Auckland's Waterfront woes

By Kieran Nash

Major cities all over the world have ploughed billions of dollars into rejuvenating their rundown waterfronts, realising they have neglected their most valuable asset. Auckland is no different and, with a new draft plan about to be released, now is the time for people to have their say. Kieran Nash reports.

The view from Wynyard Wharf of the new Viaduct Events Centre, on left, and downtown Auckland. Photo / Janna Dixon
The view from Wynyard Wharf of the new Viaduct Events Centre, on left, and downtown Auckland. Photo / Janna Dixon

If the Supercity planners have their way, Aucklanders will play basketball on Quay St, swim in a pool on Queens Wharf and take a tram through the city and waterfront.

Of course, all this may take 30 years - and cost $2 billion - but the plans are real.

They're part of a weighty document, the draft waterfront plan, due to be released in eight days showing a very different Auckland waterfront.

The plan is the result of thousands of hours of research, including pinching the best ideas from model foreign cities, but observers warn that Aucklanders need to make the effort to have a say in the development of their most precious asset.

Locals have six weeks to submit ideas, lobby or protest before submissions close on October 25, the end of the Rugby World Cup. Some, including Orakei Residents Society chairman Warren Tuohey, are worried that with the city absorbed by the Rugby World Cup, details such as making online submissions will be overlooked.

Critics accuse the Auckland Council of deliberately timing the submission process- fromSeptember 20 to October 25 - to fall during the Cup so it will receive less submissions from distracted fans.

Mayor Len Brown dismisses the accusation, saying Aucklanders have been encouraged to have their sayon the plans. Their voices are needed to drive the future of the city, he says.

The plans are not set in concrete and the community needs to be part of the process. People can use Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, to have their say, he says, and there are several other ways to make submissions.

Ideas in the draft waterfront plan include basketball courts onQuay St, a beach at St Mary's Bay, a salt-water pool at the end of Queen's Wharf, an island off Westhaven Marina for in-residence artists, and a cycle and walkway from the Harbour Bridge to Mechanics Bay.

The plan proposes to extend tram services to St Heliers in a later phase and link the North Wharf to the Viaduct Events Centre, Queens Wharf, the Parnell Baths and the village centres of Mission Bay, Kohimarama and St Heliers.

The Westhaven Marina would be dredged to create boat access to reclaimed Westhaven Island Park which could provide a permanent living option for boaties and a site for artisans such as potters, jewellers or glass blowers.

Resanding and landscaping the beach at St Mary's Bay would depend on improving the water quality, but could be an urban beach where people can launch a small boat.

Quay St would become a treelined boulevard that would run to Mechanics Bay and include basketball courts, playgrounds and a skatepark to attract young and old.

Most people would rather scrunch such a document into a ball and choke on it than read on. But from the hundreds of meticulously bullet-pointed paragraphs, acres of spreadsheets and hundreds of vertical metres of graphs contained in this and other similarly named plans, Aucklanders now have giant seashells lying in a sandpit on Wynyard Wharf - and trams will run in Auckland again. And trees and grass will appear where concrete once lay.

Over the next 30 years, the politicians and pen-pushers say they plan to turn those artist's impressions into reality, creating what Brown hopes to be theWorld's Most Liveable City.

But people like Warren Tuohey remain sceptical: "My gut feeling is the council are deliberately putting it [the waterfront plan] out at a time that they won't get any submissions because they don't want submissions because it's a pain in the neck for them.

"Every time they've done it, it has been Christmas time - knowing full well it would take the heat off it."

Tuohey is a self-described cynicafter spending four years and thousands of dollars fighting to minimise a proposal by the Redwood Group to build apartments on Orakei Point overlooking Hobson Bay.

In 2008 he and others thought they hadwonthe battle against thedeveloper after the then Auckland City Council declined an application to build 146 apartments on the Orakei headland.

The developer then agreed to draft a master plan for the area, and in March this year the Auckland Council approved a plan change for the area to build approximately 700 apartments.

"It's left a nasty taste in my mouth," Tuohey says. But Brown says there will always be "cynics".

"We as a council are acutely interested in what the community has to say but we're also about momentum.

"If we sit around until the end of the World Cup or the end of the election it's just wasting time.We've got to move."

The Rugby World Cup was a catalyst for people to get stuff done, he says, and now is the perfect time to get the community in its best frame of mind.

A plan to run a tramline from the WynyardQuarter to Britomart and then up Quay St has the mayor excited. So do plans to merge Quay St with the wharves to make walking space.

The waterfront plan goes hand-inhand with the draft city centre master plan, another long-term vision for the rest of the city centre.

That plan includes removing the flyover by Lower Hobson St and redeveloping the Downtown carpark building into a business or retail space, making Nelson and Hobson Sts two-way, widening footpaths as part of a linear park near SkyCity and removing parking and buses from Britomart Square.

Throughout May and June the council received submissions from the public through emails, letters, Facebook, blogs, photographs, drawings and on-street interviews.

People wanted improved pedestrian access, wider footpaths, more crossings and fewer cars in the city. But there was also strong opposition to an exclusive focus on pedestrian access from many businesses and property owners.

City planner Ludo Campbell-Reid has a vision forAuckland's harbour edge to be "the most glorious and peoplefriendly waterfront-that's the key". The waterfront is the reason Auckland exists, he says.

"For years we've turned our backs on the water which gives us our unique identity."

Campbell-Reid, who is the council's environmental policy and strategy manager and led the charge over the draft city centre master plan, says many New Zealand cities have neglected their natural assets: Hamilton and the Waikato River is one example.

Quay St is key to making the waterfront an attractive place for pedestrians rather than just a roaring passage for cars to feed the city. And cars detract from the waterfront, he says, with dangerous, unattractive roads and squat, drab parking buildings.

"It's the waterfront infrastructure that has severed the city from the waterfront," he says.

Campbell-Reid, who is one of the people responsible for opening up Auckland's shared spaces, such as in Darby and Lorne Sts, says many people objected to the "red fence", the 2m iron barrier that keeps passersby out of the port.

"It's a philosophical and physical symbol of, 'Keep out-that's not your waterfront'."

People from all over the region should see the city centre as their city centre, he says.

"I'm getting phone-calls fromacross the region, 'Can we have a shared space across our city centre?'.

"Wynyard Quarter is a playground for Auckland; it makes us unique."

One major focus is making Auckland's waterfront a good place for children to visit. Campbell-Reid says world-class cities like Vancouver and Barcelona are very child-friendly with a lot of things for kids to do.

"We've got to give them things to do. It requires real effort but the benefits are massive."

At a local level, the Waitemata Local Board is the conduit between the people of the waterfront and the council.

Chairman Shale Chambers says the city centre plan will take 20 years and $1.2 billion to roll out. The waterfront plan will take 10 years longer and cost $2 billion.

"It comes with a big price tag - at the end of the day there will be prioritisation."

There are a few issues to iron out, he says. For a start, the proposed tram route is different in the waterfront plan to that proposed in the city centre plan. As for the proposed beach at St Mary's Bay, there are water quality issues to be sorted.

"It's a nice-to-have rather than a must-have."

Quay St is a potential boulevard but traffic issues mean cars, buses and trucks would need to be re-directed through Customs St, he says.

It is important for as many people as possible to make submissions to the waterfront plan.

"I hope the people aren't going to be too distracted by the Rugby World Cup activity," he says.

"If they want to see changes they need to have a view."

- Herald on Sunday

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