“I will stay and fight.” Mike Lee Independent for Waitemata & Gulf

Mike Lee at the new Parnell Station - achieved in the current term after a long battle by Mike  (Photo NZ Herald). See http://www.mikelee.co.nz/2017/08/parnell-heritage-station-a-work-of-art-in-progress/

Mike Lee at the new Parnell Station – achieved in the current term after a long battle by Mike (Photo NZ Herald). See http://www.mikelee.co.nz/2017/08/parnell-heritage-station-a-work-of-art-in-progress/

No peaceful retirement as veteran Councillor Mike Lee vows to ‘stay and fight’.

After months of soul-searching on whether to retire as planned this year or even run for mayor, island resident Mike Lee has announced he will stand to defend his Waitemata & Gulf ward seat as an independent.

Too much remains to be done for him to retire comfortably, said Cr Lee, who says it is likely that his own legacies as a former Auckland Regional Council chairman are at risk in the Super city’s current climate of reckless expenditure – and even worse given recent revelations of a council agenda to impose reticulated sewerage in Waiheke to enable much more intensive and high rise development.

“Frankly I am dismayed at the situation Auckland is in.

“I firmly believe the ‘Super City is the worst thing that has ever happened to Auckland. The people of Auckland have to endure an arrogant, overbearing council and Council Controlled Organisation bureaucracy, appalling financial mismanagement and waste,” he said.

“The council’s growing debt situation (presently being swept under the carpet) will, I predict, almost immediately after the election, be revealed to show how truly bad the situation is.

“I am also certain this will be the pretext for another attempt to privatise Auckland’s remaining incoming-earning assets such as the council’s car parking buildings and even the Ports of Auckland.

He said the huge build-up of an as-yet unacknowledged debt was likely to hit new councillors and fuel pressure from officials to sell off remaining city assets including the port ­ which he purchased back into full public ownership while chairman of Auckland Regional Council.

“Unfortunately because of the way the Super City has been engineered, only candidates with major financial backing, mainly from vested interests, are able to stand as credible candidates for the mayoralty. Thanks to the Super City, Aucklanders have the choice of two candidates whose political background is the right-wing Labour party parliamentary caucus. One, Goff has long established form as an asset seller, Tamihere bizarrely has made country-selling a major platform.”

“The sale of income earning assets whoever wins the mayoralty must be strongly opposed and a major effort made to cut bureaucratic spending and waste. Putting it simply, the Council spends too much on itself.

 

“This must be strongly opposed and a major effort made to cut bureaucratic spending and waste. Putting it simply, the Council spends too much on itself.

“Working with my councillor colleagues, I believe there is work for me still to be done.”

He says he will strongly oppose the council pro-development agenda to impose reticulated sewerage on Waiheke and will to continue to speak out strongly on behalf of the overwhelming majority of Aucklanders who want trains – not light rail – to Auckland Airport.

“I want to continue achieving long term goals such as those I have attained over the last three years, including successfully refocusing the council on the major problem of sewage being discharged into the harbour, the Parnell train station, the Motukorea (Browns Island) Regional Park, the soon to be re-commissioned waterfront heritage tramway and the eradication of rats from DoC-owned Rakitu Island near Great Barrier,” said Cr Lee, who initiated the island rat eradication project with the Great Barrier Local Board in 2011 and, as a member of the Nature Heritage Fund, arranged much of the funding for it in 2013.

For Waiheke its time to end the years of talking and start achieving the marine reserves the people of Waiheke overwhelmingly support.

Cr Lee said it had been his intention to retire at the end of this present term and he and his wife Jenny had moved back to Waiheke. However, for the best part of the past year he had been lobbied by supporters in the Waitemata & Gulf ward, to stand again for one more term. Over recent months it has become clear that there can be “No peaceful retirement for me given the state of affairs in the so-called ‘Super City’ – The island’s way of life itself is now a target for the Super City’s development driven agenda. I would be therefore better off to stay and fight.”

“This has been one of the hardest decisions I have had to make during my time in politics. However I have come to the conclusion that there could be no peaceful retirement for me given the state of affairs in the so-called ‘Super City’ – I would be therefore better off to stay and fight.”

Cr Lee is one of the Auckland Super City’s ‘B team’ or ‘Albert Street 9’ councillors who have questioned the sincerity of Mayor Phil Goff’s proposal to appoint a four-person panel to review the Super City’s CCOs only if he is re-elected. “If Goff was sincere he would start the process now”, adding it is the Super City itself that is the problem.

“The Auckland Council is failing under its sheer size and weak leadership.”

 

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Auckland’s past and future – well worth fighting for

Auckland Council is currently processing a change to the Unitary Plan, ‘Plan Change 26’. This is especially relevant for the historic townscapes (‘heritage zones’) of Ponsonby, Grey Lynn, Herne Bay and Parnell. The plan change is needed because of anomalies identified by the Environment Court. These relate to differing requirements of the legacy ‘Residential One Single House Zones’ and the Unitary Plan’s ‘Character Area Overlays’. Despite the council’s assurances that this is essentially a technical matter, needed to “clear up inadvertent legal confusion with no new rules or standards”, many are worried. Grey Lynn Residents Association Brandon Wilcox has undertaken detailed research into ‘Plan Change 26’ and posted his findings on the GLRA website. Brandon has helpfully set out the key facts in a table, so people can judge for themselves. He concludes the intended priority to be given to ‘Character Overlay’ is actually (rather counter-intuitively) a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”, which will weaken existing protections and neighbours’ rights. The council’s Heritage Advisory Panel which I chair, takes a similar view, as do experts like Allan Matson and heritage groups across the city, represented by Sally Hughes’ ‘Character Coalition’. Knowing how this council operates and its non-notified, pro-developer growth-at-all-costs culture, these concerns are well-based. Whatever the outcome of Plan Change 26, we should be in no doubt that unless there’s a profound change in the way Auckland Council writes and enforces the rules, we will continue to lose our historic buildings and townscapes from relentless, incremental development.

Let's get across. Heritage tram at Maritime Museum from Maritime Museum concept plan 2013 (Bossley Architects).

Let’s get across. Heritage tram at Maritime Museum from Maritime Museum concept plan 2013 (Bossley Architects).

I would now like to deal with what I hope is some good news. The Wynyard Quarter’s ‘heritage tramway’ was a legacy project of the former ARC, which I initiated in 2010, and completed by Waterfront Auckland in time for the Rugby World Cup. It was promoted as a ‘place shaper’, popular with Aucklanders and visitors alike. Over 100,000 people rode the trams despite the limited 1.5 km, circular route. But this was planned to be only the first stage of a Wynyard to Britomart via Quay Street link, serving the Maritime Museum, cruise ship and ferry wharves, using both heritage and modern trams. This was a key commitment in Waterfront Auckland’s popular Waterfront Plan (2012), supported by a remarkable 73% of public submissions: ( 43% ‘do now’, 30% ‘do soon’, 13%  ‘do later’, 13% ‘don’t do’ – that is 73% support at that time) – but now 7 years ‘later’ arguably 86% support.

