Friday, March 17, 2006

Editorial: Your last chance to have a say

Today is the last chance to send views by email to the Auckland City Council before it starts finalising plans for the spectacular Tank Farm site. With a clear expression of popular feeling, the council might amend its tentative ideas for the area before it issues a formal land-use plan. At that point there will be a further opportunity for public submissions but it is better to put the council on the desired path at the outset.

Herald readers who have expressed their view to us over the past two weeks seem agreed that the site deserves a truly iconic structure at its point, though none of several suggested constructions has caught the popular imagination. They include a swept-up sound shell, a sports stadium, a 20-storey statue of Maui fishing, a power station fuelled by sun, wind and waves.

It would be good to hear a compelling proposal at this stage, but not vital. It is enough in the meantime to ensure the council reserves enough of the point in public ownership and erases from its plan the apartments and office buildings it would allow on the northwestern end of the reclamation.

There is plenty of room for more Viaduct-style apartments and office buildings in the area between Fanshawe St and the wharves. The entire Tank Farm protrusion demands much more subtle planning than has been proposed so far either by the council or the advocates of open space.

To designate most of the area public open space would kill it as certainly as cutting it off for exclusively private use. The aim instead should be to copy the character of the Viaduct as far as possible, allowing certain business and marine industrial uses to co-exist with public use of the entire western waterfront.

The fish markets should be able to continue using Jellicoe St alongside the cafes and bars that the council envisages there. Wynyard Wharf, which stands apart from the western side of the Tank Farm reclamation, invites interesting ideas as either a second wharf for passenger ships or an entertainment strip of some kind. The marine industries which are flourishing on the western side of the reclamation could be encouraged to use the present tank farm areas and vantage points could be established for strollers to stop and watch their activity.

Everyone wants the waterfront to be a "people place" but some who use that phrase mean no more than that it should be a public place. Plenty of public places are not at all "people places". They are practically deserted most of the time, which their defenders do not mind at all. They value open space above people's pleasure.

When the open space is a large urban park it may be a good thing that not many citizens actually use it. Its emptiness allows the city to breath.

But Auckland does not need a park such as that on its waterfront. The Tank Farm site is surrounded on three sides by Auckland's biggest and best urban lung, the Waitemata Harbour. The city needs a waterfront where people will want to be.

That means a place where people will work, relax, meet and play, much as they do now at the Viaduct. That exceptional development faces its own threat from the council's initial scheme. A moveable bridge is proposed to connect Te Wero Island in the Viaduct with Jellicoe St, enabling pedestrians, and possibly buses, to go in a direct directly from Quay St to the western edge of the port. The moveable bridge would give Auckland a long and lively public waterfront at a stroke, but it would severely restrict the movement of boats into or out of the inner Viaduct Harbour.

There is much detail to resolve in any plan for a public waterfront. But the guiding principle should be to permit the maximum human activity. Let the council know today.

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