Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Council should wise up on developers after creche's demise

The large crèche attached to the 40-level ANZ Centre on the corner of Albert and Swanson Sts has disappeared in the $76 million refurbishment. Photo / Thinkstock
The large crèche attached to the 40-level ANZ Centre on the corner of Albert and Swanson Sts has disappeared in the $76 million refurbishment. Photo / Thinkstock

A quarter of a century on, signs of the naive trust Auckland City bureaucrats has had in property developers doing the right thing continue to pop up when least expected.

In 1988, for example, three historic buildings were smashed to the ground, beginning with the loved His Majesty's Theatre, followed quickly by the city's first electricity generating station in Hobson St. Then, in the early hours in August, Mainzeal was in such haste to bowl the Browns Mill building before anyone noticed that it failed to disconnect the water or the electricity before sending in the wreckers.

It was a time when a healthy suspicion of developers, both the good and the bad, would have been a prudent stance to take. Especially for council officers granting bonuses to developers swearing good intentions on their grannies' graves.

This week comes news that another of these good intentions has bitten the dust.

The large creche attached to the 40-level ANZ Centre on the corner of Albert and Swanson Sts has disappeared in the $76 million refurbishment now taking place.

In the late 1980s, the council was eager to stretch the height restrictions and dangle other perks before developers willing to add community facilities and art works and the like in their developments.

It's not clear now how many bonus office floors were added to the ANZ Centre in return for the three-storey creche, but Waitemata Local Board member and planner Christopher Dempsey thinks about five.

What is clear is that the bonus-earning creche is no more, but the other half of the deal, the extra floors of lucrative rentable space, will remain.

Of course it's worse than that, because the creche space is being converted into yet more rentable meeting spaces or, as Mr Dempsey quips, "a new kindergarten for suits".

Scott Pritchard, chief executive of current building owner AMP NZ Office, says, "What was granted in the 1980s is not relevant now."

If he really meant that, he'd be busy sawing off the top four or five floors at the top of his tower block, because what was granted back then were extra floors, in return for providing the citizens of Auckland with a new inner-city creche. But that's the last thing he's planning to do.

Which gets us back to those naive city bureaucrats. They were so trusting that they wrote nothing into title deeds of the building to hold the property owner, then and in the future, to the terms of the consents.

Creches must have been high up the council's bonus list at the time, because the story jogs my memory about another creche that went missing in the monumental Fay Richwhite Building, at the corner of Queen and Wyndham Sts, around the same time. Joint developers Fay Richwhite and NZI were granted extra floors in return for providing a creche and residential space.

But by the time construction was near complete, the creche had mysteriously disappeared and the residential space had shrunk.

This was 1988. After some controversy, city politicians refused an application by the developers for the creche to be replaced by a health club and bar, but did agree to a reduction in the residential space. Haggling continued until late November, when the Planning Tribunal approved a deal in which the creche was abandoned in exchange for alternative public amenities that included extra public toilets, a pedestrian bridge to an adjacent building and an undertaking by Fay Richwhite et al to fund the establishment of a new council creche in the Ellen Melville Hall.

Given this climate, it does seem amazing that council officers weren't more cynical and businesslike and made sure building owners and their successors were permanently locked into keeping their side of their bargains with the citizens of Auckland.

Mr Dempsey says nothing much has changed and he wants action. He says the bonus from the council gives property owners access to valuable, publicly owned airspace. If they renege on their deal, this airspace should return to "the commons".

If taking the chainsaw to the building is impractical, he suggests an alternative: handing the "bonus" floors over for public use. It seems it's too late to reclaim the public airspace in the ANZ Centre, but surely it's something for the council to get on with before the next development boom begins.

- 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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