Preserving our unique identity means protecting our volcanic cones and the viewshafts from development.

Auckland Council's recent bid to remove and downgrade a large number of "volcanic viewshafts" was shelved following strong criticism.

Was it another town hall distraction or something more important?

The viewshafts protect our city-wide views of Auckland's volcanic cones - known by mana whenua as tupuna maunga (ancestral mountains) - and have maintained our visual connection with these iconic places for decades.

The reason for council's surprise move is mounting pressure from property developers.


When the council launched the proposed unitary plan, it promoted intensification alongside protection of the viewshafts.

The rub is that developers want to push the intensification allowances much further and higher.

This is another of those crossroads moments for Auckland. Do we preserve our identity, and a key point of difference around the world, or follow the high-rise path?

The maunga have nurtured the people of Auckland for many centuries. They were central to Maori as places of birth, habitation, rituals of daily life, food cultivation and defence.

The tangible inscriptions of the ancestors remain, especially the terraced fortifications. European settlement brought a focus on the maunga as foundation resources for the city. Significant amounts of volcanic rock were quarried, resulting in the destruction of some maunga. They have also been used to locate coastal defences, infrastructure, reservoirs and houses. The setting aside of some of the maunga as reserves provided early protection.

The maunga have come to be treasured and celebrated by all communities for their striking landscape and heritage features, the distinct identity and sense of place they inspire, and their value as open spaces for all Aucklanders in a growing city.

The viewshaft debate is, however, not the only challenge facing the maunga.

A feature of the high profile Tamaki Collective Treaty settlement was the creation of a new co-governance authority with the statutory mandate to protect and manage the volcanic cones. The Tupuna Maunga Authority - with equal mana whenua and Auckland Council membership - has had a lot to do in its short time on the job.

The motivation of the 13 tribes of Auckland was to reverse the trend of neglect. The maunga received ad hoc management from the former legacy councils and operational budgets were very modest. The important work of volunteer groups certainly helped but resources were limited.

Early priorities of the authority have included increased pest and weed management, a maunga-wide alcohol and smokefree policy, consistent access arrangements and event parameters, and making the maunga safer places.

The traffic restrictions at Maungawhau/Mt Eden have received national attention. The terraced earthworks there are among the largest constructed fortresses in the Southern Hemisphere and the tribes of Tamaki continue to maintain their customary connections. With the recent motor vehicle restrictions to the summit (other than for limited mobility), Maungawhau is now a much safer place to walk and the maunga experience has been greatly enhanced. The maunga is finally getting the respect its history and significance warrants.

Yes, Auckland needs a more intensive built environment, but that does not need to be at the cost of the most special parts of our city. Sound planning can accommodate both outcomes.

An important next step for the Tupuna Maunga Authority is its proposed Integrated Management Plan which aims to restore, enhance and protect our treasures. We look forward to receiving the shared aspirations of Aucklanders for these special places.

Over a year into its existence, the Tupuna Maunga Authority has notched important early achievements. And it has done so while being a model of consensus, with unanimous decision-making being the norm.

Perhaps the most noteworthy - from a public perspective - is our decision to proceed with planting a new tree on Maungakiekie - One Tree Hill. Having Maori and Pakeha in partnership on a single authority has paved the way for a decision which proved elusive for preceding governance bodies for nearly two decades.

While that will symbolise the deep regard we have for our maunga, we need more than photo opportunities and lip service if we are to properly protect our natural heritage. And that will make a difference if we are to achieve global recognition of the volcanic cones through Unesco World Heritage status.

So yes, the viewshafts are that important.