Hamilton City Council backtrack sets precedent

Is the reserve park u-turn only the beginning?

PAUL BARLOW
Last updated 16:10 03/02/2014

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OPINION: Is there such a thing as shock and not shock at the same time? If so I think I'm suffering from it now with the news of Hamilton City Council's move to not name a piece of land out by the zoo and next to an ecologically significant piece of wetlands as a reserve space - leaving it open for developers to come in and develop.

On one hand I'm shocked that nine of the Councillors chose to do this, back tracking a decision made by the last Council, ignoring scientific feedback that points out how important this adjacent area is to the sustainability of the existing Waiwhakareke Reserve and essentially setting it up to be sold off to the highest bidder in the future. For a Council who claim the tough choices they need to make, like looking at Water Meters, is about creating a sustainable city for future generations, this is a major step backwards and shows a scary lack of foresight.

You see, the way any ecosystem works is that it never does any thing by itself, there's  always outside influences - and with the Waiwhakareke reserve is no different. The area Council was looking to put into reserve is the catchment area for rain run off - a pretty serious element for wetlands. Developing them into anything else could seriously stall or  damage a reserve area people have been fighting generations to protect.

But at the same time I'm not shocked. I'm not shocked that this move was instigated by everyones favourite belt tightener, Garry Mallett - a man whose priorities have always  been very publicly aimed at cutting costs and not on the environment we're charged with  looking after. It shows either a complete ignorance for the way any ecosystem works, or a  complete disregard for how important the small areas of natural wetlands really are.

I'm honestly not sure which it is - after all during the election Garry didn't comment on pretty much anything except his want to reduce rates. He never undertook the questionnaire from places like Sustainable Waikato (although Mayor Julie and Cr Margaret Forsyth both did and got endorsements from Sustainable Waikato) and none of his electioneering material mentions the environment in any shape of form. Was he  choosing to not answer because he didn't feel confident enough on environmental issues to comment or because his plan the whole time was to sell off as much of this environment as possible?

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But the precedent this sets also scares me - and it should scare others as well. 

What we now have is a Council happy to go back on the decisions its predecessors have  made and change them for the sake of a few dollars. I mean there are some decisions the last Council made that may be changed for other reasons, like the re-introduction of fluoride into the water supply, but it's not financially motivated. This one was - and that  scares me.

There's a few groups that may need to start being worried - like the Arts Sector. What's to stop this trend of rewriting Council decisions from reversing the choice to put in the donated work from Michael Parekowhai, or undo the gifting of the Meteor down the track to  sell off the building? After all Cr Mallett has, on many occasions, pointed out he does not see the Arts Sector as core business for the Council.

Where does this leave us with other decisions made last term like the choice to not pursue Water Metering in residential Hamilton? Or the re-beautification of Frankton, or the need to maintain our library network and Museum collections.

Strangely though there is also the odd upside of this backtrack, in that we now have a clear Council created precedent for backtracking previous Council decisions - partially clearing the way for the re-introduction of fluoride into the water supply.

Of course, maybe Cr Mallett and the eight others who voted this way are trying to exemplify the words of famed natural high advocate Hunter S. Thomson "Politics is the art of controlling your environment" and there's no better way to control an environment than by proving you have the power to destroy it.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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