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The Environment Court has approved the building of a library and civic centre on Birkenhead's Nell Fisher Reserve - the subject of one of the most bitter planning rows in North Shore City's history.

The two-level complex could be open in late 2009, said the city council library services manager, Geoff Chamberlain.

A commercial building owner, supported by four interested parties, appealed to the court more than a year ago in a bid to stop the new building.

They wanted the reserve - at the intersection of Hinemoa St and Rawene Rd - to be green open space for the Highbury shopping centre.

The potential for a public park with views across the harbour and Auckland City was revealed when the council demolished the library and community buildings that had been on the site for 50 years.

But it did so before seeking resource consent to build a $6.5 million replacement complex.

In June 2005, independent planning commissioners rejected the resource consent bid, saying the complex was inappropriate for the Highbury site's split recreation and business zoning and would encroach on space for passive recreation.

This split the community into those who wanted a park and those who wanted new facilities built quickly on rezoned land.

The council tried to overcome that setback in June last year by persuading independent commissioners to approve rezoning of that part of the site suitable for building.

But the size of recreation-2-zone land at the corner of the site was increased from 472sq m to 728sq m to retain more public open space and four more big trees.

Mr Chamberlain said the court's decision meant the council could now finalise the design of the new building, which will have two levels and include community facilities. It will be 50 per cent bigger than the previous building.

The council office, Citizens' Advice Bureau and Highbury Plunket have been using temporary premises in the Birkenhead area.

Mr Chamberlain said the new building would be a community focal point and would give panoramic views across Auckland.