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Local Government

A CLOSE CALL FOR LOCAL CONTROL

When local historical events get memory-holed or misrepresented, communities lose the benefits of instructive hindsight. And with local community input on policy and services now front and centre, the value of setting the record straight is more important than ever. It’s what helps keep elected officials from repeating mistakes or following previous dead-ends.
 |  Geoffrey Robinson  |  ,

Case in point is a recent emotional claim that local environment advocates “played a significant role in sinking the proposal put forth by Glen Leach for the Coromandel to obtain World Heritage status”. The claim was that the proposal’s failure is to be regretted.

For the interest of many new residents, it was actually Waikato Regional Council (WRC), not upstart locals, that put a stop within weeks to a ‘hare-brained tourism scheme hatched in 2015 by then-Mayor Glenn Leach and Florida-based travel consultancy, Miles Marketing Destinations. A quick look at what was to be, shows why stopping it was a good outcome.

What was to be:

The Leach-Miles plan was unveiled on August 18, 2015 at an invitation-only workshop for many government and NGO representatives. The mayor’s idea was to gain official “protected” landscape status for the Coromandel under rules of the International Union of Conservation in Nature (IUCN).  Workshop attendees received a 54-page “Feasibility Report” and a 12-page “Public Summary” prepared (with discretionary mayoral budget funds).

The so-called Coromandel “Heritage” plan, which had been developed with no public consultation and kept under wraps, called for peninsula-wide designation as an IUCN Category V Protected Landscape, strict rules for which would guide the region’s long-term planning and future policy regime. Specific decisions for the district would follow an overarching multi-agency agreement between tourism industry executives, government, DOC, and WRC, all conforming with IUCN rules. The IUCN is a global NGO involved in lobbying, advocacy and field projects, with a stated mission of influencing governmental policies on environmental management. It has head offices in Greenland, Switzerland, more than 900 employees, and facilities in over 50 countries.

When the plan went public, however, it drew strong local opposition. Many district residents were shocked by the dramatic departure from local democracy, self-determination and local control – namely introduction of an overseas-directed regime for management of the Coromandel’s unique natural environment and cultural assets.

Opponents pointed out that foreign NGOs had no business driving the legislative and regulatory framework for our communities. While agreeing on the importance of environmental protection and sustainable economic development, there was resistance to a plan from special business interests that skirted the normal legislative and consultative processes.

Opponents were spot on. In fact, IUCN designations are generally designed for areas without an effective regulatory framework like New Zealand’s sweeping national policy statements and the robust regional and district plans and policies that follow, all with extensive public consultation.

For many Coromandel residents, IUCN rules were deemed completely unnecessary and totally inappropriate.

The proposed Coromandel “Heritage” proposal came complete with an action plan. First up was a formal presentation to Waikato Regional Council to gain its approval.

But within days of an introductory mayoral sales pitch to the full regional council, WRC responded with its firm refusal to support in principle the misguided eco-tourism branding plan. The so called “World Heritage” tourism marketing and management plan went nowhere, sunk by our elected representatives in Hamilton.

While possibly a marketing and branding setback for industry, it was an important lesson in preserving democratic process and local community control. Although IUCN have changed their categories and Miles Marketing has rebranded, that lesson learned still needs to be kept alive in the memories of the local voter.