Brian Rudman 's Opinion

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Snail-pace action on volcanoes

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Six years and $75,000 later Auckland prepares to think about a world heritage status for its maunga.

Mangere Mountain in the suburb of Mangere Bridge is one of Auckland's approximately 50 maunga.  Photo / Martin Sykes
Mangere Mountain in the suburb of Mangere Bridge is one of Auckland's approximately 50 maunga. Photo / Martin Sykes

In March 2007, the Crown declared the Auckland volcanic field was top of its list of potential Unesco World Heritage Sites.

Tomorrow, Auckland councillors are finally being asked to help fund a year-long "evaluation that will inform a future decision on whether to proceed with the preparation and submission of a world heritage nomination file".

Talk about moving cautiously. To geologists perhaps, six years is nothing. But for those of us on human time, it seems an inordinate amount of time to need to hatch the plan to be discussed tomorrow. Not a plan to actually apply for world heritage status, nothing as radical as that. Just an 8-12 month toe-in-the-water "evaluation," which will "inform" the group of bureaucrats and/or politicians who will make the final decision.

This grandly named "decision protocol" will cost $75,000 in "external costs" plus unspecified staff time to prepare, the bill to be split, two-thirds from Auckland Council, one-third, Government.

Given that both the Crown and Mayor Len Brown, in one of his visions, are committed to seeking world heritage status, why all the faffing around? Why don't the assorted local and national bureaucrats and the Tamaki Collective Maori guardians of the maunga save themselves a year of meetings, and a six-figure sum, and just get on with preparing the application proper. After all, we know that's what's going to happen eventually.

If they took that short cut, the cash saved could go towards flossying up the volcanoes, a token beginning, to make up for generations of neglect.

A bit of tender love and care towards the maunga might also help convince the Unesco inspectors who turn up to consider our bid, that we actually believe all the glowing references to our spiritual attachments to the cones that will pepper the application. As every real estate agent will tell you, first impressions are everything. Mow the grass, repair and paint the front fence, throw out the manky pot plants - that sort of thing, if you want to get a good result.

And it would only be following through with one of the strategic directions of the Auckland Plan which commits to: "Acknowledge that nature and people are inseparable, to achieve World Heritage status for the Auckland volcanic field by 2020."

Yet when the mayor proposed this year's budget last December, he allocated a meagre $388,000 for new spending on the volcanic cones. The final figure is yet to be revealed. Divided by 50, it isn't a lot.

As for the Government, the only sign of it opening its wallet is the pledge of $400,000 that Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson waved around last year when he and the representative of the assorted claimant tribes of the Tamaki Collective initialled their Treaty settlement deal last June. But that money wasn't to fund new signage, or visitor facilities, or landscape restoration. It's a one-off payment for more bureaucracy, to fund the set-up costs for a co-governance body, made up of iwi, Crown and Auckland Council representatives, who will govern - under strict guidelines - 14 of the main cones.

It's all back to front. If we're real about selling our place as a world heritage site, then we shouldn't be trotting off to Unesco with what, in the real estate trade, is called a "do up" or a "deceased estate."

The report drools about the potential "economic benefits" that would be derived on becoming "a global tourist destination" as a result of world heritage status. But there's no mention of the need for prior investment to achieve this dream. Neither does the report address the major complication that the tri-partite Maunga Authority to be set up when the Treaty settlement eventually gets parliamentary approval, only has a governance role over part of the field. Nor does it address the question of on-going funding.

The Crown has restored limited governance and ownership rights to 14 volcanic cones to local tribes as part-restitution for past wrongs. But it has offered no funding stream for the ongoing upkeep of these reserves. These are all issues that need resolving.

In the context of the new intensified compact city, these volcanic reserves are green lungs to treasure, even without their heritage connections. It's time we started appreciating that, and not just because of a hope that with a bit of fast talking, we could convert them into a tourist trap.

- NZ Herald

Brian Rudman

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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