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Ward Boundaries and Council representation for Waiheke Island

On Sunday 11th at Ostend Hall about 50 islanders met to discuss the next stage of the supercity process – The allocation of ward boundaries and our proposals for council representation. As a result of discussions at that meeting and afterwards Councillor Roche has prepared the following submission.

To: The Local Government Commission
From:  Denise Roche
Re: Ward Boundaries and Council representation for Waiheke Island

16th October 2009

Introduction

On Friday 2nd October Commissioners held an information gathering and feedback session with councillors and community board members from the Auckland City Council and elected representatives were invited to provide further written information about wards in the new Auckland Council, boundaries of those wards and local boards.

During her presentation to the commissioners Waiheke Community Board member Eileen Evans said that the first preference for Waiheke islanders is to have our own councillor on the Auckland Council.  She also said that there would be further consultation with the Waiheke community regarding the ward boundaries and issues of representation.

Consequently two articles appeared in the two local papers last week and a public meeting was held on Sunday 11th October where the 50 people who attended were invited to express their views about how Waiheke can best be represented in the new Auckland Council.

That meeting and other feedback to elected representatives by email and a one-to-one survey of over thirty local business people by community board member Eileen Evans reinforce the view that the Waiheke community wants Waiheke to be a ward in its own right within the Auckland Council and to have our own councillor at that level.

It is widely recognised that the Great Barrier community have a different view to this one and subsequently the call for a separate ward applies to Waiheke Island only.

Background

According to Department of Statistics 2008 data Waiheke has a permanent population of 8230 people.  This figure does not take into account the semi-permanent summer residents who own properties on the island and who live here part time during the warmer months.   Nearly half of the housing stock on the island is owned by people who have an off-island address and it is estimated that up to a third of the total housing stock is empty during the winter months and occupied during the summer.  Taking this into account for about half of the year the population is around 12,000.

In addition, during the summer months the population can swell up to 30,000 at any time when short-stay holiday makers, day-trippers and boaties are taken into account.

The community of Waiheke is engaged and active in civic affairs.  The letters to the editor pages of our two local papers are always full and are testament to the level of discussion that take place within the community.  There are 198 community organisations on the island that rely on voluntary contributions from our citizens and they range from the health services through to sports and recreation clubs and welfare groups.

In addition Waiheke has a consistently high voter turn out in both local body and central government elections.  Community board decisions and council papers are thoroughly inspected and elected representatives are held accountable with a consistently high number of local people turning up to the public forum part of monthly community board meetings.

Local Boards

Waiheke and Great Barrier are both assured of having their own local boards within the Auckland Council.  We are in no doubt that this is the direct result of the level of activism and engagement that the people in both communities took in advocating for more democracy and local decision-making during the submission process to the Royal Commission on Local Governance and also during the select committee process for the Auckland Governance bills.

The current members of the Waiheke Community Board are very hard working and responsive to the community’s needs.  The existing membership is of 6 members in total (including the Auckland City Councillor) and given that the legislation for Auckland Governance will result in greater powers – and most probably a greater workload – for locally elected representatives the board numbers need to be a minimum of six members but could probably be greater to better distribute the workload.

A separate Waiheke island ward

In the Local Government Commission ‘s A guide for the establishment of new governance arrangements for Auckland it states under ‘Determination on wards’ (page 7):

Statutory compliance with: ….

v) so far as practicable, the boundaries of wards and the numbers of councillors for each ward provide fair representation for the electors of each ward (i.e. the population of each ward divided by the numbers of councillors is within +/- 10% of the population divided by the 20 councillors – referred to as the ‘+/- 10% rule)

vi) if the Commission considers that effective representation of communities of interests so requires, wards may be defined and membership distributed between them in a way that does not comply with the requirements of v. above

We ask that you invoke vi) above and do not apply the “+/-10% rule” to Waiheke and allow us our own ward and ward councillor on the Auckland Council for the following reasons:

1) As an island Waiheke is already recognised as a community of interest.  One of the main concerns for this island community is that there is no similar community of interest elsewhere in the Auckland council region with which we can combine.  This island community has a strong sense of identity that is not shared by residents and ratepayers in the CBD or elsewhere on the isthmus.

This lack of community of interest extends to Great Barrier as well. Despite the fact that both islands are situated in the Hauraki Gulf, Waiheke and Great Barrier are significantly different islands with different stressors. The Haruaki Gulf Islands District Plan, for example, has caused considerable difficulties for Great Barrier people because of the lack of recognition of the differences between the two communities – and their distinct environments – and the need for different development controls to be applied to each island.

On Waiheke one of our greatest fears is that the ‘isthmusisation’ that occurs now – where the mindset of the isthmus council is transported to the Waiheke community in their decision making – will continue under the much larger Auckland Council and our community feels strongly that to avoid this we need a councillor to not only help with the governance across the region but also advocate for our unique island within the region.

2) Waiheke is already regionally and nationally significant.  We are the largest community in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park and our island is seen as being part of ‘Auckland’s playground.’  Consequently having  a councillor from the island will definitely contribute to the regional governance of Auckland and we hope will regionally and nationally significant area.   A major concern for the Waiheke community is that a councillor shared with other mainland areas will not understand and advocate for this environmentally special place and its inhabitants.

3) UNESCO Biosphere Reserve 

Waiheke will play an important role in complementing the new Auckland Council in its attempt to become a world-class city.  It can best play this role by achieving international recognition as a centre for conservation and sustainability.  There is growing support for the idea that Waiheke should pursue this by applying to become a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.  Such an ambitious project requires special representation at the top level of Auckland Council and having our own councillor is by far the simplest way to do this.

4) Unlike the other current wards in Auckland City Council the Hauraki Gulf islands community boards and ward councillor have mostly been elected as ‘independent’ – that is, without  political party affiliation.  On Waiheke this means that our elected representatives are accountable to our community first and foremost and do not have to follow a ‘party line.’  If we were to become part of a larger ward it is unlikely that an independent councillor could afford to stand and be elected.    This would usher in a new period of political division that so far has not existed on the island in our local governance.

Conclusion

The Hauraki Gulf Islands have long been seen as being tied as a community of interest with Auckland City, however most of these ties are of a practical nature and have very little to do with the council itself.  There is more affinity with the work of the Auckland Regional Council, which administers the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Act, along with the Department of Conservation, Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and other government departments.
There are educational choices both at secondary and tertiary levels in many parts of the region and health services are provided by District Health Boards and transport (including ferries) is a regional problem.

The unique qualities of Waiheke Island simply do not fit in with the ward proposals that are being bandied about but the island is an integral part of the region and should be treated as such by the proposed Auckland Council.

There is a precedent for Waiheke being a smaller ward within a larger amalgamated body.  The Waiheke community successfully lobbied to have its own councillor and community board after the amalgamations in 1989 where the Waiheke County Council became part of the Auckland City Council.   At that time the population of Waiheke was only around 3000 – however the unique nature of the island and the community’s demand for a continuation of local representation was acknowledged in the subsequent arrangements.

While the size of the community has grown over that time good local governance is still an issue that can excite this passionate community.

We therefore ask that when the Local Government Commission is drafting its proposal for the allocation of wards and councillors for the Auckland Council that Waiheke Island be identified as a ward in its own right with its own councillor.

Denise Roche
Auckland City Councillor
Hauraki Gulf Islands Ward

Ph: (09) 372 6578 or 027 209 7554

Email: cr.roche@aucklandcity.govt.nz

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