Column The Unitary Plan the St. James Theatre test

June 1, 2013 by  
Filed under Blog

Rob Thomas HeadshotPonsonby News – June 2013 edition – By Rob Thomas – Candidate for Waitemata & Gulf Councillor:

St JamesThe hottest topic in Auckland at the moment is the draft Auckland Unitary Plan. Like the Lord of the Rings, it’s the one ring bound document to rule them all.

Similar to all best laid schemes of mice and men, plans are only as good as what they have delivered on at the end of the day. The litmus tests for our community might be the Arch Hill’s Bunnings Warehouse for land use, Newmarket’s Station Square for urban design and in the case of heritage saving the St. James Theatre.

The St. James Theatre is an iconic category one, heritage building ideally situated in the heart of Auckland’s lively arts, culture and performance quarter. The theatre has played an important part of our city’s rich cultural tapestry and, like many of you, wish the building continues it key civic duties. The St. James Theatre is at interesting crossroads. After the fire in 2007, the building lays derelict, suffering from a lack of investment and increasing decay. The estimated cost to restore, earthquake strengthen and reopen to its former glory, is tagged at $50 million. I’m sure this is a significant financial burden to the land owner and it is an unsettling feeling for many Aucklanders.

Last month one of my favourite heritage heroes and the president of the Civic Trust Auckland, Allan Matson held a community meeting on K’Road to discuss heritage in the Unitary Plan. Allan is a tireless campaigner for heritage and believes there is a lack of carrots and sticks in the draft Unitary Plan to protect our built heritage. Heritage protection can also be a polarising topic with one blogger responded to Allan’s post saying that heritage was a slow death sentence for a building with the burden of restoration, earthquake strengthening and rising cost of insurance.

The draft Auckland Unitary plan identifies heritage and has a blanket covenant over pre 1944 buildings but this does not prevent heritage listed buildings being demolished by neglect. The true test will be how the Unitary Plan triggers council mechanism of heritage protection. It’s my view Auckland Council should look into three key areas:

  • Identification – work with the Historic Places Trust to undertake an annual survey to identify the most significant and at risk built, cultural and natural heritage sites.
  • Rules – develop heritage building rules which include regular maintenance.
  • Funding – establish a heritage fund that works as a catalyst to restore and preserve heritage.

Coxs Bay boardwalk re-opens

This month the Coxs Bay Boardwalk will re-open for everyone – including cyclists. The former boardwalk was a dilapidated, well-worn and narrow 1.2m wide path that was in urgent need of replacement. The new 2.5m bridge, which will open in early June, will significantly improve access through Coxs Bay and the bridge for future connections.

Thank you to the community for your support during the construction, to the contractors and council staff for all your behind the scenes work and my colleagues on the Waitemata Local Board for your forethought.

Last month Auckland Transport confirmed that they have started to undertake scope of a design for a walking and cycling highway that will connect Coxs Bay Reserve to Grey Lynn Park and the Western Cycleway.

Update on sewage free beaches

Following on from my article last month, I met with residents in Coxs Bay, at the newly refurbished Hawke Bay Sea Scout Hall, to discuss Watercare’s ten year plan to reduce sewage overflow. Long-time resident Christine Davis, I refer to her as our Kaumatua of the Bay, spoke about her experience swimming in the estuary as a child and watching the natural environment wane. Local residents raised a number of questions which include the duration of the project and looking at solutions to the run off from our road network.


One Comment on "Column The Unitary Plan the St. James Theatre test"

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