The Waterfront Plan called for a “Waterfront Light Rail Extension. Extending the Wynyard Quarter Dockside Tram Loop across a new bridge to Britomart and the CBD will help unlock the economic and social potential of the Wynyad Quarter. In the longer term…to attract visitors and emphasise accessibility right across the waterfront…”

But then Waterfront Auckland became the victim of a powerplay by the Council’s CCO barons. Auckland Transport (AT) believed it should call the shots on the waterfront and as usual AT got its way. Waterfront Auckland, despite it being the best performing of the CCOs (not counting Watercare), was disbanded, its role taken over by Panuku – Development Auckland. The results, the trashing of the Waterfront Plan, epitomised by the ongoing debacle on Quay Street, are there for all to see. Another victim of this infighting was the waterfront trams – collateral damage one might think, but from the disdain I picked up from AT managers, I suspect more than accidental.

This is odd really when you think about it. AT is meant to be wedded to the idea of light rail (trams) but seems to be mainly interested in light rail as a means of forestalling the previously agreed train link to the airport – not for what it is best for – ‘street car’ running in the inner city. When it comes to the Wynyard tramway, even though it was engineered to the latest light rail standards, AT managers, evidently seeing it as a rival, have never made a secret of their antipathy.

In 2014, AT took over from Waterfront Auckland reconstructing the roads in the Wynyard Quarter. Though amounting to less than a kilometre, this has taken more than four years and some $80m – and is still not finished. The work was originally designed by Waterfront Auckland to take place while keeping the trams running, but since 2015 the trams have been able to run only infrequently and then on half the original route, thanks to heroic efforts by James Duncan. If AT wasn’t enough to worry about, last year Panuku traded away to Wellington developers Willis Bond, a block of land connecting the tram barn to Daldy Street. Predictably, last August Willis Bond demanded the key section of tramline be removed, forcing tram operations to be shut down “indefinitely”. In November Panuku executives went to the council and recommended the tramway be terminated permanently. Now here comes the good part, thanks to the tirelessly campaigning of tram enthusiast (and Ponsonby wine merchant) Puneet Dahl and heritage tram expert Jef Grobben, backed by hundreds of tram-loving Aucklanders, the mayor and a majority of councillors for once rejected Panuku’s advice and instructed it to get the trams running again. I give credit to Phil Goff – it’s about the best thing he has done in his 3 years in office.

The date for fully re-commissioning the Wynyard trams is February 2020. In the meantime a new battle, again led by Puneet and Jef and supported by Jon Reeves of Public Transport Users Association and Paul Miller of NZ Transport 2050 is underway to get Panuku to honour the original Waterfront Plan by making the planned new Te Wero bridge tram-capable, enabling a future connection to Britomart. I have lodged a submission. Please go to the council website and make one too. This is a battle well worth fighting.

 

This article appears in Ponsonby News August 2019 issue.

 

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Civic Administration Building fire sale: lose-lose for ratepayers

I guess nothing sums up the incompetence and waste of the Super City than the sorry tale of the Civic Administration Building.

Auckland Council's fire-sale of Dove-Myer Robinson's Civic Administration Building is a financial disgrace and city planning debacle.

Auckland Council’s fire-sale of Dove-Myer Robinson’s Civic Administration Building is a financial disgrace and city planning debacle.

Auckland Council’s fire sale of the Civic Administration Building (CAB), 22 levels, (19 floors and 3 basement levels), 14,000m2 of office space, and 5300m2 of land in the heart of the Auckland CBD for a paltry $3m, with (less than) $100,000 down, the balance upon sale of apartments, has got to be the worse example of public property value destruction in the history of Auckland local government.

Built as Auckland’s first skyscraper, of modernist architecture in 1966, the CAB was carefully sited near the Town Hall on land acquired by the far-sighted former Auckland City Council to form a civic square. Aotea Square was opened by mayor Dove Myer Robinson in 1979 and completed with the opening of the Aotea Centre by mayor Cath Tizard in 1990. At that time, the former City Council extracted all the asbestos that was accessible and practicable to extract from the CAB, confirmed by regular air testing for fibre asbestos indicating the building “was safe for normal occupation” by council staff.

Even before the new Super City had been established in November 2010, I was informed that its incoming leading bureaucrats intended to buy the ASB Bank tower at 135 Albert Street for their new headquarters. The first ‘victim’ of this scheme was actually not the CAB but the former ARC Regional House on Pitt Street. To get rid of this the new Council actually paid the landlord to release it from the four years of the ARC’s lease still to run. An accommodation shortage thus created, a year later a slim majority of Auckland councillors were persuaded to go along with buying the 29-storey Albert Street tower. This was purchased in mid-2012 for $104m followed soon after by $24.5m spent on a plush interior ‘fit out’. Evidently so eager were council managers to move into to what staff call ‘the proud tower’, only cursory due diligence was undertaken. A council finance manager later explained (with unintended irony) that this normal commercial procedure was thought “too costly”. Compounding this blunder, the council waived the building warranty. This would prove to be very expensive for Auckland ratepayers.

Too late it was discovered that “degradation” in the building was far worse than anticipated and at least another $30m had to be found to rectify major faults, especially the granite cladding thought to be at risk of falling off into the streets below. While this repair work began late in 2015, 3½ years later it still drags on. Unbelievably it’s taken nearly as long for the Auckland Council to repair the building as the ASB Bank took to have it built in the first place (1987-1991) – and its not over. The final cost of all this, if past performance is to go by, will be considerably more than the estimated $30m.

No doubt we will be hearing more about the ‘proud tower’ in the future, but for the moment let’s return to the Civic Administration Building. In 2014 after the move en masse to Albert Street, what had been from the time of mayor Robbie Auckland’s bustling centre of civic activity, became a forlorn wasteland; the only movement, paper and leaves blowing about the deserted forecourt.

The CAB’s 22 levels, fit-for-purpose, comfortable indeed, office space, has sat empty for five years during the biggest property boom in Auckland history. Meanwhile council CCOs and the Independent Maori Statutory Board have been paying more than $13m every year, renting high-end office buildings, mainly on the waterfront.

This unprecedented value destruction of property belonging to the people of Auckland could have been avoided if Auckland Council had simply retained and maintained the building for its original purpose, council offices. Instead, trying to drive a square peg into a round hole, the council, via its CCO Panuku, is intent on turning a specialist office building into residential apartments, despite a distinct lack of market appetite for the idea. To this end the building has virtually been given away, not to speak of the land. And don’t forget the lost projected uplift in land value seeing its proximity to the future City Rail Link Aotea station. Typically Mayor Goff has gone along with this sorry affair, cheered on as usual by mayoral sycophant Simon Wilson. Even worse Goff tries to justify what must be the worse property deal in Auckland’s history, calling the CAB “a lemon” and claiming that the building “is riddled with asbestos”. As one property expert said to me, even if the building “was made of solid asbestos”, the $3m price, including over half a hectare of CBD land, would still be a scandal.

The Auckland Council has a statutory purpose to work on behalf of and in the public interest. If the council was your accountant, or your lawyer or your real estate agent – and you had the choice – would you ever employ them again?

