Selina Chant with neighbour Ankur Mistry and his son Elijah in Laurel St – a place made for children but with issues on the horizon. Picture: Jenni Austin
Laurel St is the type of neighbourhood street that is a mecca for families.
Take a walk down this quiet Mt Albert cul de sac and there is no shortage of evidence – front yards with trampolines, bikes and scooters. Not too hard to imagine groups of neighbourhood kids outside playing with each-other on summer evenings.
Selina Chant knows very well how lovely that is – she grew up in the no-exit street of about 30 houses, and has happy memories of her childhood there.
She still calls the street home and lives in the house her parents bought brand new around 40 years ago. While the street has changed a bit over the year – not quite as many families, a few more rentals and retirees – it is, she says, still a lovely quiet corner of Mt Albert.
It is a sentiment shared by many of her neighbours who bought in the street more recently so their children can enjoy the same sort of neighbourhood Selina did.
But life is going to change for these residents – and they are angry they have been shut out of the decision-making process.
The first subdivision consent for the new Unitec township was granted last month for a block of land owned by Ngāti Whātua at the end of Laurel St (pictured). The new walking and cycleway runs through it.
The decision was against the advice of the council’s own transport agency and with the misgivings of a lead planner.
One of the requirements of the independent hearings panel that established the precinct under the Unitary Plan required that the first subdivision application would trigger the need for a full Integrated Transport Assessment (ITA). That has not been done and as the application was non-notified, the public were shut out from having any say on the decision.
The first the residents knew of it was through the Mt Albert Inc website.
“How can they do that – where was the consultation?” asks Selina. “We all live in the street right next door – shouldn’t we have been kept informed?”
Adrian Dickison, two doors down from Selina, shares her sentiments. He calls the decision an “epic fail of planning”.
“If this subdivision goes ahead without an ITA, then the Unitary Plan process has fallen over at the first hurdle,” he says. [The subdivision application covers the pre-build infrastructure, like water, roads and power, and resource consent will be needed for the next stage, which should require the full precinct ITA.]
A bit further down the street again Ankur Mistry, a resident for more than 15 years, puts it even more plainly: “I don’t want my kid getting hit by cars.”
The subdivision is the first step in the giant plan to develop a new township with up to 3000 homes on the Unitec land, known under the Unitary Plan as the Wairaka Precinct.
While this consent requires a physical barrier to be put up at the end of Laurel St during construction, the little cul-de-sac is likely to be a key link to that section of the wider development.
Selina understands that Auckland needs more housing, but the thought of Laurel St becoming a through-road fills her with dread.
“This is a narrow street – we already have to give way to pass each-other. Are we going to lose our on-street parking so the traffic can get through?
“What happens when there are hundreds of new properties down there and lots more cars – where will they all park?”
Like Selina, Adrian also accepts the need for more housing in a city straining at the seams, but he says it needs to be done with full assessment of the implications for the surrounding community.
“If they are going to be pushing a lot of the traffic away from Carrington Rd and down here, we need to know what that means for our street.”
And it’s not just the impact on the street that he is worried about – as a keen cyclist and regular user of the newly opened cycle path, he wants to know the impact on that as well
“It was one of the reasons we bought in the street, yet this development will mean more road crossings on the path – where’s the thinking about that?”
Mt Albert Inc has posed a series of questions to Whai Rawa, the Ngati Whatua development company handling the subdivision, but has yet to receive a response. The questions relate to the iwi’s plans for the sub-division, when building work is due to begin – and end – and the lack of consultation or communication with local residents and community groups.