Long Term Plan Submission 2015

The finish line in sight

The ink on the Dunedin City Council’s 2015 Long Term Plan is nearly dry for yet another year and undoubtedly there will be some winners and losers in the community. Annually the Dunedin Amenities Society fronts up to the City Council to promote the values and landscape of the city seeking reassurances that funding won’t be lost or reduced. The other aspect of the Society’s submissions over the years has been the worrying trend of declining standards around, litter, vandalism and general maintenance of the many parks and public spaces reserves enjoyed by the community. In some regards taking similar concerns to the Council each year is a little soul-destroying because of the realisation that it’s almost like a broken record. However, as an organisation the Society have an obligation to act as a voice of advocacy for these issues because of their importance in our community and in the wider recognition of the values of Dunedin.

The Society’s 2015 submission focused very strongly around the growing interest from the public in the two Town Belt Traverse events that it has undertaken in 2013 and 2015. The idea of creating the Traverse into a  permanent interpretative trail has strong appeal. The recreational, heritage and conservation benefits has positive spin-offs for the community and the tourist economy, as well as an opportunity to link social institutions such as Toitu, Moana Pool and Olveston. However, without investment in basic management and maintenance of the tracks and footpaths in the Town Belt the project is likely to stall and founder. Simply put, recreational and commuter walking access is essential to the project and improvements to these assets are imperative to make the Traverse usable and an enjoyable visitor experience. The Society highlighted these issues which are in most cases are no more than minor works in a presentation to Councillors at the Long Term Plan hearings and this can be viewed here. Amenities Society LTP Presentation. A full copy of the society’s submission can also be read here. Amenities Society Submission Annual Plan 2015

Walkers in Woodhaugh

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Town Belt Traverse 2015

Walkers in the sun

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 29th March. The great thing about it is its absolutely free!

The route is a pram friendly 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 10-10.30 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. The route is marked and there will be marshals at road crossing points along the way.

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.

Lower Unity Park

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

Family style

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. You can find out more about the unique features of the ‘Belt by clicking on the icons of the map and enlarging it with your mouse. This map is interactive and can be used on a smart-phone.

Follow the Yellow Brick Road

One of the most famous lines from “The Wizard of Oz” is when Dorothy says to her little dog “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” That particular line has become a cultural metaphor used when we visit places or see things  that are not familiar to us and we relate them back to our own personal vision of the world. That same cultural metaphor may well apply to the proposals being put together by the Dunedin City Council for the Otago Peninsula.

The Dunedin City Council road widening programme will include reclaiming 5-8 metres of the Otago Harbour shoreline along a 13 kilometre stretch from Burns Point (near Vauxhall) to the entrance point of Taiaroa Head. It will cost the City Council nearly $28 million over 9 years, with a further 66% of the construction subsidised by the New Zealand Transport Agency. That’s a total project fund of $84 million. The driving force behind this development has been the Council’s desire to create better cycling and pedestrian access to and around the Peninsula from Portobello and Harrington Point Roads. Traffic safety has also been mooted as the justification for the project and on the face of it that sounds reasonable. However, like all things the devil is always in the detail, and this project requires deeper financial, landscape and ecological scrutiny.

In a 2011 Council report the Otago Peninsula route did not even rank within the top ten in terms of safety, accident history, population, topography and demand. However, the same report recommends that the Peninsula be given priority since the 2011 Annual Plan because the City Council had already undertaken work at Vauxhall and Macandrew Bay. Which raises the question, what is the real reason for this project?  Looking through the City Council’s Cycling Strategy there is some description of the benefits to tourism, but the strategy has no data and only a recommendation that further research is required to understand this dimension of cycling use. So despite not ranking as a priority in the City Council’s own assessment, the Council decided that because work had already been undertaken it should continue. Yet the Council seems confused as to why it undertook that work in the first place and how it came to that decision. That’s misguided and muddled thinking.

