A proposal to transfer most of Auckland's 28 regional parks from Auckland Council to a possible new co-governance body is raising alarm bells in political circles.
Buried in a council review of regional parks is a one-sentence proposal to include 21 coastal and island regional parks into the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park.
At the same time, the Hauraki Gulf Forum is looking to seek legislative changes to create a co-governance Hauraki Gulf Authority to achieve healthier outcomes for the coast and gulf.
Councillor and former Auckland Regional Council chairman, Mike Lee, who oversaw a big expansion of regional parks, believe the moves are a clandestine raid on the region's "crown jewels".
Councillor John Watson, a member of the Hauraki Gulf Forum, said the double-barrelled changes signal a significant change to the management and governance of the Hauraki Gulf and regional parks.
He said hidden away in the review of the regional parks the council is consulting Aucklanders on, is putting 21 regional parks into the gulf marine park without any reference to the sweeping changes proposed for the Hauraki Gulf Forum, including a new authority with co-governance and removing the marine park concept.
"This is lacking any sort of transparency," said Watson.
Councillor Chris Fletcher, another member of the forum, said the 21 regional parks have been hard fought for and they need to be dealt with incredibly carefully.
"For something so treasured by Aucklanders caution has to prevail," she said.
Hauraki Gulf Forum chief executive Alex Rogers said the forum is looking at whether the Marine Park Act is still fit for purpose and what changes might be right for the gulf before seeking any legislative changes.
Rogers said a co-governance authority and marine park concept is something the forum is "still chewing over" and it will ultimately be a decision of ministers. The issues will be discussed at a confidential forum workshop next month, he said.
"The problem we have now is the Marine Park Act is not serving the gulf very well. Reports continue to show a significant decline in the health of the gulf.
"One of the questions is, what you can do with the act to improve the outcomes," said Rogers, citing the Waikato River model that had a statutory purpose and vision that regional authorities have to give effect to as a possible fit for the Gulf.
He said there are already provisions under the Act to include regional parks in the marine park and there is no suggestion that would change, but the forum is looking to see if it can help and encourage that further.
On the idea of dropping the marine park concept, he said something will remain in terms of the concept of what the gulf is, but what it is called is up for debate.
In practical terms, he said, any changes to the Act would still mean the council owns and manages the regional parks, but he thinks the changes would deliver a healthier coastline and healthier parks.
Councillor and co-chairwoman of the Hauraki Gulf Forum, Pippa Coom, said the gulf is under extreme pressure with the habitat in a dire situation and one of the tools to improve that is to consider putting regional parks into the marine park.
By putting the parks into the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park, any decisions within the parks will have to give effect to the purpose of the marine park, she said.
"It is about trying to improve the health and wellbeing of the Hauraki Gulf and mean more integrated and better management of the coastal environment."
Coom said there is a lot to be gained from a co-governance model, citing models for the Waikato and Whanganui Rivers and the Kaipara Harbour.
"This is an opportunity to review how we could better have a model of governance that is going to protect and restore the Gulf and bringing the partners along together is really important."
Coom said there is nothing to be frightened about what is proposed - "everything we are trying to do is in the interests of the Hauraki Gulf".
That is not how Lee sees it, saying the proposed transfer of 21 regional parks to the forum at the same time it is lobbying the Government to abolish the marine park and transfer itself into a "co-governed", unelected authority should be a serious concern for Aucklanders.
"It is unconscionable that council is going through the motions of 'consulting' the public over this proposal, yet duplicitously concealing the full scheme from the public. This is nothing less than a raid on Auckland's crown jewels," said Lee, saying the 21 parks amount to several thousand hectares of coastal real estate covering more than 40km of coastline.
"I warn the people behind this scheme to keep their hands off our hard-won regional parks, which belong to and are the heritage of all Aucklanders," he said.
The 21 regional parks that could be moved into the marine park are Te Arai, Mahurangi, Long Bay, Duder, Tapapakanga, Glenfern Sanctuary, Pakiri, Te Muri, Motukorea, Waitawa, Waharu, Tawharanui, Wenderholm, Whakanewha, Tawhitokino, Whakatiwai, Scandrett, Shakespear, Omana, Orere Pt and Hunua Ranges.
Mayor Phil Goff said the council has no proposals before it to cede ownership or management of the regional parks, nor would he support that.
"Our parks are owned by Aucklanders and held in trust for future generations. They are our taonga," he said.
But Goff said there may be value in ensuring consistency in the way the regional parks are contiguous with the Hauraki Gulf and management of the gulf marine park.
"That should be explored but my view is that council should always retain ownership and management of our regional parks in the best interest of the people of our city."