Fee proposed for driving on Muriwai Beach

Laura James
Source: 1News

Driving on Auckland's Muriwai Beach could soon come at a cost of up to $200 per year.

Auckland Council's proposing a fee-based permit system to better control vehicle access to the west coast beach.

It's long been a contentious issue, with public meetings last year about future controls becoming quite heated.

The council's regional parks manager, Scott De Silva, said it's clear "something has to change – the way we're managing it at the moment is not the right way".

Birds NZ is one of many conservation groups agreeing with the proposal.

"We're seeing a lot of erosion of the dune system and we have a complete failure of shore bird nesting on that beach," representative Ian McLean said.

"For the 60 kilometres of Muriwai Beach, there are actually no New Zealand dotterels or variable oystercatchers that can successfully breed and that's very, very disappointing.

"It's their habitat but they're just unable to breed because of the disturbance."

De Silva said the council is working through concerns around "beach user safety, environmental damage, fire risk, and driver behaviour".

Consultation on the fee-based permit idea begins on Monday after the council started looking into new control measures last year.

"We're hoping to have vehicle plate recognition so that if you’ve paid your fee, your vehicle will be picked up.. and then the gate would open," De Silva said.

McLean praised the suggestion, saying it would "legitimise the users of the beach itself, so those people who care for the environment are more likely to actually pay for that fee".

The cost for the permit will be up for debate as part of the consultation process.

"We're looking at a max of $200 per annum... a three- or six-month permit is also an option, depending on how people use the beach."

Mixed views

Beach-goers embracing the wild weather over the weekend had mixed views on the idea.

One four-wheel-driver said, "I think it'll lower the amount of people on the beach."

But he admitted he would be happy to pay a fee of around $50 a year.

Another motorist turning up for a drive was against the idea.

"I'd rather not have to pay to come onto the beach," he said.

One windsurfer said anything more than $20 will "ruin the beach".

Another beach-user said, "At the end of the day, if it's put towards the right cause, then quite happily".

De Silva said the fees collected would likely be ringfenced for Muriwai.

"We can actually cover any any maintenance costs on the gate, and management of the permit and fee.

"The other thing we're considering is additional funds we get we can actually put back into protecting the environment, doing some plantings up the coast, and using it back in that space."

McLean said part of the fees could also go towards "revegetation with native plants along the dunes" and "setting aside specific areas for the shore birds".

The council's expecting a high level of engagement with the consultation process.

There is already a permit system in place, but it's free to get one and De Silva said it can't enforced.

Drivers 1News spoke to said they were very rarely checked.

Aucklanders have around a month to provide feedback on the proposed permit system.

While the council would like to implement any changes by the busy summer season, De Silva admitted there's "a number of factors at play that could push the timeframe out."

"The committee last week also approved additional further seasonal closures," he added.

Motorists were unable to drive on Muriwai Beach last summer during the main holiday period.