COMMENT:

Over time, the origins, assumptions and rationale behind present day planning controls are sometimes "forgotten". Auckland's volcanic cone viewshaft controls are no exception.

Their origins go back to the construction of the high rise "Pines" apartment block at the base of Mt Eden, a resultant public outcry and a related 1973 decision by the then Town and Country Planning Appeal Board, stating that views of Mt Eden should be protected.

Since all of Auckland's cones were potentially affected, the issue was seen to be a regional one. Accordingly the affected territorial local authorities requested that the then Auckland Regional Authority undertake a region-wide comprehensive study to visually protect the cones and I was given the job of carrying it out.

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The Report on the visual protection of Auckland's volcanic cones – Dec 1976 was thus published and all subsequent visual protection controls, although now in somewhat different form, have evolved from the principles of this report.

I am led to believe it was the first of its kind in the world to formulate city-wide visual protection controls. Perhaps because it was a pioneering study some misconceptions arose, and to varying degrees still exist today.

One misconception is that the protected view of Mt Eden from the northern approaches of the Harbour Bridge exists solely for the benefit of motorists, and as such is misguided, because motorists should be looking at the road and not a view.

Despite the fact there were passengers in cars in 1976, it was necessary to look to the then future (that's what planning is about) to a time when passenger numbers would dramatically increase through car pooling, dedicated bus ways and/or rail.

Another misconception relating to the same viewshaft is that its sole purpose was for the benefit of motorists waiting at the then tollbooth. That is simply untrue.

Yet another common misconception, when the cone height controls were first made operative, was that they were more restrictive than the then existing height controls. In fact they were often far less restrictive, and acted only as a safeguard, in case the existing bulk and location height controls were changed.

A principle that is often overlooked is that the viewshafts are just as much about stating where high rise buildings can be located, as it is about where they cannot. Indeed it could be argued that the primary purpose is the former option because of the directive given by the above mentioned Appeal Board decision.

It stated, "The Board is satisfied on the evidence that the views of and from Mt Eden should be protected. In the absence of any evidence as to where high rise buildings may be sited whilst still attaining this object the Board is left with no alternative but to impose a lower height restriction thus preserving this landmark from despoliation"

This decision was notable for two principles being established. The first was that, on balance, the visual protection of an iconic volcanic cone was more important than the need for intruding developments. The second was that more information was needed to come to definitive conclusions.

A comprehensive study needed to be done, one that would indicate where high rise buildings could be sited, whilst still enabling visual protection, not only for Mt Eden, but for all the cones.

Note the emphasis on indicating areas where high rise buildings could be located, rather than where they couldn't.

This difference may be a moot point, but the 1976 study was intended to be something more than just providing controls to protect visually the cone icons.

It was intended also to provide input into any urban growth strategy that subsequently may take place in the future.

The starting point for any urban growth strategy should always be identifying the "hands-off areas", those truly iconic elements that needed to be protected from urban development. In Auckland these included the harbours, the Waitakere and Hunua ranges and of course the volcanic cones.

Now for the first time, in anticipation of possible future intensification, there were defined areas of where high rise could take place without compromising regionally significant views of the cones and associated height sensitive areas.

In 1976 of course, widespread intensification of development was not yet on the horizon, but futures planning is all about anticipation.

In the case of visual protection matters, an issue was identified early on (The "Pines"), action taken, and now the solution has been incorporated by means of controls into a succession of regional and city plans since 1977.

Roy Turner is the author of the report on the visual protection of Auckland's volcanic cones (published by the ARA in 1976) and has carried out extensive post-graduate research into matters associated with "Futures" planning.