Sweeping views of Auckland's volcanic cones risk being violated by new planning rules, critics say.
They fear long-protected view shafts to Mt Eden, One Tree Hill and Rangitoto and other peaks will be interrupted if council planners gain powers to allow higher buildings while preparing to cram up to a million new residents into the Super City.
These could crowd out the lower parts of shafts sometimes several kilometres long if the city's unitary plan allows four-storey buildings up to 15m high around the base of cones such as Mt Eden.
That compares with a current maximum height of 9m established in 1976 by the former Auckland Regional Authority and local councils, after a public uproar against the construction of The Pines high-rise apartment block, hard up against Mt Eden's southeastern flank.
Retired former Auckland City Council senior planner Allan Kirk said yesterday that the region's two main natural attributes were its harbours and volcanic field, and the cones could not be protected without safeguarding the public's view of them.
"They can so easily be blanketed out by buildings," he said.
"Many people don't realise that many of the wonderful views we all enjoyed of Mt Eden, Rangitoto, Mt Albert, Mangere Mountain and One Tree Hill only exist today because of strict rules that have been enforced at a regional level for decades."
Mr Kirk said they had been kept "sacrosanct" by categorising any proposal for buildings higher than 9m as non-complying with district schemes.
The message to developers - including those who originally wanted to built the Sky Tower in Upper Symonds St in one of Mt Eden's 16 view shafts - was "don't bother".
But he said the unitary plan was opening the door wide to developers by proposing to allow planners to consider breaches of the view shaft as "restricted discretionary" activities which may or may not be put to public notification.
"It will all come down to money and who has the best lawyer."
Council heritage committee chairwoman Sandra Coney said the proposal to relax the rules was a big concern.
"It's just too important to risk decisions being made behind closed doors by planners who forever block out the view of the mountains, especially when we are looking at getting World Heritage status for the volcanic field," she said.
Council central Auckland planning manager Megan Tyler said that the council's regional development committee would tomorrow consider adding 35 more view shafts to the existing 63, while removing seven.
Volcanic view shafts
Buildings cannot interfere with sight lines providing clear views to points 9m and higher from the bases of protected cones. Proposed changes:
*Council planners want power to provide "restricted discretionary" approvals for buildings up to 15m high to pierce view shafts.
*Council to add 35 view shafts, including a new view of Mt Eden from Mechanics Bay, and remove seven existing shafts from the current list of 63.