Long Bay, Auckland. Photo: Getty Images

Auckland’s natural environment has been neglected for decades. No more.

To mark Auckland Council environment month, Mayor Phil Goff writes about the challenges facing the city and surrounds – and how the new targeted rate will be used to address them.

Auckland is blessed with a beautiful natural environment. It is sited on three harbours, with 1,000 beaches, numerous maunga and reserves and flanked by the by bush clad Waitakere Ranges in the west and the Hunua Ranges in the south. Our air quality is good as is our overall water quality.

New Zealand’s tourism marketing boasts “100% pure,” which is a great aspiration but not an accurate reflection of our current reality. Here in Auckland, the truth is that for decades, consecutive councils have worked hard just to manage gradual environmental decline in our region.

With 53 native bird species already extinct and a warning that 80% of our surviving species are now endangered, it’s past time that we took seriously the predator threat to our native birds and their diminishing natural habitats.

Water quality at our beaches has for generations been affected by stormwater intrusion into wastewater lines and by road runoff. The result as demonstrated by Council’s new Safeswim real time data, is that every time it rains, stormwater causes wastewater overflows and more than 60 of our popular beaches aren’t safe to swim at.

Analysis of the State of the Gulf by the Sea/Change Working Group showed that siltation and commercial trawling has damaged the marine habitat, and snapper are below the sustainable level.

Kauri dieback has emerged as a threat to our iconic trees which could decimate and even put at risk the survival of the species. Add to these challenges the issues of climate change and coastal erosion and it should be clear to all that environmental issues can no longer be an afterthought. They must be, alongside infrastructure for transport and housing, a major focus for Council.

As mayor I am committed to transformational changes that meet our obligations in this generation, to pass on to our children and grandchildren an environment in a better, not worse, state than we found it.

It begins with committing the funding needed to deliver change. In the 10-year Budget this year, I put to Aucklanders a plan which massively increases investment in areas like water quality, protection of our natural heritage, climate change and coastal management, and expansion of public open space.

I also issued the challenge that, to bring forward the changes we needed, two special targeted rates would be necessary to make a difference and raise over $700 million in extra investment. In our consultation process and polling of Aucklanders, we found that by a margin of over two to one they supported the targeted rates. They told us to just get on and do it.

Within a decade, with the commitments we have made, wastewater overflows into our streams and beaches will be cut by up to 90%. We have signed up to the Predator Free 2050 programme and have added Waiheke to the list of Gulf islands which will be predator free. You only need to look at Tiritiri Matangi to see how doing this and replanting native bush can quickly lead to a resurgence in numbers of endangered birds.

The Mayoral Million Trees programme has already seen 770,000 native trees and shrubs planted in the first two years and we will go on to create even more ambitious targets for the future.

Critical steps to contain kauri dieback have been taken and we are looking to work with regional and central government partners to tackle the threats to the health of the Hauraki Gulf.

We are moving to create a more compact city, with electric powered public transport, and more cycle and walk ways to reduce transport emissions which make up 40% of our total carbon emissions.

And most importantly, we are partnering with hundreds of community groups, schools and other organisations to unleash the power of thousands of volunteers.

We are working to change the culture of Aucklanders to embrace sustainable development, waste management and enhance our natural heritage.

There is no room for complacency, but I am confident that together we are making a difference for a healthier and sustainable environment.

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