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Education Land: transparency

0 Comments 26 April 2016

Education Land PihaPiha Community Wetland Project – January 2016

A proposal for partnering between Piha community groups and the Auckland Council


Piha wetland meeting, 11/01/2016 at Barnett Hall, North Piha


  • Waitakere Ranges Local Board: Sandra Coney (Chair), Steve Tollestrup
  • Piha Kids Charitable Trust: Stu Leighton, Johnny Stokes
  • West Coast Gallery: Andy Mardell
  • Piha Coastcare: Dave Bryant, Pat La Roche, Dan Real
  • Protect Piha Heritage: Peter Hosking
  • Piha Residents and Ratepayers Association: Ken Cowan, Hanneke Bouchier
  • Auckland Council staff: Glenn Boyd, Claire Liousse


For the last few years, the land owned by the Ministry of Education has been leased to Piha Education Trust for environmental education activities with schools and wetland restoration planting.  About 18 months ago, the Piha Education Trust stopped the project and relinquished the lease of the land to the Ministry of Education.  The Ministry is now about to initiate a process to sell the property as “surplus to requirement”.  Before it is offered for sale on the open market, public agencies, the previous owner and iwi are able to express interest in purchasing the land.

Local Board Chair Sandra Coney has discussed the possibility of purchasing the land with Parks and Recreation policy manager Rob Cairns.  The land meets several of the criteria for land acquisition, having regards to its ecological, heritage and recreational value.  A report is being prepared by this team to be presented to the Parks committee on 9th March (CL to check the process and timeline).

Preliminary discussions with members of the Piha community suggest that people are committed to the land being retained in its natural state, in public ownership.

The purpose of the meeting is to get feedback from the representatives of the five groups on the groups’ interest in the land, and on the idea of a collective approach to support retaining the land in public ownership, and partnering with the Council to use the land for community purposes.


  1. Options for a collective approach
  • Establishing a new singular groups from multiple groups v/ one group being spokesperson
    • Pros:
      • Ensure robust process of reporting back to the groups
      • Each group has a particular niche, representing particular interests, and involving a section of the community. None of the groups can be called an umbrella group.
      • Having representatives from each groups gives more voice to a wider variety of people
      • There wouldn’t necessarily need to be a formal/legal structure, at least to start with. Once the land is bought, the collective could be formalised into a legal entity.
      • AC would likely want to see documentation and outline of responsibilities of each group
    • Cons/risks
      • Need to act quickly. The R&R could be the voice of other reps from other groups to present the case to Auckland Council, or each of the five groups could be represented.
    • Consensus around the idea of establishing an informal collective with representatives from each of the 5 groups, including:
      • Piha Kids Trust: Johnny Stokes
      • Piha Coastcare: Pat La Roche
      • Piha R&R: Hanneke Bouchier
      • West Coast Gallery: Andy Mardell
      • Protect Piha Heritage: Kath Dewar
  1. Interest in/visions for the MEd land from each group
  • Piha Kids Trust
    • Great potential for improving assets for Piha youth:
      • cycle track where children can learn to cycle, that can also be used by scooters and skate boarders. Areas where children currently learn to cycle (e.g. parking areas, Domain, in front of Surf Club) are getting busier with vehicle traffic.
      • pump track (example in Glen Eden/Titirangi)
      • skateboarding facilities
      • new tracks linking to Regional Parks network
    • Opportunities to involve young people in the design and building of facilities.
    • Project Twin Stream is a good example of areas being used for multiple outcomes: environmental, art, education, recreation, etc
  • Coastcare:
    • Potential for the restoration of the stream which has a very diverse habitat
    • Picnic/walking area on open field. Safe walk linking the Domain to Glen Esk Rd off the main road.
    • Potential for community garden
    • Potential for planting projects involving children
    • Current access to Regional Parks land in this area, including valleys of high ecological value, is through MEd land: this will be an issue if it is not retained  in public ownership.
    • Coastcare group does not have the capacity to manage environmental restoration of the wetland on its own – it is a large area that would require joint community efforts. People will buy in when they see the potential of the land.  Use social media to mobilise people.
    • There would be significant monitoring costs for Council if private development takes place due to the high ecological values of the area.
  • Piha R&R:
    • Note that the group needs more opportunity to discuss with its members and canvas interest.
    • There may be potential for parts of the land to be used for effluent (nitrate and phosphate) disposal and treatment on higher grounds. Issues around the Tree for Babies area.  In conjunction with other initiatives to improve water quality in Piha lagoon. Note that there was disagreement from other people that this should be considered as an option.
    • Create a versatile space for the community
  • West Coast Gallery
    • Stream erosion control to protect the gallery and school house is a priority
    • Opportunity to use the school house for art classes, workshops, holiday programmes for children, library activities
    • Walking (and possibly cycling) track that provides alternatives to the beach, e.g. when people visit the Gallery or on wet days.
    • Some artists are prepared to donate sculptures that could be installed in the area (e.g. sculpture trail)
    • Four Trustees have offered to volunteer their time to undertake maintenance work, and become key holders and care takers for the school house.
  • Protect Piha Heritage
    • Restore the natural heritage of the site
    • Outreach to young people, involve youth in wetland restoration, environmental education
    • Protect the cultural heritage value of building and land: old school house built in 1928 in Waiuku, moved to Piha in 1958 and used as a school house for three years; route of the old tram line; flax mill?
  1. Common interests
  • Retain community/public ownership of the land
  • Bring the best case possible to the Council to persuade the Governing Body to purchase the land and partner with community groups for its development and use for community purposes.
  • Opportunity for a collective voice to outline this interest and mobilise skills and resources. Potential to reduce operational costs through community involvement in maintaining the assets.
  • Opportunity to work with Te Kawerau a Maki, who have expressed interest in the land and the initiative. Auckland Council will lead discussions with iwi in the first instance.
  • This is potentially a ground breaking model of partnering between Auckland Council and a community collective that represents multiple groups, shared values, and multiple activities. Aligns very well with “Empowered Communities” approach adopted by Auckland Council.
  • This is an exciting opportunity to enhance the community hub in this part of Piha with multiple community uses and environmental outcomes.
  1. Next steps:
  2. Develop a collective voice and position, co-signed by all the groups. Suggested interim name for the collective: “Piha community wetland project”.  CL to collate input from all the groups into a proposal/statement of aspirations.
  3. Proposal/statement of aspirations is sent to the Parks and Recreation policy staff who investigate potential land acquisitions for new public open spaces.
  4. Deputation of the groups to the Parks Committee meeting on 9th March