 

 

 

Various versions of this article were published in the Ponsonby News (July issue), NZ Herald (24.6.19), the Daily Blog, and The Hobson (July-Aug edition)

 

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City Rail Link billion dollar blow-out: Twyford & Goff asleep at the switch

The announcement of a billion dollar cost blow-out for the City Rail Link (CRL), 3 years after start of construction, is deeply troubling. At $3.4b, that is $1b per km, the CRL was already going to be one of the most expensive rail tunnels in the world. Now the price has shot up to $4.4b ($2.2b from ratepayers) with completion pushed back to 2024.

The two Phils Goff and Twyford. The  two politicians who have been overseeing the City Rail Link

The two Phils Goff and Twyford. The two politicians who have been overseeing the City Rail Link

Troubling also, given Auckland Council’s level of debt which is approaching $8.5b, close to the borrowing limits recommended by the international credit agencies.

Furthermore $4.4b is an estimate – there is no guarantee that the price will not go even higher. One insider suggested to me the final cost could, as he put it “have 5 or 6” in front of it. He was talking billions of dollars course.

Council bureaucrats have responded to the increase by recommending the sale of city car parking buildings (parking earned Auckland Transport $50m last year). As most Aucklanders know, selling income-earning assets to plug a hole in the budget is a foolish strategy. Apart from the likelihood of monopoly control of city parking, it should also be borne in mind that the CRL won’t be cheap to operate. If Auckland Council sells its income earning assets, as it did last year with the ARC Diversified Investment Asset portfolio, which earned ratepayers on average $23m per annum, where will the extra money come from to pay the operating costs?

In 2016 the Key National Government after agreeing to back the City Rail Link had its assessors review the project. They recommended that the CRL build should be taken off Auckland Transport and that the two parties funding the project, that is the NZ Government and Auckland Council, should directly oversee it. A sensible idea in principle. A Crown entity was duly set up, CRL Ltd, under the chairmanship of Wellington-based Brian Roche (now Sir Brian), former PwC partner and most recently CEO of NZ Post, along with a board of largely anonymous directors.

On the face of it, this should have enabled transparency and clear accountability lines back to the funders. That was the plan, but with the departure of CRL champion Mayor Len Brown and his replacement by Phil Goff, the CRL went off the political radar. Newly-elected Goff had his own trophy project to push, light rail to the airport. But then with the election of the Labour-NZ First government, no doubt to Goff’s relief, responsibility for this poorly conceived scheme (three years on and still no business case) was famously adopted by his former colleague, Transport Minister Phil Twyford – who for good measure added another, light rail to Kumeu, which together Twyford boasted would be ‘the biggest transport project in New Zealand’s history’. (Think KiwiBuild on wobbly wheels).

Anyway call it what you like, ‘eyes off the ball’, ‘asleep at the switch’, the CRL project from that time on has been drawn virtually zero political interest, from those at the top, let alone oversight.

Whatever the talents and experience of Sir Brian and his directors in building rail tunnels, what has been missing here has been the active oversight of the shareholders, the government and the council, meaning the people who represent the public who are paying for it. I have only seen Sir Brian twice at the council since his appointment in 2016 before he appeared again last month to ask for another half a billion dollars from Auckland ratepayers.

Meanwhile the CRL first stage ‘cut and cover’ making its painfully slow way up the first 400 metres of Albert Street, is still not finished, to the consternation of Albert Street retailers, the Stamford Plaza hotel and commuters in that part of the city. Despite this, a few weeks ago Minister Twyford announced that the NZ Superannuation Fund as part of his ‘City Centre to Māngere Light Rail’ scheme was investigating a parallel tram tunnel up Queen Street just 150m away. I am not making this up. In Mr Twyford we clearly have a transport minister who doesn’t understand or care much for rail, given his obstinate refusal to even consider a 7km rail extension to Auckland Airport, and his opposition to the extension of train services on the existing line to Kumeu.

Because of the totally deficient amount of financial information given to councillors, I declined to vote for the extra half billion dollars. Instead I won support for an amendment calling on the government as the lead agency to increase its contribution.

Let me be clear, from my time as chairman of the ARC, I have been a leading proponent of the CRL which I believe to be vital strategic infrastructure for Auckland. However its construction should not be seen as an opportunity for the ratepayers and taxpayers to be ripped off by the usual suspects. Well behind schedule, and well over budget the City Rail Link project is symptomatic of what is wrong with Auckland – poor leadership at the top. Auckland deserves better than this.

 

 

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‘Navigators & Naturalists’ – the verdict from leading historians

Navigators and Naturalists full jacketThis month, in the calm before the storm that will be Auckland’s local body elections, I thought I might put politics aside and return to the subject of my recent book ‘Navigators & Naturalists – French exploration of New Zealand and the South Seas 1769-1824’. I first wrote about it in my December column. Five months on, I think it timely to report on its progress.

The first thing to note is that while it is very selling well, especially for a hard back, apart from a RNZ interview, there has not been a huge amount of coverage. The NZ Herald ‘Canvas’ did review it in a few sparse lines which were at least positive about the book, however, the Herald’s Brian Rudman was much more so in his weekly political column, describing as “fascinating”.

“‘Navigators & Naturalists’ is a “rollicking good read. And more to the point, it’s our history.” However the ‘Otago Daily Times’ was the only newspaper to do a full review. Political reporter Michael Houlahan described the book as ‘thrilling’ and wrote “In this large and lavishly-illustrated volume, the former chairman of the Auckland Regional Council makes a compelling case…However Lee has his own insights and own voice…As a biologist Lee is outstanding in recognising the ground breaking work of French botanists, zoologists and scientists. He also has the flair to bring these long ago voyages to life…”

Unfortunately back in Auckland, ‘Navigators’ was rejected by the Auckland Writers’ Festival. But the cold shoulder from the local literary elite was more than made up for by a wonderfully generous email sent to me in February by Professor of History and author Paul Moon: I finished your book on Friday, and if you don’t mind, I thought I would share my impression of it with you. Production-wise, it’s wonderful, but its real contribution and worth lies in the quality of its scholarship.   This is an extraordinary work in many respects.  It effectively offers readers a new dimension of the country’s early colonial history, and provides a specifically French complexion as a counterpoint to the Anglo-Saxon one we’re more familiar with.  The writing style is ideally suited to the content, and the sheer quantity of detail means that it will become a crucial resource for scholars from this point onwards.  It also advances our perspective of the periods covered. In this sense, it is not only an account of the French in the region until the early 1820s, but also is a work that shapes how the encounters between Maori and Europeans are understood more generally in the era.”

And in late March I received another generous commendation from Emeritus Professor Kerry Howe, Pacific historian, yachtsman and author: “I’ve just finished your book. I want to say how much I enjoyed it, and how I think it is such a great contribution. Its strengths are many. And, in no particular order, I think the main ones are these:

-  I really like your approach à la Ruskin re eye-witness accounts. You bring, in a sense, a fresh eye, one not pre-clouded with the academic baggage of postmodernism, or the latest political correctness. You see, and narrate, what the French saw. It remains your narrative but avoids the charge of selectivity by virtue of extensive quotations from so many different observers of the events. So I feel there’s a wonderful rawness, freshness, and richness of detail, not mediated through fancy pants theories and assumptions.

