High-handed council alienating too many people

What a gorgeous summer it has been - the ‘Auckland Dream’, the pursuit of which brought me from Wellington when I was 21.

Two examples come to mind: first the pine trees at Western Springs, 13 of which were suddenly declared by council officers (before the conclusion of the resource consent hearing) to be in imminent danger of falling and therefore needing to be removed urgently. In order to do so, their contractors planned to bulldoze a 3m wide access road through the native bush understory - thereby largely defeating the stated purpose of creating a native bush reserve.

Neighbouring residents led by Deborah Manning, supported by Wendy Gray and staunch Grey Lynn activists, pushed back, believing the council and its highly paid arborist concocted a ‘false emergency’. Affected homeowners refused to leave their houses when ordered to by council officers citing ‘emergency owers’. After a deluge of bad publicity and questions about the credibility of their technical advice the council pulled back. The decision of whether the trees stay or go, as it always should have been, will now be made by the consent hearing panel, after it studies further submissions from residents – and their experts.

Another example, local community groups Herne Bay Petanque, Ponsonby Probus and U3A, comprising some 300 members, mainly seniors, based at lovely Salisbury Reserve in Herne Bay have been told that their car parking will be withdrawn in the near future and they will have to take their chances on nearby streets where parking spaces are few and far between - and the walk, especially carrying gear, is long.

Over the holidays, I received a number of plaintive emails including from local resident and Herne Bay Pétanque official Robyn Chalmers. In response, I explained that I try to avoid getting involved in matters within the delegation of the Waitemata. Local Board. However, my first duty is to the public so I agreed to meet Robyn at Salisbury Reserve. This I did on a beautiful Friday afternoon to find there a hive of activity – the clubrooms and grounds festooned with blue, white and red pennants and club officials bustling about with equipment and supplies of food and beverages.

A major international tournament was about to get underway with 44 teams from France, New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Australia and the United States as well as New Zealand. Out on the courts or ‘terrains’, the Tahitian teams and their supporters had already arrived and were getting in some last minute practice. It would be fair to say that most petanque players would be of a more senior age but I noticed the Tahitian teams featured some athletic younger players - but it's canny skills which are decisive and the big attraction for this fascinating game which was apparently invented by the Roman legions in Gaul and is a first cousin to British lawn bowls.

As the president of Auckland Petanque, Ella Harris explained, the Herne Bay Petanque Club is the busy hub for northern New Zealand for this increasingly popular sport. So ideal is Salisbury Reserve and its ‘terrains’, that petanque takes place here three days a week plus coaching at night, with Auckland Petanque holding its flagship international tournaments as well as regional and school tournaments. Without the parking all this activity would not be feasible.

For their part, Auckland Council and Waitemata Local Board say they went through a public consultation process last August, the majority of submissions from which wanted all car parking gone. But the petanque ladies point out, the consultation was meant to be about a new entrance (after demolition of the historic Masonic Hall) and claim council publicity, especially the diagrams, were misleading. They point out car parks can be tastefully landscaped with grassed Gobi blocks and amenity plantings. In response, officialdom has been sternly inflexible. It’s this that I find the most disappointing. As public servants we are elected to serve our people - not spoil their lifestyles.

Aside from sport and recreation, there’s a cultural aspect to this as well. There has been a French connection with Ponsonby going back to the earliest years of Auckland when Bishop Jean-Baptiste Pompallier established his residence on the Ponsonby heights overlooking the bay he called St Marys. Petanque in New Zealand began in 1993 at Chris Priestly’s Atomic Cafe in Ponsonby Road and it was Chris and Cam Calder who decided to form the New Zealand Petanque Association with Chris as founding president and to join the world governing body ‘Fédération Internationale de Pétanque et Jeu Provençal’ (FIPJP).

The redoubtable petanque ladies are fighting back with a petition. It would be sad if the council and local board were to be so inflexible that
a compromise cannot be reached and we lose petanque and the clubs from lovely Salisbury Reserve. (MIKE LEE)

There is a petition 'Support Herne Bay Petanque Club Parking'. Their goal is to reach 100 signatures and they need more support. You can read more and sign the petition here: http://chng.it/vWm8ZrZ7X4.

Mike Lee is the Auckland Councillor for Waitemata & Gulf Ward, www.mikelee.co.nz