The Dunedin City Council announced on the 19th of September its intention to consider selling 149 parcels of land across the city for a potential return of $10 million dollars.The sale of a variety of city properties has probably not come as news to Dunedin residents as the city struggles to find ways to meet debt repayments. However, analysing the list of properties that the City Council is considering for sale makes for sobering reading. What is clear from the proposal is the possibility of shedding undeveloped recreational open space, playgrounds and esplanade strips which are designed for accessibility and conservation of waterways. One site in particular that provides essential access to waterways and the wider track areas of Ross Creek falls into this category. So, the sale of such properties deserves closer examination of the public use of such land assets for suburban and rural community’s alike.
For an organisation like the Society it raises questions of the value placed on improvements undertaken by community groups and whether that investment will be returned for redistribution to other projects after any potential sale. In one example the Society have invested significant time and capital planting an area proposed for sale which the Council and community have benefited from. It could be argued that the land value has been increased and if it is sold does the value of those improvements get appraised and returned to the Society or the community? Many community organisations who make contributions in a variety of ways to public lands may have similar views and it may make organisations less enthusiastic to make such contributions in the future.
One of the other disturbing aspects of the sale proposals is the loss of open and play spaces, particularly local playgrounds who’s use often fluctuates due to generational change in community’s. Rationalisation of public property today, can mean diminished public areas that are needed in the future. Once again the question has to be asked in lieu of the Council’s playground upgrade programme whether sale proceeds of playgrounds will be reinvested into the community’s strapped for facilities and amenities. This is particularly relevant to these sites, as many are ones that have not been invested in or developed by local authorities over the years. Many of the parcels also appear to be older reserve contributions created as part of subdivision and this should stimulate further discussion on how this process is undertaken and under what criteria, so that the land is economically and socially viable at the time of development.
Highlighted on the list of potential sale properties was 76 Lovelock Avenue and a search of the City Council’s land map shows that this is a substantial portion of the Dunedin Town Belt. The land includes Opoho Park, Lovelock Bush and Bracken’s View. Now it would be easy to get hot and bothered and jump up and down at the notion that part of Dunedin’s oldest reserves was to be flogged off to the highest bidder, but it surely has to be either a clerical error or a practical joke in very poor taste. Needless to say the Society will be keeping a firm eye on this process, particularly the rational of the selection process and the methodology of consultation with the community. As for the sale of the Town Belt, well it’s probably best to take that with a grain of salt and quote a well-known beer commercial, as its doubtful the City Council are that brave.
It’s been difficult to believe that the vehicle users lobby are suggesting that better walking and cycling access on John Wilson Drive is a form of selfishness. The fact that John Wilson Drive has been dominated by motor vehicles for the last 50 years does not seem to have entered the equation. Worse still, the public have been asked to suffer the burden of the destruction of the scenic qualities of the Drive through larrikinism, littering and vandalism as penance for that vehicular obsession. The question one might ask is whether it’s selfish to want change that arrests the destruction of those qualities that we want to preserve?
One of the most repetitive assumptions made in the media and by the pro vehicle lobby has been that the Drive is closed, but on examination this has never been the case. The reserve has always been open to the public throughout, except during the pipeline construction. The other misconception is that the Drive was closed to vehicles by the walking and cycling community. Actually the Drive was closed to vehicles after the pipeline closure revealed that the rate of suicide from Lawyers Head had decreased since that closure. That evidence was supported by submissions by the Police and Search and Rescue. The decision to exclude vehicles at the present point was a decision based on public health not on recreational use.
It’s become obvious that since the removal of vehicles from the eastern portion of the drive, that the capacity of the area to be a truly picturesque coastal landscape might actually be realised. Indeed, John Wilson Drive has become a genuine recreational space that provides access for a much broader range of users than it has done in the past. That change in use has meant that the reserve is finally meeting its environmental and legal potential as an open space for the wider Dunedin public. In the present configuration all users are given an opportunity to utilise the Drive including cars. Previously vehicles had exclusive use of the Drive and the recreational potential was not shared. Isn’t that selfish?
John Wilson Drive is not a legal road but a reserve defined for recreational and environmental purposes. The notion that it should be used exclusively by vehicles as a quasi-legal road at the exclusion of others is not consistent with its definition or use as a reserve. Worse still are the continued suggestions of overly complicated and costly programmes which are unnecessary and in the most part unneeded for the drive. The change of use at the Drive has actually allowed the reserve to function more appropriately than it has ever done in the past. Therefore, the present configuration remains the best possible outcome at a legal, recreational and environmental level for John Wilson Drive and the wider Ocean Beach Domain.