Auckland: Our failing city

By Eloise Gibson

Auckland is growing by 50 people a day -they need 21 homes and bring in 35 additional cars. Now, a report warns of the pressures on the new-look Super City

A warning sign on a beach tells people to stay out of the water due to a sewage overflow. Photo / Dean Purcell
A warning sign on a beach tells people to stay out of the water due to a sewage overflow. Photo / Dean Purcell

Auckland's natural environment is in decline and will continue to worsen unless the new Super City council delivers a shake-up, say monitoring officers.

The region's environment monitors told would-be civic leaders they would inherit a natural environment threatened by ageing and overloaded infrastructure and a rapidly rising population.

Issuing the final State of the Region report before the Auckland Council takes over, the Auckland Regional Council's general manager of monitoring and research, Grant Barnes, said the region was growing by more than 50 people a day, requiring 21 new homes and bringing 35 new vehicles to the city.

But environmental management was not keeping up.

"To a large extent Auckland is extremely fortunate with its harbours, the Waitakeres and the Hunuas," said Mr Barnes.

"But I don't think we can carry on in the same vein - not in my view and not in the view of the [other] authors of this report."

Among his concerns are ageing stormwater pipes, which sometimes leave city beaches too polluted by high bacteria levels for swimming.

The report said there were almost 2500 overflows from stormwater pipes in 2008, most from the old combined stormwater and sewer network.

Most problems arise when rain overloads the combined stormwater and wastewater pipes, sometimes flushing sewage into the sea.

It has been estimated that it would cost more than $1 billion to fix the region's stormwater problems.

Mr Barnes said it was a question of setting an environmental "bottom line".

"Do we want to be able to go down to the beaches and swim without fear of getting sick?" he asked.

The pace of repairs has been up to the seven territorial councils. In 2008, Auckland city councillors voted with Mayor John Banks to slash $86 million from the budget to upgrade Victorian-era combined sewer and stormwater systems over 10 years.

Mr Barnes said creation of the new Auckland Council gave a chance to introduce year-round monitoring of city beaches and integrated upgrades to stormwater pipes that would tackle the decades-old problem.

The report, the third since 1999, is the result of decades of Auckland Regional Council monitoring of air, soil and water quality.

It found coastal water was becoming cleaner in many places, swimming beaches were usually safe, and urban streams had been improved by better stormwater management and treatment.

Urban stream quality was still bad, Mr Barnes said, but was "becoming less bad".

Other issues identified were increasing use of cars - despite rising use of public transport - and bigger and more expensive houses that were putting pressure on city limits.

Despite the recent boom in city apartments, Mr Barnes said the average house was getting bigger and more expensive and fewer people were living in it.

Houses had taken 330ha of the region's most productive soil between 2001 and 2006, said the report.

The rural economy was shrinking as farms were converted to lifestyle blocks, and productive soil had disappeared under housing developments such as Albany, Flat Bush and Dannemora.

As well, infill housing and new roads were putting more pressure on streams and stormwater pipes.

In other positive news, most popular swimming lakes were clean, and seawater had become cleaner in the past 20 years.

In the Manukau Harbour, Puketutu Point, Mangere Bridge, Shag Point, Graham's Beach, Weymouth and Clarks Beach had improved in quality after the Mangere oxidation ponds were closed in 2002.

In the Waitemata Harbour, Lucas Creek, Brigham's Creek and Rawawaru Creek became cleaner.

Aucklanders had become more enthusiastic recyclers, but the amount of rubbish sent to landfills had grown more quickly than the rising population would justify.

- NZ Herald

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