A Garden Of Eden

Sunday 10 August 2008, 7:37AM


As you may already be aware, 17 Kelly St, Mt Eden is a highly controversial piece of land.

To cut a long (and incredibly complex) story short: a piece of heavily contaminated Crown land (4558sq m) in the heart of Eden North was sold quickly and quietly to the former CFO of ESR, the man whose job it was to ready the land for sale. And it was a bargain:

As the NZ Herald reported back in 2003 (21/06/03)
"The $1.65 million price Mr Wanden (the developer and ex-CFO of ESR) and the ESR agreed to in early 2001 was nearly $1 million less than the $2.475 million valuation the land received a year earlier when Mr Wanden was responsible for clearing it for sale with the Office of Treaty Settlements, selling the air quality business ESR had on site and making remaining staff redundant. Before the sale goes through the ESR will spend at least $600,000 to have the contaminated soil removed, meaning its proceeds will be less than $1 million. Glenstone (the developers company) has agreed to contribute $40,000".

As Rodney Hide has already confirmed in his parliamentary questions of Aug 06 the actual figure spent by the government to date is OVER $1 million. This despite the fact that the Auditor-General's report states:

"ESR's wish (was) to dispose of the property as quickly as possible and the
Minister's expectation that, in doing so, ESR should not expose itself or the Crown to
any liability in relation to the contamination".

The government has practically given this piece of land away. Why did they not offer it to the city of Auckland who could have used bio-remediation techniques to deal with the contamination in situ at a fraction of the cost, saving the 11 protected trees and creating a stunning addition to Auckland City? (According to the Auckland City Planner's own report, at the very least the Puriri, Washingtonia Palm and Kowhai were considered to be visually significant and worthy of retention). Why should the Council now have to pay for something that was already paid for with tax-payers money, and already in public ownership?

The decade long dispute over this prime real estate has been well traversed in the media with multiple stories in The Herald (see attachment for a good summary of events), The Central Leader, The Aucklander, an in-depth expose in Metro magazine (Oct 04) and an investigation by Sunday (TVone). Questions have been asked in Parliament. The Office of the Auditor-General was called in to examine the sale (although with a severely limited frame of reference), noting many irregularities in the process.

Many M.P.'s from various parties have asked for answers. Various members of Council have already asked for the land to become a much desired and desperately needed park. As far back as 1944 the Mt Eden Borough Council requested Parliament designate the property as a reserve.The Town Clerk of the day noted "that the Council is very concerned about the lack of open spaces and recreation reserves in an area rapidly being built on". The Minister of Works replied that "Cabinet has agreed to make the land available to your Council on the express understanding that it is to be used for the specific purpose of a domain or other open space." The deal was well advanced, but crumbled due to arguments over funding.

In 2001 Council received 135 submissions from residents asking for a voice on this issue (134 of them were opposed to the development). They were never given an opportunity to speak as the developer withdrew that application and put in a different one which was "non-notified". The new plans called for 22 four story apartments (one level underground carparking) and only four visitor carparks. A "gated enclave" with "private gardens" (according to the developments website). Hundreds of apartments have already been built across Mt Eden Rd in a former industrial area, adding further density to the historically low green space/population ratio in Eden/Albert. Between the Census of 2001 and 2006 alone Eden North's population increased almost 25%. Millions of dollars in "reserve contributions" have been collected from these developments, but we have not seen this money put back into our area for promised reserves.

Despite all this negative attention the site was sold and remains in private hands. It has become a wasteland and a continual affront to Mt Eden residents (who tried in vain to brighten the street up with a community mural - only to have it repeatedly whitewashed). Members of the public have struggled to understand the Government's reasoning and struggled to find solid facts in a process often shrouded in State secrecy. Similarly shocking is the Council's ability to give multiple resource consents and long extensions all on a non-notified basis. The effects on the surrounding properties (all zoned historic 1), families and community as a whole are anything but "de minimis". It has in fact destroyed the entire street, radically altering it forever and removing much of what made it a lovely neighbourhood. Many families have sold up and left in disgust. Two long term and dearly loved neighbours to the site have died; one from cancer the other from an aneurysm.

This all before any building has even begun. It is time for this so called "development" to be shown for the complete rort it is.

In a few days the public will have one final chance to be heard on this issue. The local Community Board recently carried the following resolution:

"That because the Eden/Albert ward has the lowest amount of open space in Auckland city per 1,000 people, the Board recommends to the Arts, Culture and Recreation Committee that it consider the strategic purchase of 17 Kelly Street to provide critical open space in Auckland city".

It will now be debated and decided by the Arts, Culture and Recreation Committee at 9.30am on August 13th 2008. Committee Room Level 15 Civic Administration Building 1 Greys Ave.

This Council are one of the few remaining actors in this tragedy with the power to change the script and give this epic drama a happy ending.

I have been given speaking rights at the meeting on behalf of MENRA [Mount Eden North Residents' Association] and other concerned citizens. We believe the time is right for this special area to return to public ownership as a 'Garden of Eden' and sculpture park, showcasing Mt Eden/NZ's vibrant arts community and heritage to the hundreds of thousands of people who ascend Maungawhau every year, and the many thousands more who will descend on the area for the rugby world cup in 2011.

Please take a few minutes and email the members of the Arts, Culture and Recreation Committee:

mayor@aucklandcity.govt.nz, cr.hay@aucklandcity.govt.nz, cr.moyle@aucklandcity.govt.nz, cr.millar@aucklandcity.govt.nz, cr.baguely@aucklandcity.govt.nz, cr.casey@aucklandcity.govt.nz, cr.christian@aucklandcity.govt.nz, cr.lister@aucklandcity.govt.nz, cr.fryer@aucklandcity.govt.nz

please also CC me at muterant@gmail.com