COMMENT:

If you've got a spare sky rocket lying around, fire it off in support of the Maunga Authority's decision to seek Environment Court backing for tougher rules against development within the viewshafts that protect Auckland's unique volcanic landscape.

Until now the Tūpuna Maunga Authority, which was set up in 2014 to govern 14 of the city's major cones, seems to have concentrated on issues relating to the individual cones.

So it's great they're now reaching out, referring to the maunga as the "essence of Auckland", the "spiritual and aesthetic anchors for all Auckland communities …"

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Coming just a few weeks after PwC director, Geoff Cooper, attacked the viewshafts as a "billion dollar handbrake" on Auckland's growth, the authority's move couldn't have been better timed.

Cooper homed in on just one of the 80-odd viewshafts — that from the northern approaches to the harbour bridge across to Mt Eden — and calculated that properties trapped within the viewshaft were worth 40 per cent less than property immediately outside. He said the "viewshaft" property owners were, shall we say, being shafted to a "conservative" grand total of $1.4 billion.

That was a month ago. Last weekend he fired off another round on the "pro-intensification" website, Greater Auckland, claiming the "full cost could easily be double" his earlier calculation, ramping the loss up to $3.1 billion.

Given the viewshafts have been in place for 41 years, one would have thought the limited development potential of the land below would have long been factored into the land value anyway. Cooper does admit he hasn't factored in the cost to the community as a whole, of the viewshafts being removed, or re-angled.

He claims the shafts are preventing growth in the CBD and stopping people from living where they want in the inner city. He adds that Aucklanders are unaware of the viewshafts and calls for debate. This ignores the fact that they've been the subject of continuous review and debate since 1996.

Cooper wasn't born when they came into being. It was in the early 1970s and The Pines apartment high rise suddenly emerged on the edge of Mt Eden, blocking views to the iconic cone.

Far-sighted regional council planner Roy Turner harnessed the public outcry that ensued, proposing a network of 63 viewshafts from major roads or vantage points across the isthmus be added to the regional plan to protect views to the major cones for all time.

They became part of the regional plan in 1977. One early victim was the Sky Tower which had to abandon its preferred Upper Symonds St site and squeeze into its present inner-city spot.

A review of the shafts began in 1996 and wasn't finally signed off, after years of debate and court challenges, until 2012, by which time, the new super city had come into being.

The proposed changes were soon being relitigated as part of the Unitary Plan process. In other words they've been under constant review for the past 22 years — including the time when Cooper was Auckland Council's chief economist.

What is puzzling is, if he believes the city's growth should be left to the magic hand of the market, then why just pick on the viewshafts? Why not go for broke and abolish rules preserving heritage areas as well. Invite developers to knock down heritage Devonport for example and turn it into high-rise Surfers Paradise. Think of the billions of dollars of "growth" that would spark.

The viewshafts were far-sighted Aucklanders' solution to preserving the city's unique point of difference — a city built upon a field of volcanoes.

Stephen Brown, the council's landscape architect adviser for the 1996 review, put the case well. "Auckland's cone field is perhaps this City's most significant heritage feature: within a landscape largely devoid of cultural relics and memorabilia, the cones are Auckland's Acropolis, Delphi, Olympia and Ephesus … In Auckland's case, it is the visual legibility of its volcanic cones and the network of their tectonic field that makes them such powerful icons of this city and its heritage."

For years, the Auckland Volcanic Cones Society have fought the good fight. It's wonderful to see the Tūpuna Maunga Authority now taking the lead.