-  and in so doing, there’s a wonderful forensic quality which brings out so many new angles and so much novel information. I guess there are several historians of early NZ who are well aware of a generalised early French presence on our coasts, but nothing like the detail, and also the broader geo-political context that you are able to paint.  We all tend to look in one direction, and from one vantage point, and you so effectively challenge this by looking from somewhere else, and at other historical players, and even other things

- speaking of forensic, your account of Marion’s death is simply masterly. I like the way you deal with and dispatch some current historical interpretations, and then you swing in with your own explanation as a coup de grace.

- and there’s the actual view from the sea and the beach. It is their words, but your understanding/empathy, your apparent intimacy with place and vantage point – esp. Doubtless Bay and the Bay of Islands. Only someone who sits on a kayak or some other small craft can get what I think is a real sense of such places…you capture, with your eye and use of documentation from people in those exact same places, the essence of the physical and cultural landscape. And your own naturalist background just enhances your novel/different approach.

 So, a most marvellous piece of historical scholarship, but it is, to me, more than that. It’s an evocation of events that once were, but still help shape how we now think culturally, in places that still are.”

Finally I was greatly honoured to receive the following email from Emeritus Professor John Dunmore, CNZM, Legion d’Honneur. Prof Dunmore is the doyen and the world authority on the history of French exploration of the Pacific. Born 1923 in France, he received a BA from the University of London. He emigrated to New Zealand in 1950 and completed a PhD under the historian and Cook scholar J C Beaglehole in 1962 on the French contribution of the Pacific in the 18th century. He was Professor of French, Head of the Department of Modern Languages, and Dean of Humanities at Massey University before retiring in 1985. Prof Dunmore now aged 94 and is still writing and publishing.

Dear Mr Lee, I recently completed reading your voluminous tome on the French voyages, and I would like to offer you my warmest congratulations on this impressive work.  I was fortunate to find a copy in a local bookseller, as being somewhat retired these days, I was unaware of its publication until a few weeks ago, hence my slight delay in expressing my admiration for this work.

Sincerely,

John Dunmore”.

 

Navigators & Naturalists — French Exploration of New Zealand and the South Seas 1769-1824 is published by Bateman Books. Available at all good booksellers, RRP $69.99

 

A version of this article appeared in the May edition of The Hobson and Ponsonby News.

 

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ANZAC DAY 2019 – Speech at the Dawn Service, Waiheke Island

Not Waiheke. The Domain in 2011. Mike Lee delivers Anzac Day speech on behalf of the Auckland Council at the Civic Comemorative Service

Not Waiheke. The Domain in 2011. Mike Lee delivers Anzac Day speech on behalf of the Auckland Council at the Civic Comemorative Service

 

On this day the people of New Zealand and Australia gather as they have since the first Anzac Day, to commemorate the fallen and to honour those men and women who have served in all our wars.

Over the last four years, during the period of the commemoration of the centenary of the Great War of 1914-1918, when addressing this dawn ceremony, I have recalled the deeds of the NZ expeditionary force, later the NZ Division, 100 years previously – progressing from the landings at Gallipoli to the climatic battles of the Western Front of Belgium and France Such was the quality and reputation of those New Zealand soldiers, it should be recalled that in the last months of the Great War from August 1918, the New Zealand Division was deployed to spearhead British Army attacks in the great offensive which brought victory and the War’s end on 11 November 1918. As NZ war historian Glyn Harper wrote: “This was a crucial role and it is almost unique in New Zealand’s history. The country’s major military formation was part of the Allies’ main effort in the decisive theatre of war.”

Harper wrote, “Most New Zealand soldiers would deny they were heroes, but the ability to function effectively on the Western Front demanded a special type of courage. Most men who fought there were determined to perform well, never to let their mates down and to preserve a sense of self worth by seeing a difficult job through to the end. These values meant that on many occasions individuals performed outstanding feats of courage…”

I might add selfless feats of courage for the common good that we present day New Zealanders can only marvel at.

Harper points out that in terms of casualties “This was one of the most costly periods for the New Zealand Division. Being at the forefront of world affairs came at a heavy price.”

But by this time 100 years ago, April 1919, the guns had fallen silent. The troops, the main body, were at last on their way home. That homecoming was a time of public celebration but celebration shadowed with deep sorrow of a sad and wounded nation, mourning for those nearly 17,00 young men who did not return – who would never return. Then there were the more than 41,000 wounded and maimed. For those loved ones waiting in town or farmhouse across New Zealand, life would never, ever be the same. The memory of all this has been handed down to us; bequeathed to us as our national legacy.

It is a shared will, to keep that memory alive, to pay homage to those who created it, and to attest that their sacrifice was somehow not in vain – which is the reason I believe, why we continue to gather at this place, and all over NZ, on these dark autumn mornings, year after year.

While most of us had relatives, who served, or who were killed or wounded in that terrible war – and in the following war and conflicts – our gathering here is more than personal. It is an acknowledgement of our own modest duty to our country – and its heritage – and all the good things that New Zealand has given us and stands for.

As for us, the New Zealanders of today, we are fortunate to live in a time of peace. But the peace of the 21st century is a strange and fraught peace. While the major powers continue to spend massive amounts of resources on armaments and weaponry, and the threat of a Third World War never recedes, at the same time we see the fabric of civil society, all around the world, increasingly riven by social tensions and discord. Division within, that turns ordinary people, and peoples, one against the other, by identity, by race, by religion and by creed.

The terrible atrocity inflicted on innocent civilians at Christchurch on 15 March was part of this, it was never going to be the last, as the bloody outrage on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka confirms. We should never allow this evil to divide our society and to distract our people – from the common aspirations of all people of good will, for world peace and tolerance, and common concern at the injustices of growing wealth disparity, environmental destruction and the rise of the individualistic culture of unbridled greed. Such a world, blighted thus, is not the world our ancestors laid down their lives for.

That is why, even now, more than100 years after the end of the Great War, ANZAC DAY remains, a living and ever more vital keystone of the national unity of New Zealand; an expression of community solidarity – and of shared memory of those long departed, selfless ones we still honour.

ANZAC DAY today is as important, as relevant and as meaningful to us as it ever was.

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What Auckland Transport isn’t telling you about road safety

Auckland's notorious trafic congestion. Will slowly things down even further really help?

Auckland’s notorious trafic congestion. Will slowly things down even further really help?

I just watched a video of an appalling accident on Auckland’s southern motorway.https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12212109

Some idiot in a fast car drove up a bus lane, veered behind the bus then ran into the back of a small SUV. Amazingly, no one was killed, but, like everyone who’s watched that video, I was appalled at the behaviour of this idiot.

According to Auckland Transport (AT), speeding is a major problem on our roads, which is why they intend to “dramatically” lower the speed limit on roads all over Auckland including 70km of roads in the central city including major arterials which will be reduced to a maximum speed of 30kmph. But wait: would a lower speed limit have prevented the accident I just watched? Almost certainly not.  Speed limits are meaningless to idiots; you can lower the speed limit to anything you want, and they still behave like idiots.

There are many other examples: In late 2017, 20-year-old Farshad Bahadori Esfehani killed an innocent taxi driver when his Mercedes ran a red light in central Auckland. Esfehani was drunk, of course. What difference would the lowered speed limit have made to this fatal accident? The sad answer is: none.

