Having evaluated the political strategies of mountain bikers and the DCC’s response, it is worthwhile to compare the lobbying approach employed by two different user groups. How mountain bikers and walkers have lobbied the DCC illustrates differences in methods and results.
In 1990 a newspaper report announced how a local walking group, the Otago Peninsula Walkers (OPW), had ‘rediscovered’ six walking tracks.(1) After months of research Bruce Mason, a member of this group, discovered a number of paper roads on the peninsula.(2) Paper roads, owned by the local authority, are public reserves with the legal status of a formed road. Under common law people have the right to pass and repass along these roads without hindrance. This legal stipulation also applies to cyclists. While present on surveying maps paper roads are hard to physically recognise on-site. The paper roads on the Otago Peninsula, grazed by local farmers, were barely distinguishable from surrounding properties.
To promote these new tracks the OPW organised a public opening on 10 June 1990.(3) In the seven months prior to this date walkers worked to clear and signpost tracks. On opening day they found their signs vandalised and an electric fence across one track, work presumably carried out by irate farmers. Councillor Sinclair Jones and DoC’s Regional Conservator Jeff Connell were invited to attend the opening but the ensuing controversy kept them away. Councillor Jones told Bruce Mason that he ‘couldn’t have the Council associated with a controversial matter’.(4) Jones, obviously more interested in his public profile, was more sympathetic to a few farmers than to the legal right of the populace to use public land.
Local farmers, including the President of the Peninsula branch of Federated Farmers Wallace Ramsay, believed they should have been consulted:
It took us a long time to find out who was doing the work and when we contacted the DCC they told us the group had not gained approval to put signs up. They [the walkers] have always been allowed to [walk on farms] as long as people ask.(5)
Mason replied that he did not bother to get the farmers consent saying, ‘If the starting point is that you can only do something with everyone’s consent, you would never get anything done’.(6) The DCC told the OPW it should refrain from erecting more signs. They required DCC permission which meant waiting a few months. A disappointed Mason believed the DCC should be actively supporting efforts to increase recreational facilities in the area. On opening day the public showed overwhelming support for the tracks. Mason was pleased and noted that,
People were just rapt that here’s some other areas they can go. Members of the public inquired into why it had taken a voluntary group, which has gone to its own expense to upgrade and make the tracks known, to provide an amenity for the public.(7)
Tired of waiting, the OPW placed a full-page promotion for these walks on Otago Peninsula in the Dunedin Star Midweek in 1991.(8) The advertisement forced the DCC to react. It hosted a public meeting to discuss plans for provision of walking access on the peninsula. At this meeting the local mountain bike club became involved, urging members to attend and to make the DCC aware of their interest. Jenny Cooper, a club member, believed privileging walking access would not result in fair recreational usage.(9) The concept of fairness was certainly not one of the reasons the OPW worked to provide access to these tracks. The group’s stated objective was to create further opportunities for public recreational walking.(10) They wanted these tracks for walkers.
These six walking tracks are now managed by the DCC and included in its track assets. Three of these tracks are promoted as accessible to mountain bikes by the DCC. Thus, three more tracks are available to mountain bikers as an unintended consequence of the OPW’s actions. The public of Dunedin has gained access six walks on the Otago Peninsula as a result of a group being proactive. The legal provisions attached to paper roads produced a solid and defensible position that safeguarded the OPW in the controversy it had created. This controversy raised public awareness, forced the Council to negotiate with farmers for right of access and gained a valuable recreational resource for Dunedin.
This method contrasts greatly with the way MountainBiking Otago has lobbied the DCC to develop facilities. As outlined in Chapter Two, the club’s method of lobbying consisted of writing letters to DCC staff, placing submissions and participating in user group meetings. Although the club did employ a more proactive approach regarding Signal Hill these methods have proved unsuccessful in the eight years the club has been in existence. The OPW, on the other hand, only needed two years to create six new tracks.
As discussed earlier, one objective of policy is to find a solution to problems. Because mountain bikers have mostly obeyed track closures they have not presented the DCC with a significant problem requiring immediate attention. As OPW discovered, newspaper headlines and controversy focus Council attention of through both councillors and staff. Consequently, results are achieved sooner rather than later. If mountain bikers want to effect change they must learn how they can influence DCC decision-making.
