Robbing the future

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    Council Controlled Organisation Eke Panuku – the city’s property investment and divestment arm – was in new Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown’s sights for an overhaul when he first hit his straps as the supercity’s saviour from its own monolithic, bureaucratic culture 18 months ago.

    There have been wins and losses since, but the property entity lives on, most shockingly with the sale to a developer of the 2000-vehicle Downtown Car Park at a furious Council Chamber meeting back in November.

    Now just when the cones and the chain mesh fences have come down on our Quay Street ferry hub, commuters from all points of Auckland’s magnificent harbour – including our own – face more decades of building disruption, diminished inner-city utility and apparently limitless access for expansive builders’ yards and truck parks.

    The parking building is massive, covering around 6,250 square metres  and redevelopment probably includes removing the Hobson St Flyover.

    Commerce makes another fortune or two for the property casino. The rest of us remember the desolation of our city interface when the Downtown block that provided us with everything from shampoo to the friendly abundance of our own Warehouse disappeared inexorably nearly a decade ago, finally emerging with a precinct of a gold-standard international stores cloned to every other harbour city around the globe.

    The Eke Panuku board, signing off the Christmas deal, deemed the 1960s parking building earthquake-prone and needing between $20m and $30m to remediate in coming years and the final decision was stuffed through during the annual hurry-hurry slot for contentious stuff immediately before the summer break.

    It will tip the one-off $122,000,000 price into the city coffers and was the last piece of similar public infrastructure on the waterfront. Ever.

    Flogging historic land assets off robs the future of decisions and opportunities we will urgently need to meet the challenges in coming years.

    The developer, Precinct Properties, says it will deliver “a true mixed-use precinct encompassing, office, residential and hospitality as well as new urban spaces for residents and the public”.

    Eke Panuku and Auckland Transport’s greatest achievement, the sale in the face of councillors’ uproar, caused even the stock exchange to quiver.

    We who love and fear for what is actually our own city are left with the same old pocketful of mumbles and asking in vain what public good will come from the money garnered by Eke Panuku.

    The chimeric way of airport shares? Previous contingency funds from legacy councils? Council office buildings, including Grey’s Avenue which was sold for less than $5million? The debt which pops up as a standby? For AT to demolish the flyover?

    What will another 40-storey waterfront tower complex achieve for a vibrant, liveable city for all its citizens? Knocking big things down and putting other big things up is good for the rightfully-despised GDP measures but has always failed to account for citizen needs, contributions and rightful claim to their own assets.

    From out here in the gulf, Auckland Council is functionally extinct and has no longer got a citizen interface, this month’s rates demands have a bad taste.

    We will have sent the city $30,876,000 worth of rates bill payments – an average of $4510 for each dwelling or business premises. With the inner city Whau ward and Devonport, it’s one of the highest rates per land unit. We will be lucky to see a fraction of that back for spending on the island itself, and none in the next 10 years for urgent capital work to fulfil our tourism obligations.

    And, since we are an educated lot, we expect that the social contract under which we fork out $31 million will be spent with respect for the community’s needs. The island is taking the brunt of borderline over-tourism and the summer’s overseas visitors were bewildered at beaches littered with derelict vessels, potholes like moon craters and vanishing walkways.

    The ferry queues for residents and visitors are horrible, a poison for the local economy, while rigorous parking infringement notices to repair the council’s fortunes are especially egregious, extending even to a whole line of family cars taking children to city sport parked on grass at Kennedy Point, in the dark and for three hours.

    One can only look back with dismay at how much we did very successfully before we were shoved into the first ‘supercity’ and the county’s rates-take was three and a half million. There was a well-found works depot team, a raft of excellent halls were affordable for everyone and we taxed ferry travellers a small sum to look after the future needs of the island’s two transport wharves.

    We also had an exemplary planning department that created the Mediterranean landscapes and that flowed on into making world-renowned wine. Followed by great restaurants. And lots of festivals – now, sadly, mostly lost. • Liz Waters

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