Brian Rudman

Brian Rudman is a Herald columnist looking at Auckland and national issues

Brian Rudman: Right to bonus floor space hardly returned in kind

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Beaumont Quarter fully complies with Council consents - and is a partial fail by the council. Photo / Paul Estcourt
Beaumont Quarter fully complies with Council consents - and is a partial fail by the council. Photo / Paul Estcourt

Across the CBD there are at least 73 commercial and residential developments that could be thrusting a little higher into the sky than the town plan permits.

But it's all kosher. The old Auckland City had a practice of granting developers rights to bonus floor space in return for them promising to provide public walkways, public plazas, creches, art works and other useful facilities at no cost to the ratepayer.

The problem is, no one at the old Auckland City bothered to check up on whether the silver-tongued developers got around to keeping their side of the bargain.

The bureaucrats were indeed so slack, they didn't even keep a record of who got bonus floorspace and why.

Unsurprisingly, this lack of policing got back to the developers, with predictable results.

In a recent exploratory audit of 18 representative developments, officials discovered that only half the recipients of bonus floor space had fully complied with their side of the bargain.

Of the nine defaulters, four had failed totally to provide the agreed public pathway or viewing platform. The rest had provided the agreed facility, but had failed to put up signage, and/or were blocking the access with restaurant chairs and tables.

Waitemata Local Board chairman Shale Chambers and board member Christopher Dempsey initiated the audit nearly a year ago.

This week they convinced the council's planning and urban design forum to expand the audit by stages to cover the full list of 73 buildings suspected of enjoying bonus floor rights.

Staff are also to report back next month on what enforcement action is being undertaken as a result of the initial audit.

Mr Chambers says he knew he was making progress when he saw temporary signs had gone up at SkyCity indicating the elevated overbridge was a public facility.

This just 15 years after SkyCity was granted its bonus floor space.

Mr Chambers says SkyCity is a classic - the arrangement with Auckland City included the requirement for an easement. But it's only now that negotiations have begun on the details.

As a result of the original audit in August last year, council staff began "please explain" discussions with property owners about missing signage and appropriate access not just at SkyCity, but at the Lumley Centre, linking Fort St and Shortland St, at 246 Queen St and at the Hudson Brown Apartments at Mahuhu Cres, opposite Vector Arena.

The four buildings that did not comply were Oracle Tower, Wakefield St and the old BNZ Tower, 125 Queen St - both for providing no public access to observation decks, and the old Queen St Finance Plaza and the Hudson Brown Apartments, for no public through access.

Buildings with partially obstructed access, and bad or no signage, included the Columbard, Sebel, and Waldorf Celestion hotels.

I guess one should be flabbergasted to hear that when the local board raised the issue last year, the bureaucrats said their budget didn't run to such audits, and that perhaps the local board should dip into its meagre petty cash tin to fund the work.

Needless to say, Mr Chambers left them in no doubt that it wasn't the job of a local board to clean up old Auckland City's mess, and sent them on their way.

A little horse trading with developers, in order to gain public-good facilities at no cost to the ratepayer, is to be encouraged.

As long as it's done properly.

But Auckland City had a bad habit of handing over the horse and forgetting to collect its side of the trade.

I was surprised to see among the list of developments which fully complied with their consents was Beaumont Quarter, the prize-winning apartment cluster opposite Victoria Park.

The report says that access to the open spaces required by the consent, "is not restricted" and "no signs required by consent".

The auditors are incorrect here, and if there are no signs, then Beaumont Quarter is a partial fail as well.

Back in 2003, a very generous Auckland City hacked $1.74 million off developer Nigel McKenna's "reserve contribution" levy for that development in return for providing two farcically small patches of public lawn for "recreational usages".

I likened them at the time to burial mounds.

Still, the council did require that signs be erected at the developer's cost at Beaumont St, "indicating the existence and full public accessibility to the open space".

- NZ Herald

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