OPINION: Green space is precious in a time of global warming, so when is a publicly owned green space not green enough to prevent its sale for development?
The answer is: when it is 4 Blomfield Spa in central Takapuna, on Auckland’s North Shore. It’s a patch of 500 square metres of green lawn, trees and park benches which Auckland Councillors have confirmed will be sold.
No 4 might be green, but the council’s finances are red, and with an annual sell-off target of $70 million still looking unreachable, its green value appears to have fallen short.
A council commitment to pocket parks, impending additional rates to plant trees and to provide shelter from rising temperatures, were simply not enough to sway the outcome in this case.
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The former state-owned site was bought from the government by Takapuna City Council in 1968, unseating a tenant, so that a service lane could be built behind neighbouring shops and offices.
After the lane was built, half the property remained in lawn, with a half-hearted nod to parklife by the installing of a bench, and in unexplained circumstances, ashtrays for office workers on breaks.
Some councillors seemed quite diverted by its past role as a “smokers’ nook”, an ominous sign for the looming vote.
In public consultation over the July 2020 decision to sell No 4, 20 locals unanimously backed keeping it as a piece of green in a more intensely developed area.
But history was against No 4. It is not officially a park – council park officials say it is only half the minimum size it determined for a pocket park, and there are other pieces of greenery, 400 metres away.
Council officials said there was interest from buyers, though first it would have to be offered back to the Crown. Any proceeds from a sale wouldn’t be in the kitty this year.
From the officials point of view, and that of council development Eke Panuku, No 4 had little to recommend it.
It had no “service use”, too close to a service lane to safely add a playground to, too isolated to be considered a safe place, and seemingly little used.
Whether or how it might be adapted into an attractive mini-pocket park was not a consideration.
The mayor Phil Goff put the final nail in the coffin, reminding councillors that criteria were criteria and if nothing had changed since the July 2020, there was no grounds to change the “sell” decision.
Most importantly, the council needs to get closer to the $70 million proceed target, locked in place two years ago – two weeks before the council signed of its Climate (Action) Plan.
The mayor was presumably talking about the asset sale criteria, not the increasing focus on trying to slow global warming, and protect Aucklanders from it.
Nor would he have been referring to the Labour-National driven housing upzoning plans, which could turn that part of Takapuna into a six-storey high-rise housing neighbourhood.
Goff’s proposed annual budget, to be signed off in June, includes a ground-breaking Climate Action Targeted Rate, which has on its to-do list “greening our neighbourhoods” and expanding tree coverage.
There was no discussion about whether new designs or layouts had been considered for No 4, simply that the parks department didn’t want it, as it didn’t fit the template.
The alluringly named Blomfield Spa green space was one of 48 bits of easy-to-sell land put on the chopping block in 2020. Climate times are changing, but the sales list is not.
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