  1. Purpose:  The purpose of this document is to inform the Waitakere Ranges Local Board’s recommendation and the Auckland Council’s decision regarding the purchase the land on Seaview Road currently owned by the Ministry of Education.  It is a partnering proposal from Piha community groups for the long-term development and management of the land and building to achieve multiple environmental, cultural heritage, recreational and community outcomes.
  1. Piha Community Wetland Project: The Piha Community Development project is a collective of community groups with a long standing history of services to the Piha community.  It currently includes the following groups:

Piha Kids Charitable Trust  The overarching objective of the Piha Kids Charitable Trust is to advocate for and assist in the development of facilities that benefit the children of Piha. Contact: Johnny Stokes

Piha Coastcare Trust Piha CoastCare Trust is committed to following best environmental principles and to working co-operatively with the local community and local authorities in facilitating project that restore, enhance and protect the natural environment and public space of Piha.  It encourages local involvement in its projects and aims to increase knowledge and understanding of environmental issues.  Contact: Pat La Roche

Piha Residents and Ratepayers Association The Piha R&R promotes the wellbeing, environment and development of the Piha community.  It provides a forum within which members can identify, discuss and deal with local issues and concerns, and provide a unified voice to represent those issues and concerns with the Auckland Council.  Contact: Hanneke Bouchier

Education Land PihaWest Coast Community Arts Trust (West Coast Gallery)  The West Coast Community Arts Trust promotes and encourages the enjoyment of, and participation in the Arts, in all its forms, for the community.  The Gallery is located in the centre of Piha and is an arts venue, which exhibits and sells the artworks of local West Auckland artists.  The gallery is an essential hub of artistic activity in the area, hosting regular events and art projects encouraging community involvement.  Contact: Andy Mardell

