Alas for the democratic process!

Vote for a people’s Zealandia

This is a very quick blog, which I will update with more detail ASAP!

The lower lake and historic buildings, Zealandia

A clayton’s consultation

Regular readers will know of my passion for Zealandia, the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary here in the heart of Wellington City.

It is one of New Zealand’s outstanding conservation successes. Inspiring leadership and legendary philanthopy allowed for this valley, with its remnants of native forest and two lakes  in the heart of Wellington City, to be fenced with a unique and, at the time, revolutionary predator-proof fence.

Once completed, all introduced mammalian pests – cats rats, possums, rats etc (with the exception of mice) were removed from the enclosed valley.

With these exotic threats out, and kept out by the fence, an amazing transformation began to take place, more successful than even the most ardent supporters of this unique experiment believed possible.

Without possum browsing, the forest made a rapid comeback. And without predation from exotic mammals, the birds, lizards and insects began to thrive as well.

Rare, highly endangered native species, many confned to a few offshore predator free islands, were introduced to the valley and thrived. Tuatara are now breeding in the wild for the first time in 200 years. Hihi (stitchbird) tieke (saddleback) and kaka fill the valley with their song and are spilling over into the rest of the city. Wellington now has a native bird population in its garden no city in New Zealand can match. Tui have exploded in population and fill our mornings with song; kaka screech overhead on early morning flights to other bush locations in the city where food trees are flowering or fruiting; tieke are seen in deep, sheltered bush tracks kilometers from the safe boundary of this amazing fence; and korimako (bellbird) whose song has not been heard in Wellington for generation, now spangle the morning with their melodious calls.

Kaka now fly our city skies thanks to Zealandia

But, like many new and brave enterprises dependant on the support and the passion of members and volunteers, Zealandia has struggled to meet its financial goals.

It has applied for a continuation of financial support from Wellington City Council.

Given that the council funds a zoo for caged exotic animals to the tune of several million a year, it seemed a fair request for the council to also support (FOR SUBSTANTIALLY LESS COST THAN THE ZOO) an internationally awarded local conservation enterprise preserving the city’s own unique native flora and fauna.

Incredibly, the council has responded by saying it will only fund the sanctuary if it can take it over.

Bureaucracy has a poor record for maintaining resources and initiatives begun by committed and passionate volunteers and philanthorpic future thinkers. Volunteer initiative tends to fade away, staff passion can be lost and replaced by people who “do their job for the council”. Inspiring objectives  based on ecological and philosophical goals can be replaced by a focus on “making a buck” and cost cutting.

The council is, at least, putting its plans out for public consultation. BUT, it has not included in the options for dicussion a continued funding of the current trust model. This is an outrage and a slap in the face for the passion and entrepreneurism of the founders of Zealandia, its members, staff, board and volunteers.

Below are two items. The first is a copy of the letter I have just sent all councillors. If you are as passionate as I am, I hope you will use this letter as a template to make your own submission.

The second item is a copy of a press release Zealandia has put out in response to the council’s decision.

I encourage you all to take part in this consultation process.

Dear Councilors

thank you for your contribution to the debate on the future of Zealandia at the council’s strategy and policy committee meeting yesterday. It was very encouraging to hear all councilors acknowledge the huge importance of Zealandia to the cultural and ecological wellbeing of Wellington City and general acknowledgement of its growing success and/or potential as a visitor attraction.

However, I believe yesterday’s recommendation to full Council represents a failure in the democratic process by not including in the options for public discussion, an option for the status quo with ongoing funding.

I am a former employee of Manukau City Council,  and a journalist with nearly 40 years’ experience who  specialised in local authority reporting.  In my view it is highly unusual for a council to put out for public discussion a series of proposals, all of which require some degree of radical change, without also allowing (as a control option if you like)  discussion on an option of the status quo (with ongoing funding).

This loses the council an opportunity to test the feeling of the public on whether it wants the council to continue to support Zealandia in its current format, and fails to represent either the views of the Karori Sanctuary Trust, or the thousands of members and volunteers of Zealandia whose work has helped create this local and national asset of outstanding value.

I am concerned that councillors, generally, have represented the current operation of Zealandia as a failure that has to be ‘fixed’ to be saved. This is far from the truth. As you were told yesterday, Zealandia has actually managed to increase its visitor numbers by nearly 45%. That is an extraordinary achievement in the current economic climes, a record that few, if any, tourism attractions in New Zealand could claim to get anywhere near. 

