Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: A century on, no super powers...and snail like progress on a good idea

Len Brown. Photo / Doug Sherring
Len Brown. Photo / Doug Sherring

Len Brown may enjoy being dubbed Auckland's first super mayor, but he can only dream of the super powers seemingly wielded by his predecessors of 100 years ago.

In 1913, a former mayor, Sir Arthur Myers, gave to his fellow citizens the gully stretching behind the Town Hall, and proposed the slum-filled block be converted into a central city park.

His successor, Mayor C.J. Parr, a fellow town planning crusader, embraced the challenge, and the $18,000 Sir Arthur threw in to make it possible, and by January 1915 the land had been landscaped, 25 separate landowners satisfied, new homes found for the dispossessed tenants, and the new park declared open.

Those were the days. Ten months ago, I wrote about the Waitemata Local Board's attempts to revitalise this neglected urban oasis by removing the car-park wasteland behind the Town Hall and creating a green link from adjacent Aotea Square through to Myers Park, via the existing tunnel under Mayoral Drive.

Particularly appealing, in these cost-conscious days, was how inexpensive it would be to reconnect an inner-city park, cut off from the rest of the city since the early 1970s by the physical and visual dam of the newly created Mayoral Drive.

The good news is that there appears to be general support within the various tentacles of council for the proposition. Less good is the tortuous process this simple, common-sense proposal has to go through to be adopted. Auckland Transport, for example, owns the 120 car-parking spaces, and makes about $330,000 a year by leasing them out, so it needs to be consulted and convinced. Also, somewhere within the asphalted car park, is a long-forgotten legal road, Neales Lane, which will have to be officially closed. There's also a raft of plans and interest groups to be consulted.

Luckily, there's a window of opportunity at the present time, as Auckland Council undergoes a post-amalgamation review of its assets and decides which bits of road and car parking should become part of its asset base, and which should be transferred to Auckland Transport.

Council officials have decided the Mayoral Drive underpass and the car-park areas are "not part of the Auckland Transport system within the meaning of s37 of the Local Government (Auckland Council) Act", therefore this property should no longer be under Auckland Transport's control.

But the council still needs to persuade Auckland Transport "to relinquish the Greys Ave properties and the underpass".

A report to the Waitemata board notes that Auckland Transport's property department has pointed out that such a land transfer "may result in financial implications for Auckland Council". In other words, there could be a little family squabbling over cash.

Also to be considered is that the existing car park is the main access point for the Basement Theatre, and provides rear access to Q Theatre and Classic Comedy. This means the need for a review of the 2008 Town Hall Arts Precinct concept plan "to ensure that this proposal is in line with the Aotea Quarter plan (2005) and more recent developments, such as the city rail link". What brightening up the gloomy Mayoral Drive underpass has to do with the proposed rail loop I'm not sure. The closest proposed station is up on Albert St, between Wellesley and Victoria Sts.

In other words, if we're not careful all the consulting and navel gazing about what is, essentially, a minor plan to replace an asphalt car park with some grass and paving risks taking as long as the creation, from start to finish, of the whole park 100 years ago.

But let's remain positive. With the help of contributions from the CBD targeted rate, the local board has put together a budget of $3 million to cover the cost of improvements to the underpass and park facilities. There's also $1 million set aside in the City Centre Masterplan for Myers Park, which could go towards landscaping the existing car parking.

If this were 1912, I'd be confidently inviting one and all to a grand spring reopening of Myers Park.

But it's 2012, so all I can safely say is be patient and with luck, by the park's 100th birthday in January 2015 we might have a special reason to celebrate.

- NZ Herald

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Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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