The Politics of Pressure Groups
A number of methods are available to groups or individuals wanting to affect local government policy. These include non co-operation, adverse publicity, complaints to higher authorities, exploiting public consultation processes, recourse to courts and direct action.(11) Depending on circumstances some methods will be more effective than others. OPW chose non co-operation, adverse publicity and direct action. These ultimately proved successful. MountainBiking Otago has so far pursued a consultative approach that has proved ineffectual. These walking and biking organisations are pressure groups. As such they have a number of strategies available to further their position. These include utilising resources such as money and number of members, negotiating, and taking advantage of access to policy makers, councillors and local media.(12) Few groups employ all these strategies or have substantial resources to take full advantage. But no matter how big a pressure group is and no matter how astute their campaign, it is councillors whose hands are on the ‘levers of policy’. MountainBiking Otago has good access to one policy maker, Paul Coffey, who is regarded as a sympathetic and positive contact.(13) Yet the club has not used this link to its advantage. Having chosen the consultative process to achieve its goals, MountainBiking Otago has relied on policy makers such as Coffey to meet its needs. The club has just realised that it is the councillors that determine policy. In a recent newsletter the club treasurer urged members to vote for a candidate in the upcoming local body elections because he supported mountain biking.(14)
Before a particular group’s interests are incorporated into local government policy, the issue has to be important enough politically before they can exert anything but modest pressure on decision making by councillors.(15) For example in Dunedin the cost for re-developing of Moana Pool (between $10 and $12 million), is politically a more important issue for councillors than whether $10 000 or $20 000 is spent on developing tracks for mountain bikers.
What we see in the public consultation process with local government is not full community participation but participation by motivated individuals and groups.(16) Voter turn out is not high in local body elections. In the 1995 Dunedin elections the figure was 61% of eligible voters.(17) Compounding this problem is the small proportion of citizens making submissions on DCC policy. This is the difference between active and latent participation. Everyone has the opportunity to participate but only a small number actually do.
What is also interesting is the perceived stereotype of both groups. The typical walker is perceived as older and interested in taking a leisurely stroll through nature. The mountain biker is a young adrenalised speed freak, sometimes with bleached hair, recklessly hurtling down steep precipices. When the lobbying approaches of the two different groups is compared we again see a polarity but not as these stereotypes would suggest. The passive letter writing of mountain bikers is the antithesis of the planned controversy utilised by the walkers.
Moving beyond the specific case of mountain biking I return to the concept of citizenship to investigate where recreation provision by local authorities is heading.
The Decline of the Citizen and the Rise of the Customer
Other local authorities have produced specific policy documents to deal with mountain biking issues. Christchurch City Council hired consultants to produce a citywide mountain biking policy in 1992.(18) Likewise the Wellington Regional Council employed the services of consultants in developing mountain bike policy in 1995.(19) Now in 1998 the DCC has at last incorporated mountain biking into formal policy with the TPS but, unlike Christchurch and Wellington, it has focused policy on facilities rather than the needs of different user groups. The needs of current and potential users must be the starting point if effective management is the goal of policy writing. Without an encompassing vision or goal that will suit all users the policy will be impotent. A comparison of Dunedin, Christchurch and Wellington local authorities reveals different ideologies underpinning their functioning. As discussed in Chapter Three, the DCC sees itself underpinned by a market ideology in which it deals with customers rather than citizens. Mountain biking customers in Dunedin are not prepared to pay for the use of tracks so facilities are absent. However, the mountain biking citizens of Christchurch and Wellington enjoy specifically constructed facilities.
We have not yet reached the point where user charges are introduced for Dunedin tracks but DCC ideology is conducive to this direction. The concept of citizenship in Dunedin’s local government may well be under threat. Recently DCC staff has proposed the production of an identity card. This card, dubbed the ‘Goldies Card’, would allow ‘low income earners to access sport, recreation, arts, cultural and community learning activities at a discounted price’.(20) The concept of citizenship entails that all citizens, regardless of income, have an equal opportunity. The proposed card indicates that the customer orientated DCC has acknowledged that low-income earners are disadvantaged in a number of areas in Dunedin, including recreation, including DCC services.