In May of last year, 15-year-old Nathan Kraatskow was cycling on Oteha Valley Rd when he was knocked off his bike and killed by 18-year-old Rouxle Le Roux. Le Roux, who was on her learner’s licence, had been drinking and smoking marijuana before she hit Kraatskow.

What difference would the lowered speed limit have made to this fatal accident? The sad answer is: none. On January 28, 50-year-old Zhengwen Alan Hu was killed after his vehicle was rear-ended while waiting at the traffic lights at Tī Rākau Drive and Botany Road. What difference would the lowered speed limit have made to this fatal accident? The sad answer again is: none.

Last October, I sent Auckland Transport a number of written questions seeking the crash data that justified lowering the speed limit. Their response was evasive. AT officers said they could meet but would not provide anything in writing, saying: “the database contains confidential information”. In November I wrote again, repeating my request for a response in writing. In December, AT replied, saying my questions were difficult to answer but they were working on them and would reply by mid-February.  They didn’t. I have since complained to the Ombudsman. Why is AT being so evasive? One can only assume it’s because the facts don’t support their agenda.

According to the government’s own studies: nationally, only about 15% of fatal accidents occur above the speed limit. The vast majority of these fatal speeding accidents are caused by someone who’s young and often blotto. The only exceptions are motorcycle deaths, which mainly target middle-aged men. Motorcylists are dying at a rate of about one a week.

Now let’s be clear: if AT is simply going to lower the speed limit in suburban streets where there are pedestrians everywhere, I have no problem. Who would? But when AT is proposing to reduce Auckland’s major traffic routes to a crawl without some pretty strong evidence, I have a big problem.

So why isn’t AT being straight about its plans? There is growing realisation that AT policy is being driven by unelected idealists, managers who are at war with four-wheeled vehicles, while actively encouraging two-wheeled vehicles. That would explain why AT is happy slowing cars down, while encouraging unsafe e-scooters onto our badly maintained footpaths. Pedestrians don’t seem to count.

Before you trust AT to solve our roading problems, look how ineptly they build cycleways. For example, AT plans to spend an eye-watering $23 million to $35 million to fix the controversial Grey Lynn–Westmere cycleway that they themselves built in 2017. Last year, a time-lapse video outside the West Lynn shopping village on Richmond Road on a fine weekday, showed that six cyclists used the cycleway between 7am and 8am. A further two cyclists ignored the cycleway and rode on the street.

So what can we do to lower Auckland’s appalling road toll, as more and more people crowd into the city? The obvious first step is to get people off the roads by making Auckland’s public transport affordable, frequent and reliable. But Auckland Transport imposes some of the highest train and bus fares in the world and has just increased them again. That helps explain why too many people still take cars: they have little choice. Third, we need to change our roads, so that bad behaviour doesn’t turn into road deaths. Drunk drivers don’t read speed signs.

Median barriers transformed the Auckland harbour bridge from a high risk road to a low risk road. A study by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents concluded that lowering the speed limit, by itself, was often ineffective. However, the research is quite clear:  changing the way that roads are built is a highly effective way of reducing risk. Speed bumps and chicanes regulate traffic. So do properly designed pedestrian crossings. Once again AT is in the wrong lane – travelling in the wrong direction.

 

 

This article appeared in the April edition of The Hobson, Ponsonby News and the NZ Herald.

 

 

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Submission against so-called ‘dolphins’ extension to Queens Wharf

fig.1. A genuine mooring dolphin. This photograph taken in February 2015 shows the Cunard cruise ship Queen Elizabeth (294m, 2100 pax) a mid-range cruise vessel, alongside the Overseas Passenger Terminal, Circular Quay, Sydney. The dolphin is in the sea 60m from and unattached to the wharf and is navigable around. In the case of the mooring of this particular vessel it was not needed

fig.1. A genuine mooring dolphin. This photograph taken in February 2015 shows the Cunard cruise ship Queen Elizabeth (294m, 2100 pax) a mid-range cruise vessel, alongside the Overseas Passenger Terminal, Circular Quay, Sydney. The dolphin is in the sea 60m from and unattached to the wharf and is navigable around. In the case of the mooring of this particular vessel it was not needed

BEFORE THE INDEPENDENT COMMISSIONERS 

IN THE MATTER of s88 of the Resource Management Act 1991.

Application for Resource Consent CST60323353 by Panuku – Development Auckland, for consent to construct two mooring dolphins located at distances of 49m and 82m (to the centres of the dolphins), to a total length of 90m from the end of Queens Wharf into the Coastal Marine Area, a gangway connection to Queens Wharf including hydraulic retractable gangway, piles, light poles and security gates.

SUBMISSION by Michael Lee

336 Sea View Road, Onetangi, Waiheke Island

25 February 2019

 

