Council should make the most of developer's desire to spend $250 million
Takapuna beach is one of the jewels of Auckland, a long, scenic crescent of sand in the lee of nearby Rangitoto. It is beautiful and popular, for walking as much as swimming, and has ample public access from an adjoining grassy slope. It is almost perfect but for one thing: the nearby commercial centre has its back turned to it.
Somehow, in the early development of Takapuna, the shops spread shoulder to shoulder along Hurstmere Rd and ignored the possibilities behind them. The result was that an area overlooking the beach reserve became retailers' backyards and public carparks which it largely still is. In fact it is now a much larger carpark served by a road that sweeps past the beach.
In recent years some of the Hurstmere Rd properties have been redeveloped with a plaza or an alley that opens to the beauty behind them, but nothing in the scale of a project reported in the Weekend Herald. Takapuna resident John Copson plans a multi-storey retail and apartment block extending 100m back from Hurstmere Rd to present a big glassy face to the beach and the public reserve.
The buildings might be higher than city planners would prefer but otherwise it is the sort of development urban designers have long advocated to make better use of the amenity and enhancing connections between the commercial and public spaces. The planners, however, have designs of their own for the area which include a realigned road that would slice through the commercial properties and render the project uneconomic.
The advent of a united Auckland Council has been promising for Takapuna. The previous North Shore council had been moving its urban centre to Albany and Takapuna was looking forgotten. Now it is one of the key metropolitan centres in the Auckland Plan for the next 40 years.
But the new planners appear to have a different vision of the area. Rather than aiming to merge commercial and public activities, they want to clearly separate them, and they want the public space to be much larger and flatter - more suitable for "events".
The council's "transformation projects manager", John Dunshea, told the Herald its plans were preliminary and nothing has been decided. It may be too soon for Mr Copson to be despairing of his scheme but he cannot be blamed for putting no more money at risk while the planners toy with conflicting possibilities.
The people of Takapuna and the wider city have been waiting a lifetime for the commercial centre to turn and face their waterfront. Mr Copson's scheme offers the possibility of shops, cafes and pavement leading to the grassy slopes that run down to the beach and the water. The planners seem more concerned to keep the existing scale of commercial activities and flatten the slopes for unspecified purposes. But at least the planners envisage an underground carpark, which would be needed in Mr Copson's scheme too.
This dispute is not yet a stalemate. The Devonport-Takapuna Local Board chairman, Chris Darby, has urged Mr Colson to apply for a resource consent. Mr Copson says he wants to meet the planners' objectives but he is having difficulty getting them to engage with him.
If the planners do not yet have their ideas sufficiently formed to have useful meetings with him, they should get busy. They should make the most of his desire to spend $250 million to turn so much of Takapuna towards the water. The opportunity has been a long time coming. It might not come again.