12.10.08 20:38 Age: 9 yrs

Brian Rudman: Big hole for the vision department

Category: Media


When will our city fathers and mothers realise that it's only in fairy tales that repeating phrases like "world class vision" three times makes your wish happen. In the real world, you have to do the hard work first.

The disorganised, unco-ordinated gentrification of the Auckland waterfront is glaring proof of this. And look at the latest developer-led Version 3 proposal for the "Shanghai Surprise" development on the priceless Orakei Basin headland.

Now it's the turn of the 15ha Three Kings Quarry and adjacent reserve lands to have its fate decided by the city's vision department.

For years, neighbourhood groups have been badgering Auckland City to come up with a worthy and innovative plan for this fabulous site. But until now, the city council has sat back and left any such forward planning to the quarrier, Fletcher Building subsidiary Winstone Aggregates.

Winstone now aims to stop scoria mining within the year and turn the 35m-deep excavation into a dumping site for fill from other development sites.

It is widely speculated that the primary source of spoil will be the nearby Waterview motorway tunnel, and that the huge man-made crater could be plugged to the height of the surrounding land within 10 years.

For Fletcher's, "quarry end use" is an increasingly profitable activity, jumping from a return of $6 million last year to $42 million in this year's results. The Three Kings hole can only boost that figure once filling begins.

The builders have retained Boffa Miskell to prepare a masterplan for future commercial development of the site once the quarry is flat. A smaller version of the Mt Wellington crater development, one guesses.

At last week's city development committee meeting, councillors, on the advice of the bureaucrats, took a half-hearted step towards taking some control of the vision-making process for this rare central isthmus development site. Unfortunately, cost seemed to be the overriding factor in deciding the level of participation.

Local groups wanted the city to lead the masterplan process, but bureaucrats said that would cost $200,000 to $300,000 and take staff and resources away from other projects.

The bureaucrats also opposed the council "collaborating" on a Winstone-led masterplan process, noting that would cost $150,000. This despite the observation that such a process "is to maximise the benefits of adjacent reserve land and area plan work that is being undertaken for long-term benefits to the community and Auckland City as a whole".

That left the cut-price $75,000 option, which involves "developing joint principles and linkages between Winstone's, landowners, the community and council about how the site might develop in the future once filled". The report says these principles "could be developed through a few workshops involving Winstone Aggregates and the community".

Councillor Graeme Mulholland, the committee spokesman, says that once "the principles" have been agreed on, "the mantle will then pass to Winstone to further this process and develop a future context for the use of the land".

I'm not sure what that means, but it sounds a bit too close to the Orakei Basin "collaboration" for my liking.

But local gadfly Dick Bellamy, Auckland University's Dean of Science, diplomatically refers to it as "a step forward" and "a rational thing to do".

He's looking forward to his South Epsom Planning Group, and Three Kings United Group getting together with the developers, and representatives from the department of conservation, the regional council, and the city council to hammer out "the principles".

A year ago the professor came up with a proposal that was truly show-stopping. Instead of another flat new suburb of factories and apartments, he suggested recreating the two Kings that a century of mining had destroyed. Neither, he said, was particularly high, "and if you got rid of the chamber pot reservoir on the other one, you could recreate it pretty much as it was, turning it into an informal recreation area".

The "chamber pot" is the ugly exposed Watercare reservoir atop Big King, which, he says, is no longer a vital part of the city's water system.

He's still keen to see this happen, but insists that at the very least, the pieces hacked out of the side of the remaining mountain, should be restored as part of an overall structure plan for the site and the adjacent reserve land.

That councillors have finally accepted, however tentatively, a leadership role in this process, is encouraging. Now all they have to do is start leading.

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