The Royal Commission fundamentally undermine their opposition to community boards with their arguments in defence of community boards being retained at Waiheke and Great Barrier. In terms of character, difference, history and heritage, Devonport is as much an island in the North Shore, as Waiheke is in Auckland. Half a metre rise in sea level and Devonport will actually be an island - can it have a community board then? There are other parts of Auckland just as special as Waiheke. We must not lose them or their potential, through failure and absence of governance, just because they are not surrounded by the sea. That sounds positively archaic.
When Peter Salmon - Chair of the Royal Commission - announced its recommendations, he made much of the duty of proposed Local Councils (Urban ones in the city especially), as being "place making" or "place shaping". That's about urban design, streetscapes, local colour, detailed planning. Stuff like that.
In fact I know from my 10 years in local government, and living in Devonport - that stuff is what Devonport Community Board spends 90% of its time doing. Like:
- Devonport Commissioners (Community Board members do this) consider all resource consent applications that break the rules. These are consents for building activities with adverse effects that exceed the rules in the District Plan. These involve real people who live in house and work in buildings. But they also involve their neighbours. This stuff needs genuine local care. It's at the heart of "place making".
- Trying to stop the Devonport Recycling Depot being flogged off by Council for other purposes, when local people use it for green waste, for rubbish transfer, and as a place to buy garden stuff locally. For "place making".
- Making sure that changes to Market Square (by the supermarket), and Marine Square (by the Devonport Wharf and Ferry Terminal), are upgraded as people want, and taking account of best urban design principles and ideas. More "place making".
- Championing the cycleway infrastructure through local parks, around the coastal edge and along Lake Road. This is real "place shaping" stuff, and without Devonport Community Board it simply would not have happened.
And I wonder whether the Royal Commission added up the number of resource consents that would have to be considered by these Local Urban Councillors, if they lost the services of Community Board members who are now certified for RMA consent hearings by MfE and who hear or otherwise deal with the bulk of local home improvement consents. Perhaps the Royal Commission is reliant on RMA streamlining that is so draconian that few consents ever get dealt with publicly.... I hope not...
This is not to say that I think Community Boards should be retained everywhere. I think some on the North Shore were unnecessary, or were dysfunctional, or became dysfunctional. These local entities can fall into ruin with the wrong mix of members, and with lack of community interest or involvement. But these factors can inter-relate. Chicken and egg. When a community board turns to custard no-one wants to get elected onto it, and the community laughs at it, and ignores it. That's a tragedy of the commons...
Setting that aside, across Auckland there are highly developed and special places. Property values are high there. Families and people want to live there. The sense of place, the opportunity for further "place shaping and making" is tangible. It is also precious. People and communities value it - both financially (they are prepared to pay the higher property prices), and spiirtually (these places have soul).
I don't know all of them. Of course we know about the soul in Waiheke, and The Barrier. But it absolutely exists in Devonport, Highbury (North Shore), Grey Lynn, Mount Eden, Remuera, New Lynn, and Onehunga. These are local communities and high functioning community boards I know something of.
There is something about these types of communities and how they develop in the future that is seriously threatened by the prospect of community board abolition. These communities are what give Auckland its diversity - at local level - and character.
I think, before the baby is thrown out with the bathwater, that those who advocate most strongly for their retention, need to construct some metric or set of criteria and thresholds that will enable selected community boards to be retained, and for new community boards, at a later time, to be established.