Further, with the exception of the visitor number goals,  Zealandia and the Karori Sanctuary Trust Board has met, indeed exceeded, nearly all of its objectives. It has, in fact, been an outstanding success.

The visitor predictions were a mistake, yes, but one mistake among many successes. This is hardly a failed business model. And the Council cannot absolve itself from a role in this mistake, given that the council was represented and closely involved in all of the major decisions made by the management and trust board at Zealandia, including the discussions that led to the business plan based upon these figures. It was also a council-funded tourism operation that provided the visitor prediction figures, not Zealandia management.

There are absolutely no guarantees that the figures the working party has come up with will be any more accurate, and serious risks have been identified.

These are risks the public is entitled to assess by having the status quo, with ongoing support from council, included in the options for public discussion. After all, what harm can there be to council to include this option? It is not as if it would add to public consultation costs! Or are you afraid of the answer that such an option might generate? 

A wise council listens to all of the opinions, not just the ones it happens to agree with!

I look forward to an amendment at full council to include further funding of Zealandia under the status quo model as one of the options to go to public consultation.

I find it extraordinary that the Council is willing to fund the zoo to the tune of many millions of dollars to look after exotic animals in cages and pens (as asset yes, but hardly one that puts Wellington on the world map like Zealandia does)  but is unwilling to consider meaningful levels of ongoing funding for an international success story protecting our own unique flora and fauna and creating a unique asset for Wellington that no other city can claim. Zealandia, it seems, is being punished for being ambitious and including in those ambitions, eventual financial independence.  

For your interest, I invite you to view my blog on this issue. The link is:  https://stevex2.wordpress.com/2012/01/11/its-about-time/

You might also wish to visit the newly formed Facebook page supporting Zealandia at: http://www.facebook.com/SpeakOutForZealandia

And, if you have any doubt at all as to the ecological value of Zealandia, perhaps you might like to visit my, Flickr website, just one man’s photographic record of the outstanding and unique resource we have in Zealandia: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevex2/sets/72157613076557172/

Best wishes, and thank you for your time and consideration.

Hihi (the stitchbird) feeding on harakeke flowers at Zealandia - a rare and threatened bird largely confined to offshore islands, yet thanks to Zealandia they visit our Wellington gardens!

And here is the Zealandia press release:

27 03 2012

Karori Sanctuary Trust chair Catherine Isaac says the Trust board is pleased that the SPC today reaffirmed Council’s recognition of Zealandia’s importance to the achievements of the Wellington 2040 vision and is resolved to support Zealandia in some form into the future.

“The Board is, however, disappointed that the options being put out for public consultation do not address the Trust’s concerns tabled at the SPC meeting”, Ms Isaac said.  

“Naturally we want to co-operate with Council to secure Zealandia’s future.  But we believe Council has not fully understood the nature of the sanctuary’s operations, its ethos, and the fact that it is a community conservation project with a very lean management structure and a heavy reliance on volunteers, members and community goodwill. 

“It is hard to see any efficiencies from merging the sanctuary into a ‘super’ CCO with organisations with quite different target markets, product offerings, objectives and cultures, as proposed in the options being put forward. 

“We do not believe that the potential savings identified in the options being proposed can in fact be realised, and, more importantly, we are very concerned about the risk of losing volunteers and the support of members and donors. This would in turn erode our ability to boost visitor numbers and ultimately become financially self-sustaining, and to fund and pursue our conservation and education objectives.   

“We understand and share the Council’s concern to ensure Zealandia is operated efficiently and is accountable to ratepayers for any Council contributions, but note that the Council already has three representatives on our board and can appoint the chair. 

“We are proud of Zealandia and the huge contribution of its members, volunteers, sponsors, donors, partners, visitors, management and staff have made to enriching Wellington for the benefit of its citizens, and New Zealand nationally.  Zealandia is a long-term project and we ask Council to look at its investment from a long-term perspective and weigh up the risks against the potential benefits.”

Ms Isaac says the Council proposal is now out for public consultation and the board strongly encourages the community to have a say. While a preferred option is presented, the Council remains open to modifying their position to reflect public feedback. 

THANKS TO ZEALANDIA, TUI ARE ALMOST AS COMMON AS SPARROWS THROUGHOUT THE CITY!

Please support our campaign to have Zealandia funded by the Wellington City Council under the current structure. Brilliant, passionate people with a huge record for success do not need this bureaucratic bullying!

STEVE ATTWOOD

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