The original budget for the 'native bush restoration' was $436,896.
However an ongoing public lead investigation has already unearthed costs that run to over $1,800,000 and we are still decades away from a ‘restored forest’.
These costs are dwarfed by the millions of dollars of needless damage done to the forest. An estimated 15,000 existing natives were destroyed.
Auckland Council and Waitematā Local Board are concerned that the contractor was not advised that they must adhere to the mandated 'Visser Low Impact Methodology'. This was one of 10 conditions of the Board's Resolution WTM/2020/268 giving the go ahead to the ironically named 'Western Springs Forest Native Forest Restoration Plan'. The Board, representing the landowner, is responsible for guardianship of this 'Significant Ecological Area'.
No one in Council is claiming that the contractors were advised they must use this methodology, "to extent legally possible" under the Resource Consent. Of course, no one is claiming that the work complied with that methodology – because the devastation done clearly show it does not.
Chipping all the tree trunks was an afterthought, not in the contract. It turned 7800sqm into a wasteland. Here 3,900 plants were planted in shovel depth of unweathered chip. These were intended to go in amongst the existing ngahere to form the new canopy, not only in quarter of the site.
Since the contractors were not told "to protect the existing and regenerating ecology", they even destroyed 937sqm of designated 'Priority Areas for Protection'.
The resource consent stated track would be "disestablished and the area returned to the general topographical formation that existed prior to the works being undertaken", within 3 months of the felling. That has not occurred so the overland watercourse has not been returned.
The 'Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act' requires information is received in 20 working days. Yet in one particular LGOIMA request, seeking information on costs incurred, public investigators waited 190 days for a response. These costs should have been readily at hand. Costing of projects is normally done prior to implementation. These are ratepayer funds.
Auckland Council has clearly been reluctant to answer this question. LGOIMA responses have been vague, misleading and many of the costs excluded - for example, the Council incurred huge legal costs for the resource consent and appeal with the Environment Court Mediation. Since their lawyers are on retainer, Council claim they can't extrapolate the amount. Yet all lawyers record their time!
The Environment Court Mediation established a 'Community Liaison Group', so that Community and Council could work together. But some Council staff refused to cooperate and withheld information. The Council also refused the CLG access to the site to allow inspections to confirm the work was being done as per the Board resolution. They paid a security company $50,000 per week to keep anyone going on site.
When the community representatives on the CLG complained to the chief executive about being bullied and treated very badly by Auckland Council staff, he ordered staff not to attend the CLG meetings. A member of the public, who had been on site, advised the Board that work appeared to not be complying with their resolution. Board members declined to go on site to inspect the work. The Waitematā Local Board might have demonstrated better guardianship of their resolution.
Instead of making his staff accountable for their unreasonable conduct, the chief executive has launched a 'Code of Conduct Complaint' against Board Member Sarah Trotman, who as a whistle-blower, stood up for transparency and accountability to ratepayers by asking the hard questions. What went wrong? Why? Who was responsible for this fiasco and the millions of dollars of damage done to this ratepayers’ asset?
Council staff are trying to obfuscate who is responsible. As a catchall they are saying that ensuring the Waitematā Local Board resolution was complied with, is ultimately the responsibility of Chief Executive, Jim Stabback. It is time for Auckland Council CEO, Jim Stabback to resign.
(Gael Baldock, Environment Court Mediation Appellant and Community Advocate)
Published 1 October 2021