19 Apr 2013

Volcanic views an Auckland right

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Written by: Brian Rudman
Photo: APN
Published: The New Zealand Herald – 19 April 2013

Old rivals find it hard to trust each other in proposed move to protect sightlines.

The outcry over The Pines, a multi-storey apartment block on Mt Eden, led to the protection of volcanic views.

The outcry over The Pines, a multi-storey apartment block on Mt Eden, led to the protection of volcanic views.

It only takes an issue like the volcanic view shafts to remind us that while the historic fiefdoms of old Auckland are officially united into one Super City, this was a forced marriage, consummated in Parliament, not in some cosy feather bed.

And while the old bureaucrats and politicians have to sit and work together, there’s no law in the land that can force old rivals to fully trust each other. Particularly when they are under stress, trying to perfect the new unitary plan which will act as Auckland’s blueprint for the next 30 years.

The old regional council was the guardian of 63 volcanic cone view shafts or sightlines, which criss-crossed the isthmus, protecting views to and from the unique landscape features which help identify Auckland’s place in the world. The idea arose after the uproar over the eruption of multi-storey apartment complex The Pines on the side of Mt Eden. Introduced in 1977, they prevented high-rise development blocking views to the mountains.

In 1996, a review of the shafts began which wasn’t completed until September 2005.

It proposed 34 additions and 25 removals. Years of appeals and mediation continued and by the time that was completed, the Super City was in existence. The debate now is how to make the revised set of view shafts operative.

In a perfect world, the sensible move would be to incorporate the changes directly into the new unitary plan. However, an overwhelming majority of councillors at a meeting this week indicated their lack of trust in the political and bureaucratic leadership by backing the more roundabout route of incorporating the view shafts into the old, still operative, district plans.

Former ARC parks chairman Sandra Coney led the opposition to fast-tracking. Her concern is that the view shafts will fall foul of the drive to squeeze a million more residents into the city. “There’s the equivalent of a moral panic about being able to fit people in. It’s catastrophising about the number they have to fit in.”

She recalls that during the ARC hearings into the proposed view shafts, the old Auckland City opposed some of them, and that Penny Pirrit, the senior planner now in charge of the unitary plan, was then part of the Auckland City team.

“Penny Pirrit particularly didn’t like the new one from the Northwestern Motorway to Mt Albert because it passed over the top of the Mt Albert shopping centre … and would trump any efforts to increase the heights [of buildings there].”

This week, retired Auckland City senior planner Allan Kirk, who helped set up of the original view shafts, added his misgivings to the debate, arguing that under the old plans, any attempt to build higher than 9m under a view shaft would be a “non-complying” activity and all but impossible to get permission for. However, under the unitary plan, there is provision for “restricted discretionary” approvals for buildings up to 20m under view shafts.

Ms Pirrit defends the unitary plan, highlighting how the new prohibitions for buildings around the base of the cones will be 8m, which is stricter than the existing prohibition.

She says that at the base of the cones, applications to build higher than 8m will be treated as non-complying. It’s only further away that the lesser “restricted discretionary” category will apply. She adds that the explanatory information available could be better, and will be upgraded, but says that, on the whole, “restricted discretionary” appeals will be made notifiable.

She is also at pains to point out the high importance accorded the view shafts in the policy statement and rules incorporated within the plan. Rules that will bind commissioners hearing appeals.

Yet on the other hand, you have the response of Ann Hartley, chair of the regional development committee – dubbed “Highrise” Hartley, by her critics – to a column on the issue I wrote last August.

“Our iconic maunga are critical to Auckland’s sense of place,” she wrote, and concern for them “will be uppermost in our minds when considering how best to reconcile the need to house growing numbers of Aucklanders with the value we place on our historic landscape”.

So which is it? Protect the views fullstop. Or slip in a few apartments as some act of reconciliation. Is it any wonder the majority of councillors have doubts.


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