In this week’s DTLB Business Meeting we approved our feedback on the draft Long Term Plan (LTP). The LTP is the 10-year budget that sets the strategic direction for the city’s future investment. Through a special consultative procedure, the community was asked if they support key moves such as rates increases, extension of the water quality targeted rate, greater investment in climate action, and a more strategic approach to delivering our community services.
I’ve mentioned before that Auckland has a massive portfolio of Council assets and not all are created equal. Some are in poor condition, are poorly utilized, or serve no real purpose other than to cost the taxpayer in maintenance. Others are amazing, dynamic, loved and highly frequented assets in our community (think Devonport Library, Sunnynook Community Centre, Takapuna Pools etc).
As part of the consultation, in which just over 1000 people from our Local Board submitted on, there was an opportunity to support a new approach to how we deliver our community services. Ultimately the old method of building new buildings, then paying for their maintenance and operating costs is leaving Aucklanders with a massive operational bill each year. The new community investment proposal advocates for consolidating services in better designed, fit-for-purpose facilities that deliver better for more people.
With that in mind, and with the need to claw back $70 million worth of savings each year following the financial hit taken from COVID, some of these Council buildings need to be sold and there are two such buildings in our Local Board area in this category; 3 Victoria Road Devonport and 2 The Strand Takapuna.
Through the consultation mechanism 8 people voted in support of selling 3 Victoria with 6 against, and 9 people voted in favour of selling 2 Strand with 4 against. Of the 1000+ submissions, 58% supported a more strategic approach to managing our community assets, with 27% opposed to the new direction. So, from that we can deduce that the general public understand tough decisions need to be made to reduce overall costs and deliver better for our changing needs. Weirdly, despite this clear steer from the community, I found myself a minority voice for sensible decision making once again.
I featured it in a Devonport heritage podcast I produced that you can listen to here! The building however, is earthquake prone sitting at 25% new building standard (NBS). This makes it impossible for community groups to lease, for if anything happens (regardless of how unlikely that may be) that Community Group would carry the liability if anyone is hurt or the building is damaged. Assuming they’ve taken legal advice, no volunteer organization would accept that level of risk. It’s for this reason the Devonport Business Association couldn’t continue a lease of the building, and I lost my office, and the volunteer Devonport Information Centre was moved on.
Since then, the building has been locked up because no business wants to take on the cost of restoration or the risk associated. So there it sits, with a chain and a lock on the door, gathering dust and making a woeful impression on visitors coming to Devonport off the ferry.
There is no community requirement for this building, and so Council will not find the money to restore it, especially in these economic times. Some may argue with that point, as there was a consortium of local community groups who came together with a proposal to use it, but the truth is, none of those groups actually needed it. Devonport has a very good provision for community groups and facilities with venues for hire at The Community House, the Library, Friendly Societies Hall, Senior Citizen Hall, Whare Toi, Yacht Club, Sea Scouts Hall and more. The cost of improving and maintaining that building, to enable this type of purpose, is too much to justify. I (and many others) understand that. I’ll be vilified by some, I’m sure, for saying it, but it’s true.
What needs to happen is 3 Victoria Road needs to be sold. It needs to be sold to a heritage buff (because it’s a Category A Heritage Building) who sees the value in restoring it, making it safe to occupy, and opening its doors. Heritage buildings need to be lived in and instead of allowing demolition by neglect, we can enable someone with passion and money to breathe life into the building, find a new purpose for it, and bring footfall to our town centre.
Using a casting vote, and in ignoring the wishes of the community, our Board this week voted not to sell it. So I guess it will continue to sit there, a closed up heritage building sinking deeper into dereliction.
We’d have to throw more than a million taxpayer dollars at it to open its doors, and given there’s no community benefit from doing so, we probably shouldn’t.
2 Strand is a category B heritage scheduled building under the Auckland Unitary Plan and what makes this building particularly special is that it’s subject to an endowment. This means if we sell it on, the proceeds from the disposal must be used in accordance with the requirements of sections 140 & 141 of the Local Government Act 2002. In short, we can use the cash to deliver one of the many projects the community has been asking of us for a very long time. Aidan Bennett recommended buying the Firth Property on Kitchener Road to secure future access on the coastal walkway between Takapuna and Milford (a vital section of the Te Araroa walkway). I agree with him, but if there’s no universal support for that, we’re desperate to fund the Francis-Esmonde street shared path that will complete the green route from Devonport to Takapuna, or deliver on the estuary boardwalk project the community in Milford have been trying to get across the line.
Again, however, using a casting vote, our Board decided we should just keep that building locked up for longer, because let's be real, that's all that's going to happen.
Making Tough Decisions
The approach Aidan and I have always taken in this role is to get the facts, look for the opportunity, and make the tough decisions. All we can do is continue to advocate for sensible pragmatic decision making. We just don’t always get it over the line and this is where I wish more people took an interest in decisions made by our Local Board.
For now, we look forward to the continued updates on how long these two buildings remain locked up for in our local paper. What are we on now? 1024? What a shame.
Elected member of the Devonport-Takapuna Local Board for the 2019-2022 Election Term.