Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made it very clear to the nation that she does not suffer fools gladly when she demoted the Minister of Health, Dr David Clark, to the bottom of the Cabinet rankings.

She also stripped him of his Associate Finance Minister role for ignoring his own ministry's rules and going mountain biking and then driving 20km for a family outing during the level 4 lockdown.

READ MORE:
Covid 19 coronavirus: No new cases in Hawke's Bay, but it's not time to break lockdown yet, police say
Coronavirus Covid 19: Hawke's Bay leaders lukewarm at thought of lockdown lift
Isolation in pictures: How Hawke's Bay's handling the lockdown
Premium - Covid-19: How Hawke's Bay will get through the lockdown

Had the country not been in a state of national emergency due to the Covid-19 crisis, she said she would have sacked him.

Advertisement

After he was subjected to the PM's wrath and under intense media scrutiny he said, "I know that now is not the time for people to be engaging in higher-risk exercise activities" and that he had no excuses for his poor judgment, describing himself as an idiot.

In the Health Act Order which the director general of health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, issued at the request of the Government on March 25, putting the country into level 4 lockdown, under "Limited Recreational Purposes", mountain biking was not included as a permitted recreational activity – and for good reason.

It is one of the highest-risk activities there is.

The latest ACC figures show that in the 2018/2019 year there were 6321 new claims for mountain bike injuries costing taxpayers $17,828,395 and, during the past five years, mountain bike injuries have cost taxpayers almost $80 million.

While other councils nationwide, including Auckland, Tauranga, Rotorua, Taupo, Upper Hutt, Wellington, Nelson, Tasman, Christchurch and Dunedin (all 10 I contacted) adhered to the Government's directives and temporarily closed their mountain bike tracks, Hastings District Council did not.

HDC appears to be contravening the level 4 restrictions by failing to close the challenging Grade 3 downhill mountain bike track in Tainui Reserve.

A safety audit commissioned by the council last November reported that, "this style of track is prone to rider errors on the jumps causing injury, more so than a non-jumping track" and said there were other risks involved because of the jumps and dropping corners.

Probably because the mountain bike trails at Eskview are closed due to Health and Safety, mountain bikers have been flocking to speed through Tainui during lockdown, putting themselves at risk of injury and potentially spreading the virus.

Advertisement

They also put other compliant reserve users at risk when huffing and puffing their way up through the reserve along narrow paths clearly marked "Walking Only/No Cycling".

Realising that under the Health Act Order and level 4 rules, the mountain bike track should have been closed, I wrote to the council and asked why it remained open. I pointed out that, by keeping the track open, the council was facilitating a high-risk activity and associated multiple breaches.

Council's response was that the chief executive, Parks Team and Covid-19 Incident Management Team (clearly supported by its general counsel who replied on behalf of the council) were "comfortable" with how they were managing the parks and had no intention of closing the mountain bike track.

The problem for HDC is, in my view, that this is not a decision for unelected staff in a local council to make. They cannot overrule directives from the Government contained in the Health Act Order issued during a state of national emergency. The Government calls the shots.

I wrote back to ask Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst and elected councillors to do the right thing and close the track.

Instead, she fully supported their decision to keep it open.

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website

Advertisement

I have now reported my concerns at the council's behaviour, which I consider reckless and irresponsible to (among others) Minister of Police Stuart Nash, local National MP Lawrence Yule, the 105 Police breach report line, and the Ministry of Health.

I have also lodged a formal complaint against the council for breaching the rules in the Health Act Order.

This is not about being anti-mountain biking. This is about holding Hastings District Council accountable.


Jessica Maxwell is a concerned Hastings ratepayer who fully supports the Government's response to the Covid-19 crisis.