East Aucklanders 'gutted' after council votes to sell park

Source: 1News

Residents living near a park in East Auckland expressed their dismay on Thursday after the council voted in favour of selling the land.

The Parks, Arts, Community and Events Committee (PACE) met on Thursday to decide by vote over the reserve status for the neighbourhood park at 9R Fortyfoot Lane in Sunnyhills.

Eleven councillors voted for revoking the reserve and seven against - the council says the recommendation will now be passed onto the Department of Conservation, which will go through their process to either formally revoke it or not.

Minister for Conservation Kiri Allan told 1News the land belongs to Auckland Council and her department would only get involved if it came within the scope of conservation.

Significant submissions were made in the lead-up to the vote. A group of residents banded together, even creating a website to raise awareness. Rohan Jessiman, one of the group members, said over 700 people made submissions, although Auckland Council cited 333 submissions.

According to historical records, the reserve was gifted to the Manukau community as part of a sub-division by Lou Fisher, brother of Woolf Fisher, who co-founded company Fisher and Paykel.

"In my view Council were always going to repeal the land. I think It was a pre-determined outcome, despite Howick Local Board lobbying for the park to stay," Jessiman said.

"The submissions process was very short, like just over a month," he said.

Is it just to pay off council debt?

Auckland Council calls the process 'asset recycling' but this community just sees it as a loss.

"Auckland Council has an obligation to provide value for money for Aucklanders and is committed delivering the services that Aucklanders need in the most efficient and effective way," says Auckland Council general manager value for money Ross Chirnside.

"Management of council assets, including asset recycling, is a part of this programme and occurs Auckland-wide.

"We review the city’s assets regularly to ensure we’re getting the best value from them, ultimately ensuring ratepayers aren’t paying for the maintenance of properties unnecessarily.

"Any sale proceeds will go towards our long-term plan recovery budget asset sales target of $70m. Asset recycling was identified as one of the key levers available to council to free up the value in surplus land to better serve Aucklanders," he said.

"Asset recycling is not about funding debt, it is about ensuring we are spending responsibly."

It comes, however, as the council grapples with a hefty net debt of $10.6 billion.

That equates to less than 20% of the council’s assets and is $1 billion less than budgeted for the 2021/2022 financial year, according to Chirnside.

Community upset

Winnie Ong has lived in the area for 17 years.

Her daughter Auralie Shew, 14, said she was disappointed at losing the park.

"It will be really upsetting because now we won't be able to come here and it will just be full of lots and lots of houses."

Cailan Macnaughtan, 16, said he's lived in Fortyfoot Lane since he was four.

"All these memories from walking to school with my Grandpa is a big memory for me because he's gone now....gone and [to be] replaced with all these houses. I just wish they never took this land from us because these memories are part of me."

Sue and Leon Goldwater bought a house in August 2020 and found out the council intended to repeal the reserve two weeks before they moved in.

“It’s hard to believe the council is not listening to what people are saying," Leon said.

“When I was growing up the council was there to serve the people of Auckland, now it seems the people of Auckland are serving the Council,” he said.

Sue Goldwater said she felt betrayed, to the point the pair are considering leaving the city.

"Just have lost faith and really despair for what Auckland's going to be like in the next 20-plus years.

"We will have no green spaces left and Auckland's just going to be a very unpleasant place to live - and as a result we just may leave Auckland."

She said she believes the land should be left for future generations.

"As members of the Auckland community, we need to think about how we would like our city to look in 20 years, 50 years and 100 years."

Howick Councillor Sharon Stewart said she is disappointed with the vote and she intends to try and reverse the decision.

"I don't know if we are going to be able to do it but the whole thing has been done very poorly." she said.

National's Simeon Brown, the MP for Pakuranga, also expressed disappointment.

"Auckland is facing increasing intensification and parks and reserves are critical to ensure our young people have places to safely play and enjoy.

"Auckland Councillors who voted for the sale of these reserves have forgotten who they represent. If they want to fix Auckland Council's budget, they should focus on fixing the council's bloated bureaucracy rather than selling off valuable reserves."

Albany Ward Councillors Wayne Walker and John Watson told 1News the council's decision was "short-sighted".

"I believe the response is confusing, misleading and not substantiated by a fuller examination of the issue," Walker said.

"Turning down the park because it lacks a rubbish bin, park seats or a playground is misleading. The shape of this park is OK for a park but not great for housing anyway," he said.

"There is significant support from the community, the local board, the Ward Councillors and the view of the independent commissioners who did recognise the merit of this park," he said.

Watson called the decision "penny-wise pound foolishness at its worst".

"What was just as disappointing was the complete lack of empathy for the local community who'd made it abundantly clear they really valued this reserve for all manner of activities."

Auckland Council responds

"Regardless of how this piece of land has been used, it has always been identified as an asset for recycling, as it does not meet the council’s Open Space Provision Policy or the need to be retained when assessed against Reserves Act 1977 values," Chirnside told 1News.

"The Boulevard Park is a much larger park, just 500 metres down the road, containing amenities such as a rubbish bin and picnic table, and allows off-leash dog walking at all times.

"Council’s Service and Asset Planning team has considered options for the establishment of a community trust to manage and control the reserve. Under s.29, 30 and 34 Reserves Act 1977, only the Crown can appoint a voluntary organisation, board or trust to control and manage reserve land, and only if it is vested in the Crown.

"If Council were to enter into a lease with a voluntary organisation ownership would remain with Council. This is not supported," Chirnside said.

Reserves in Ti Rakau Drive, Pakuranga and Karaka Road, Beachlands were also revoked on Thursday. A Golfland Drive reserve was not revoked after 213 submissions were made along with a petition with 589 signatures.

1News understands about 20 land parcels are flagged for revocation across Auckland city.