South Auckland’s five local boards all face similar challenges when it comes to supporting its local residents with jobs, transport and providing places to have fun. So what are their draft plans proposing? Justin Latif finds out – and hands out some awards.
Is there anything more soporific than an Auckland Council consultation document?
They tend to be filled with soulless stock images combined with enormous chunks of text written in bland opaque language, lulling the reader into some kind of dreamlike state. But as Auckland councillor Angela Dalton points out, this might be one of the most important times for communities to engage with their draft local board plans, which close for feedback in less than two weeks on August 13.
“This [recently passed] emergency budget will absolutely inform council’s 10-year plan, which we are starting to do now, and I’m worried that the emergency budget will be used as the baseline, so any decision, like not reopening an art gallery, for example, may mean it never opens again.
“If you don’t talk about these things, they get lost. Let the boards know what’s important to the community, otherwise, opening hours and community facilities could be reduced and that could become the new norm.”
So with the righteous cause of keeping my local library open, I poured myself a strong cup of coffee and read all 138 pages of the draft plans for the South Auckland local boards. And, as a bit of fun, I also awarded some prizes for the plans or initiatives I liked the most from each plan.
Hold up, what even is a local board plan?
Local boards are made up of groups of Auckland politicians that get elected every three years during our local government elections. They get to make loads of important decisions that are really relevant to your daily life. We have 21 local boards in Auckland and 149 local board members. Each of these boards gets given a big chunk of money from our rates depending on population, physical size and deprivation factors.
Larger local boards, like Howick and Māngere, spend around $10-20 million annually on operating costs and around $5-15 million for capital expenditures, while smaller local boards like Great Barrier Island, had a budget of $1.2 million for operating costs and $700,000 for capital costs last year.
Dalton, who recently got elected as the councillor of the Manurewa-Papakura Ward after many years as chair for the Manurewa Local Board, says it’s imperative communities speak up about what they want, otherwise services and facilities they’ve taken for granted could be slowly taken away.
“I know our communities do not want the opening hours of their pools, libraries and community centres cut and that is the area people need to keep giving their feedback on. If they don’t, the likelihood of hours being cut is more likely.”
Dalton also points out that South Aucklanders, in particular, need to have their say about what they need from the council as the area suffers from a lack of business and government investment.
“Unfortunately there is no equity in how the funding model works and we [in South Auckland] also don’t get the corporate sponsorship like other communities [in our community facilities].”
Councillor for the Manukau Ward Fa’anana Efeso Collins agrees with Dalton.
“South Aucklanders have every right to speak up about what they envision for the community, as our area struggles to attract investment from other sources. The Ōtara-Papatoetoe Local Board is a good example of bridging that gap as it has been able to negotiate funding for a new marae and sport facilities and is currently working on options to get a supermarket in the area.”
What are the key priorities?
The South Auckland local boards are Māngere-Ōtāhuhu, Ōtara-Papatoetoe, Manurewa, Papakura and Franklin and each faces similar challenges when it comes to supporting its local residents with jobs, transport and providing places to have fun. Covid-19 has also meant each board is having to reconsider its priorities, so I asked the chairs of each board to tell me what their key priorities were in this consultation.
Franklin’s chair Andy Baker says: “What we’re looking for is some guidance and feedback from the public about what we can do to support locals in terms of generating prosperity.”
Ōtara-Papatoetoe’s Lotu Fuli says one of her main questions to the community is: “How should we develop the Manukau Sports Bowl? If we had a ‘blank canvas’, what would people like to see in that space?”
For Māngere-Ōtāhuhu, chairperson Lemauga Lydia Sosene says the board wants feedback on how to enhance the area of Māngere East. “One of our key focuses would be to develop Māngere East as a thriving community hub. And we need people to tell us if we’ve got it right.”
Papakura has a large Māori community in its region, and the local board is aiming to build a stronger bi-cultural relationship and wants feedback on its plan to support Papakura Marae. Board chair Brent Catchpole says: “We were challenged to move towards a partnership with mana whenua and mataawaka, and it’s a challenge we are happy to take on.”
Manurewa chair Joseph Allan wants the community to make their concerns heard on road safety.
“The biggest thing for us is road safety. Auckland Transport is talking about huge budget cuts for this year and for future years as well, and this area has some of the highest rates of road deaths and serious injuries for all of Auckland.”
He says local boards need feedback more than ever. “Our capital expenditure has been frozen and or cut right back, and we don’t know if there will be a catch-up,” says Allan. “So we need to know what people want from their open spaces. Is it better playgrounds? More seating? And what do they want to see in their sports fields? We’ve got tight budget constraints, so we really need to listen to the community and do what they tell us.”
Now to the awards…
My criteria for these awards is based on being a 30-something father of two who wants:
- To have somewhere fun to take my daughters on the weekend.
- For there to still be a planet when my daughters reach adulthood (read: climate change)
- For there to be some kind of economy for my girls to participate in, so they can bail me out for my poor decisions.
- To see the first peoples of this land respected and empowered because New Zealand is a better place when that happens.
You might have different criteria and that’s cool – this is your chance to have your say.
The ‘Community That Plays Together, Stays Together’ Award
The Ōtara-Papatoetoe Local Board want to turn the Manukau Sports Bowl, which was originally built as a velodrome for the 1990 Commonwealth Games, into a hub that serves sport and recreation, such as an indoor/outdoor stadium for basketball, volleyball, athletics, touch, and tag, and possibly even a swimming pool and public walking track. It sounds ambitious, but for such a sports-mad community, it seems like a worthwhile initiative, that would benefit the whole of South Auckland.
Best Tidy Kiwi Award
Manurewa Local Board is suggesting a partnership with other local boards to advocate to the council’s governing body for funding of a southern recycling centre. Recycling centres don’t just keep waste out of landfills, they often also create jobs and support local creatives and entrepreneurs, and if we’re going to be zero-waste by 2050, then an initiative like this seems essential.
The ‘Building a Better Biultural Future’ Award
Papakura Local Board’s draft plan has a strong emphasis on enhancing Māori identity, culture and aspirations. One of its key initiatives is focused on supporting Papakura marae to become a key community hub for health and welfare services as well as exploring what tourism opportunities can be established.
Best Idea for a Park Award
Māngere-Ōtāhuhu’s Tōtoia/The Ōtāhuhu Canal Reserve Portage project and Māngere heritage area will be an open public space connecting the Tāmaki River and the Māngere Inlet. This reopens a historic route used by Maori to carry their waka between the two harbours prior to European arrival. This park has real potential to bring a special part of our pre-colonial history back to life.
Best Economic Kick-Start Award
Auckland’s deep south has the obvious challenge of being so far away from the job-rich CBD. But to keep its local businesses and ensure opportunities for its large youthful population, the Franklin Local Board has a number of ambitious plans starting with a massive make-over of the Pukekohe town centre, plus, it’ll be advocating for improvements to be made to the broadband network. Covid-19 will undoubtedly pose challenges to these plans, but as the population of Auckland spreads, it strikes me as important for our far-flung town centres to increase their capacity as economic drivers.
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