately, Mr Finlayson, in his single-minded efforts to tick off another Treaty settlement, ordained that 11 of the volcanoes would forthwith be hived off under its own board of governance.

It's a move that runs counter to the Crown's ambition to seek Unesco World Heritage status for the whole field, acknowledging that what's at issue here is not just 11 or 50 individual cones, but one single geological entity, unique in the world for also being home to more than one million people.

If the arrangement goes ahead, governance will again be fractured between the new governance board controlling the 11 elite cones such as Mt Eden, Big King, Mt Roskill, Mt Victoria and half of One Tree Hill, Auckland Council, which controls most of the rest, DoC with the gulf islands, and the Cornwall Park Trust Board.

As the excellent new book Volcanoes Of Auckland by Bruce Hayward and Graeme Murdoch, underlines, 170 years of European settlement has not been kind to the cones. Many were set aside as reserves early on, but only so council road builders and government railways had a free source of ballast.

The authors note that when the city was founded in 1840, 38 volcanoes had intact scoria cones. "By 2010, fifteen of these volcanoes have had their cone or cones completely removed by quarrying and a further nine have been fiercely ravaged." Today, only two of the 38 cones - Rangitoto and Motukorea - are untouched by quarrying, both saved, it's fair to assume, because they are islands.

As the 21st century dawned, the Government's road builders were still at it, their attempt to slice a motorway through the north face of Mt Roskill, only stymied at the last moment by the Volcanic Cones Society unearthing a "lost" 1915 Act of Parliament.

Saving what's left of the volcanoes should be Auckland's first priority and Mr Finlayson's mission has nothing to do with that. Forcing a marriage between Auckland Council and local iwi to "govern" a select few will do nothing to help that cause. As yet there's not even been mention of a dowry from Mr Finlayson to help pay for the ongoing costs of the new set-up.

Which brings us back to the Volcanic Cones Society's proposal that Auckland Council surrender its stewardship of the isthmus cones to DoC. Most of the cones are Crown reserves. Over the years, local park boards and more recently, the relevant council, have administered them on the Crown's behalf for free. With many other calls on the ratepayer dollar, the cones have ended up on the passive neglect section of council budgets.

Enter DoC. Through our taxes, Aucklanders fund around a third of DoC's conservation estate. This includes vast stretches of the South Island, but hardly anywhere within an afternoon's visit of Aucklanders. DoC, as the Crown's conservation arm, is the obvious contender for taking over the stewardship of this special park. It could combine the island cones it controls with the 11 "settlement" cones, and become the overseer of other volcanic features that Auckland Council has inherited.

This would finally bring unity of governance to the whole field, which is so important. As for co-governance, that would be over to DoC and the Crown where it rightly belongs. As for funding, Aucklanders have been supporting these Crown reserves for generations. Under the new arrangement, we'd continue to do so, but just once, through our taxes.

- NZ Herald

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