17 Jan 2018

Surf Life Saving: 'We feel like we're in this alone'

10:52 am on 17 January 2018

Surf Life Saving feels that it has been abandoned by Auckland Council and central government, as it tries to secure funding for its rescue work on the region's beaches.

Surf lifesaving flags out at the beach.

Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Two busy Auckland beaches no longer have lifesaving patrols after Surf Life Saving stopped supervision so it could deploy its volunteers elsewhere.

Northern area chief executive Matt Williams said limited funding and a risk assessment prompted it to stop patrolling the Browns Bay and Milford beaches, while stepping up patrols nearby and at dangerous spots on the west coast.

He said there was no mention of Surf Life Saving in Auckland Council's new draft longterm plan.

"That's where it really hurts to see the lack of support from there, it really, really hits home the fact that local councils, central government are not planning for the future of Surf Life Saving and we very much feel like we're in this alone," he said.

"The volunteers are going to continue to do the upmost with what they've got. It's in future years we're going to see a tangible effect.

"We're going to see our volunteers burn out, we're going to see an increase in health and safety incidents as lifeguards are asked to do more and more with less, and then ultimately we are going to see our levels of service moving backwards at a time when they have to be moving forwards."

Surf Life Saving said Baylys Beach on the west coast near Dargaville was also going to be without a lifeguard service this summer, but the council there stepped in at the 11th hour.

Mr Williams said the piecemeal approach to funding was far from ideal and a national solution was needed.

Over the weekend, the northern area - which covers Auckland, Northland and Raglan - helped 149 people, rescued 70 and carried out 66 first aids, 24 of which were classed as major.

Mr Williams said Auckland had the lowest per capita drownings in New Zealand because of the number of patrols and volunteers' hard work.

Long Bay Beach, which is still a patrolled beach

Long Bay Beach, which is still a patrolled beach Photo: RNZ / Gill Bonnett

Auckland Councillor Penny Hulse said she would like to see more funding through discussions with central government.

"Surf Life Saving Northern Region's operational funding comes from the Auckland Regional Amenities Funding Board, and it is up to Life Saving Northern Region to decide which beaches they patrol," she said.

"Their capital funding is secured through the Long-term Plan (LTP) process. The LTP process for 2018/28 is underway but decisions about allocations on a number of issues, including Surf Life Saving Northern Region, have yet to be made.

"Auckland Council has committed $1.9m through the current Long-term Plan for the capital upgrades of prioritised Surf Life Saving clubrooms in the Auckland region.

"Many of these clubrooms are on parkland and have community leases from Auckland Council, further supporting the surf life saving service and the associated sporting activity."

Auckland Regional Amenities Funding Board (ARAFB) chair Vern Walsh said Surf Life Saving would know its operational allocation well ahead of the next financial year.

"ARAFB makes a contribution to Surf Lifesaving Northern Region as it as an important activity for us to support," he said.

"However, neither Auckland Council nor ARAFB contract them for specific services - ultimately it is up to Surf Lifesaving Northern Region to decide where it patrols, within the money they get from ARAFB, the council and other sources such as sponsorship."

Browns Bay beach is no longer patrolled by lifesavers.

Browns Bay beach is no longer patrolled by lifesavers, but the choppy water did still attract a few hardy swimmers yesterday. Photo: RNZ / Gill Bonnett

There were still some hardy swimmers in the choppy water at Browns Bay beach yesterday despite windy conditions and it no longer being patrolled.

Beachgoers could not understand the decision, at a beach where three people drowned in 2004.

"It's pretty dangerous out there sometimes, it's pretty rough and children play out there in the surf," said one man.

"The council should get off their butt and do something about it. These guys deserve the funding, it's a public service."

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