Waikato people value "natural" beaches, according to an Environment Waikato survey.
The survey, conducted in the summer issue of the council's magazine EnviroCare, asked people to evaluate four photographs of beaches and rate their preferences as well as say who should have input into decisions about beaches.
This week's Environment Committee meeting heard that more than 1000 people responded to the survey, giving a statistically valid response. They were asked to evaluate a sandy beach, one with a grass verge, a city beach and one protected by rip rap.
Eighty percent of people preferred the "natural" beach, indicating a preference for undeveloped, natural beaches and growing public pressure to use these beaches. Some people also ranked it as beach they would least like to visit because of its remoteness, lack of facilities and difficult access.
Sixty three percent ranked the city beach as the one they would least like to visit because of lack of privacy, sand and naturalness. Grass verge beaches were popular for those who needed to easier access such as people with young children in pushchairs. Rip rap beaches were popular with people who appreciated protection given by the structures and city beaches were appreciated by people who preferred the mix of lifestyles of the city beach.
Respondents rated retaining some undeveloped, natural beaches around the coast as the most important value, with a second most important value the appearance of the beach and dunes, and whether they were natural. Good safe swimming and surfing were also considered important, along with having dunes at the beach and easy access.
People thought the local beach community should have the most say about what happens to the beach, followed by all the people in the Region.
The survey also showed that people were willing to pay potentially sizeable sums to protect the natural character of the coastline. When the results were analysed, the survey indicated that the public may be willing to pay $4.8 million to protect beaches in their natural state. Others were willing to pay more on an annual basis. This could result in sums of $6 million a year.
Community and Economy program manager Wendy Boyce said natural beaches were likely to be popular visited destinations in the future and would continue to have a lot of pressure on them from the community. Further work would be done on the survey results to compare them against other data.
Environment Committee Chairman Lois Livingston said the information was important for managing beaches into the future.
“The public have given us a clear steer that they value their coasts,” she said.