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(Heritage) Plan, 'Without Rhyme nor Reason' by Geoffrey Robinson

Last week, TCDC’s Economic Development Committee received a staff report detailing recent meetings around the district convened by Mayor Glenn Leach to jumpstart his proposed “Coromandel Heritage Region” project.

The staff summary concluded that:

“Overall, as a result of this initial round of meetings with community and sector group influentials (sic), there is strong demonstrable level of support for the CHR concept albeit with many questions remaining unanswered (and currently unanswerable) as to the detail.”

Any implication that the so-called “heritage” project has received a green light from district ratepayers comes, of course, as little surprise.  After all, the TCDC manager charged with taking meeting notes and writing the report happens to be Project Manager of the CHR project itself.  Positive spin is just part of the project management process.

After attending an afternoon meeting on May 24 at council offices in Coromandel Town, several other invitees and I left the building scratching our heads as to what, exactly, the mayor was actually talking about and why, exactly, this whole exercise is being so doggedly pursued. 

With certainty, no such “strong support” for the CHR was evident in Coromandel.  The main reason was that neither the mayor nor his floundering co-presenter Brent Page (chairman of the EDC) was able to answer any of the repeated questions from residents as to what precisely was being proposed and what they were being asked to support. Neither could explain what their proposal actually entails.

To understand the confusion, readers need only recall early last August, when Mayor Leach and Mr Page formally unveiled a detailed plan prepared under their close direction by tourism consultant Miles Media for future management of the Coromandel (and authored by a “mate” of Leach).  The Coromandel Heritage Region would involve a protected landscape designation by the Swiss-based International Union for Conservation in Nature (IUCN), a legislative change in status by central Government, and local government policies set by agreement among TCDC, regional council, DOC, industry representatives, and iwi. The mayor announced that TCDC would be moving immediately to secure government support for implementation of his plan.

By late September, however, the wheels had come off the mayor’s CHR project, after flat rejection of the IUCN listing by Conservation Minister Maggie Barry, skepticism from DOC management, refusal of regional council to vote its support, and public opposition from various quarters citing the plan’s inherent erosion of local democratic control.  Leach and Page quickly about-faced, claiming their fully formed, ready-to-implement, but roundly rejected “heritage region” plan was just a “discussion document” and “just one idea” to get people talking.  The record clearly shows it was anything but.

On February 24, by a one-vote margin (regular mayoral allies French, Fox, McLean, and Bartley in favour), council approved at the mayor’s request a $20,000 “Stage 1 Project Mandate” to hold public meetings; document current projects and identify new candidate projects to “enhance the unique qualities of the Coromandel” and; identify “shared values and vision for the future of the Coromandel”.

The “vision thing” is now causing renewed frustration for many residents, since council’s elected community representatives, through the regular democratic process, have already expended considerable time and effort to develop long-range community plans for each ward, complete with values and vision.  In addition, TCDC has developed the parallel “Coromandel Blueprint” for sustainable future development. 

Some of those present at the Coromandel CHR meeting questioned any need for yet another redundant, costly and time-consuming exercise in “values and vision”.  Mr Page, surprisingly, dismissed the Coromandel Blueprint as “nothing” and appeared flushed and flustered when asked if he had ever actually read the Coromandel-Colville Community Plan.

As for the ideas tossed out by Leach and Page for potential worthwhile initiatives (more organic dairy, more cottage food industry, more historic markers, protecting our beaches), some in attendance pointed out that any and all of these could be carried forward through normal annual and long-term planning processes. Why should ratepayers hand off high-level planning to some new and unelected council/DOC/industry/iwi/community entity?

At the end of the day, the mood of community members present at Coromandel was one of limited support for the many warm and fuzzy possibilities suggested, but general skepticism as to a need for any “Heritage Region” project.  While four councillors may have approved a “mandate” to pursue the mayor’s CHR concept, there has never from the start been any mandate from the public.

Conversations with individuals present at three of the other six CHR meetings confirm that, while there is general support for pursuing good ideas to preserve and enhance our district’s rich social, cultural, and natural heritage, there is no strong mandate to pursue any formal designation by any external organisation or legislative change to our local government structure, and no strong mandate to enter into any form of interagency agreement to guide planning and policy. 

Attendees in Coromandel noted that council just weeks ago published its exhaustive new Proposed District Plan decisions (costing millions before the plan becomes operational) for guidance on sustainable development to protect and enhance our rich natural heritage. How many more layers does the Coromandel need?

Getting back to local government basics, however, is one strong mandate apparently shared around the peninsula.  This means addressing woeful public transport, inadequate toilets, traffic management and parking, polluting wastewater, and other nuts-and-bolts infrastructure issues that have been left under-funded and unattended for years.

As for the “stage 1” CHR meetings summary released last week, not much can be taken from the exercise.  Of the handpicked stakeholder groups listed as being invited, many failed to attend.  Many other stakeholder groups failed to make the invitation list. According to the report, only 116 individuals in total attended the seven meetings held around the peninsula.  At the Coromandel meeting, approximately half of the 30 “attendees” claimed were TCDC related -- councillors, mayor, EDC, board members, or council staffers. So much for broad public support.

Full council can be expected to receive a further report on the CHR project at its June 29 meeting.  Further expenditure on an extraneous pet project considered unnecessary and undemocratic by many, at a time when the district has much more pressing needs and limited resources, would be a costly mayoral indulgence at best -- and completely irresponsible at worst.    

[Geoffrey Robinson held several editing positions in Ohio & Connecticut before founding and publishing a group of five investigative newsweeklies in New England and New York. He sold these to the LA Times in 1999, and re-located to NZ to an organic farming life in Colville.

He soon re-succumbed to the writing bug, and began contributing commentary for daily & weekly newspapers in the Waikato. A Waikato Times editorial on 9 June 2008 praised his efforts and stated that he had "racked up a number of victories against the WRC" related to millions of dollars in investment shortfalls, and mis-spending by the Buckley led Council]




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Reader Comments (1)

So Mr Page considers the Coromandel Blueprint a “nothing”. Considering it was the most expensive and widely consulted document TCDC has ever produced this shows a new level of arrogance and contempt for the ratepayers and community of the District. I’m sure the 2000+ submitters to this visionary document will be none to pleased to find that the unelected chair of the unelected Economic Development Committee thinks their opinions are worthless. Perhaps Mr Page should stop parroting the clueless thought bubbles coming from Leach, get of his backside and educate himself about what the community have actually said already…..he could start by reading the various community plans that clearly set out what the community expectations are with regards to heritage.

June 17, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterInsider

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