What value our city’s history?

…..Not much it would seem

On Tuesday 19 April Auckland Council pulled back the covers on a preliminary proposal for amending Auckland’s Unitary Plan, to meet the government’s plans for housing intensification.

The proposal amounts to a garroting of years of city planning and citizen participation, particularly the preservation of the character of our older residential areas.  These areas contribute much to making our city interesting, livable, diverse and community focused.

Council has been dealt a very limited hand by government in what it can or cannot do in responding to the NPS-UD (National Policy Statement – Urban Development).   But it has shrunk from bringing the public into the process until the die has largely been cast.

The response has been to thrust a ‘one size fits all’ plan on local communities:

  • There is insufficient regard or understanding of the practical realities of living in the older areas of Auckland or the character they bring to the city; and
  • It is not clear how zoning street after street for Terrace Housing and Apartment Building will meet the government’s goals of intensification and affordable housing in these older areas.

– EXCEPT by DESTROYING irreplaceable parts of the city’s history

Auckland holds the world’s largest remaining stock of timber Victorian and Edwardian houses

For years Council has controlled development in these older areas, to protect their character, and history.  Local residents have accepted these restrictions because they recognize and value the preserved character.  This proposal has blatantly disregarded the value these older areas have played in the very genesis of Auckland – it’s hard to imagine another city in the world where such actions would be contemplated.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in St Mary’s Bay.  As a small residential area to the west of the city centre, and one of Auckland’s oldest residential areas, it faces a wholesale change to its character.  It is not a large area, but it has a very high concentration of wooden buildings (workers’ cottages and turn of the 19th century villas) mainly on small lots of land – they are living history, even after being modernised for current times.  Council’s proposal is to replace the single house residential zone (which applies to most of the area) with Terrace House and Apartment building zone.   On what analysis will this provide a better outcome for Auckland?

The Council has chosen to approach its task, and to develop a methodology to produce its preliminary proposal, without public engagement, preferring to work in a vacuum.  The result is a proposal which is littered with inconsistencies.  Again, using St Mary’s Bay as an example, the proposal is for most of St Mary’s Road, including blocks of flats on adjacent Caroline and London Streets, to be protected, while other completely intact streets like Percival, Hackett, Seymour and Vine (to name a few) have been abandoned.  Even the oldest house in St Mary’s Bay – the Captain’s House in the SE corner of Selby Square – seems likely to be abandoned.

When the prospect of change was promulgated in mid 2021, the St Mary’s Bay Association led an approach to Council, by five residents associations on the western side of the city, seeking early engagement on the way it might respond to government’s policy.  Rather than engaging, Council developed its methodology on its own.  To make this radical change, without engaging first on the values that should be supported, and how that could be presented as a “qualifying matter” under the legislation, is unacceptable.

Council needs to put this right – and we the citizens of Auckland need to make our views known (by 9 May): https://akhaveyoursay.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/housing


David Abbott
The St Mary’s Bay Association Inc.