THE TRACK USER FORUMS, AUCKLAND
Written by Exec member Norm Judd, ACTC, 16 July 2018
The motive behind the Forum’s entire liaison with Auckland Council has been a desire for all regional parks track users to be recognised as a key stakeholder group to be consulted in matters of track access and use. The Forum strongly believes that it is fully entitled to be heard in this and other related remits to the Council because tramping, the culture of which is now emerging as part of New Zealand’s national identity, began in the Waitakere and Hunua Ranges almost one hundred years ago and so has both national and, in the case of the Ranges, local heritage status.
As at July 2018, track-users of the Waitakere Regional Park have been engaged in discussions on operational matters of track access and use but have not yet been formally recognised as a key stakeholder group for Auckland Council regional parks strategic and tactical planning.
On 16 December 2015, club presidents and delegates from Alpine Sports, Auckland Tramping, Auckland Catholic Tramping, Auckland University Tramping, North Shore Tramping and West Auckland Tramping Clubs met with senior field staff of the Hunua and Waitakere Ranges Regional Parks, Auckland Council, at the Fickling Centre, Mt Roskill.
The catalyst for this meeting had been that the Council, since 2014, had made presentations to individual clubs on Waitakere Ranges track closures related to controlling kauri dieback.
This had not engendered pan-club understanding of the issues around the closures or an ability to share opinions across the clubs. In addition, the clubs knew that they were but a very small minority user-group of all Waitakere Ranges track users; roughly a million day visits per year. The majority were people from outside the region and the country, as well as the emerging ‘meet-up’ track user groups (including track runners).
The Forum began email overtures for consultation to the Auckland Council in August 2015.
Subsequent to the December meeting with Auckland Council, the clubs named their tramping club collective, ‘Waitakere Ranges Track User Forum’ (WTUF). WTUF had, ostensibly, stepped in to perform the role that the Auckland Associated Mountain Clubs (AAMC) once had up to 2013.
Our proposals 2015
Our remits to the Council at the December 2015 meeting were for good, ongoing communications between the Council and Auckland’s walking/tramping/running clubs, that all groups would be consulted on all matters of track access and use, that the Auckland Council should develop a GIS-based hub for all track users to use in mobile apps to see maps with track closures and important notices on track condition, and that the Auckland clubs would be invited to volunteer for track upgrade work.
For nine months our enquiries of progress were passed from one officer or office to another until it travelled via various departments full circle back to Stephen Bell, Principal Ranger, Regional Parks West. Finally, in September2016, Stephen promised me that Regional Parks would ‘look’ at our great ideas by the end of the month and would meet with the Forum to advance these.
The meeting never eventuated: the Council was not taking the Forum concept seriously and preferred to continue approaching clubs and groups piecemeal. In November 2016, the Forum requested a meeting with Auckland Council senior management and planning staff on the basis that if this did not occur, it would take its views to the media.
As a result of this persistence, club captains from Auckland University TC, the secretary of West Auckland District TC and I, Auckland Catholic TC, met with Mace Ward, Director Parks and Richard Hollier, Manager Regional Parks on 21 December 2016.
The 2015 remits were presented again with an added proviso that we did not intend to merely tell the Council what it needed to do better in advising the public of track closures but that the Forum expected a working relationship with Council to grow the widest possible network of Waitakere Ranges’ track user supporters.
The Forum by now had grown to 11 clubs and groups with the addition of Howick, Manukau, Toitoi Tekkers, Waitakere Bush Runners and Auckland Hiking Meetup clubs and groups.
The following appeared to have been agreements made by the Council at the meeting.
There would be Quarterly meetings with the Forum to advance the following towards a Memorandum of Understanding:
- The Council would work with the Forum to expand its representation to the widest range of track users in the Waitakere and Hunua Ranges.
- There would be an ongoing review of the tabled topics to ensure meetings had relevance for both parties; the Forum was concerned for the conservation of the ranges and the safety of inexperienced visitors. The Council had similar concerns.
- Both parties would be open to change.
- The Council to investigate better co-ordination of track information through its signs, Call Centre, Arataki information and internet to mitigate risks associated with poor track information.
- The Council’s track map website is the most cost-effective platform by which Council could engage with the widest possible audience of track users; Council to make site relevant and current.
- Mace Ward suggested the title ‘Ambassador’ for people who became advocates for the Council’s park systems. We liked the term as it conveyed spreading good news by word of mouth about what the Council did well thus gaining it more friends.
- Social media was another platform through which Council would engage with visitors although perhaps not as important as the track website.
- Volunteering for track upgrades to prevent the spread of kauri dieback was also mentioned.
The Forum in turn decided that in order to remain relevant to more than tramping clubs that it should expand its membership to represent other track user groups.
The name of the Forum would also likely change to better reflect its membership.
Progress to mid-2017
In spite of our persistence, by mid-2017 none of the December meeting’s content had been adopted by Council and neither had we developed an MOU. Eighteen months had passed since our first meeting with Auckland Council in December 2015.
Submissions to Annual Plans
The Forum made submissions to the Auckland Council and Waitakere Ranges Local Board Annual Plans in June 2017 on the strategies for preventing the spread of kauri dieback.
