Town Belt Traverse 2017

Its time to get your walking shoes on again and explore one of Dunedin’s great natural and historical landscapes. The Town Belt Traverse is an 8.2 kilometre from the Southern Cemetery to Woodhaugh Gardens taking in the heart of the Dunedin Town Belt on Sunday 23rd April and its absolutely free!

The route is a pram friendly (3 wheel buggies with some help)  event for people of all ages stopping off at five points along the way. Participants will receive a map and ticket at the car-park inside the Southern Cemetery. The traverse starts at between 10-11 am and all participants must complete the traverse by 1.30. Collect a stamp at all five marshal points and you can be eligible for some great local  prizes drawn at the finish. You must be at the draw to collect your prize. The route is marked and there will be marshals at road crossing points along the way. Register on the day at the start of the walk.

The Dunedin Town Belt is one of New Zealand’s oldest reserves and plays a special part in the physical and historic landscape  of Dunedin. It has a rich history  that dates back to the planning of Dunedin before settlers arrived here in 1848. The Town Belt covers 203 hectares and includes the two historic cemeteries and the Botanic Gardens. With its extensive parkland and forest remnants it creates a green corridor through the heart of the city.

Today the Town Belt is an important recreational and ecological asset for the city and provides invaluable habitat  for kereru, bellbird, tomtit, tui, rifleman, morepork, and shining cuckoo. The vegetation is an eclectic mix of exotics that dominates the southern area of the ‘belt to the more kanuka and fuchsia dominated ridges and gullies of the northern areas. At Woodhaugh an old stand of kahikatea remains as a reminder of a significant wetland forest that once stood there.

For the Dunedin Amenities Society the protection and enhancement of the Town Belt was the beginning of its foundation in 1888. The Society was founded through the energy of Thomas Brown and Alexander Bathgate to protect, enhance and promote Dunedin’s landscape and biodiversity. The Town Belt Traverse is your opportunity to explore through a self guided walk one of New Zealand’s great reserve sites.

Traverse Highlights

  • The outstanding views from Admiral Byrd’s lookout at Unity Park
  • Walking through Jubilee Park (Thomlinson’s Paddock) the site of the foundation of the Society and a  temporary camp for miners on their way to the goldfields
  • Serpentine Avenue where Toitu stream once flowed
  • Learn about the old tram line running through Robin Hood Park from the High Street cable car group.
  • Learn more about the cosmos from the Beverly-Begg Observatory
  • Take a free visit the gardens and grounds of the Olveston stately home
  • Experience the lushness of the fuchsia dominated forest of Queens Drive to Cosy Dell
  • Hear local poets perform at the Clear in honour of Charles Brasch at Prospect Park
  • Enjoy lunch at the old wetland forest remnant at Woodhaugh (Free BBQ supplied)
  • Get a kowhai seed kit and learn more about Project Gold in the Town Belt

What to Bring

  • Comfortable walking shoes
  • A warm jacket (you won’t need it because it’ll be warm and sunny!)
  • A drink and a snack for energy (we have a chocolate bar to get you started)
  • Your camera
  • Your inquisitive nature
  • Your friends and family (dogs on leads thanks)
  • A costume (you might win a prize)
  • You can use the Normanby bus from opposite Woodhaugh to return to your vehicle at the Southern Cemetery. Check out the bus timetable here.

The Town Belt Traverse Route
The Town Belt Traverse follows the red line on the map from the historic Southern Cemetery to Woodhaugh Gardens.

Park or Pool? Mosgiel Gardens

LifeguardRecently the Dunedin City Council called for submissions on the potential sites for the proposed new pool in Mosgiel. Despite people’s views on whether a pool is actually needed in Mosgiel the selection of sites for the pool is a contentious issue. The selection of four sites was provided in the Council’s consultation information, one was the existing pool site and the other three were variations on occupying part of Mosgiel Memorial Gardens. The frustrating part of this consultation process is that there was no indication of the actual footprint of the new pool facility, only a dot on the proposed position of the pool. So there was no way of actually knowing what the scale or shape of the impact of the pool placement on the gardens was going to be.

In the residential Mosgiel area, passive use open space and formal play areas are actually at a premium despite its proximity to rural land and the townships rural outlook. Public sports grounds and the walking area alongside the Silverstream make up the bulk of active recreational areas, while school grounds also play a significant area in this evaluation. The proposed pool development would take up a significant portion of the Gardens site especially when seen together with the provision of parking, access and plant development for the pools operation. Other effects would include the removal of significant trees from the reserve which would have a negative effect on the parks ambiance, landscape heritage and biodiversity values.

For these reasons the Dunedin Amenities Society submitted that it does not support the placement of the proposed pool on the Mosgiel Memorial Gardens. The effects on open space, passive recreation, recreational play and landscape values associated with the site are extremely high in a community where such space is limited. The Society also submitted that it does not support the large-scale loss of amenity trees from the Gardens which have given pleasure to the community for many years. The Society has suggested that if a pool is to be built, then the existing site will have the least negative effect on the area, dependent on the design that the project developers create. One thing that has not been considered is whether the pool should or could encroach on the adjacent Mosgiel Caravan Park which is on Council land. There has been debate about this facility before, perhaps its time to consider that debate again in lieu of the pool proposal. 

