Community’s battle over secret deal on Three Kings site ironic given council talk of consensus on housing.

There must be some irony in council chief executive Stephen Town floating the idea of an independent consensus group to help resolve divisions over housing density in Auckland. One of the biggest controversies on the isthmus is at Three Kings, where Auckland Council staff secretly developed a land exchange and development agreement with Fletcher before informing the local community. Hardly a consensus approach.

You might argue that some deals need to be behind closed doors, but in this instance a Three Kings precinct plan was being developed at the time, and the secret deal cut straight across the bows of that process.

Even now the papers obtained under an Official Information Act remain heavily redacted. Not being able to see the full document is problematic, and it would be worse to find out that commitments had been made to Fletcher before the plan, in its formative stages, had been put before the council.

The contradiction is more obvious when you see that the Auckland Plan says of development: "International and local experience shows that actions to address economic, environmental and social challenges are most successful when owned and led by communities."


Either you mean that, and you do it, or it's waffle and you take it out.

Understanding the more complex (but incredibly obvious) circumstances at Three Kings is important. For more than 90 years Fletcher has quarried away a significant scoria cone, cut a road into the side of Big King and dug a deep quarry pit next to the maunga, all for its financial benefit and at the expense of the adjacent maunga and surrounding community.

It could have stopped when it had levelled the site, but instead kept going to maximise quarrying profits, to the point where now the only access to most of its 15ha site is down a narrow haul road. A problem of its own making.

Auckland's volcanic cone field is one of the distinctive features of the city. We've quarried many of the cones and provided rehabilitation to various degrees. Fletcher's rehabilitation approach should be 21st century best practice. Its application for filling the quarry stated quite clearly that "the proposed landform would result in a land surface generally graded from existing levels along Mt Eden Rd" and diagrams requested by the Environment Court showed that.

That landform would be a good start but the company has reneged. Instead it is planning to build 11 10-storey apartment blocks down, and 750m along, the quarry faces and overlooking more terraced housing on the quarry floor. Its principal (and weak) design argument is that we won't be able to see the apartment towers from Mt Eden Rd.

Many things are wrong with the proposal and there's no space to go into them all here, but what follows will resonate with many Aucklanders. Neither the council, Fletcher nor any government department has done a comprehensive appraisal of the physical and social infrastructure required to support the proposal and further development planned for the area.

Take open space, for example. Four commissioners at the land swap hearings noted, "the reality is that up to 3500 people living in close proximity, in apartment-style accommodation, will have particular needs for immediate access to open space, and this should not be delivered at the expense of the existing community"; and also, "there should be a substantial contribution to open space ... some 6ha of additional open space would normally be provided if this was a greenfields development."

It's poignant that throughout Fletcher's Plan Change 372 hearings the council failed to address this shortfall. In fact it flipped the other way, giving Fletcher a 3ha communal open space dispensation.

Fletcher's Three Kings aspirations are being contested in both the Unitary Plan Hearings and the Environment Court. Minister Nick Smith has said the case highlights why special housing legislation, which bypasses the appeals process, is so important for pushing the intensification necessary for housing growth. The case is nationally significant. Two judges are being appointed.

Smith is adding his weight to the Three Kings argument to help prove that communities who stick up for themselves are wrong. It's as good as saying Fletcher, the council and the Government can't be wrong, and that's a dangerous path.

The Fletcher proposal is excessive. To be crystal clear, the community supports three- and four-storey terrace housing throughout much of the area, and even taller buildings closer to the proposed Three Kings town centre. The community is saying Yimby, yes in my back yard, but is asking for a better balance of outcomes for better long-term benefits.

Rather than the legal path we are going down, here in Three Kings we'd welcome the idea of an independent consensus group to help resolve divisions over housing density, town centre development and the rehabilitation of the quarried areas. We'd like to hear back from the council but based on recent experience won't hold our breath.

In the meantime the Three Kings community has to raise an estimated $150,000 to make its case in Unitary Plan and Environment Court hearings. Three Kings Community Action is fundraising at the Givealittle website under the banner "SOS Donate Three Kings".

Greg McKeown is in the Three Kings Community Action support crew.
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