The reclamation of Otago Harbour’s rocky shore and intertidal zone will have a significant effect on the ecosystem of the harbour and the associated food web of the Otago Peninsula. Current estimates of the total reclamation undertaken by the City Council will total 11 hectares, and that may actually exceed 14-16 hectares when looking at the proposed extent of the reclamation described in the proposal. Which is ironic given that the City Council’s Cycling Strategy suggests that “cycling improves the quality of our natural environment and minimises environmental impacts because bicycles are the most energy-efficient land transport vehicles.” Well that’s probably quite reasonable, providing you don’t destroy almost all of the intertidal shoreline habitat from Vauxhall to Taiaroa Head with reclamation and then cover it with an oil based asphalt pathway.

The environmental impacts of this project on the health and functionality of the harbour are immense. Reclamation will result in significant loss of rocky shore and intertidal sand flat habitat, damage and loss of traditional fish breeding sites, and changes in the tidal structure of the harbour that will deplete further intertidal areas. The destruction of the interrelated food and habitat web in the harbour could be catastrophic on many bird species such as shags, spoonbills, wading species, and marine birds that populate the harbour and its environs. Which is ironic given that most of the Peninsula tourism market is based on bird life, the Royal Albatross, Blue Penguin and the Yellow-eyed Penguin.

There are also significant implications for the landscape with the destruction of the harbour landscape features that have become part of the natural and modified character of the Otago Peninsula for over 150 years. Many older landforms that were once part of the original harbour and cliff edges for thousands of years are to be demolished to make way for the smooth. One area of particular concern to the Society will be the removal of all of the trees on the harbour’s edge from Burns Point to Glenfalloch.

Climate change and sea level rise considerations also need closer consideration with this proposal. The report “Climate Change – Impacts on Dunedin” by  Professor Fitzharris suggests that natural ecosystems will be particularly at risk from the sea level rise associated with anthropogenic climate change. Which raises further questions of the sustainability and wisdom of reclamation in the face of these predictions. Professor Fitzharris clearly demonstrates that the “harbour side shoreline, including the entrance to Otago Harbour” will be one of five specific hot spot areas vulnerable to climate change. He goes on to state that “rock protection walls around Otago Harbour will need to be continually strengthened and eventually raised.” The Fitzharris report clearly indicates that coastal communities like the Peninsula may experience severe risks of inundation by a 1-in-100 year storm surge which “will more than double after 2040” and this will lead to on-going coastal erosion. Where is the forward thinking in the face of mankind’s worst environmental disasters when the City Council is planning to reclaim the harbour and build new walls which may well not stand the long term impacts of sea level rise?

The really sad thing about this proposal though is that the citizens of Dunedin know virtually nothing about it. The level of public consultation undertaken by the City Council and the Otago Peninsula Community Board has been very quiet indeed. The City Council presented the proposal to the Community Board on May 24th, 2012 and little was reported at the time. Indeed the Community Board were asked to provide feedback to the City Council by the 29th June 2012, but have never reported what that feedback was to the community. It begs the question, if both political arms of the Council were making these plans 9 months ago why did the public only get the opportunity to comment on them in March 2013, and only for a trifling 4 weeks?

By no means does the Society not support the need for cycling and recreation, our organisation has supported public recreation for 125 years, but where is the sustainable rationale behind this scheme? If this proposal is allowed to come to fruition it will irrevocably damage the biodiversity, landscape and tourism brand that defines both our harbour and the Otago Peninsula. If that happens there will be many people in Dunedin saying “I’ve a feeling we’re not on the Peninsula anymore.”

SONY DSC

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.

Economic Development Strategy

The recent Draft Economic Development Strategy undertaken by the Dunedin City Council was an opportunity for the Dunedin Amenities Society to put its views on the economic pathway outlined for the city. The development of such a strategy is an important step for the future of Dunedin, but it’s not the first time that the Society have advised the Council and its citizens that Dunedin has much to offer. In September 1888 Dunedin lawyer and Society co-founder Alexander Bathgate read an address to the Otago Institute entitled “The development and conservation of the amenities of Dunedin and its neighbour-hood.” Bathgate outlined a vision for Dunedin that blended the conservation of native biodiversity and landscape with the smoothing of the rough edges of the colonial city.