Two other issues came up in this consultation which are worth comment. The first was that if the existing pool site was used for a new pool that Mosgiel will be without a pool for 18 months while construction is undertaken. However, the inconvenience of short-term loss of the facility is equally matched by the long-term gain of a new facility should the capital be raised. Mosgiel and its environs have school pools and the availability of Moana Pool with 15-20 minutes’ drive of the area. Many other communities are without a pool facility and all manage adequately by using alternative facilities within their communities or the city on a permanent basis. The other issue is the notion that building the proposed pool in the current location would make it prone to flooding. There seems to be no evidence from the Otago Regional Council’s flood protection scheme that the existing pool site is prone or endangered by potential flooding. Currently the Silverstream has existing stop banks and if a flood breached them Mosgiel would have a lot more to worry about than the pool being flooded. It would seem more sensible to work with the Otago Regional Council during the design phase of the project to ensure any risk of flooding is mitigated. This would allow development of the pool on the existing site without the need to use the valuable open space and landscape values of Mosgiel Memorial Gardens.

Silverstream 1905

The Annual Plan

Mt Cargill Walking TrackThe Dunedin Amenities Society like any organisation takes a close look at the Annual Plan of the City Council each year and usually submits on the areas that the Society has the greatest interest or concern. The Annual Plan process seems an onerous one but ultimately, it’s an important one to participate in. This year the Society has concentrated on the success of the Town Belt Traverse in 2013 with a call to the City Council to look at both the physical infrastructure and the maintenance of existing tracks to ensure that this worthy project could come to fruition. The interesting thing about the Traverse is the Town Belt Management Plan has policy already in place to actually achieve it. At this stage the Society are not looking to the City Council to immediately fund such a project, but rather to begin the process of investigation and research in to making it happen. There are definite synergies with existing footpath and cycling programmes that the Council have proposed in this area in the past.

The other area that this years submission concentrated on was the funding and management of ecological and recreational areas around the city. The Society is increasingly concerned that the standards of pest plant and animal control are being strangled in the present economic climate. This is crucial work to reduce the adverse environmental damage in areas of high ecological and conservation significance. The Society is concerned that there is a drop in the level of service and standards on many of the City’s parks and reserves. Signage, seating, rubbish bins, pathways and other physical assets appear to be deteriorating with no available capital replacement or maintenance funding for basic cleaning and repairs. This detracts and reduces the visitor and community enjoyment of our open spaces assets and needs urgent redress through appropriate funding.

Finally, the last issue raised in the Society’s submission on the Annual Plan is the provision by the City Council of $50,000 for the investigation into the development of car-parking for Moana Pool. There have been various calls for parking options at the pool complex including the development of Roberts Park for parking. This would mean the loss of open space and adjoining bush from the site. It would be preferable to see sensible and innovative design that maximizes space more appropriately. Any loss of reserve areas or recreational space is abhorrent to the Society and a high degree of caution and appropriate research needs to be undertaken before any final decision is made by the City Council over this matter.

Read the full submission here…



Wharf St Hotel Development Poll

There’s been a plethora of comment in the media over the proposed Wharf Street Hotel development. The Amenities Society would be interested in polling people’s opinion as to what they think about the proposal. So take the time to answer this simple poll. You’re welcome to make comments after voting through the polling process. Comments will be moderated and the poll is anonymous.

Down by the Waterfront

Dunedin City has largely  been shaped by its natural environment, with its steep hills and gullies running outwards to the harbour and the wide flat estuarine wetlands of south Dunedin known as Kaituna. The physical geography dominated early colonial development around the harbour due to the accessibility to the port for shipping transport and the narrowness of the available commercial land for the early city to be constructed upon. As Dunedin moved from a pioneering city after the gold rush into a commercial and manufacturing capital, and with the expansion of the rail corridor, so the city needed width to expand and grow. Reclamation of the harbour continued to allow commercial and industrial expansion. So, the city that we know today is a historical, landscape and architectural narrative of settlement, expansion, growth and change in much the same way that Winston Churchill wrote ” we shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.”

The consideration of the future shape of the city in relation to development has been brought firmly to the local consciousness with the lodgement of a notified resource consent proposal to build a multi storey hotel on Wharf Street. The proposal is for a hotel of 27 floors (including a basement) which will contain 215 bedrooms, two restaurants, two bars, a swimming pool and will include 164 self-contained apartments. The proposed Wharf Street hotel has a dominance of physical presence in the city that has not been seen in Dunedin before. High rise development of this type has not occurred in the harbour precinct in Dunedin, though there are examples of smaller high-rise buildings  in the central business district of the city.

