Wander back through old newspapers and you will find the Mt Albert Residents’ Association popping up – right back to the beginning of last century. But the latest incarnation is rather fresher.

From potholes to P labs

IN USUAL David and Goliath fashion, the 21st century Mt Albert Residents’ Association (MARA) was born out of a battle between local residents and the Auckland Institute of Studies (AIS) education facility on Linwood Ave, next to the Chamberlain Park golf course.

The residents won.

That began in 2003, and challenging AIS was just the beginning. Soon MARA was being asked to become involved in all kinds of grievances, from potholes in the road up the mountain to P labs in Ballast Lane; from rubbish, lack of parking and no cycleway in the village, to the dismal state of the train station and the need for a public space/focal point in the shops.

In the beginning…

In 1989 the Mt Albert Borough Council was amalgamated with Auckland City Council, along with the 35 or so other Auckland boroughs, districts and counties. Mt Albert brought with it assets to the value of $50m (in today’s terms) – one of only two borough councils that were not in debt.

Auckland City Council took Mt Albert’s money – and then began a cycle of 20 years of neglect and lack of spending in our suburb.

The mountain of Owairaka ceased to be adequately cared for, and was allowed to deteriorate… The suburban streets went uncleaned, grass verges uncut, rubbish in public areas was not collected and graffiti began to rise…The railway station upgrade was delayed, delayed again, and then skipped over completely… The Mt Albert shops received minimal street cleans per year, and business growth was stunted by blocked drains, over-spilling rubbish, and illegal accommodation which sprang up in the back alley. Auckland City Council could not even be relied upon to enforce its own health and safety regulations.

The attitude seemed to be:  It doesn’t matter. It’s only Mt Albert. And MARA’s new catch-cry became: Mt Albert wants its money back!

The long-held and united disappointment with the state of the area generated a passionate desire to not just return Mt Albert to its former glory, but to build something better, and reassert Mt Albert’s identity.

Mt Albert’s residents are not transient; they have a strong connection and loyalty to the suburb. Our residents are not interested in short-term, temporary, or cosmetic improvements. And after 20 years of receiving minimal attention, they asked that good design and solid investment be finally returned to Mt Albert.

Creating a people-focused “heart of Mt Albert” and a railway station development integrated with the surrounding shops and streets were considered the two greatest needs.

After many years of work, MARA is now recognised as a respected stakeholder in the future development of the Mt Albert.

Some highlights of MARA’s advocacy

…  MARA submitted on the council’s Precinct Plan, the master blueprint for Mt Albert, with a plea for the designation of a Town Centre for Mt Albert, and to create a “heart of the township” – a “place for people”

… With MARA at the forefront of the debate, the railway station was given a facelift In May 2010 and the new Mt Albert Station will finally be properly integrated with the improved adjacent town centre, via a “town plaza” (once leasing issues have been unravelled)..

… After much lobbying, the Mt Albert shops/footpaths were cleaned regularly and tidied up.

… Ballast Lane had become an increasing problem: dumped rubbish, illegal business operations and accommodation, and activities which breached council by-laws. MARA lobbied the council and the lane is now open, clean and no longer a centre for crime.

… The Mt Albert Community Patrols are a MARA initiative and have been patrolling our streets since March 2011, though this is now a separate community project with its own volunteer organisers. The patrols routinely survey our suburb’s “hotspots” and most troubled streets, acting as the eyes and ears for the police.

… CCTV cameras are now operating in the Mt Albert shops area, as part of the unified push back against criminals.

… MARA made a submission to the Select Committee on the Alcohol Reform Bill, arguing that Mt Albert is already over-supplied with liquor outlets, and that the number of liquor stores should be both regulated, and reduced.

… An application for a liquor ban in Mt. Albert was made by MARA to the Auckland City Council, and approved in June 2010. The area covered by the ban includes the Mt Albert train station, the shopping areas and business areas. The ban operates 24 hours per day, seven days a week.

MARA members protest over proposed liquor store… A liquor licence application was made for the property at 847 New North Road (at the intersection with Asquith Ave). Petitions of protest were organised by MARA, as well as onsite street protests with placards, and meetings to help residents with making submissions. At the Liquor Licensing Authority hearing, submissions were presented by MARA and the application was successfully defeated. This denial of a liquor licence was not only celebrated by the Mt Albert community, but was held  up as an example by other residents’ groups doing battle against alcohol in their own suburbs. Picture showing the 2012 MARA-led protest courtesy of Lisa Trottman of Timespanner blog

…. MARA made submissions to the Local Government Commission, seeking restoration of Mt Albert’s civic identity when local board boundaries and administration were being decided. In effect, historic Mt Albert was re-established with the Pt Chevalier-Morningside sub-division being close to the original Mt Albert boundaries.

… After much pressure applied by MARA to Auckland City Council and the Eden/Albert Community Board, the council finally moved on its Owairaka Domain Landscape Masterplan which set out to rehabilitate the mountain. Starting with basic maintenance issues such as vegetation management and entrances to the reserve, no more large trees will be planted on the upper portions of the mountain, above the loop road, to preserve the city and harbour views.

