Progress?

Woke up this morning not to our plaintive Tui, who seems to have lost his song, but to a whacking great WHUMP! It shook the house, made the windows chatter in their frames like teeth in a shiver.

Damn developers we thought, making six dwellings where two once stood. But no. It was the Auckland Council doing work of major significance – widening the road by all of 18″ and realigning the kerbstones… Progress, I guess.

Walked to the local Countdown past a fence surrounding the old Mt Roskill Borough Council building. It looks like it’s scheduled for demolition or renovation. If it goes, it will take with it memories of firebrand Christian Mayor Keith Hay and the days when cadet reporters from the Auckland Star used to cover Council meetings. The Council – like the Star – disappeared ages ago, one a victim of successive amalgamations, the other by death of a thousand (often self-inflicted) cuts.

Walking back along Mt Albert Road, Three Kings School is thronged not just by   pupils, but by a proliferation of prefabs. Across the road and a few generations  there’s progress too in the daunting cliff of multi-storey  retirement units.

Three Kings was once a slumbrous suburb, a working man’s retreat. Now  real estate agents, desperate for sales, have appended it to the gilt-edged addresses of Epsom ( Epsom South they  explain).  Before gentrification and  for some time during it,  Three Kings has for nearly a century, been notable for its last remaining volcano, Big King, and by the quarry beneath it .

For decades  Winstones  quarried there, scouring   its floor for  every last nugget of   the brown gold of scoria. Residents  saw brown dust settle on their homes,  tolerated explosions as the quarrymen dug deeper, but finally Winstones packed up, sold the place to Fletchers and for a time calm broke out before the war.

The new intransigent Auckland Council, an ACT-inspired creation born with the usual mantras of accountability and transparency, gave Fletchers approval to build 1500 homes in the quarry.   The deal  according to  one spokesman for the local   Three Kings United Group, was done in 2013 – though  at the time residents knew  little about it.

And so to war, to public meetings which galvanised support and finally the Environment Court.  A glance at the  combatants  listed for the Court hearing,  gives a clear indication  of  just how much authorities are out of  touch with local concerns and any sense of community.

On one side was the community group, on the other the Council the Government and  the corporate giant Fletchers. The big players lost. The ‘nimbies’ as  Environment Minister Nick Smith  labelled locals – had substantial wins in the Court’s interim decision.

But these powerful parties  then  took advantage of the  new Unitary Plan to push ahead with  their original plans. There are small but important considerations in  this issue  and though transparency and  accountability are  paramount, so is commonsense.  If 1500 new homes are packed into a quarry, what impact will it have on the local school?

Some locals are already saying the footie  field  some of us played on  when we were very  much  younger, will  be dotted with prefabs.  The Council remains ‘silent’ on this issue according to the  Community Group.  Then there’s increased population density.  Once  you could  teach your  children how to drive on Sundays in deserted  supermarket carparks. Now we consider ourselves lucky to get a park and the same goes for every  road in the area.  And traffic?  No  answers there either.

The   new Auckland Council  created local boards because its role was to think bigger.   But when  the Three Kings local board wanted an independent legal opinion on issues relating to the development, Council officers intervened and  barred them from doing so.   Officials telling elected representatives what they can and can’t do? Not exactly democratic.

The  community doesn’t mind housing – it just  doesn’t want it on this scale and  along the lines it has been designed.    Even if the  number of houses dropped  to 800 that would be twice the size of the much reviled Stonefields complex in Mt Wellington.

Just a few days ago we  drove south along down  Campbell Road,  about a mile from the school.  By habit we looked at the expanse of greenery on our right. It’s where the swish  Logan  Park   should be.  But it’s gone.  Cranes  now  feed on its  entrails and signs proclaim that soon we will see another Rymans Retirement  village there.  Rymans have held local meetings outlining the benefits of the development.  Progress, I guess.

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Paul Smith

Paul is a veteran journalist, non-fiction author and writing mentor. He has also served on boards ranging from TVNZ to UNESCO.