The development has certainly polarised opinion about the scale, appropriateness, design and connectivity to the existing built and natural landscape of the city. Accompanying those arguments is the perceived future financial benefits of the hotel to the city’s economic future and whether such a development will generate robust economic vitality and sustainability in Dunedin. There’s certainly no doubt that private sector investment in the City’s economy is desperately needed, as Dunedin grapples with the shuddering of the global economy. However, there is no in-depth analysis of the economic factors given in the consent lodged for the development. Indeed it’s one of the weaknesses of the Resource Management Act 1991, that economic “effects” are not included in the assessment of effects for any application. Which is why the Dunedin City Council must ensure that this proposal’s financial sustainability is investigated thoroughly and vigilantly to ensure the economic viability of this proposal. Moreover, that information needs to be made publicly available to reassure Dunedin citizens that such an analysis has been undertaken. Nothing could be a worse advertisement for private sector investment in Dunedin or our landscape for that matter, if we are left with either a half completed or empty hotel languishing on our waterfront for years to come.

The physical access to and from the site is less than ideal at Wharf Street and this raises the question as to whether the hotel proposal will require the upgrading and redevelopment of access so as to provide better proximity for the hotel and its users. That type of infrastructural change is normally the preserve of the City Council and deeper clarification is required as to whether the city will be asked to contribute to this aspect of the project, and at what cost? One example of the potential for the Council’s contribution can be found in the application documents and states;

There are (sic) existing pedestrian connectivity between the site and the CBD, the harbour edge and other key facilities/attractions for hotel guests. In international terms those connections are reasonable, but in the Dunedin context, they are less than ideal. There are other opportunities but they require input from a much wider group of stakeholders if they are to become serious propositions. These can be explored if others are interested.” The question has to be asked here “who are the stakeholders that would have input and what are these serious propositions that can be explored?” Does it mean that the Council will be asked to commit financially to dealing with the pedestrian connections that are “less than ideal?”

An additional proposition is described in the developer’s transport report that suggests;

“… Thomas Burns Street car park could provide an appropriate storage location. Survey shows that this is an efficient use of an existing underutilised resource. Moreover, it lies within 350m of the development site.” 

It’s worth noting that this land is owned by the City Council and if the mitigation of transport effects for this development are to come  from the use of Council property, where is the information from the Council describing that agreement? Other aspects of the application that directly affects Council owned assets include the shading of the harbour basin reserve immediately opposite and the spatial effects on the Chinese and Queens Gardens. Under normal circumstances Council departments managing Council property can be considered “affected parties” and can comment on applications in that role. The City Council needs to provide citizens with an indication of how they view those effects on Council owned assets and how they intend to protect or preserve the public’s interest in the management of those effects with this application.

The issues of context, design, impact on the skyline and other visual effects on the landscape are very subjective in planning terms, but are significant to this application if the city is to give legitimacy to its recently published “Dunedin Towards 2050 – a Spatial Plan for Dunedin.” Just how objectives and policies of the Spatial Plan will be adhered to with such bold statements as, “Manage the location and design of prominent buildings …and any associated car parking does not detract from the overall amenity of the city” or “protect significant view corridors from key vantage points to key heritage buildings, the Harbour and hills.” seems increasingly difficult when faced with this proposal.

The City Council must show some leadership here and endeavour to provide real answers to some difficult questions that both the developer and the Council have been eerily silent on to date. That means ensuring that the City Council as the consent authority and as a landowner asks the right questions before going to hearing, and shares that information with the public. Unfortunately, those questions do not appear to have been asked and we’re left to ponder what is the economic and physical prospects of this development. That uncertainty is not good for the city’s business and social morale.

Edmund Anscombe and the Anzac Avenue Trees

Edmund Anscombe

Edmund Anscombe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was with considerable concern that the Society read of the plight of two of the trees growing in Anzac avenue. The Avenue trees are an important landscape and heritage feature of the city that dates back to the work of prominent New Zealand architect Edmund Anscombe and the development of the 1925-1926 New Zealand and South Seas International Exhibition.

Edmund Anscombe was an important figure in the architectural and town planning industry at both a local and national level. His architectural legacy is still visible today at the University of Otago, Girls High School and the Star building which are prominent in Dunedin’s built heritage. For the Dunedin Exhibition Anscombe drew both inspiration and experience from the 1907 Christchurch Exhibition and other overseas exhibitions that left no permanent reminder of the event on the host city. With the reclamation of Logan Park, the creation of the Old Art Gallery and the tree-lined Anzac Avenue Anscombe created a living legacy of the Exhibition that also broadened the amenity, recreational and landscape value of  the city. His vision was to create urban landscape linkages between the Exhibition space at Logan Park and the Railway Station and the central city. This is why from an urban planning and landscape perspective the Anzac Avenue trees are so historically important in the Dunedin context.

The recent article in the Otago Daily Times regarding the health of two historic elm trees in Anzac Avenue raises real concerns for the protection of heritage and historic status trees in the Dunedin urban landscape. It is imperative that any such construction activity near heritage trees must be expertly managed, mitigated and monitored by the City Council, otherwise our landscape heritage will be lost. The Society can only despair at Council Planning staff stating that “the roading work on Anzac Ave was carried out in accordance with the plan.” Clearly, the trees have been affected by the construction of the new realignment in this area, that is unacceptable. The Society can only hope that the Council’s Parks Department and its arboricultural experts can rectify the problem so that these trees are saved from destruction.

Edmund Anscombe’s Biography

After the Exhibition – Evening Post Article on the success of the Exhibition 1926