Our township was carved out of dense bush in the 1860’s when immigrants moved onto the land and created a community from scratch with just hand tools, their own labour and a desire to make a better life for themselves and their families.
At first there were scattered houses - not tidy weatherboard cottages, but slab huts and ponga whares – it took a while before proper wooden houses with floors and windows became the norm. The settlement was initially serviced by a single storekeeper in 1868 but within the decade a hotel, railway station and more shops had sprung up. By the 20th century King Street was well established as the main shopping area and despite the years that have passed, it would still be recognisable to one of those early residents if they visited the area today. Although some buildings have gone, overall we’ve managed to retain a good number of these landmark structures.
Now we have been chosen by the council-controlled organisation, Panuku, for ‘regeneration’- a term with various connotations, none of them complimentary. The Cambridge dictionary defines regeneration as “… to improve a place or system, especially by making it more active or successful.” Yet is Pukekohe broken, run down or unsuccessful?
We’ve seen a huge improvement in the range of shopping choices and eateries over the last ten years. What’s not to love about simple main street shopping with its variety of stores and friendly atmosphere? Will it still retain the same character when six storey buildings dominate its tree lined streets?
Not to say that progress is undesirable, if done well it could be beneficial to Pukekohe. The thought of not having to endure the daily commute on the Southern Motorway due to more employment opportunities and tertiary training facilities will delight many locals.
But there could be an air of apprehension with regards to Panuku’s involvement in another heritage shopping centre. The debacle of the Dominion/ Valley Road proposed development in the Mt Eden special character area is something we should heed. Not only was the design of the immense five storey complex totally inappropriate for the area, but it was sited in front of pensioner units. According to a RNZ article, Panuku and Auckland Council have now wasted $570,000 of ratepayer’s money disputing the decision which was refused resource consent.
Meanwhile, over in Takapuna another Panuku proposal has met with considerable resistance from the local populace. The Anzac Street carpark, which most businesses feel is essential to their continued success, will be developed into a town square, offices and apartments. Like Pukekohe, the area is home to a local market which has been held in the carpark for thirty years. The new parking area will be almost half a kilometre away from the original site.
There was plenty of opposition to the development; petitions, resident’s action groups and one local even took the matter to the High Court. The Devonport-Takapuna Local Board felt they had been cut out of the relationship with Panuku. Board member Michael Sheehy also criticised the consultation as a ‘farce’.
The results from a second community consultation which took place over a mere 18 days in 2018 found that 41% supported no development on the site. Of the 5385 respondents, only 53% resided in the Devonport-Takapuna Local Board Area, 206 respondents either lived outside of Auckland or did not disclose their local board area. However, the proposal was given the green light.
Now Panuku is heading in our direction and there’s a sense of déjà vu when you read the Pukekohe plan - develop a large carpark currently home to the local market with one of the options being explored is relocating parking to a less central site. If you haven’t seen the ‘Unlock Pukekohe High Level Project Plan’ yet, it’s available on the Panuku website, but for those without access to the internet, it might be more difficult to find out what’s going on. Our consultation on the project has apparently already taken place, with ‘previous discussions’ from the Unitary Plan and Franklin Local Board workshops forming the basis of the new plan.
Hopefully you like cycling and walking, high rise buildings and less parking – because that looks to be what we’re getting. Although the elderly and retired population would probably prefer to keep the current level of parking spaces, as would those who drive in to shop from out of town.
If development intensifies in the town centre, a much loved feature of Pukekohe could be at risk. This is our enviable tree lined streets, which insulate us from extreme weather events, by shading surfaces to reduce daytime temperatures in hot weather and mitigating flood events by releasing water gradually from their leaves after a sudden downpour. Developers find trees an impediment to utilising a site fully, so can apply to cut them down. Many won’t even need to gain consent because most trees have no protection. Despite talk of a climate emergency there are few safeguards for trees and the council continues to approve plans which will remove thousands of mature trees from Auckland city.
The Pukekohe plan talks about ‘protecting the character of Pukekohe’s traditional main street’ but this is not necessarily the same as preserving the actual buildings. ‘Character’ can be seen as a development fitting visually into the street or just the façade of a building being retained. The adoption of ‘façadism’ has seen a number of Auckland’s heritage buildings reduced to nothing more than a flimsy street frontage, with multi storey buildings looming behind them. This practice no more preserves heritage values than taxidermy preserves endangered animals.
Although we don’t know yet what will happen to our main street, all of our heritage scheduled town centre buildings are Category B, which means any of them can be demolished once resource consent is obtained.
The future of Pukekohe seems destined to be decided by people who live far from here. Poorly thought out planning saw the transformation of our elite soils into housing estates. Now they talk about ‘unlocking Pukekohe’s potential.’ Potential for what, we need to ask. The potential for our heritage main street shopping centre to be overshadowed by six storey buildings? Potentially spending more time in frustrating carpark searches or walking half a kilometre to a parking area?
As H.L. Mencken once said “Change is not progress.” However change is inevitable and can be a good thing, but if we are to make real progress then any development should deliver benefits for all of the Pukekohe community, not just those who are able to walk or cycle, or who like living in apartment buildings, but also the older, less able members of our community. Progress should not be solely focussed on enhancing the economic performance of the district but also on enhancing the resident’s lives.
Any development proposals should respect our environment and our tangible connections with the past. We can’t avoid the changes coming to Pukekohe, but we need to make sure they are changes we can live with.
If you want an opportunity to provide feedback, Franklin Local Board member Andy Baker says Panuku are considering holding a workshop at one of the Saturday morning market days in the Massey Ave carpark. You can also email them on UnlockPukekohe@panuku.co.nz