What was remarkable about Bathgate’s address is his realisation that Dunedin could play a major role in the tourist industry and that such an industry would become a key economic driver for the burgeoning Dunedin economy. Prophetically he stated; “Beauty in itself or in its surroundings is a pecuniary valuable attribute to any town. We have much to attract the passing stranger, and these attractions may be so added to that he may be induced to linger longer in our midst and perhaps even cast in his lot amongst us…” If he was prophetic about the tourism opportunities Dunedin could create he was equally concerned that Dunedin citizens did not appreciate what was available to them; “I do not think that the people of Dunedin as a rule are fully alive to the beauty and attractiveness of their city, and there are but few, if any, evidences of that love for, and pride in our own romantic town, which might not unreasonably be looked for from the inhabitants of such a highly favoured city.”

 It seems difficult to believe that what Bathgate wrote and presented to a stunned but enthusiastic audience in 1888 is just as relevant to Dunedin today. While his rhetoric and his belief in acclimatisation are typically Victorian, his passion for Dunedin and its environment are just as vibrant 124 years after the address was written. Indeed one could argue that his address is of even greater importance to Dunedin now, particularly in the face of the destruction of our built heritage. In 1888 Bathgate identified apathy for the preservation of such values that today we seem to have taken for granted. It seems that public apathy has continued to dog the city into the new millennium. Our natural environment and our built heritage appear to be at a crossroads in Dunedin, complicated further as Dunedin grapples with its economic path.

The Draft Strategy only deals ephemerally with the issues of biodiversity, sustainability, landscape and city vibrancy and describes Dunedin as a “compelling destination.” Yet in many respects both private and public enterprise have failed to invest deeply and meaningfully in a planned campaign to make Dunedin a compelling destination. In fact Dunedin sells our recreation, landscape, and ecology assests rather short.. Which means that we fail to reach our residents, potential immigrants, investors and tourists alike. Our public parks, walking tracks, heritage areas and open spaces are very poorly interpreted and promoted to a local, regional, national and global audience. So, if we are serious about creating new business and new opportunities we must promote as a matter of everyday life what our city has to offer as a lifestyle and landscape location to create interest in investment from other areas.

Within the Draft Strategy   four small city examples were provided as potential models for Dunedin’s direction. While such models are admirable, its worth taking a closer look at what these cities actually provide and what makes them attractive and viable business communities.
• Cambridge promotes its recreation and open space as well as its world-class botanic gardens.
• Leuven has outstanding, woodlands, heritage buildings, botanic gardens and city parks.
• Adelaide is one of only three cities in the world (including Dunedin) that has a Town Belt.
• Kingston is a premier cycling, outdoor recreation and world heritage area.

Each small city example actively promotes its environment and landscape as a key component to the attractiveness of their respective city. It’s the promotion of those values that creates an environment of vibrancy that brings people to establish businesses and settle in these cities. The Draft Strategy utilises the chocolate box pictures of Dunedin’s landscape and streetscape for promotion and effect, but look closely around Dunedin and there is a much deeper opportunity that is being lost here. The Dunedin Amenities Society stresses the need to create a meaningful promotion and interpretation programme of our landscape, heritage and ecology. Such promotion is urgently needed in traditional and electronic media so that as a city we can create the necessary vibrancy and interest for citizens and visitors alike.

The Conservation of Heritage and Landscape in Dunedin

English: Taken from and Etching in Crombie's M...

English: Taken from and Etching in Crombie’s Modern Athenians. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On the 11th of September 1888 Dunedin lawyer Alexander Bathgate read an address to the Otago Institute entitled “The development and conservation of the amenities of Dunedin and its neighbour-hood.” The address was the catalyst for the foundation of the Dunedin and Suburban Reserves Conservation Society, the fore-runner of the Dunedin Amenities Society. Bathgate outlined a vision for Dunedin that was so detailed in its construction that he apologised to his audience for “frightening you by the extent and magnitude of my programme.” What Bathgate outlined was both the protection of the existing natural landscape and the enhancement of the urban built environment in the developing city. It was a vision that blended the conservation of native biodiversity and landscape with the call home syndrome of “practical and prosaic colonists.”

