Brian Rudman: May the new plan to save Mt Eden work better than the last

Twenty years after a management plan was launched to protect the volcanic cone of Maungawhau-Mt Eden, Auckland City councillors are patting themselves on the back for endorsing a draft plan to protect the area.

We can only hope that version two is taken more seriously than its predecessor ever was.

"The most significant change resulting from the draft management plan is the intention to move towards restricting vehicle access to the summit and encouraging pedestrian access," says Mayor Dick Hubbard. But not immediately.

Banning vehicles will only be enforced when a "sustainable, low-impact transport system" is in place to carry the elderly, the disabled and the lazy up and down the mountain. Just what a "sustainable" transport system might be, I'm not sure. Even walking wears down the soles of your shoes.

Compared to this cautious approach, the long-ignored 1986 plan was - in intention at least - much gutsier and to the point, calling for a total ban on vehicles heavier than six tonnes.

All the agonising by councillors over the past few days about the last-minute addition of purple phrases like "the volcanic cones are recognised as 'an amazing natural landscape' " means nothing if councillors, both now and in the future, fail to honour the good intentions behind the words.

Last year, when the city bureaucrats had to explain 20 years of inaction on the original management plan, they resorted to the old backstop of budgetary constraints. Will they be singing the same song in 2026?

What is encouraging is the emphasis in the list of principal objectives to the mountain being something more than just a naturally created Sky Tower-substitute for the more than one million tourists who head for the summit each year.

Objective No 1 is "to respect and conserve the archaeological, geological, Maori heritage values of the reserve and to give precedence to these values in the management of the reserve".

In listing how they intend to do that, the city cites the Historic Places Act, the Reserves Act and the Auckland District Plan as statutory aids.

Unfortunately, the council retains a blindspot as far as the recently rediscovered 1915 act protecting Auckland's volcanic cones is concerned. That's the act which forced Transit New Zealand - and its ally, Auckland City - to abandon plans to drive a motorway through the face of Mt Roskill. When it comes to legislation and protecting Auckland's "amazing natural landscape", it was this lowly act which triumphed, long after the noble historic places and reserves acts and Auckland District Plan all failed. It should have star billing in any Auckland volcano management plan, not be ostracised. Let's hope it gets its rightful place of honour in the finalised version.

What is of concern in the city's new love-in with its volcanic heritage is the one-eyed concentration on Maungawhau. It might be the most prominent and the most visited of the cones, but it is only one of 50 peaks which together make up Auckland's unique volcanic landscape.

It's the total landscape which the Department of Conservation, from time to time, promises to put up for World Heritage Site listing, not just the token show pony.

Getting back to the Mt Eden action plan, instead of taking the purist approach as far as "sustainable" alternative transport modes is concerned, surely the focus should be to get the buses off the crumbling roadway in double-quick time. If we drag our heels waiting for the invention of a sustainable, perpetual motion machine that miraculously runs on its own exhaust gases, the landforms we want to save from the destructive bus fleet will be long collapsed.

Better we just advertise for a low-impact and unobtrusive people-moving system and see what comes up.

As for the cows that delight the tourists but damage the geological and archeological landscape, they've also got a reprieve. The fear is if they go, the pasture that covers the slopes will grow to become hay and we'll end up having to import Aussie firemen to help battle the ensuing bushfires. So the experts want time to experiment with patches of native grass substitutes first.

Of course they could replace the heifers with twinkle-toed sheep. The trouble is, the local dogs like to molest sheep, which is why cows ended up on Maungawhau in the first place.

And to think, there are 49 volcanoes to go ...

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