Thursday, March 23, 2006

Michael Lee and Judith Bassett: Public's view crucial in waterfront plan

Like just about everyone else in Auckland, the ARC and ARH (the ARC Group) views the proposed waterfront development as an enormously important opportunity to achieve something of lasting value for Auckland.

It is also a chance to avoid architectural and planning mistakes such as the disappointing Quay Park development and the visually prominent "rabbit hutch" apartment buildings throughout the CBD.

All too often the built environment of this city, located as it is between two harbours of outstanding natural beauty, has failed to live up to its potential.

This is why the pending development of Wynyard Point and land to the west of the Viaduct Harbour is so important and why the Herald's campaign to raise public awareness is welcome.

If managed properly, such a development has the real potential to become an international attraction of long-term economic and cultural importance to the city, the region, and indeed for New Zealand, while enriching Aucklanders' quality of life.

It's important to understand who is responsible for what at Wynyard Point (the tank farm).

Ports of Auckland owns 18ha of the 35ha. A smaller piece of land is owned by America's Cup Village Ltd.

Both these companies are 100 per cent owned by Auckland Regional Holdings, which is in turn owned by the Auckland Regional Council (ARC). Auckland City Council is the town planning regulator.

The ARC also has some regulatory responsibilities relating to the coastal marine area, transport, stormwater and contaminated-site management.

In 2004, to begin the process, Ports of Auckland as landowner commissioned a team of architects and planners. Led by the internationally renowned Peter Walker, they have carried out a considerable amount of concept design and planning work.

But despite some of the more extravagant comments published, the ARC Group (with our colleagues in Auckland City) has made a considerable effort to work with stakeholders and with the public of Auckland to build a broad consensus of what we want for our waterfront.

As part of that process, early in 2005 we called for public submissions - and in response received 850. We then arranged workshops for all the interested parties - getting everyone together in one room to hammer out a broad consensus.

The outcome of this public input was the ARC/Auckland City Vision document, which was launched in December. Its emphasis on a carefully balanced and mixed development was widely agreed to be a sensible starting point.

After considering the public input, the ARC identified a number of key outcomes it wants from any redevelopment. They include:

* Generous public open spaces should be provided to ensure easy access to the waterfront and Waitemata Harbour to ensure full public enjoyment of those areas.

* Wynyard Point at the northern end of the western reclamation, is considered a regionally important site. Adequate open space should be provided here and it is an ideal site for a future iconic building.

The council remains strongly committed to these principles.

From the viewpoint of the ARC Group, the challenge we face is ensuring that the development is designed in a way that enhances the waterfront, offers places and spaces for people to live, work and play, encourages visitors, enhances the harbour edge environment, and at the same time does not burden long-suffering ratepayers - now and in the future - with high levels of debt.

We therefore continue to support a mixed-use design with provision for entertainment, residential, marine industrial and fishing, all carefully planned to work together in a functional and aesthetically coherent way.

As for parkland, as a regional parks agency we certainly appreciate the worth of coastal parkland - the ARC has acquired 1268ha of prime coastal land in the past six months at a cost of about $25 million.

The size and configuration of parkland is something that will need to be planned.

The next stage of the waterfront development process - soon to get under way with Auckland City's plan change - will enable a more detailed picture to emerge about what Aucklanders want, but meanwhile we want to make three things clear:

* First, development cannot happen overnight. It will take place over 20 to 25 years with, for instance, the very attractive outer Wynyard Point not becoming available until about 2016. The land at the base of the peninsula around Jellicoe St will become available in 2008. Focusing on urban renewal in this area and development of its east-west axis and linking it to the eastern Viaduct and Quay St will be the first task.

* Second, we are confident the process of planning and designing the details of development will continue to be as open and inclusive of the public as possible and there will be time to get things right. But we can reassure the public we will not support high-rise apartment buildings at the edge of Wynyard Point.

* Third, when the ARC Group obtained 100 per cent ownership of Ports of Auckland, a primary aim was comprehensive and integrated development of the waterfront - and that is what we intend to achieve.

* Michael Lee is chairman of the Auckland Regional Council. Judith Bassett is an ARC councillor and chairwoman of the Auckland Regional Holdings board.

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