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.