Labour leader Andrew Little thinks it would a good idea for the Government to chip in and support the social media campaign to buy a sliver of land in Golden Bay. At last count the novel pitch for funds to buy Awaroa Beach through the crowdfunding site Givealittle was about $1.5 million. More than 24,000 have pledged money to the campaign, which aims to reach $2 million when tenders close next week. The piece of beachfront in question is a thin sandy strip enclosing Awaroa Inlet.
The sandspit is adjacent to Abel Tasman National Park, the country's smallest and most popular park. The Christchurch businessmen behind the fundraising say if they succeed then the land could be gifted to the Department of Conservation, adding 7ha to the park. The land holds no appeal to DoC because the 800m of golden sand and kanuka scrub offers little in the way of ecological value. Mr Little felt the Government could dip into its funds given that enthusiasm for the project showed the public cared and "see access to as much of our coastline as possible as a birthright".
Environment Minister Nick Smith also hinted that some public money could be forthcoming in the beach purchase, though he did not commit himself. At the 11th hour, Gareth Morgan entered the debate, offering to make up the difference between the amount raised by the social media exercise and the $2 million tender guidance. He promised to hand the beach over to DoC after his family had finished enjoying it. Unsurprisingly, the offer has been declined. Contributors to the fund would have been justifiably reluctant to subsidise anyone's acquisition of a private beach.
The present owner is obviously asking more for the property than DoC's advisers think it is worth when set against other possible additions to the conservation estate.
Over the past 25 years, the department's Nature Heritage Fund has invested more than $162 million to protect more than 340,000ha of land. New Zealand First leader Winston Peters wants to add Mt Cook Station to its inventory to improve access to Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park. Dr Smith mentioned the fund in relation to Awaroa. But it is hard see how its objectives could be satisfied by writing a cheque for a ribbon of sand which thousands of visitors already pass every year.
The fund exists to protect much richer ecosystems than the Awaroa beach. It would be a mistake to use it for the campaign, especially since so many people seem willing to donate. Mt Cook Station is a different case, with a particular access issue. Outdoor groups have mounted a convincing argument for entering the park through part of the farm, which is off limits because of a locked gate. This seems a better place to invest public funds, not by buying the farm but though an improved easement.
Meanwhile, the crowdfunding appeal for Awaroa Beach deserves to succeed. The owner may be asking more than DoC thinks it is worth, but its value is whatever a willing buyer is willing to pay. The appeal is a rare opportunity for the public to decide.