Protection of the Waitakere Ranges has been a major issue out west for decades. Back in 1975 then MP Jonathan Hunt introduced into Parliament a bill that would have provided for effective protection. Unfortunately with the change of Parliament the bill failed although the issue never went away.
The issue resurfaced in 1999 after the election of the Go Waitakere council. Attempts to loosen up subdivisional rules failed however and the Go Waitakere councillors were voted out of office. The next Council was dominated by members of Team West. I must admit that I was a proud member of that Council. One of their policies was the meaningful protection of the Ranges. After a great deal of discussion and consultation the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area Act 2008 was formulated and enacted as a local bill by Parliament with the sponsorship of Lynne Pillay.
The Act was not especially radical. It attempted to hold current District Plan provisions in place and prevent the gradual erosion of protection in the future, the “death by a thousand cuts” talked about by Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Dr Morgan Williams.
There has already been a possible attempt to undermine the protection offered by the Heritage Act. Under the Local Government (Auckland Law Reform) Bill an attempt was made to have the new Spatial Plan the New Auckland Council will have to complete not have to take into account the protective measures of the Heritage Act. The Spatial plan will take the place of the Regional Growth Strategy and will have a big influence on the setting of the boundary of the City. The Government said it was a mistake and the problem was “fixed” in the final version of the Bill but one wonders if it was a mistake or intentional. When in opposition National had promised to repeal the Act.
The relationship between the Spatial plan and the Act will be of huge importance. If a developer friendly Council is elected the temptation will be to try and reduce the protection offered by the Act.
The consultation for the Spatial Plan will be all important and I cannot imagine how the Super City Council will be able to manage it. There are likely to be thousands of submissions. I suspect that the Local Board may have an important role to listen to submissions and to present the views of Waitakere residents and villages. Eternal vigilence will be required to maintain protection.