Auckland's Lincoln Rd has for decades been a key arterial route connecting the west to the inner city - but it was not always the expansive four-lane highway it is today.

It was once little more than a gravel path, surrounded by orchards and vineyards, with the steady hum of bees, birds and the nearby creek bubbling softly.

This countryside vision is one from years long gone by, erased by the urban highway and accompanying grey noise of humankind's urban footprint.

• See also: Auckland's Lincoln Rd upgrade forces property owners to sell their homes

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Regions on the fringe of Auckland's metropolis are continually being touched by the ever-expansive reach of urban development.

Corazon Miller talks to two Lincoln Rd residents who for sixty odd years have watched through the windows of their modest homes as the trees were felled, concrete poured and buildings and fences erected.

A country paradise

The Tarr family outside their Lincoln Rd home in the 1950s. Photo / Supplied
The Tarr family outside their Lincoln Rd home in the 1950s. Photo / Supplied

When Hazel Tarr, 86, first moved into her home at the motorway end of Lincoln Rd with her young family in the Easter of 1957, civil infrastructure was scarce and her little three-bedroom bungalow had just been built.

The Henderson township was going through a period of growth as an influx of people engaged in the farming and fruit growing industry, boosting the population from 199 residents in 1886 to 2,750 in the year Tarr moved in.

The road outside her new home was loose gravel, surrounded by the wide sweeping green landscape and leafy orchards, vineyards and a nearby market garden.

Behind her house was a small creek that her kids used to play by.

"They had tree huts, they would take off for the whole morning and not come back for tea."

She said it was a marvellous place to raise kids and to be a part of the community.

Indeed as the recently published book Henderson Heart of the West describes, New Zealand in the 1950s was seen as a great place to bring up children, "a model welfare state, with a high birth rate, universal benefits, high living standards and few unemployed".

Humanity's mark

But the passage of time and people has changed the landscape and as Brian Corban wrote in the book, "the places of my childhood have now effectively been destroyed ... the rural sleepy almost paradise atmosphere in summer".

Today the area around Lincoln Rd is far from paradise, the surrounding greenery but simply a backdrop for the suburb's roads and buildings. Dubbed Heart Attack Alley, the stores full of natural produce have been largely taken over by takeaway joints - a whopping 55 - Texas Chicken, Denny's, McDonald's, bakeries, Kings Roast, Dunkin Donuts to name but a few.

The stores are well-serviced by the ever-growing population in Henderson which has grown significantly to number 14,120 (North, West and South - total 119,900 in the Henderson-Massey local-board area).

The latest AT street count on August 2 this year showed there was an average 46,033 vehicles traversing the long street every weekday. Traffic at peak hour times in the morning, midday and afternoon ranges from 3095 to 3363 causing a backlog that sees motorists crawling for a kilometre or two along Lincoln Rd, stopped occasionally by one of the four sets of traffic lights from Te Pai to the motorway.

Montage of take-away food outlets on Lincoln Rd, Henderson. Photo / Michael Craig
Montage of take-away food outlets on Lincoln Rd, Henderson. Photo / Michael Craig

The once prevalent sound of the bubbling creek has been drowned out by the traffic, and Tarr's once sparkling new home is showing its age.

Tarr could not imagine allowing her children the same freedom on the Lincoln Rd she sees today.

Jack Ross, 85, lives next door, having moved there in 1954, a few years before Tarr. He has lived in Henderson since 1936.

As a child he recalled walking to school in bare feet.

"Not now, you don't walk to school, you get driven."

He described a sense of freedom being able to walk outside, not having to look either way for cars as a child dashing across the then-gravel path.

The sense of community was also stronger - or at least more out in the open.

"You knew everybody too, now you go down there and you won't know anybody."

Meeting people is a challenge when most are simply passing through in cars, trucks, buses and vans.

Outside his window cars passing are a more common sight than people; any foot traffic at the surrounding stores were also unlikely to linger as most seemed intent on filling their shopping bags or petrol tanks before departing.

Despite what seemed like cars hurtling past at a constant pace with barely a sideways glance, Hazel Tarr, who is still driving, said it did not bother her.

"In fact, I quite enjoy it, I know what time it is by the traffic."

"They all stop for me, I just go out, front-first into the traffic and they all stop and make way."

A melting landscape

Lincoln Rd today is no longer in the middle of the countryside, rather in the middle of urban Auckland. Photo / Chris Tarpey
Lincoln Rd today is no longer in the middle of the countryside, rather in the middle of urban Auckland. Photo / Chris Tarpey

What was more concerning for Tarr was the impact the ongoing developments seemed to have had on her property.

While historical records showed her land was prone to dampness, Tarr felt it had gotten notably worse after excavation problems on the road outside.

Since then Tarr said her basement has been permanently damp, flooding was a regular occurrence and when it rained her front yard was often full of puddles.

In written correspondence to Tarr, seen by the Herald, Auckland Council said its assessment of the land led it to believe the issue was "not uncommon" among properties in the city, and that in this case it was mainly attributed to watertightness issues on the basement walls and/or failed subsoil drains.

A council spokeswoman told the Herald it had nothing further to add to what it had told Tarr.

Tarr was unhappy at the council's response but said getting in a private civil engineer to fully examine the extent of the problem would cost her thousands - something she could not afford.

Future upheaval

Long-time Lincoln Rd resident Hazel Tarr moved into the area when the road outside her new home was loose gravel surrounded by orchards, vineyards and a nearby market garden. Photo / Michael Craig
Long-time Lincoln Rd resident Hazel Tarr moved into the area when the road outside her new home was loose gravel surrounded by orchards, vineyards and a nearby market garden. Photo / Michael Craig

Even as Tarr continued to battle with her frustrations at what council had deemed was now a "closed matter", there was more change afoot for the Lincoln Rd resident.

Auckland Transport (AT) has planned to widen the road to provide an additional bus and T3 transit lane on each side of Lincoln Rd, as well as a cycleway, which it hoped to complete by 2023.

The Lincoln Rd Corridor Improvement project, as it is known, would come at an estimated cost of $85m.

AT spokesman, Mark Hannan said the budget could change as time passes and costs or land values increase.

He expected a detailed design and the complete allocation of budgets would be finished by the end of 2018.

To make it happen land would need to be bought from those whose property lined the verge of Lincoln Rd - including the homes Tarr and Ross had called home for more than half a century.

A total 94 properties would be affected by land purchase, whole or partial, of these at least 16 were residential, with a further nine not needed for the project but that AT had offered to buy due to the impact on their homes.

Tarr said she would be more than happy to move into a smaller home in a retirement village, but was worried the damage to her property and ongoing construction would mean she'd lose value on her property if she sold.

"I would gladly leave and go into a retirement village, if I could get compensation."

AT correspondence to owners of property along Lincoln Rd showed they would be paid the difference of the value of the property as it is now and its value once the land had been purchased and public works was complete.

The transport agency would also pay owners a rental fee for temporary access to part of their land as the works got underway - till the completion of the project.

Ross said there was little he could do about it and the land would be acquired - whether they liked it or not.

"It's going to happen."