In Great Britain similar reforms to local government produced a shift in values from social equality to the free market.(21) Associated with this shift is the transfer of power from the state to individuals through the mechanism of the market. In Britain this produced ‘leisure gainers’, typically white middle class males, and ‘leisure losers’, the remainder of society.(22) The significant difference between New Zealand and Britain is the Compulsory Competitive Tendering (CCT) statutory requirements of local authorities. This requires local councils to put a wide range of core functions, including leisure services, out to tender. When leisure services are tendered out, contractors focus on generating revenue rather than providing a service. They will operate a facility to attract those people who will provide them with capital. These are the moderate to high income earners who have money to spend. Management will cut costs and increase revenue in ways likely to disadvantage low-income earners. While contracting leisure services has become increasingly more common in New Zealand, it is not yet compulsory.
The future for mountain bikers in Dunedin is unclear. Gary Fisher, the early pioneer, best sums up the logical solution to solving conflict issues:
The land access problem has already inhibited the growth somewhat. The conflict of interest problem will be solved by good management. The mountain bike is a new entity and needs to be learned about by all the different management people and then they need to keep us some places, keep hikers other places and have some things that are multi use and I think every body will get along.(23)
But is this solution likely to happen in Dunedin given the tensions between citizen and customer that manifest within the DCC? Perhaps the DCC will eventually provide dedicated
tracks. Local authorities in New Zealand, with effective management, can provide high quality facilities for a variety of recreations to be enjoyed by large sectors of the public. Will this change from citizen to customer orientation occur in other authorities in this country and what are the wholesale effects this may have on leisure provision? Leisure trends are changing; even the DCC acknowledge that the emphasis on sport is changing from competition to social participation and enjoyment.(24) How local governments deal with this change remains to be seen.
(1) ‘New walking tracks’, Dunedin Star Midweek, 6 June 1990.
(2) ‘Walkers upset farmers’, Dunedin Star Midweek, 13 June 1990.
(3) ‘New walking tracks’, Dunedin Star Midweek.
(4) ‘Walkers upset farmers’, Dunedin Star Midweek.
(5) ‘Walkers upset farmers’, Dunedin Star Midweek.
(6) ‘Walkers upset farmers’, Dunedin Star Midweek.
(7) ‘Walkers upset farmers’, Dunedin Star Midweek.
(8) ‘Otago Peninsula Walkers’, Dunedin Star Midweek, 15 May 1991.
(9) ‘Mountain bikes’, Dunedin Star Midweek, 19 June 1991.
(10) ‘Otago Peninsula Walkers’, Dunedin Star Midweek.
(11) Bush, Local Government and Politics in New Zealand.
(12) Bush, Local Government and Politics in New Zealand.
(13) Personal communication, P McDonald (Treasurer, MountainBiking Otago), 16 October 1997.
(14) P McDonald (Treasurer, MountainBiking Otago), ‘MountainBiking Otago Newsletter’, August 1998.
(15) Bush, Local Government and Politics in New Zealand.
(16) G Bush, ‘Consultation and participation in local government’, in P McDermott, V Forgie and R Howell (Eds.), An Agenda for Local Government: Proceedings from the New Local Government Conference 1995, Massey University, 1995.
(17) Department of Internal Affairs, Local Authority Election Statistics 1995, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington, 1997.
(18) Sara Gerard and Associates, Mountain Biking on the Port Hills and Christchurch Urban Areas, 1992.
(19) Wellington Regional Council, Wellington Regional Council Draft Policy on Mountain Biking, 1995.
(20) J Aimers (DCC Community Adviser), ‘Project Brief – Goldies Card Feasibility Study’.
(21) N Ravenscroft, ‘Public leisure provision and the good citizen’, Leisure Studies, vol. 12, 1993, pp. 33-44.
(22) Ravenscroft, ‘Public leisure provision and the good citizen’.
(23) Television programme, Bicycles.
(24) DCC, A Recreation Strategy for Dunedin.