Protect Piha Heritage Society Inc.  Protect Piha Heritage promotes guardianship of the character, heritage and traditions of Piha as an iconic West Coast black-sand surf beach and self-reliant coastal village enclosed by dramatic land forms and forested ranges, which offers respite and the ability to be ‘one with nature’ to locals and visitors.  Contact: Kath Dewar

  1. Objectives of the Piha Community Wetland Project
The objectives of the project are to:
  • Restore the natural heritage values of the wetland, including its vegetation, habitats, linkages to the high value forested valleys of the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park, the Piha Stream, Piha lagoon and the Coast.
  • Maintain the environmental education focus of the site by involving the local community, including its children and young people, and if possible West Auckland schools in planting activities, citizen science, monitoring and other environmental education activities.
  • Enhance the community hub in this location with a focus on youth recreation and cultural development:
    • Using the school house for activities associated with the West Coast Gallery and other Piha community activities, with a focus on children and young people: art classes, workshops, after school and holiday programmes.
    • Developing linkages to high value Regional park land in the area, Nigel Hanlon Hut and Sir Algernon Thomas Green (current access is through the site). Also a safe walking route between the Domain and Glen Esk Road
    • Developing recreational facilities compatible with the natural values of the land, such as walking and beginner cycling tracks, pump track and/or skate boarding and scooter facilities
    • Providing interpretation of the Maori and European cultural heritage of the area
    • Enhancing connections of the site with local artists and the West Coast Gallery with art work installations
    • Developing a community garden (if appropriate and there is sufficient interest)

Note: The area includes a range of community facilities and amenities within walking distance of each other: Piha Domain, playground and basketball hoop, Community Library, West Coast Gallery, Bowling Club, Community post office, Piha Tennis Club, Fire Service, Piha Store and Piha Café.

  • Provide family-friendly alternatives to the beach for visitors to the area with walking and picnic facilities within a very scenic setting.
  1. The site

Natural heritage and environmental values The wetland and stream environments are habitats for valuable flora and fauna, including threatened species.  The project will help restore and preserve this valuable environment for the future.

Landscape values The site provides a visual connection from the low lying river valley landscape to bush clad hills and ridges of the Regional Park.  The restoration of the wetland will enhance these landscape values.

Cultural Heritage values The site is located in the Piha valley, or Wai o Kahu.  The collective understands from information gathered by Sandra Coney from Graham Murdoch’s work that it is of significance to Te Kawerau a Maki.  Should the site be purchased by the Auckland Council, the collective would be keen to work collaboratively with iwi on the development, restoration and management of the site, and the protection and interpretation of its Maori heritage.

The proposal reflects the history of the site and its surroundings with a focus on natural heritage, outdoor recreation and youth:  it borders the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park, including land gifted by Sir Algernon in Piha Valley to protect the forest and provide a camping ground (now known as Sir Algernon Thomas Green).  The Nigel Hanlon Hut adjoining the land is leased to Boys Brigade in fulfilment of Sir Algernon’s wishes that a youth or health group have camping facilities on the land.

The land was part of the Piha Sawmill operation and it is believed that the tramway line ran through the middle of the site, although its exact location is not ascertained.

The adjacent property contains the Piha homestead of Dr Frederick John Rayner and his wife Ethel, owner of the Piha Sawmill. This is the oldest house in Piha, built from Piha kauri. The project will provide interpretation of that history and protection of archaeological resources on the site, once it is surveyed.

The site’s ownership is associated with a number of significant figures in local and regional history. Eventually it was purchased from Les Crichton for a school (part of the land also came from the Auckland Centennial Memorial Park).  The school building, built in 1928 for the Taurangaruru School near Waiuku, was moved to the site in 1958.  It was used until 1961 when the Piha School closed.  In recent years, the land and building have been leased to Piha Education Trust for environmental education activities with schools and wetland restoration planting.

Recreational values The site provides additional open recreational space removing pressure from the domain area for competing activities.  The key benefit for a recreation point of view is space: space for walking and cycling trails and skateboard/scooter areas that are safe for children away from busy road verges and carparks. There is the ability to develop more challenging play equipment if desired and to engage local youth in the design and construction and the ecological restoration surrounding them.

The project will link currently disjointed pockets of parkland into a coherent whole and potentially link the hub of Piha to the wider regional park track network.

It will provide high quality links to wetlands and stream margins enabling interpretation of their restoration and role. 

