NZ Herald | Summerset Group to build new retirement village in Parnell

OPINION

The lights have gone out on Franklin Rd. A sad blow at the end of a tough year.

There’ll be no Christmas decorations in New Zealand’s most famous street for fairy lights, elves and Santa with his monstrous sleigh. No villas drenched in house bling. But it’s the right call. This is how we live now.

Franklin Rd residents have called off their annual gift to Auckland because of the Covid risk. Not the risk of transmission, which is probably low but still exists. The more serious risk, as a local explained, was that if an infected person did turn up and infect others, there would be no reliable way to trace everyone else who was there.

They usually get 100,000 visitors, perhaps more. Relying on QR code scanning just wasn’t going to work.

This is how we live now. Scan yourself in. It’s part of the new normal.

Post-elections, here and in the astonishing, appalling democracy of the United States, that’s what we’re doing now: winding down, or up, or both, to try and find some new kind of normal. It’s not always pretty.

In St Heliers, Kohimarama and Parnell, residents are objecting to plans by Ryman Healthcare and Summerset Group to build new retirement villages.

It’s easy to shout “Nimby!”, but everyone’s a nimby when they think a local development threatens their quality of life, and sometimes the fear is well founded. But sometimes it’s not. We live in a growing city and we do all have to try to take a larger view.

Take the Summerset proposal, which is for six connected apartment buildings on sloping land leading down to the Parnell railway station. They’ll range in height from three to eight storeys, the higher ones sitting on the lower ground.

The project is architecturally smart, courtesy of Warren and Mahoney, and a good fit with the area. The northwestern part of Parnell is already full of medium-sized blocks, serving commercial and built-up residential purposes.

It’s near good shops and cafes and the Domain, and right next to a railway station on two of the city’s three main lines.

Perhaps most relevant of all, that retirement village is likely to be populated largely by existing Parnell residents, as they age and decide to sell their family homes. It’s for them.

Some locals believe their quality of life will be reduced by this project. But it’s hard to think of a better model for how to build greater density, serving a local community with style and functional efficiency. Oh, and they’re going to plant 75 more trees on the site.

To me, objecting to this one is definitely nimbyism.

There’s a new political context to these disputes now. The last Government introduced a new Government Policy Statement on Urban Development. It was a bold move. Recognising that local councils often lack the political will to move far or fast enough on urban density, the GPS creates more flexibility in planning processes and also assigns more authority to central government, so they can step in where councils fear to tread.

The GPS-UP was the work of the Minister of Urban Development, one Phil Twyford, and the Minister for the Environment, David Parker. Twyford has now been banished from Cabinet and his urban development job has been eliminated altogether, but that doesn’t mean the Government is backing off.

Compact cities, with integrated planning for housing, transport and other facilities, is still the goal. Parker remains on the case, heading up the mammoth task of reforming the Resource Management Act, and he will work with Housing Minister Megan Woods to implement the policy. There will be more compact housing.

Meanwhile, Auckland Council has begun the grim process of updating its 10-year budget, otherwise known as the long-term plan (LTP). This is a core process for council. It happens every three years and the decisions in the plan are among the most important the council makes. No budget allocation in the LTP, it’s not going to happen.

This year the council doesn’t have any money. Thanks to Covid, income sources have been devastated: everything from bus fares to zoo visits and stadium attendances has taken a hit, and that’s already led to staff cuts and much less spending.

The new draft LTP will be released for consultation early in the new year and it will make tough reading.

One sign of that came yesterday, at a meeting of the council’s planning committee. The topic was affordable housing for the elderly. Officials recommended the council continue to provide help and advice for existing housing providers, but not step up its role.

Liane Ngamane was not impressed. She represents the Independent Māori Statutory Board on the committee, and she wanted officials to investigate ways council might do more.

The officials were reluctant. To do what Ngamane proposed, they said, would cost an extra $50 million and that sum was not budgeted. Why spend time working for something that would not happen?

Councillor Cathy Casey, usually a strong supporter of community services, accepted that. “Sometimes you have to swallow dead rats,” she said. “For me, this is a dead rat.”

Mayor Phil Goff said they had to accept there was “a section of our population where if we don’t do something, we will not meet their basic right to decent housing”. But, he then said, taking on a bigger role was “unaffordable” and council’s job now was to advocate to central government. He always says this.

Councillor Fa’anana Efeso Collins put the other point of view, which was that they shouldn’t give up because the going’s got tough. “We can’t just be thinking about what’s immediately in front of us,” he said. “That’s not what we’re all here for. It’s because we have a vision for this city and we want everyone to feel a part of this city.”

By 11 votes to 10, they decided not to allocate any more time or resources to housing for citizens who are elderly and poor.

Those folk in Parnell, you know, they don’t know how lucky they are.

Also at the planning committee, the Tree Council fronted up to ask why the council isn’t adding to its schedule of protected trees. Mark Lockhart of the council said there were currently 587 trees that had been nominated and qualified for protection, but according to council officials it would cost $2.54 million so it wasn’t going to happen.

Environment Committee chairman, Councillor Richard Hills, asked after the meeting, said Government has to act. Council can’t do it alone.

Meanwhile, the magnificent mature trees on Canal Rd in Avondale are still protected by protesters, and there’s still no resolution to that dispute.

But all is not gloom! Concerts and other shows are back. Even the Sing-Along-A-Sound of Music is back, in the Civic. That’s right, the elephants are alive with the sound of music.

It’s November 21, hosted by comedian Chris Parker, who apparently is beside himself at the chance to channel his “inner Julie Andrews”. They play the movie and you sing. Dress-ups are optional, but really, you probably should.

Christmas is coming, in better ways here, despite everything, than almost everywhere. Remember to scan yourselves in, eh.

NZ Herald 6 November 2020

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