Introduction

  1. My name is Michael Lee.  I am the Auckland councillor representing the Waitematā & Gulf ward and have served in this role since 2010. Prior to this I was a member of the Auckland Regional Council (ARC), being first elected to that body representing the Auckland Central electorate in February 1992. In 2004 I was elected chairman of the ARC and served two consecutive terms in that role up until the ‘Super City’ amalgamation in October 2010. During my 27 years in regional government, and before, I have taken a keen interest in issues relating to the Waitematā Harbour and Hauraki Gulf. I am a member of the Hauraki Gulf Forum and the chair of the Auckland Council Heritage Advisory Panel. I hold a Master of Science degree (hons) in Biological Sciences from Auckland University, which includes credits in resource management law.
  2. Prior to my time in regional government I served in the merchant navy as a radio officer in passenger/general cargo, bulk carrier and container vessels and in the off shore oil industry from 1972 to 1991. This practical background in the maritime industry I found helpful during my time in the Auckland Regional Council, especially during the period from 2004-2010 when I was involved in deliberations and major decisions regarding the Auckland waterfront, including acquisition of 100% of the shares of Ports of Auckland Ltd (POAL), the consequent separation out from POAL of the Wynyard land portfolio, the original ‘Waterfront Vision’ (2005) developed with Ports of Auckland, Auckland City Council and the public and commencing the redevelopment of the Wynyard Quarter, decisions around a waterfront stadium, the purchase (with the government) of Queens Wharf from POAL and the restoration and refurbishment of Shed 10 to become Auckland’s premier cruise ship terminal. Incidentally and for the record, the purchase of Queens Wharf, including the protracted negotiations with POAL and its lawyers, from the ARC side was personally managed by the ARC Chief Executive Peter Winder with legal support from Tom Bennett of Bell Gully.
  3. While this application will be decided under the provisions of the Resource Management Act and its instruments, including the NZ Coastal Policy Statement and the Auckland Unitary Plan, I note as indicated in the excellent Application Report by the Reporting Planner Richard Blakey, that the Coastal Marine Area (‘common marine and coastal area’) of the Waitematā Harbour is legally part of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park and therefore relevant aspects of the application need to be considered under the provisions of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Act (2000), particularly sections 7 & 8 which under sections 9 & 10 of that Act constitute a National Policy Statement and a NZ Coastal Policy Statement. As s13 of that Act reminds us “…all persons exercising powers or carrying out functions for the Hauraki Gulf under any Act specified in Schedule 1, must in addition to any other requirement specified in those Acts for the exercise of that power or the carrying out of that function, have particular regard to the provisions of sections 7 and 8 of this Act.” Note also s33 of that Act and the map in Schedule 3 which sets out the boundaries of the Marine Park.
  4. Out the outset, I wish to make it clear that I support the continued location of the Ports of Auckland within its present operational footprint. Auckland is a harbour city, a port city and the Ports of Auckland are of immense strategic importance to New Zealand and of major economic and commercial significance to the people of Auckland. That said however, it is axiomatic to sustainable management that the port should not further impinge upon, nor further compromise the values and life-supporting capacity of the Waitematā Harbour which enables its existence. Furthermore as the record will show, while I have advocated and supported policies specifically aimed at supporting the cruise ship industry, because of the value of cruise ship visits to Auckland, as public servants of Auckland we need to ensure that as much as possible the cruise ship industry works for Auckland – not the other way round. After reading the evidence of the applicant’s experts, I am not convinced that this point is fully understood by all council/CCO officials.
  5. In 2009, as noted in evidence, the ARC and the government purchased Queens Wharf from Ports of Auckland Ltd. This was done for three reasons. 1. To secure public open space on the waterfront; 2. As an event space for the 2011 Rugby World Cup; & 3. To enable Queens Wharf to become Auckland’s primary cruise ship terminal. All these objectives were I believe mutually compatible, integrated and sustainable. In other words to provide a recreation space, connecting the city to the working waterfront, and the harbour – a location from which Aucklanders had been excluded for some 90 years – enabling the people of this maritime city to get up close to ships. Given this background I find it disappointing and frankly difficult to understand why (e.g. See John Smith’s evidence for the applicant) Queens Wharf, despite all its advantages of size and location for passenger shipping, is no longer the preferred location for cruise ships – this according to the ‘Central Wharves Strategy’ (2017). I should point out that the ‘Central Wharves Strategy’ despite Aucklanders’ high interest in the waterfront was decided behind closed doors without public input. I am sure it will come as a surprise to many Aucklanders that this application for a major and intrusive wharf extension into the harbour is also at the same time deemed “temporary” until cruise ship services are relocated to Captain Cook wharf “over the next decade” (again according to Mr Smith). This suggests that along with aspects of the ‘Downtown Programme’, including the removal and value destruction of the smaller cruise ship berth at Queens Wharf West, this consent is being sought in a context of strategic muddle and incoherence. Strategic coherence in managing the Auckland waterfront unfortunately is not a legal requirement – but sustainable management is.

Mooring dolphins? or wharf extension?

  1. I should also point out that the use of the term ‘mooring dolphins’ as a description by the applicant and the applicant’s experts for this proposal is somewhat misleading. Mooring dolphins all around the world, as the name would suggest, are located in the sea, and like navigation beacons are secured to the seabed with almost always no connection to the land or wharves. The nearest example of a mooring dolphin used for cruise ships is at Circular Quay, Sydney.

 

 

 

Fig. 2. Sydney mooring dolphin in operation. This photo again of Circular Quay was taken in January 2019. The ship secured to the dolphin is the oversize Royal Caribbean International’s Ovation of the Seas (348m, 4500 pax). This ship is referred to frequently in the evidence.

Fig. 2. Sydney mooring dolphin in operation. This photo again of Circular Quay was taken in January 2019. The ship secured to the dolphin is the oversize Royal Caribbean International’s Ovation of the Seas (348m, 4500 pax). This ship is referred to frequently in the evidence.

  1. Semantics of the naming aside, I note that Queens Wharf is 350m (330m berthage) in length, the ‘dolphins’ and associated gangway will extend out a further 90m into the harbour and include concrete piles beneath and lighting poles above. By comparison Sydney’s Circular Quay is 290m in length, and its low profile, non-intrusive, genuine dolphin is located 60m out from the wharf. This free-standing arrangement, as the photo shows, can readily cater for oversize Quantum-class vessels like the Ovation of the Seas and the Queen Mary and will cater for Oasis-class vessels. In contrast the Panuku proposed ‘dolphins’/wharf extension is significantly longer, has a much greater ‘footprint’ (9500 square metres of seabed by Mr Blakey’s estimate), a much higher visual profile, cannot be navigated around and therefore will be permanently disruptive of ferry schedules (noting the ‘real world’ evidence by Fullers Ltd) and challenging for yachts (noting evidence on behalf of the Royal NZ Yacht Squadron et al.). Compared to the berthing arrangements in Sydney, the Auckland proposal appears to be over-engineered with little apparent concern for avoiding, remedying or mitigating environmental impacts on the harbour. The Panuku proposal will be considerably more expensive and much less environmentally sustainable than would be the deployment of a genuine mooring dolphin. Moreover, given the council’s preference in its ‘Central Wharf Strategy’ to move cruise ships over the next decade’ from Queens to Captain Cook Wharf, in addition to the non-sustainable use of limited natural and physical resources, the proposal given Auckland’s wider infrastructural needs, appears to be a singular uneconomic use of ratepayers’ funds.

Heritage and aesthetic effects

  1. In 2009 after the purchase of Queens Wharf, I rather quickly had to become appraised of the heritage values of the long locked-away Queens Wharf, and Shed 10 in particular. That is another story but the outcome was that the ARC saved Shed 10 (in the face of strong opposition from our partners in the government) and made funding provision for its refurbishment to become a cruise ship terminal building and event space. As the current chair of the Auckland Council Heritage Advisory Panel made up of independent heritage technical experts and advocates, I wish to place on record the support of the Heritage Advisory Panel members for Heritage New Zealand and others who oppose the application for the heritage and aesthetic reasons as set out in the Heritage New Zealand submission (Robin Byron).