Other values This large area of accessible land links  existing disjointed pockets of public land in the heart of the community thereby creating a publically owned heart to the community that will bring ecological, social and cultural benefits to the community for generations.

  1. Proposed partnering model

The collective intends to use best practice to ensure sound governance and management processes.  Should the Auckland Council decide to purchase the land, the collective is considering forming a not-for-profit legal entity such as a Charitable Trust and entering into a formal partnership agreement with Auckland Council.  The nature of this agreement is still to be defined.

The collective has identified the skills, expertise and experience that can be mobilised in each group to ensure that resources will be available to achieve the objectives of the Piha Community Wetland Project and minimise operational costs for the Council including:

In addition, the group has identified that it will need support from its members to adequately support and service the project.  The Piha Residents and Ratepayers Association and Protect Piha Heritage have indicated their interest in taking on some of these tasks, which will include:

  • Communicating with the wider Piha community
  • Facilitating planning and decision making by the collective
  • Organising the collective meetings, participants, minutes of decisions, stakeholder communication
  • Liaising with Auckland Council and the Waitakere Ranges Local Board

6. Engagement with the Waitakere Ranges Local Board

The Waitakere Ranges Local Board consulted with community groups in Piha on several occasions, looking for ways to maintain public ownership of the land and its focus on wetland restoration, community participation and Environmental Education. The Local Board proposed in 2014 that the land be leased from the Ministry of Education, and when the Ministry decided to dispose of the land, requested that the purchase of the land be investigated by Auckland Council.  The objectives of this proposal have been discussed with, and are supported in principle by Local Board members.

7. Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area Act

The project will help achieve the purpose and objectives of the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area Act.  It will promote the protection and enhancement of significant heritage features  of Piha, including its:

  • wetland and stream ecosystems, which are of scientific and educational interest
  • landscape qualities and scenic beauty
  • natural and dynamic quality of its coastal environment
  • opportunities for wilderness experiences and recreation
  • evidence of past human activity in the area
  • distinctive community hub
  • historical, traditional, and cultural relationships of the local community and tangata whenua with the area and their exercise of kaitiakitanga and stewardship

8. Alignment with the Waitakere Ranges Local Board Plan and Empowered Communities Approach

The project is aligned with the Waitakere Ranges Local Board Plan outcomes, and particularly:

  • the protection of the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area, preservation of the local character of its communities and protection of heritage
  • the protection and restoration of natural habitats and biodiversity
  • a thriving, strong, diverse and healthy community, with recreational facilities that meet the needs of all
  • flourishing arts and culture that are accessible to all

This proposal is also aligned with the Empowered Communities Approach of Auckland Council.  It proposes a novel way for local groups, the Council and possibly iwi to enter into a partnership to manage the site in a way that will make best use of all parties’ resources, knowledge and skills, for multiple community outcomes.

See below the feedback from Protect Piha Heritage– this is for explanation of some of the additions above and will be removed from the final document:

“The operational list below doesn’t reflect the amount of work that goes into convening and running a group such as this described. While PPH can understand the benefits to council of a new single entity, the extra workload this involves, compared to a more informal working group or steering committee, composed of current entity representatives, needs to be taken into account. 

We have added a couple of the missing tasks below.

Many of the volunteers already have heavy community workloads and the impact of an additional entity and this project needs properly anticipating and planning so people have the support necessary to make it succeed.

We also note the group will need access to funds to manage the wetland – and itself – and at least a basic funding plan/model should be established as part of this proposal.”

Operational activity Group(s) responsible
Maintenance of the school house, caretaking and key holding duties West Coast Community Arts Trust, with support from Residents and Ratepayers Association
Organising activities in the school house: e.g. holiday programmes, art classes and workshops, library activities, environmental education activities West Coast Community Arts Trust and other community user groups
Involving young people in the design and development of walking/cycling track, skate and scooter facilities Piha Kids Charitable Trust
Raising funds for the development and maintenance of new facilities and the maintenance of the school house Collective (Piha Wetland Project formalised in not-for-profit entity), Piha Kids Charitable Trust, West Coast Community Arts Trust


Mobilising local residents, youth and volunteers for wetland restoration activities Piha Kids Charitable Trust,  Coast Care
Mobilising artists to create an sculpture trail West Coast Community Arts Trust

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