Time for user pays in the New Zealand conservation estate?

I am currently doing a postgraduate paper on Natural Resource Policy extra murally at Massey University.  The below is a comment I made on whether it is time for user pays charges for entry to and use of our conservation estate, but also in towns that are tourism dependent.

How we let our small tourist towns get treated by tourists bothers me quite a bit. If you have been to Tekapo you will have seen the Church of the Good Shepherd by the lake. Tourist buses pull up there every day and tourists walk around and inside the building. Sometimes they arrive when services are being conducted and fail to show necessary etiquette. The locals are a bit antsy about it as on one hand they need tourist dollars, but on the other Tekapo is only a little town built around the lake shore and up slope a bit on the south side of State Highway 8. The numbers of tourists that come through the town during summer can cause infrastructure issues beyond the capacity of its tiny ratepayer base.

There are several locations around the South Island which could do with better management of their tourism related infrastructure and issues caused by tourism being a major industry in those locations. I would hope now with a quiet patch caused by the borders being shut that these places are thinking about how to address such matters.

Milford Sound is a good case in point. If any of you have been there, you will know it is a long drive if you stop at the view points along the way and that there is a daily – maybe, probably not at the moment – almost rush hour like period in the morning when all of the buses arrive from Te Anau with their loads of tourists and then a similar thing in the afternoon, when realizing they have to get back to Te Anau, there is a similarly large exodus. I knew a German lady who used to work on the tour boats down there a decade ago (gone back to Germany), who could attest to this, and traffic being an issue as well. Being in a World Heritage area, there are limitations on what kind of businesses can be there and how they operate. Milford Sound township is also right on the water front and next to a river with known flood issues (not surprising given it gets 6,000+ mm/yr!), which means land is at a premium.

How do you help fund the necessary facilities and maintenance as well as programmes in a place like Milford?

I think the only way to realistically do it is require all tourists to pay a one off fee in Te Anau and collect a docket that upon entry to Milford Sound, gets scanned.

But here is the problem. Should Kiwi’s pay full price or get a discount? As taxpayers they help cover costs through taxes, so maybe in their case, we should require them to present a driver licence or passport as evidence. I think it would be unfair to make them pay for something we already support with taxation.

Another student commented on what the Maori King, Te Heuheu Tukino, who gifted the land that makes up Tongariro National Park to the Crown, would think. I wonder if anyone has really thought to conduct an interview with kaumatua on behalf of any iwi, how they view tourism in terms of how it impacts on their ancestral lands, the effects on matters of kaitiakitanga and how the taonga are being treated. It would be a fascinating exercise to say the least. And as one who loves volcanoes and did a fourth year assessment on how Ngati Tuwharetoa view Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro as well as Pihanga, I wonder now whether they would be so keen on further expansion of Whakapapa skifield across their southernmost ancestor.

Tourism means a lot to New Zealanders. We love to show people around our country and for the most people love to come and be shown around. But the environmental cost of it all is getting to a point where some students on the course think in the most sensitive places like the Milford Track or the Tongariro Crossing, closing them for a whole season to allow them to recover is not only a “good idea”, but one that needs to be implemented.

And unfortunately, I am inclined to agree.

Disinterested public ignoring local Government elections

With just under three weeks before voting papers being mailed out for local government elections, candidates are out in force. Flyers and pamphlets are landing in peoples letter boxes and campaign signage has gone up. But how many people care?

That is an interesting – and important – question. The reasoning that has existed all along has been that that the bigger the turn out in local government elections of electors, the clearer the mandate – or lack of – that will be given. But how well do people in New Zealand understand local government elections and how important do they think local government politics are to them and their communities?

If we look at Christchurch in 2019, we see a council dealing with major issues. Some of them are ongoing earthquake recovery issues, that might persist for another decade but gradually lessening in importance. Some are ones that have sprouted out of an apparent lack of accountability over council spending, misguided priorities and concerns about how our infrastructure should be managed.

There are several candidates standing against incumbent Mayor Lianne Dalziel who has said that she wants a third term. Ms Dalziel believes that she is standing to see through unfinished projects that started under her watch. She is challenged by well known activist John Minto who envisages a city with free bus transportation (which has actually been introduced in Dunkirk, France. Businessman Darryll Park who has held a number of executive positions, including South Island Manager at Air New Zealand is also standing.

In Christchurch City Council all of the wards have multiple candidates standing. This is in contrast with several smaller electorates where a single candidate has stood, and effectively won their seat simply by declaring their candidacy. This includes Waipa District Council in the North Island where the Mayor Jim Mylchreest has been re-elected unopposed simply because nobody else in the district is standing for Mayor. Likewise Waitomo District will get three new councillors unopposed for lack of competition in their wards.

It bothers me that people are so disinterested in local Government elections that in some cases nearly half a council can be elected unopposed, as has happened in Waitomo. Yet at the same time, in a small rural electorate with only a few thousand people and a largely rural rate payer base, I am not dreadfully surprised. Despite a smorgasbord of issues to keep them occupied it seems that drinking water, transport, rubbish collection, civil defence and all of the other issues that councils have to deal with are simply not sexy enough to elicit contenders.

And like many others I am not sure what one does to make that interest grow. A compulsory course in civics to make sure people understand the how the electoral system works only goes so far, and despite it being an offence to not be on the electoral roll, I do not know many are not enrolled, but I suspect it is in the thousands.

But in the big cities the campaigns are rumbling along. Auckland Mayor Phil Goff is facing down 20 challengers; Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel has 12 challengers; 14 are challenging Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull; Hamilton Mayor Andrew King has 7 including three of his current city councillors.