… After forwarding a number of complaints to the Albert-Eden Local Board for some time regarding the pot holes on Mt Albert/Owairaka mountain, the park road on Owairaka was finally upgraded.

… A submission on behalf of MARA was lodged with the Auckland City Council in July 2009, opposing the Westfield St Lukes private plan change to extend the shopping centre. The submission was added to similar submissions from the Mt Albert Business Association, Eden-Albert Community Board, St Lukes Environment Protection Society, and Anne Duncan Real Estate, all opposing the plan change. MARA made further submissions, and spoke at the Select Hearing Commission and the Environment Court mediation, as well as in mediation sessions with Auckland’s mayor. MARA’s submission on Plan Modification 8 related to the Resource Management Act 2.2 issues, which are: Ensuring that business growth does not compromise the protection and enhancement of the environment; the need to encourage intensification of use, while recognising the pressure that such intensification brings on existing infrastructure, transportation and utility services. Assurances were sought that, if the plans went ahead, the council would not allow the 4.5ha mall to become a 9.2ha giant, with 1920s bungalows facing 10-storey mall facades, permanently changing the character of the St Lukes area and representing a fundamental change to peoples’ lives and community needs. Traffic, noise, nuisance and the urban environment were all cited, as was the lack of supporting infrastructure.

… MARA’s feedback to a hearing panel regarding the impact Watercare’s Central Interceptor’s proposed works would have in the Roy Clements Treeway helped prompt the panel to rule that Watercare should fully investigate the alternative nearby site and access proposed by MARA.

…Auckland City Council met with MARA and other local interested groups to discuss mitigation of the adverse effects of the SH20 completion project (Waterview Connection). MARA underlined the importance of mitigation on this highway, as it intrudes into some of the few parks in Mt Albert and displaces some 200 households. MARA then commented on the level of quality of the city proposals. A mitigation committee was formed which included MARA, to co-ordinate the content and strategies of submissions, including an assessment of sound effects. MARA prepared a submission and both evidence in chief and rebuttal evidence to be heard by the Board of Inquiry, set up to consider NZTA’s proposal for the works associated with the Waterview Connection. MARA’s submission to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) highlighted concern over traffic flows, and the impact of traffic directed from Moa St and Pasadena School in Pt Chevalier, from Waterview and Unitec etc to the St Lukes access. The submission also highlighted the absence of provision for local road access to SH 20 at the Great North Road interchange (between SH20 and SH16).

Alice Wylie Reserve in Mt Albert… After years of neglect, Auckland Council was finally pressed into action by MARA to improve the state of Alice Wylie Reserve. MARA attended a meeting between the council, Alice Wylie, and other interested parties to discuss the design concept and planting list for the reserve, and where the council presented its Landscape Proposal, which MARA approved with only minor modifications. The project has now been completed, including the selective removal and trimming of existing plant material, the dividing and replanting of some plants, and new plantings of others. New information signage and iconic seating facilities are to come.

… MARA developed a sort of watching brief over the plan by the local board to look at the future use of Chamberlain Park. The board went through various consultation processes and, after feedback, revealed its masterplan in 2015. MARA did not take a position on the plan itself, but continues to play a public watchdog role.

… MARA sought help from the local board in 2015 and 2016 to secure a marketing and communications co-ordinator to work with the town centre shops owners and create a better sense of unity – designed to use the council’s upgrade plans as a catalyst for change. The board approved two separate $10,000 grants to advance this work, which has resulted in the establishment of a new business association.

… In 2014, the council and the Government introduced a Housing Accord designed to build more houses more quickly. Part of this process was the establishment of Special Housing Areas fast-tracking planning procedures and often cutting local communities out of the process. MARA, through its Asquith Community Group sub-committee, introduced a voice for the community in dealing with these developments, especially those handled by Housing New Zealand.

… The Unitec proposal has become one of the biggest issues handled by MARA. The proposal is for a more “compact” new university on the present land – opening up vast tracts of land for new housing. Up to 3000 new homes will be built there. MARA is not against development and understands the need for new homes in a rapidly growing city but, with misgivings over aspects of the plan, especially traffic, stepped up with local residents. The association raised funds through Givealittle to hire a traffic engineer to contest some of the traffic projections and – through expert pro bono legal guidance and direction – made telling points before the Unitary Plan commissioners. The group maintains in close contact with all the parties.

Work at Mt Albert village… MARA has acted as an information conduit on the village upgrade proposal, staying in close contact with the local board and feeding detail to its community. This was highlighted in its role as facilitator when a final draft plan proposed – without discussion – the removal of the right-hand turn into Mt Albert Rd for city-bound traffic on New North Rd.

… MARA continues to keep an eye on a range of issues/developments of interest and concern to its community – like the St Lukes expansion, the ban on cars on the mountain top, the future of the pool and the library, the Chamberlain Park development plan…as well as central issues like housing, water, transport, education and policing.

… MARA now owns this website – a news-focused community website operated by experienced volunteer journalists, designed to keep the community informed.

… MARA has made submissions on several local government and local board plans and policies, helping to shape our future and our identity.