- Stop promoting the Hillary Trail (until track improvements to prevent the spread of kauri dieback had been made)
- Ensure local track user representation on advisory panels
- Ensure Aucklanders become aware of the annual trends in track use numbers in the Waitakere since 2005.
- Develop social media to inform, ‘engage’ with and ‘inspire’ all track users about preventing kauri dieback.
- Fund web and apps systems development from Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED), Government Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) in recognition that roughly 15 percent of all visitors to the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park are from overseas.
The Forum spoke to its submissions at a public hearing on 3 August 2017.
By July 2018, none of the above had been implemented or even acknowledged and, of course, the requests for multi-media development were made redundant by the 2018 Rahui (full track closure).
Kauri Dieback workshop Auckland Council September 2017
As leading Forum facilitator, I was invited to attend a Council convened workshop to discuss future management of kauri dieback. We were the only recreation group represented at the workshop. All others at the workshop were from local governance, conservation groups and local communities. The Forum’s three main proposals; multi-media platform to inform new track-users, consultation with and recognition of the Forum by Council were presented to the workshop.
Forum membership and affiliations, December 2017
By September, the Forum’s membership had increased to 14 with additions of Feet First Wilderness Walks, Auckland Outdoors Meetup Group and the Auckland Natural History Club.
The Forum also had the confirmed support of Waitakere Ranges Protection Society, Friends of Regional Parks and Federated Mountain Clubs.
Meeting with Regional Parks Manager and western staff, May 2018
The Forum was invited to a meeting with the Manager of Regional Parks, Rachel Kelleher, Principal Ranger Stephen Bell, Regional Parks West and operations staff, Sarah Cosio and Stu Leighton at Arataki on 28 May. Tony Walton, ACTC and I, ACTC represented the Forum.
The Council’s agenda for the meeting had been “The Future of the Forum” (!)
Our topics for discussion were:
- Recognition of all track users as a key stakeholder group in Auckland Council strategic planning.
- Volunteering to upgrade Waitakere Ranges track to allow user access.
The Forum had tried, since August 2015, to establish a track-user stakeholder group with Auckland Council planning that would be consulted on matters of track use and access in regional parks. To this end we asked Rachel that a person from council’s strategic planning attend the meeting.
The absence of a strategic planner at the meeting was explained: the Regional Parks team now manages the strategic review of the Waitakere track network as staff now have a detailed understanding of the way the park is used by visitors and are also responsible for service delivery and also work closely with the Biosecurity group and other relevant teams in Council on the regional approach to kauri dieback management.
This explanation misses the boat entirely. The Forum does not accept this explanation of why it is not given access to consultation with regional strategic planners.
Track-work volunteering became the topic of the day and this is now the main point of liaison between the Forum and Auckland Council.
The plan is for the Forum, represented by Tony Walton, to work with Arataki in co-ordinating people from the clubs and groups to work on upgrading one track at a time. Each track worked on will be ‘adopted’ by the Forum in the course of that work. Work is expected to get underway by September this year as track conditions improve.
Once the Council achieves a final draft of the principles on which it is negotiating track re-openings with the Waitakere Ranges iwi, Te Kawerau Maki, these will be released to the Forum.
The Auckland Track Users Forum today
The new name of the Forum, ‘Auckland Track Users Forum’ (ATUF), was confirmed at the Forum’s first full gathering since December 2015 at Tony Walton’s home on 15 July where it refined its feedback to MPI on its kauri dieback programme.
Currently, the Forum’s core steering group consists of Norman Judd, main facilitator, Helen Kerslake, communications and strategic planning and Tony Walton track upgrades volunteering co-ordinator.
The Forum’s main business for the next year appears to be to achieve consultation status with Auckland Council, working towards track reopening in the Waitakere and Hunua Ranges, volunteering on track upgrades in the Waitakere ranges and gathering new member clubs and groups.
Auckland Tramping Club – Tony Walton – firstname.lastname@example.org
Auckland Catholic Tramping Club – Clive Sligo – email@example.com
Auckland Hiking Meetup Group – Stephen Hawkins – firstname.lastname@example.org
Auckland Natural History Club – Derek Nelson – email@example.com
Auckland Outdoors Meetup Group – Helen Kerslake – firstname.lastname@example.org
Auckland University Tramping Club – Mark Battley – email@example.com
Alpine Sports Club – (Brian Duffy – firstname.lastname@example.org president) ASC’s rep is John McKay – email@example.com
Feet First Wilderness Walks – Stephen French – firstname.lastname@example.org
Howick Tramping Club – email@example.com
Manukau Tramping Club – firstname.lastname@example.org
North Shore TC – John Lamb – email@example.com
Toitoi Trekkers – firstname.lastname@example.org
Waitakere Bush Runners – Stuart – email@example.com
West Auckland District TC – Jill Engles – jengle23A@vodafone.co.nz
Women’s Outdoor Pursuits – Jeanene Piper – firstname.lastname@example.org
Federated Mountain Clubs
Friends of Regional Parks
NZ Recreation Association
Waitakere Ranges Protection Society