Economic assessment and related aspects

  1. I hesitate to challenge the applicant’s economic projections for this project except to sound a note of caution that in my personal experience such projections, (and the consequences of rejecting them) are routinely used to lobby for and justify the spending of public money and for this reason can often be subjective and exaggerated. They therefore should be taken with a pinch of salt.
  2. Submissions relating to these economic projections, that come with dire warnings, should the application be declined, about oversize cruise ships refusing to visit Auckland should also be received with skepticism. As the hearing planner Mr Blakey reminds us, the largest oversize cruise ship presently in the region, Ovation of the Seas has been calling at Auckland with increasing frequency since 2016, despite it being unable to berth and having to use dynamic positioning (DP) to keep station in the stream and having to transport its passengers ashore by tender. (Expert evidence that warns us that all cruise ships do not have DP is somewhat misleading – all the new oversize ships do and will, and in the final analysis all ships have anchors). Given this we can be confident of continued visits from Ovation of the Seas regardless of the outcome of this consent decision. At any rate as indicated by the various figures in the applicant’s evidence (as opposed to the conclusions asserted in that evidence) as noted by Mr Blakey in his memorandum of 12 February, the number of cruise ships visits, especially of non-oversize vessels will almost certainly increase in coming years. The problem Auckland and other ports like Sydney will face, will not be insufficient ship visits, but too many.
  3. The justification for the proposal appears to boil down to the proposition that there is a significant loss of economic value in tendering passengers ashore from oversize ships, compared to passengers from ships with direct shore access. However the supposed disadvantages and economic losses from tendering passengers ashore appear to be exaggerated. From the passengers’ perspective the views of the Waitematā Harbour and of Auckland from a ship in the stream are quite splendid, creating a memorable experience – certainly more scenically attractive in my recent experience than being alongside at Queens Wharf at this point in time. For cruise passengers, coming ashore by tender is not an uncommon experience. In Auckland it is a pleasant and enjoyable ‘City of Sails’ experience. Tourists actually pay for such boat trips on Auckland Harbour.
  4. In terms of economic activity and spending if “only” 85% of for instance of Ovation of the Seas’ passengers come ashore via tenders, as indicated in evidence i.e. approximately 3800 people, that is more than the total numbers of passengers and crew of for instance its smaller sister ship Radiance of the Seas (2500 pax 860 crew) coming ashore at Queen Wharf and more than from many cruise ships. If we project a similar figure onto an Oasis-class vessel with 6000 passengers, the likely number coming ashore by tender will be roughly equivalent to all the passengers and crew of two conventional cruise ships alongside.
  5. As this application is argued very much on the economic benefits for Auckland in respect of transferring cruise ships to Captain Cook Wharf, it should be noted that Captain Cook Wharf will first need to be purchased from Ports of Auckland, it will require resource consents and funding in order to extend the wharf the planned extra 150m, (30 metres further into the harbour than the present length of Queens Wharf), and will require funding and consents for a new terminal building. One suspects the economic case justifying this proposal will make interesting reading.
  6. Finally taking into account the wider aspects of the economic arguments for the importance of the cruise industry and of this particular application for Auckland, and again taking into account the ‘Central Wharves Strategy’ and the ‘Downtown Programme’, as noted, the cruise ship berth for smaller vessels on Queens Wharf West is to be removed and replaced by pontoons for harbour ferries, which in turn will be relocated from their present berths to enable a ‘recreation space’, extending from Quay Street into the ferry basin. It is noted from evidence that approximately up to 35% of new building cruise ships come into the smaller ship category. It is revealing that the opportunity cost and value destruction of the removal of this important cruise ship berth does not weigh heavily in the economic assessments of the applicant’s experts.
Fig. 2. Sydney mooring dolphin in operation. This photo again of Circular Quay was taken in January 2019. The ship secured to the dolphin is the oversize Royal Caribbean International’s Ovation of the Seas (348m, 4500 pax). This ship is referred to frequently in the evidence.

Fig. 2. Sydney mooring dolphin in operation. This photo again of Circular Quay was taken in January 2019. The ship secured to the dolphin is the oversize Royal Caribbean International’s Ovation of the Seas (348m, 4500 pax). This ship is referred to frequently in the evidence.

 

The role of Ports of Auckland and the precedent effect of this consent

15.Until relatively recently, the official view of Ports of Auckland of the value of cruise shipping was surprisingly dismissive. POAL for many years advised the shareholder that cruise was commercially insignificant for the company, though as part of the Queens Wharf acquisition agreement of 2009, Ports was careful to retain its monopoly of handling and berthing cruise ships. On the other hand under the same 2009 deed of purchase POAL is obliged to maintain the wharf piles and below wharf structures of Queens Wharf. As I understand it POAL while directly commercially benefiting from this proposal will have no obligation to maintain the proposed new structures. I am also aware from direct discussions that POAL executives insist on the ‘dolphin’ gangways and associated paraphernalia (i.e. the 90m wharf extension), for operational ‘health and safety’ reasons. Clearly Ports’ technical expertise carries a lot of weight among the less practically experienced council/CCO personnel. However the dolphin in Sydney Harbour (and dolphins around the world) are serviced by berthing lines boats. In regard to occupational health and safety it should be noted that the Australian Maritime Act 2008, the New South Wales Health Work & Safety Act 2011, the NSW Work Health & Safety Regulations 2017 and the current Port Safety Operating License issued by the State government to the Port Authority of New South Wales are considered to be as least as stringent, (many H&S experts say more stringent) than the New Zealand Health & Safety at Work Act 2015

16. It should also be borne in mind that POAL has its own longstanding plans for wharf extensions and reclamations. Currently these are on hold. However it will be remembered as recently as 2015 POAL began constructing wharf extensions over 90m in length, from Bledisloe Wharf before being halted by the High Court and the overwhelmingly negative public reaction. However if this proposed 90m extension of Queens Wharf is consented to then the precedent created will almost certainly trigger another round of consent applications for harbour reclamation. This will fly in the face of the strong public consensus in Auckland against further reclamations and other cumulative encroachments into the Waitematā harbour.

Conclusion

18. I therefore request that the application be declined on the grounds that it:

(a) will be contrary to the sustainable management of natural and physical resources;

  • (b) will not (and in the context of the ‘Downtown Programme’ and the ‘Central Wharves Strategy’) promote the efficient use and development of resources;

(c) will generate both short-term and long-term significant adverse environmental effects on the Waitematā Harbour and the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park;

  • (d) will conflict with the strongly expressed wishes of ‘people and communities’ in Auckland, against further reclamation, extensions and encroachments into the Waitematā Harbour
  • (e) will otherwise be inconsistent with the purpose and principles (Part 2) of the Resource Management Act 1991.

(f) will conflict with the National Policy Statement and NZ Coastal Policy Statement provisions of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Act 2000, s8 (a),(b),(c),(d), (e) & (f).

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How Auckland Council and AT are stuffing up the waterfront

Over the next 10 years, Auckland Council has a vision to transform the waterfront into an attractive, people friendly environment. Auckland Transport will be delivering the first part of this vision from 2018 to 2021…Mīharo (extraordinary) Manaakitanga (welcoming)
Auckland to Tāmaki (authentic and beautiful).”

So says the Auckland Council/AT blurb on plans for the downtown waterfront where major changes are already underway. But hype is hype in any language. Aucklanders have found council ‘official speak’ all too often actually means the opposite – the flipside to reality.

What is now happening now can be traced back to Auckland Council’s behind-closed-doors ‘refresh’ of the popular Waterfront Plan. This took place in 2017 in the wake of the disbanding of the small, specialised CCO ‘Waterfront Auckland’ and its takeover by Auckland Council Property Ltd which then became the much bigger ‘Panuku’. These major changes to the waterfront were agreed to by Auckland Council, Auckland Transport and Panuku but with the people of Auckland firmly shut out of the process.

First of all I should point out the downtown waterfront is already ‘a people friendly’ environment but it is also at the same time a working waterfront where harbour ferries and cruise ships embark and disembark thousands of passengers every week. Adjacent Quay Street is also a vital arterial route conveying working commuters from the eastern suburbs and Parnell to the CBD. Under the Orwellian brand ‘Quay Street enhancement’ work is now underway to permanently reduce the present four lanes of vehicle traffic, from two each way, to one each way. Despite the scale and length of the work and its permanent consequences, AT and Auckland Council refused to publicly notify the resource consent, claiming that the effects would be ‘no more than minor’. Approximately 25,000 vehicles a day transit this area. This traffic cannot be simply wished away. Already commuters are experiencing considerable peak hour delays on Quay Street and on the Strand through to Stanley Street and this is just the start. The end result of this Quay Street ‘enhancement’ can only be deliberately engineered gridlock. The only people advantaged it seems will be Lime Scooter users and cyclists but it’s going to be deeply frustrating for most commuters and costly for businesses.

