They came when the neighbourhood slept – just after 2 in the morning. And though they were anything but burglars they took from our collective identity yet another valuable: an entire house.
Where once the street below us had two rows of compact, well maintained bungalows, it now seems as if this was some suburban mirage. In all, five houses have disappeared on the backs of huge trucks in the middle of the night. It’s not theft but it is a crime against notions of neighbourhood and community. We called the local community board to ask – with some naiveté – why locals had not been informed.
The Board member was helpful and but knew about as much as we did. All she could tell us was that four of the five homes had been removed and their sites were to be re-developed. Each quarter acre pavlova once-upon-a- time-paradise was to be re-made into three townhouses.
But what about design? we asked, recalling the way some beautiful sections of Mt Eden had been subdivided. Once gracious homes had disappeared, replaced in the 1960s and ’70s by ugly brick ‘sausage flats’. She wasn’t sure but thought the developers would follow Auckland City’s design plans.
Why weren’t we told so we could make submissions we asked. You could almost hear the sigh down the line as she said that 96% – yes 96% – of consents in the city were now non-notifiable. In other words residents had no say about what happened in their own backyards. New Right democracy at work from Rodney Hide and John Key in a universally disliked construct called the new Auckland City. And to developers, the spoils of a lobbying war fought at both local and national government level.
Aucklanders can’t help but see the rationale for providing more housing because the flood of new immigrants and young Kiwi homebuyers need places to live. But equally they want fair play – and more of a say. That can’t happen when 96% consents granted are non notifiable.
Worse, when a giant like Fletchers tries to foist 1500 homes on our neighbourhood in what used to be a Quarry, the Government has allied itself with the corporate against local people.
So with a shrug of the shoulders, off to watch what passes for the news on TV. And suddenly there it was – anger at the loss of democracy in the Eastern suburbs as 20,000 homeowners were threatened by an unexpected rezoning of their homes to allow multi-level buildings.
Auckland is beset by all kinds of problems, transport being the most obvious. But the least obvious is sometimes the most dangerous and the least obvious is that in the re-structuring of a once sensible governance model for Auckland, democracy has not just been lost, but deliberately mislaid.