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Battle for Chamberlain Park far from over

A fight to stop a local board and Auckland Council from radically changing Chamberlain Park in Mt Albert will go on, despite campaigners for keeping it as a public, 18-hole golf course losing a High Court action. Here, campaign leader Geoff Senescall outlines what his group will do next.

Justice Simon Moore, in ruling against Save Chamberlain Park Inc in our High Court bid for judicial review of a decision to carve up the famous golf course, summed it up by saying: “There was no requirement for the AELB [Albert-Eden Local Board] to accept the views and preferences or even reach compromise with those who sought the maintenance of the status quo.”

Judicial review is about process. Were all the boxes ticked? The judge said yes. What this tells you is that local boards must consult with the public but they do not need to listen – this is a continuing frustration for the public who participate in such processes. This gives local boards significant power over assets such as Chamberlain Park (CP) which became fair game when it came under the AELB’s control with the introduction of the Super City.

In a judicial review process it does not review the logic behind the AELB’s masterplan to cut in half this well-used 80-year-old 18-hole public golf course in favour of two sports fields, a driving range, bike paths, a playground and possibly an acquatic centre. No consideration is given to the fact that the redevelopment plans include replacing green spaces with hard surfaces such as astroturf, car parks, roadways and structures - not to mention the loss of an estimated 1100 trees.

Furthermore, it does not seem to matter that the AELB’s masterplan budget keeps blowing out (from $13m to $22m) and that the rationale itself for change is based on the erroneous assumptions that there is a “critical shortage” of sports fields and lack of open spaces in Albert Eden – planning documents now use language around getting more use out of the assets it has. Nevertheless the AELB ploughs on with its plans for two new sports fields costing a whopping $15m. There was also significant objection to the AELB’s plans at public meetings. However, as long as a local board can prove it conducted a consultation process which met some basic requirements all those matters raised are incidental.

Whilst this is very frustrating, there are further underlying factors that make this whole process egregious. This relates to the fact that local boards are not legal entities. So in our case although our issue was against the AELB, we had to bring proceedings against the Council. This is a problem with Super City structure as the Council was forced to support the AELB and thus was not open to us (SCP) making complaints about the conduct and decision making process of the AELB. For example the Council is yet to complete its report on the future of golf in Auckland. Council expects demand for golf to increase over the next 15 years and Chamberlain Park is one of only two public golf courses servicing the entire Auckland region. The Council also promotes more active recreation yet key parts of the AELB Masterplan are not consistent with this.

Moreover, it is the Council that must approve the budget for projects. The financing process is where things get very murky. We thought that the Council would never give the AELB the cash it needed, there was just too much pressure on rate payers and the proposed infrastructure spend was huge. However, the Council got some welcome financial assistance from a supportive Government by way of $28b joint funding programme over the next 10 years for a much needed Auckland transport programme. This meant that the Council was able to dig into its lolly jar and fund all local board projects that had been tabled at an open meeting on 7 June. SCP had requested speaking rights but was denied. We understand very little debate took place for each Local Board initiative. Incredibly, this funding effectively gets rubber-stamped on June 28 - all local boards go away happy.

In the case of the AELB it is only seeking $7.5m for Chamberlain Park even though its total budget for the masterplan is $22m. Miraculously the AELB has been able to pull funding from other places such as $8m from the general pool it is given by Council for sporting activities, and tip it into its pet Chamberlain Park project. The AELB then argues that its Masterplan costs are much lower as the new money it is seeking is significantly less than the actual cost of the entire project. No questions are asked as to whether siphoning off $8m from its sports field fund for a $15m expense to create only two sports fields makes sense. The balance of the $22m (excluding the cost of the aquatic centre) is planned to be used to restore Meola Creek (which SCP supports) and to redevelop the course from 18 holes to nine holes.

For SCP, though the judicial review result is a disappointment it is far from game over. The Masterplan requires resource consent. To contest this does require funding and an alert team to counter attempts to keep the public out of the process. For example stage 1 of the Masterplan involves the Meola Creek restoration that will see approx 1,000m cut from the length of the golf course. Council has requested that the application be determined, by its resource consents team, without public notification. Clearly there is significant public interest (not least due to the fact there will be 21 native trees removed) so logic suggests that the application will be publicly notified.

A publicly notified hearing process will allow us to bring in arguments that were not heard during the judicial review process. We will be able to question the very logic for this proposed redevelopment particularly in the context that the rationale behind it was based on erroneous information; it has been proven there was and is no ‘critical shortfall’ in sports fields or open space, the absurdity of spending $15m on two sports fields which are not required and the planned playground location at the Meola Creek part of the park which fails to meet Council safety guidelines.

But this is not without its challenges. Auckland Council in this case is the applicant and the adjudicator. Also, the resource consents for the overall plan are being applied for in at least 4 stages; a common strategy of property developers to avoid the adverse effects of a plan being properly evaluated as a whole. Once the first stage is approved, the consent authority can find itself a little bit pregnant and unable to resist pressure to approve applications for subsequent stages.

SCP will have to again seek the generosity of its supports to fight this in the courts. It is a stacked deck but we are not going to bow down. Chamberlain Park has been a public 18 hole golf course for 80 years. The open space needs of Aucklanders have to be properly assessed and not just left to a small group of elected local members who have the power during a short election cycle to halve the golf capacity of an irreplaceable open space asset.

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