Owen Lockerbie: High price of neglect

Twelve months ago Auckland Mayor Dick Hubbard hosted a gathering at Highwic House to launch the council's grand Newmarket's Future plan. Three years in the making, it covered a 50-year horizon and addressed all issues in the development of this key Auckland community.

As an exercise in consultation between stakeholders it was a model of co-operation between council planners, community reference groups and specialist consultants.

On Wednesday he spoke to a similar gathering at the Opera Factory in Kent St. He proffered $2 million for footpath repair starting next year and a vague $3 million a bit later. It's a beginning, but a pittance compared with what the council is spending elsewhere in the city.

Newmarket's Future had one glaring deficiency. No money had been budgeted to implement the proposals. Twelve months later there is still no funding in the annual plan or on the horizon.

Long before Hubbard contemplated the mayoralty, problems were festering in Newmarket. As the city has grown, the area has become perhaps the major traffic bottleneck of the country. Successive administrations have grappled with the problem but no solution has been identified. Possibilities for bypass solutions have been dismissed as too expensive.

All this appeared to come to a head when Westfield announced the grand plan for a giant shopping mall on the site previously occupied by Mercury Energy. The traffic implications were horrendous, coming as they did on top of the existing congestion.

A largely residents' group, the Newmarket Protection Society, resisted the project and after three years was rewarded by Westfield's alternative strategy - to buy the 277 shopping mall.

Subsequently, John Banks' administration approved a non-notified Westfield resource consent application to extend 277. This included doubling existing parking provisions and raised new traffic concerns related to the Gillies Ave motorway ramps.

Juliet Yates, then a councillor, promised a "robust traffic plan" to ensure minimal traffic disruption during the three-year construction period and thereafter. This plan remains invisible.

Meanwhile, Transit New Zealand has plans to rebuild the Newmarket Viaduct in 2008 and 2009. If that isn't bad enough, Transit's project will overlap that of Westfield.

Result? Total traffic chaos and still no resolution of the original Newmarket traffic problems.

Newmarket's Future also contemplates resolution of other issues, including a general upgrade of the shopping precinct to create an environment at least resembling the claim that it is "New Zealand's premier retailing area".

In reality it is a rundown strip of broken footpaths and sub-standard public amenities. It is a candidate for council shame and user outrage and a sorry testament to council inaction.

It would be an interesting exercise for the mayor and his councillors to walk the length of Newmarket streets. If they were able to avoid the ankle-breaking hazards of broken footpaths to seek a public toilet they would be disappointed. The only one, near the railway, has been demolished to facilitate the private development of L&Y Holdings.

Now there is a plan to eliminate the over-rail pedestrian bridge linking Broadway to the station.

No doubt the council, in defence, would cite long-term plans for a new rail station with associated facilities. Response to criticisms of "1960s East German architecture" can easily be diverted to ARTA as the agency responsible for rail upgrades. But can the council really abrogate its own role in city planning?

All in all, the council's record is a sorry history of neglect. It is astounding that successive administrations have allowed this key component of Auckland to progressively decline ever since the borough was forced into joining the brave new world of Auckland City. The record since is little short of shameful and the problems are still here and growing.

* Owen Lockerbie is a founding member of the Newmarket Protection Society.

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a5 at 23 Sep 2014 10:31:56 Processing Time: 1478ms