A new report on the closure of walkways in the Waitākere and Hunua Ranges due to kauri dieback has shown that Aucklanders strongly disagree with the council's reopening plans.
The report, released by Auckland Council this morning, details the feedback received
following public consultation from January to March this year.
It gathered public opinion on the track reopening plan for the Waitākere Ranges after forested areas of the regional park and 10 higher-risk tracks in the Hunua Ranges were closed in May 2018.
The decision was made to protect the trees from kauri dieback disease and prevent its spread.
However, the council has been working to develop a plan which identifies priorities for track upgrades and reopening over the next two to five years
It gathered over 728 pieces of feedback from people who live within the Waitākere Ranges and the surrounding Auckland region.
The feedback showed that 61 per cent of people disagreed with the current plan, saying it doesn't provide a good balance of recreation experiences and forest health.
People living in the Waitākere Ranges area were particularly against the plans, with 71 per cent saying it doesn't provide a good balance.
The general opinion was that people would like more access to tracks in the Waitakere Ranges, and quicker than the five years proposed by the council.
The report said people feel a strong connection to the forest and use it as a way to connect with nature, get some exercise in the outdoors and reduce stress levels.
Because of this, they feel the current track closures deprive them of this connection and have a significant impact on their wellbeing.
Three other commonly mentioned reasons for disagreeing with the current plan were:
• A sense that the proposed tracks do not provide enough variety, with requests for longer tracks, loop tracks and tracks through the centre of the park.
• Disagreement with the track priorities proposed and a view that other tracks should be reopened or upgraded.
• The impact on local communities and personal wellbeing.
A quarter of people suggested that there are too many tracks marked for closure, and that this will put undue strain on the tracks left open.
Others simply do not believe that humans are the main vector for spreading kauri dieback, or feel that the five-year timeframe is too long.
However, a smaller proportion of people disagreed with the proposed plan for the opposite reason - they believe that more needs to be done to protect kauri.
Sixty-two per cent of people mentioned at least one track that isn't in the current work programme that they believe should be included.
However, only 6 per cent of people believed that conservation of the ranges should take priority over recreation so the area can be enjoyed and preserved for future generations, and 5 per cent mentioned they support the rāhui and that closing the area was the right thing to do.
Overall, the general opinion from the feedback was that submitters, particularly Waitākere Ranges residents, felt the current reopening plan does not provide sufficient access to the forest, they are deeply affected by the current closure and feel community wellbeing needs to be prioritised.
They would like to see human and community wellbeing put as a key priority for any decisions moving forward and would like their access into the Waitākere Ranges to be made possible sooner rather than later.
While they see the need to protect kauri, many feel that this should not come at the cost of preventing community access to this much treasured taonga.
Auckland Council manager of parks Rachel Kelleher said some changes would be made to the plan as a result of the feedback.
"Being able to address everyone's desires is unlikely because we are trying to manage a complex biosecurity issue as well as enable a wide range of recreational opportunities, so there is a balancing act that we need to keep in mind, but certainly there will be some changes.
"Our principles of keeping people out of those healthy, high-value kauri areas, and equally avoiding some on the really diseased areas, needs to be part of that consideration."
Kelleher said while most people were supportive of the need to do something, they wanted to see the reopening of tracks much faster.
"There are some practical considerations that need to be taken into account, but taking on board that feedback, of course if we can make things happen faster, then certainly that is the intention."
Waitākere Ward councillor Penny Hulse said the track closures had been really tough on local residents.
"The people who live in the wider Auckland region and chose to go to the Waitākere Ranges for recreation are showing more support for the plans, and then as you get right into the communities like Karekare and Piha people are not supportive - and that is because this is their back yard."
Hulse said focus needed to be on how to balance the communities needs, with protecting the ranges.
"We need to protect our forest against the spread of kauri dieback, but also look at how we work with some of these communities to help them have better access.
"Our job is kind of intergenerational where on the behalf of future Aucklanders we also have to understand that we are charged with long-term conservation as well," she said.
"The focus is on supporting the community as much as possible, opening those tracks for safe walking, but that has to be balanced with the requirement to stop the spread of kauri dieback."
Hulse said the timing of opening these tracks came under a couple of constraints.
"The tracks that we do open have to be of good quality and able to comply to dry-foot standard, and there is only x amount of money and resources that can go into track building at any given moment in time.
"There is a lot of work to do, and we want to try and do the most urgent work first."
Hulse said council staff will present any new recommendations or decisions to the committee next month.