Bathgate’s model for the foundation of the Amenities Society was based on the establishment of the Cockburn Association in Edinburgh in 1875. In 1805, Lord Cockburn had lamented the apathy Scottish people had for the protection of their city and its heritage. On the demolition of one Edinburgh building Cockburn wrote “It was brutishly obliterated without one public murmur. A single individual proclaimed and denounced the outrage, but the idiot public looked on in silence. Reverence for mere antiquity, or even for modern beauty on their own account, is scarcely a Scottish passion.”

Co-founder of the Dunedin Amenities Society, Thomas Brown had discussed this organisation with Bathgate and both believed that such an organisation in Dunedin would be of great benefit to the city. Bathgate particularly worried that the apathy for the preservation of natural beauty and heritage that so angered Lord Cockburn in Edinburgh would become prevalent in Dunedin. Indeed Cockburn had written that the destruction of trees was a Scottish example of “hereditary bad taste.” Bathgate challenged his Dunedin colonial audience in a similar vein, stating; “I fear we have inherited more than the names of our town and its streets, and that a portion of the hereditary bad taste and apathy has fallen to our lot.”

Alexander Bathgate

What is remarkable about Bathgate’s address is his realisation that Dunedin could play a major role in the tourist industry and that such an industry would become a key economic driver for the burgeoning Dunedin economy. Prophetically he stated; “Beauty in itself or in its surroundings is a pecuniarily valuable attribute to any town. We have much to attract the passing stranger, and these attractions may be so added to that he may be induced to linger longer in our midst and perhaps even cast in his lot amongst us…” If he was prophetic about the tourism opportunities Dunedin could create he was equally concerned that Dunedin citizens did not appreciate what was available to them; “I do not think that the people of Dunedin as a rule are fully alive to the beauty and attractiveness of their city, and there are but few, if any, evidences of that love for, and pride in our own romantic town, which might not unreasonably be looked for from the inhabitants of such a highly favoured city.” It seems difficult to believe that what Bathgate wrote and presented to a stunned but enthusiastic audience in 1888 is just as relevant to Dunedin today. While his rhetoric and his belief in acclimatisation are typically Victorian, his passion for Dunedin and its environment are just as vibrant 123 years after the address was written. Indeed one could argue that his address is of even greater importance to Dunedin now, particularly in the face of the destruction of our built heritage. In 1888 Bathgate identified apathy for the preservation of such values that today we seem to have taken for granted. It seems that public apathy has continued to dog the city into the new millennium. Our natural environment and our built heritage appear to be at a crossroads in Dunedin, complicated further as Dunedin grapples with its economic path.

Presently, the tourism sector in the Dunedin economy generates over $350 million/annum and Dunedin actively markets itself as a wildlife and heritage destination. However, such a marketing campaign seems counter-intuitive in the face of the demolition of our heritage buildings and the familiar under-funding of biodiversity and landscape protection in the city. Have we inherited the “hereditary bad taste” that Alexander Bathgate feared, or are we as citizens in Dunedin not “fully alive to the beauty and attractiveness” of our city? The Amenities Society today like its founder still believes that our economic prosperity and development must hinge on the conservation of our environment, landscape and heritage values. Without such measures we run the risk of being just another avoidable destination on a lifeless grey map.

Drunken Worms and First Impressions.

There’s an old saying that “you never get a second chance to make a first impression” and it certainly applies to the northern entrance to Dunedin. The first impression of Dunedin from Pine Hill Road is inviting and promising as you look over the Leith Valley, across the central city and out to the Pacific Ocean. Unfortunately, that promising first impression is then deflected onto the ugly steel tubing fence that runs along the pedestrian footpath like two drunken parallel worms. This ugly fence provides the frame between the northern section of the Town Belt and State Highway One. The Society realise that a fence is necessary in this area as there is a significant steep cliff below its position, but what about considering the aesthetics of its design and its relationship to the wider landscape? Perhaps by considering those elements we might get a second chance on making a good first impression after all.