Stockade Hill in Howick offers some of Auckland's best 360-degree views over the Hauraki Gulf and city and is an important Māori and early European settlement site. But local residents fear housing development could ruin the views.
A fight to stop housing development ruining "treasured" harbour views from Stockade Hill in the city's east has been won - now campaigners are trying to protect inland vistas towards Auckland city.
And they've been joined in the fight by local councillors from the Howick board, who have put aside money to find a solution, saying Stockade Hill is one of Auckland's most important heritage sites.
The hill's 360-degree vistas sweep across Auckland city, at least six volcanoes, the islands of Hauraki Gulf - including Rangitoto and Waiheke Island - the Coromandel and then back inland.
The strategic value of this commanding vista led Māori and early Europeans to settle the site and fortify it.
Yet a 2015 Auckland Council decision to rezone the area to allow taller homes to be built has threatened the views and triggered a two-year battle with residents.
Independent town planner Brian Putt says the only one that seems to fail to understand the value of Stockade Hill is Auckland Council.
"I've been around a long time in this business – more than 40 years – and I've never seen something so obtuse," he said.
"They are just being blind to an obvious issue."
Adding to the confusion is the fact Auckland Council already protects important views and heritage in many other parts of the city.
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These include protected 360-degree "viewshafts" from the Auckland War Memorial Museum in Parnell, Mt Eden and Mt Victoria in Devonport.
Another important viewshaft extends from the North Shore across the harbour to Mt Eden.
Council planners had "rigidly" enforced this viewshaft for more than 30 years by preventing new high rises from being built along its line of sight, Putt said.
By contrast to the multimillion-dollar developments affected by that viewshaft, Howick residents were asking for only about 50 houses surrounding Stockade Hill to be restricted to two storeys in height rather than three or four storeys, Putt said.
Auckland Council general manager plans and places John Duguid said the council had already listened to residents by last year introducing a planning amendment.
This amendment protected 137 degrees of sea views from Stockade Hill by restricting homes in this line of site to heights no greater than 8-9 metres, or two storeys high, he said.
Homes on the other sides of the hill, however, were not covered by the amendment and can now be built to 12m, or three storeys high - up from previous height restrictions of 8m.
A council landscape expert also recently advised councillors at the Howick Local Board's June meeting that they did not support protecting the 360-degree views because Stockade Hill lay along a public transport route and planners wanted to create denser, apartment-living options near transport networks.
But councillors rejected this advice and instead voted to set aside $20,000 to pay for an independent planner to come up with a solution that would protect the 360-degree views.
It's a stand backed by many Howick locals.
Hundreds have protested at council meetings, about 6700 signed an earlier petition against the changes and National's Pakuranga MP Simeon Brown has even floated the idea of taking the issue to the federal parliament.
Campaigners say Stockade Hill is important for all Aucklanders as the site of a war memorial, a Māori settlement and a later ramparted stockade built by settlers in 1863 fearing an attack from Maori warriors during the New Zealand Land Wars.
Despite this, residents say they've had to fight the council every step of the way to protect the hill's heritage, even being forced to fundraise thousands of dollars to hire lawyers and planner Putt to represent them.
Putt said Stockade Hill's historic value and views were just as worthy of protection as Auckland's volcanic cones and the council needed to accept that.
"This is just a matter of making the commitment and understanding this is a special case that needs to be managed properly," he said.