On May 10, the Waitematā Local Board resolved unanimously to approve my motion to allocate $10,000 from its Community Empowerment Fund to the Grey Lynn Residents Association (GLRA) to lead a community-led precinct vision for the area of Great North Road between Newton Road and Surrey Crescent (Resolution WTM/2016/67). The GLRA will work together with the Grey Lynn Business Association, Arch Hill Residents Association and Grey Lynn 2030 to deliver the plan.
“It’s not something that’s been done before and it’s a fairly novel approach to have a community work together to lead a precinct vision.”
This project has its origin in a fraught public meeting held at Trades Hall on Great North Road in late-2014. A packed hall of local residents, already incensed by the controversial Bunnings development, expressed their dismay that buildings in the area were being approved at six storeys when the District Plan envelope is set at four storeys (this is due to the operation of the Resource Management Act rather than any particular Council Policy) and a strong concern about the effect of shading on the general area that would be posed by taller buildings.
Bernard Orsman of the New Zealand Herald, reported on the 2014 meeting and wrote an in-depth piece. I was quoted as supporting intensification but also saying that resource consent applications that significantly exceed the development envelope set out in the District Plan should be publicly notified:
Waitematā Local Board member Vernon Tava says the extra height and density being granted for Great North Rd apartment buildings is a concern to the board.
“We have a contract with the community [for four storeys],” says Mr Tava, “and if [an apartment building] is outside of that it should be notified.”
He believes it’s still not too late to bring the parties together and come up with a “whole of area approach” for Great North Rd.
I have been strongly criticised for this perspective in some quarters, particularly among self-styled ‘new urbanists’, who appear to believe that the job of elected representatives is to simply wave through any and every development proposal that comes our way. In the current climate, when the language of ‘crisis’ around housing has become so prevalent, I believe it is more important than ever that we insist on quality of design and build, and proper consultation with the community who already live in the area. How quickly the rapacious destruction of Auckland’s heritage in the ’80s and the leaky building scandal of the ’90s to the present(!) are forgotten. We must not fall victim to the sort of shoddy thinking and practice that led to these genuine and ongoing crises again.
Property developers have ample assistance in Council. I see my role as an elected member in Council primarily as representing the communities I was elected to serve and it doesn’t seem too much to ask for developments that are 50% over what was contemplated in the District Plan to be notified to the public so that they can make submissions.
It was abundantly clear at the Trades Hall meeting that in absence of good information, people will generally assume the worst. For development of any scale to fulfil its potential and contribute to the area, community consensus needs to be reached. Despite the obvious potential of this area for intensive urban residential development, Council planners have not nominated it as a strategic priority beyond supporting it being made a Special Housing Area.
In this planning vacuum, I decided that it was time for the Local Board and the community to show some leadership. The Heritage, Urban Design and Planning portfolio of the Local Board, at my direction, used hours allocated from the Built Environment Unit (BEU), a now defunct part of Council’s Design Office, to carry out an urban planning and design study on the area that is now defined as the area of the study. The study defined the area of the project and was entitled ‘Re-Imagining Great North Road’.
Local architect, Daniel Marshall – who fortuitously had a european intern who was highly trained in urban computer-aided modeling – provided a comprehensive urban and shading study, building on the work of the BEU. The two documents will form the foundation of the community-led project and provide a strong evidential basis for its work.
The nature of urban development under the Resource Management Act is that resource consent applications are approved on a case-by-case basis without a consideration of the larger area if there is no precinct plan. Furthermore, applicants have a first-mover advantage and local residents (and the Local Board for that matter) have a largely reactive role. In any event, the Local Board can only provide non-binding input on whether an application should be notified to the public.
We are eager to create a document that is the genuine, widely-consulted and coherent view of the community. This will be of great assistance to elected members, developers, planners and residents.
I am excited about the next stage, which is creating the scoping and terms of the project, and look forward to seeing a genuinely community-led process. From there, the Local Board’s Strategic Broker will work with the Council departments and CCOs, particularly Auckland Transport and Panuku Development Auckland, to discuss with the community group what Council has planned for the area and will form the basis of an extensive community-led consultation.
It is my hope that this process will form a template for future community-led planning throughout the Auckland region and, perhaps, beyond.