Cuts to Sustainable Neighbourhoods Programme
6 May 2015
Cuts to Sustainable Neighbourhoods
Programme should be deferred
The Budget Committee will meet tomorrow to vote on the Mayor’s final proposal for the Long Term Plan 2015-2025, which includes a recommendation to discontinue regional funding of $161,000 for the Sustainable Neighbourhoods Programme (SNP) from 30 June 2015.
The SNP is a neighbourhood sustainability programme in which facilitators from three community trusts provide local volunteers with advice, practical help and resources to improve their natural environment. The focus is on biosecurity and biodiversity, in particular, weed control to improve neighbourhood ecology.
There are 56 SNP groups across the Henderson-Massey, Whau and Waitakere Ranges local board areas that are currently supported through the programme funding of $161,000, with additional funding provided by the Waitakere Ranges ($90,000) and Whau ($15,000) local boards.
When members of the Budget Committee agreed last year to discontinue the programme it was on the basis that council would put adequate arrangements in place to support SNP groups continue their activities beyond 30 June 2015. However, it has become increasingly clear from discussions with council staff, SNP facilitators and committed residents on the ground that there is no viable transition plan in place.
If the proposed cut is allowed to proceed as planned on 30 June 2015, there is a real and significant risk that we will significantly set back all of the progress made to date in building connected West Auckland communities that are committed to weed management and environmental restoration. It is acknowledged that the majority of this regional funding is spent in the Waitakere Ranges, however there is good reason for this - the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area has over 40% of the region’s native vegetation and the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park is an environmental asset that all Aucklanders enjoy and have access to.
As Councillor for Waitakere, I have been advocating for a 12 month extension of the SNP funding to 30 June 2016. This would give officers sufficient time to work with the SNP groups and the three community trusts to develop a truly empowered communities approach to environmental management. The Auckland Council Chief Operating Officer advised on 15 April 2015 that project work only just commenced in February to clarify what community empowerment means in a biodiversity, water quality and sustainable living context. So clearly, we are not ready.
I commend the Henderson-Massey, Whau and Waitakere Ranges local boards for their strong advocacy to the Budget Committee on this issue. Now is not the time to rip more funds out of environmental initiatives, particularly when we are making progress to empower local neighbourhood groups to hold at bay rampant weeds invading our forests and parks. A 12 month grant of $161,000 from a ten year operating budget of approximately $40 billion dollars is a very small investment in our environment that has the potential to inform our future approach to supporting local volunteers and ultimately cut council operating costs.