Auckland: Moving to the shore

By John Roughan

As Auckland merges to create a supercity, the Herald looks back at how Auckland has changed over the years. Click here to view the full series.

Birkenhead Wharf with paddle-steamer in background. File photo / NZ Herald
Birkenhead Wharf with paddle-steamer in background. File photo / NZ Herald

Auckland gazed across the harbour at its north shore for 119 years before it built a bridge.

On that shore the first settlers had built waterfront houses and used boats for journeys to town. Even nuns at the first convent school at Shoal Bay rowed themselves about.

A ferry service was set up in 1854 from Stokes Pt (Northcote), Barry's Pt and Flagstaff, as Devonport was known. The North Shore was Devonport for the best part of a century. Devonport's rugby club is still called North Shore.

A tram service to Cheltenham existed by the 1870s buses were running to the beach at Takapuna and right up the coast to the hot springs at Waiwera by the end of the century.

But well into the 20th century the rest of the Shore remained a collection of harbourside and coastal villages comprising mostly retirement homes and baches. Farm houses dotted the hills and valleys behind the bays and there were few sealed roads beyond Takapuna.

Then, quite suddenly after the Second World War, a harbour bridge became a sure bet in the minds of Aucklanders. They started to move across the harbour in growing numbers. The North Shore started to boom a good 10 years before the bridge was built.

In the late 1940s a Herald reporter described "astonishing growth" on the coast from Castor Bay to Torbay:

"Sleepy bays that used to sport a dozen seaside baches now spread great sprawling webs of modern homes into the hills behind," he wrote. "Since the war new houses have been going up at the rate of 265 a year.

"No longer are these quiet little bays tucked away from sight, 10 or 15 miles from the city, the exclusive preserve of pensioners, retired civil servants and weekend campers. They have become Auckland's newest and most popular suburb, scattering hundreds of £4000 homes along seven
miles of magnificent coast."

The new home-owners commuted to jobs in the city, many travelling by bus to Bayswater or Northcote Pt for ferries across the harbour.

Among those who moved to the Shore in the 1950s was a former Auckland mayor, Sir John Allum, chairman of the bridge authority, who bought a new house in Campbells Bay. The east coast bays were still part of a Waitemata County that straddled the upper harbour though they were carrying rates as high as residential properties in the boroughs of Takapuna, Devonport, Northcote and Birkenhead.

The bays provided a third of the county's revenue from a quarter of its population yet they had no water supply or drainage, few footpaths and only one sealed road. By 1948 they were agitating to break away from the county and either join Takapuna of become a borough in their own right.

Takapuna did not welcome the first option. The older Shore boroughs were fast outgrowing the capacity of their drains and sewers, causing serious sea pollution.

But those problems didn't stop the North Shore Boroughs Association in 1950 supporting a proposal from Auckland's mayor Sir John Allum for a harbour bridge financed by loans underwritten by the Government and to be repaid by a toll. As detailed bridge designing began, the boroughs
prepared for even greater population growth.

Northcote, the bridge terminus, would treble its population of 5000. Birkenhead would expand into Beachhaven and Birkdale. Takapuna would fill out from 13,500 to 30,000. The east coast bays would grow to 30,000 too.

By 1953 even the Whangaparaoa Peninsula had been transformed in 10 years from barren wilderness to suburban sprawl. That year Orewa was scheduled for a secondary school. Roads and many other amenities had to be built urgently for the growth that would come with the bridge.

In 1955 building work started on a North Shore Hospital at a cost of £300,000. The following year Rangitoto College was opened. A North Shore sewerage scheme was commissioned for completion in 1965 at a cost of £1,239,398.

The Harbour Bridge Authority was told to expect a population of 52,000 on the Shore by 1960. It passed that figure in the census of 1956.

"All these people (2000 a year) have been pouring into the North Shore in anticipation of the coming of the bridge," the Herald reported. New homes could be seen "stretching for miles over hills at the back of Northcote and Birkenhead and along the high ridges of Birkdale and Glenfield."

Northcote Borough Council was building a new sort of shopping centre, not on a street but in its own precinct that would incorporate a library and community centre too.

The Harbour Bridge, now under construction, would carry more than a motorway connection. It would also carry a water main from Khyber Pass reservoir to Crown Hill and a high pressure gas line from the Auckland
gasworks to Takapuna. A quarter of the supply would be for the new hospital.

The four-lane bridge was completed in 1959. It opened for traffic on May 30. A Herald feature on June 3 began: "Already it has become fashionable among Aucklanders to carp about the smallness of their brand new bridge." Already there was discussion of a second crossing.

Within six years the bridge's capacity had to be doubled with the addition of four "clipon" lanes. But the development was overwhelmingly residential.

Civic leaders began to wonder why the predicted industrial investment was not following the population. Experts put it down to bridge tolls, land values and the lack of a North Shore port.

In 1966 the North Shore Chamber of Commerce proposed reclamations of Shoal Bay and Ngataringa Bay in the hope of creating attractive industrial waterside industrial zones.

The Auckland Regional Planning Authority was happy to see the city spread northward, believing growth in that direction would take pressure off better farming land in South Auckland.

The only thing that seemed capable of stifling the Shore's burgeoning
residential growth was the repeated refusal of borough councils to accept an amalgamation into a single North Shore city.

None of the boroughs had the resources on their own to build a town hall, a swimming pool a sports stadium or any of the amenities that help make a city and sustain its appeal to residents. The boroughs had
agreed as early as 1961 that Albany would one day be the site of a city centre, a decision that brought protests from Bush Rd orchardists. But the orchards would survive for another two decades while the boroughs continued to resist amalgamation.

Meanwhile another piece of Waitemata County had turned into the Shore's newest and largest suburb. Glenfield county town had attracted a population of 13,000 by 1966 when the County Council bought 15.5 acres for a commercial centre behind the shops in Glenfield Rd.

The county, wiser perhaps after the loss of East Coast Bays, set about spending £150,000 over next five years to provide Glenfield with wider roads, more footpaths, sewerage, a reservoir and three parks with sports grounds.

But in 1974 the county town decided it would prefer to be part of a city and voted for amalgamation with Takapuna. The enlarged Takapuna City could afford a swimming pool, a theatre named after its best-known playwright Bruce Mason, and more roomy accommodation for the council.

Birkenhead and East Coast Bays also became cities on strength of population and Devonport was reinvigorated by a strenuous local campaign against a proposed reclamation of much of Ngataringa Bay for a residential marina.

But the Takapuna-Glenfield axis became the core of the Shore's growth, developing a commercial and light industrial zone in the Wairau valley and planning and even larger hub of employment and housing in the Albany basin. By the time all the councils were forcibly united as North
Shore City in 1989, the Albany basin was ready for the revival of national population growth that came with the recovery of an economy newly exposed to unlimited importing and competitive challenges.

- NZ Herald

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