Another ‘enhancement’ is the planned use of Quay Street by AT as an ‘interchange’ for double–decker buses. The wall of noisy, diesel emitting double-deckers will further compound congestion and also compromise views and connectivity with the harbour. Among the reasons why the move is strongly opposed by Cooper & Company, the owners of the adjacent Britomart heritage precinct and highly-rated urban renewal project.

Another proposed change, thankfully subject to a notified consent, are ‘mooring dolphins’ off Queens Wharf . This to enable berthing mega-sized cruise ships. Leaving aside the merits or otherwise of ratepayers having to pay for this, it needs to be pointed out that these are not really a mooring dolphin as normally understood by the term. Mooring dolphins used around the world, for instance at Circular Quay, Sydney, are anchored to the sea floor and positioned in the harbour like buoys or beacons – quite separate and with no physical attachment to the land or wharves. In contrast these fake ‘mooring dolphins’ will be connected to the end of Queens Wharf by a 90m long jetty, in effect it is two mooring bollards built into a major extension to Queens Wharf. This flies in the face of the strong public consensus against further encroachments into the harbour. In 2015 there was a public outcry when Ports of Auckland tried to expand Bledisloe wharf by a similar length extension. Auckland Council spent over $500,000 of ratepayers’ money supporting Ports’ plans in the High Court and lost. Evidently council and its CCOs have failed to learn the lessons that should have been learnt then. This brings me to the proposed ‘Downtown public space’. Ever since Auckland Council sold Queen Elizabeth Square (for a risable net price) there has been a push by council officers to replace the open space so willingly traded away, by reclaiming a part of the ferry basin opposite Albert Street. The people of Auckland have not asked for this and have made it clear they want an end to harbour encroachments. The extension with an associated twee, arty ‘blob’ sitting in the water, portrayed in council publicity as “an oasis inspired by our coastal and cultural environment”, is in reality just another unimaginative encroachment. This will restrict ferries operating from the ideal place for them, make berthing cruise ships at Princes Wharf more difficult and hinder navigation within the ferry basin. These are just some of the planned changes.

A working waterfront and a ‘people friendly’ waterfront, as the present situation demonstrates need not be incompatible. While improvements and enhancements are always welcome, that requires a practical understanding of how the area works, if not vision. Such vision, let alone practicalty, is sadly lacking among council and CCO bureaucrats. It appears to me that the objective of the exercise is to ‘transform’ our working waterfront into a sort of sterile playground for city hipsters. So not ‘extraordinary’, not ‘welcoming’ and certainly not ‘authentic’ or ‘beautiful’.

This article was published in the March edition of The Hobson.

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High-handed Council alienating too many people

What a gorgeous summer it’s been – the ‘Auckland Dream’, the pursuit of which brought me from Wellington when I was 21. Unfortunately it’s not been the happiest summer for everyone in Waitematā. From early January I’ve been inundated with complaints from upset residents – about Auckland Council. Most of these complaints could have easily been avoided if the people representing the council had been a bit more open to public concerns. Two examples come to mind: first the pine trees at Western Springs, 13 of which were suddenly declared by council officers (before the conclusion of the resource consent hearing) to be in imminent danger of falling and therefore needing to be removed urgently. In order to do so their contractors planned to bulldoze a 3 metre wide access road through the native bush understory – thereby largely defeating the stated purpose of creating a native bush reserve. Neighbouring residents led by Deborah Manning supported by Wendy Gray and staunch Grey Lynn activists pushed back, believing the council and its highly-paid arborist concocted a ‘false emergency’. Affected homeowners refused to leave their houses when ordered to by council officers citing ‘emergency powers’. After a deluge of bad publicity and questions about the credibility of their technical advice the council pulled back. The decision of whether the trees stay or go, as it always should have been, will now be made by the consent hearing panel, after it studies further submissions from residents – and their experts.

Another example, local community groups, Herne Bay Pétanque, Ponsonby Probus and U3A, comprising some 300 members, mainly seniors, based at lovely Salisbury Reserve in Herne Bay have been told that their car parking will be withdrawn in the near future and they will have to take their chances on nearby streets where parking spaces are few and far between – and the walk, especially carrying gear, is long. Over the holidays, I received a number of plaintive emails including from local resident and Herne Bay Pétanque official Robyn Chalmers. In response I explained that I try to avoid getting involved in matters within the delegation of the Waitematā Local Board. However my first duty is to the public so I agreed to meet Robyn at Salisbury Reserve. This I did on a beautiful Friday afternoon to find there a hive of activity, the clubrooms and grounds festooned with blue, white and red pennants and club officials bustling about with equipment and supplies of food and beverages. A major international tournament was about to get underway with 44 teams from France, New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Australia and the United States as well as New Zealand. Out on the courts or ‘terrains’, the Tahitian teams and their supporters had already arrived and were getting in some last minute practice. It would be fair to say that most pétanque players would be of a more senior age but I noticed the Tahitian teams featured some athletic younger players – but its canny skills which are decisive and the big attraction for this fascinating game which was apparently invented by the Roman legions in Gaul and is a first cousin to British lawn bowls. As the president of Auckland Pétanque, Ella Harris explained, the Herne Bay Pétanque Club is the busy hub for northern New Zealand for this increasingly popular sport. So ideal is Salisbury Reserve and its ‘terrains’, that pétanque takes place here 3 days a week plus coaching at night, with Auckland Pétanque holding its flagship international tournaments as well as regional and school tournaments. Without the parking all this activity would not be feasible.

For their part Auckland Council and Waitematā Local Board say they went through a public consultation process last August, the majority of submissions from which wanted all car parking gone. But the pétanque ladies point out, the consultation was meant to be about a new entrance (after demolition of the historic Masonic hall) and claim council publicity, especially the diagrams, were misleading. They point out car parks can be tastefully landscaped with grassed Gobi blocks and amenity plantings. In response the Local Board has been sternly inflexible. It’s this that I find the most disappointing. As public servants we are elected to serve our people – not spoil their lifestyles.

Aside from sport and recreation there’s a cultural aspect to this as well. There has been a French connection with Ponsonby going back to the earliest years of Auckland when Bishop Jean-Baptiste Pompallier established his residence on the Ponsonby heights overlooking the bay he called St Mary’s. Pétanque in New Zealand began in 1993 at Chris Priestly’s Atomic Café in Ponsonby Road and it was Chris and Cam Calder who decided to form the New Zealand Pétanque Association with Chris as founding president and to join the world governing body ‘Fédération Internationale de Pétanque et Jeu Provençal’ (FIPJP).

The redoubtable pétanque ladies are fighting back with a petition. It would sad if the council and local board were to be so inflexible that a compromise can not be reached and we lose pétanque and the clubs from lovely Salisbury Reserve.

You can read more and sign the petition here: http://chng.it/vWm8ZrZ7X4

 

This article was published in the March edition of Ponsonby News.

 

 

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