|Peter Bromhead, NZ Herald 12 Dec 2014|
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The Friends of Maungawhau have campaigned for many years to remove vehicles from the summit. We fully support the car ban proposal.
Here are our reasons:
• The maunga are important cultural sites to Māori. The summit (tihi) and crater (Te Ipu a Mataaho) of Maungawhau are of special significance. A constant stream of cars, congestion, noise and manoeuvring for space are not in keeping with the respect that the maunga deserves.
• One of the objectives in the 2007 Maungawhau/MtEden Management Plan – a statutory document – is "to promote and prioritise pedestrian access to the summit and around the site." This is to be achieved by "the restriction of vehicle access to the summit (with support for access for disabled or older people)."
The bus ban in December 2011 was the first step towards implementing this policy. Some of those who protest about the Maunga Authority's proposed car ban may not be aware that the 2007 management plan was finalised after two rounds of public submissions beginning in January 2005. In total, 350 submissions were received. To quote from the Hearing Panel's report, "331 submitters broadly supported all of the plans relating to enhanced visitor experience and this included the intent to restrict the summit area to pedestrians only."
Thus, the debate about banning cars from the summit took place nearly a decade ago through a formal procedure required under the Reserves Act 1977. The Friends of Maungawhau have lobbied ever since then for the management plan to be fully implemented. The failure has not been the public process, but the political will to implement statutory obligations.
• Although they're no longer quarried for road building or used as dump sites, the maunga still suffer from misuse. Erosion, rutted tracks, desire lines and vandalism all indicate that unrestricted access is unsustainable and the problems will only get worse. If we recognise that Maungawhau is a sensitive protected area and heritage site, then we must take steps to halt the damage being caused by people and cars. This requires a comprehensive approach on several fronts including track upgrades, visitor information and limits on universal access. We don't see the car ban as the complete solution, but as one component in a set of measures to limit damage and protect the mountain.
• Some people have argued that since a road already exists, there can't be any harm in cars continuing to use it. In fact, pedestrian access to all the maunga is guaranteed by law (under the Ngā Mana Whenua o Tāmaki Makaurau Collective Redress Act 2014 and Reserves Act 1977). There is no such provision for vehicles. The assumed right to drive up the maunga is in direct conflict with the legal right to walk on the maunga. People walking up the narrow summit road must be constantly vigilant and get out of the way of approaching cars. When cars are removed, the summit road becomes an leisurely paved path with changing views of the surrounding cityscape.
As we have demonstrated over the past eight years on Love Your Mountain Day, walking is the best way to fully enjoy the maunga, to appreciate the views across to the other maunga and visualise how they must have looked centuries ago when Māori lived on the terraces and cultivated gardens on the volcanic fields.
• A vehicle ban will not preclude access for maintenance or access for the elderly and disabled. Those who cannot get to the summit on foot will have alternatives. The existing shuttle and guiding service is contracted by Auckland Council to Tāmaki Hikoi at a cost of $104,000 (for the year ending in April 2015). It caters almost exclusively to tourists, many of whom do not speak English as their first language. The Tāmaki Hikoi guides have little call to offer any actual guiding service or interpretive information to visitors. The Friends of Maungawhau believe the free shuttle service, paid for by rate payers, should be placed on a commercial footing but remain free of charge to residents who have a disability or hold a mobility parking permit.
• Contrary to the predictions of commercial tour bus operators, the removal of buses from the summit road in December 2011 has been a great success. Tourists are perfectly happy to disembark and walk the 10 minutes from the bus park to the summit, enjoying the views and discovering the crater and the city panorama.
On 1 December 2014, the manager of Auckland Council's Volcanic Cones team reported to the Maunga Authority that "restrictions of heavy vehicles in 2011 on Maungawhau…has resulted in not only a significant reduction in congestion at the summit but also a change in attitudes of visitors. This change has seen steady numbers of visitors choosing to walk rather than drive."
• The Maunga Authority has been in existence only since September 2014. It operates with a very small support team in Auckland Council. Its website went live only two weeks ago.
It seems to us that communication with stakeholders and the general public is not regarded as a priority. The Maunga Authority failed to warn people about the early gate closing on Maungawhau, and hasn't gained any support by drivers being locked in. Transition to successful co-management and better care of the maunga depends on open discussion and real effort to communicate, engage and inform people including mana whenua, local boards, volunteers, visitors and residents. This responsibility can't be left to a council officer in reactive mode. The Maunga Authority members themselves must step up and make their plans and policies known and understood in advance of any actions they may take.
The Friends of Maungawhau are a small volunteer group with a long track record of advocacy for the volcanic cones and practical work on the ground. We encourage debate to identify the best ways forward to manage and care for our protected areas such as Maungawhau. While feelings and emotion are important, logic and reason is necessary.