Plans to transform Takapuna's Anzac St car park and Mt Albert's Chamberlain Park took a big step forward this week, but neither was the biggest thing to come out of a marathon council meeting on Wednesday.
Mangere-Ōtāhuhu's local board chair, Lemauga Lydia Sosene, took that prize. She told the council her board wasn't opposed to the council's schedule of big new projects, but she wanted higher priority given to basic amenities.
South Auckland, she said, simply does not get what the rest of the city gets. The children's play areas are lower quality. Lights at playing fields are inadequate. And there aren't enough amenities for people who don't play sport. "We have a lot of elderly people, they need parks for unstructured physical activity."
She said, "You can see those things all over the central parts of Auckland. All we want is an equal share of the resources."
Councillor Desley Simpson, representing the Orakei ward, asked why they didn't get their share already.
"When I was on the local board," she said, "we used to prioritise those things and we made sure they got done. Have you prioritised them?"
"Yes," said Sosene, "I assure you we have."
Simpson: "Are you saying council has hindered you?"
"Yes," said Sosene. "We'll get agreement, and then 18 months later the officers will come back and tell us the costs have gone up, or there are delivery problems. We make a decision but when it comes to processes, it's delay after delay."
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The meeting's chair, Councillor Penny Hulse, said she was aware of the issue and had been talking to officials about it.
"We will absolutely follow up the playground issue and the process around that," she said. "That feels like the most urgent thing requiring action."
Anyone want to say this is not institutional racism? If you doubt it, check out the playground in Ponsonby's Western Park, or the sports fields on Remuera's Shore Rd, and then take a look around Mangere.
The conflicts at Takapuna and Chamberlain Park are very like each other. In both, local groups originally defended the merits of what's currently there: a car park and an 18-hole golf course, respectively. Now they've changed their focus.
In Takapuna they're upset with Panuku, the council's "placemaking" development agency. Panuku wants to replace the car park with a new town square, although it's an elongated shape, not literally a square, with new buildings at its edges.
At Chamberlain Park, golfers oppose the local board plan to reduce the course to 9 holes, add a driving range and practice area, and create two artificial-surface sports fields, a children's play area and a walking and cycling route. The board will also restore the Waitītikō/Meola Creek wetlands – on what is now the 13th green.
The group Save Chamberlain Park has struggled to convince people that playing on a 9-hole course will ruin golfers' weekends. By 2036, council expects 143,000 more people to be living in the area: that's a 32 per cent increase in less than 20 years. Is it unreasonable to rethink the park so all locals can enjoy using it?
So the protesters have rebranded. What they're all about now is environmentalism: preserving the landscape and enhancing the value of the park, especially for birdlife.
Wendy Gray, chair of the Society for the Protection of Western Springs Forest, told the council the board wanted to chop down 1000 trees. She name-checked Rachel Carson, author of The Silent Spring, the book that launched modern environmentalism. She mentioned tikanga, "acting with the right intention in the correct way".
Peter Haynes, chair of the Albert-Eden board, rejected the charges. "Our proposal is the ecological solution," he said. "We're restoring the wetlands. I don't know where the idea came from that we're going to cut down 1000 trees. We're going to plant thousands of natives."
A member of Save Chamberlain Park said they were happy to share. "It's a public park," he said. "Anyone is free to walk around there. Although it's a golf course so there is some risk."
Geoff Senescall, who leads the campaign, called the park "an invaluable window to what the landscape used to be like long before the arrival of humans".
He meant there's a lava flow beneath the greens, which is true. But honestly. It's a golf course dotted with European trees, with a motorway right next door.
Meanwhile in Takapuna, the protesters got 8500 signatures on a petition, which is impressive. Until you realise the question was essentially whether people wanted to preserve the Sunday market held in the car park. That market is not at risk from the Panuku proposal.
Surveys and consultation feedback have consistently revealed strong local support for the plan.
I've written before that the Save the Takapuna Carpark group were clowns, for not being able to see the problem: they have one of the most beautiful urban beaches in the world, but two blocks back into town you might as well be in Palmerston North.
That group still exists, but the local board has moved on. The issue is now: how do we turn the car park into a better public space than the public space the council wants us to have?
The board has commissioned the highly respected urban-design company Richard Reid & Associates to do another plan. It features a roughly square-shaped town square.
The board's deputy chair, Grant Gillon, agreed both plans had about the same amounts of open space and commercial development, and there isn't a cost issue. So several councillors wanted to know why Panuku and the board couldn't just sit down and work it out.
Good question? Panuku's Kate Cumberpatch said they'd been doing their best to do that. For years. They've improved their plans because of it.
Councillor Chris Darby said that in addition to public support, the Panuku plan meets the project criteria much better than the Reid proposal, and has strong support from the council's independent panel of design experts. "Why would we ignore these things?"
Councillor Richard Hills listed the changes – some improvements, some compromises – Panuku has made to its plans and said, "There's a point where you have to say: this can't be endless. We need to decide and move on."
It's more than that. There's a point where you have to say, the delay you're asking for now might sound reasonable but is actually part of a bigger strategy, to delay, delay, delay.
"We like what you're doing but couldn't we just stop and do it a little differently?" It sounds constructive. Often, it is. Sometimes, it's not.
Council thought this was one of those times. It voted 13-7 to proceed with the Chamberlain Park plan and 11-7 for Panuku's Takapuna plan.
Both are now subject to detailed business-case analysis and will be election issues in October. Gillon is standing against Hills and Darby. John Tamihere, standing for mayor, strongly supports the 18-hole golf course. That Wednesday meeting saw a lot of political positioning for the campaigns to come.
"We're dreaming if we think this is the last time we're going to be talking about Takapuna," said councillor Alf Filipaina. Or Chamberlain Park, he might have added.