The continuing story of the Rymans development in Devonport, and of implementation issues associated with Auckland's Unitary Plan...
The story that I've told so far began with the Sept 27, 2016 posting Rymans Crams Reitirees into Devonport, and continued with the 18 Jan, 2017 posting First Test of Unitary Plan: Rymans Granted.
This decision was appealed by the specially formed Devonport Peninsula Precinct Society. This group had morphed from the resident group that established initially to engage with the urgent submission and hearing process precipitated by the original Ryman's application, the fact considerations by Auckland Council's Urban Design Panel were not taken into consideration by Rymans, and the typically short time available for residents to get organised.
The work involved in bringing an appeal like this, of building relationships with local architects, expert urban design witnesses, and planners, of identifying legal advocates and fund-raising to get an effective team mobilised is one thing. Quite another is the immense work of capacity and knowledge building that is needed within the local community, when a project of this scale and impact threatens local amenity and quality of life.
Little of this background is revealed in the press release they issued on the 12th of May 2017:
This is a very good result for the community, and for Devonport. These two images show the before and after mediation plans. This is "before":APPEAL OVER AND NEXT COURSE ALREADY SET BY ‘NEW BREED’ COMMUNITY GROUPA residents’ group’s appeal against Ryman Healthcare’s plans to build a huge retirement village in Devonport is over, subject to Environment Court approval.
All of the 300-strong Devonport Peninsula Precinct Society’s (DPPS) issues were satisfactorily resolved by Ryman in a court-led mediation process that lasted over a month.
The society lodged an appeal to the Environment Court in February 2017 after Auckland Council gave consent to Ryman for its six storey, 600 bed, 300 car park facility in Devonport.
The group cited poor design and unsuitable bulk in its appeal. DPPS chair Iain Rea says that within the constraints of an appeal to an already consented development, the society was pleased with the result. “We are still going to have Devonport’s biggest ever development on this site, but we have managed to mitigate some of the worst effects,” he says.
Rea says that the result is testament to the society’s organised and realistic approach and its deep community support. “We are a new breed of community group, and I think people understand and relate to our methods.”
Subsequent appellants to the appeal were the New Zealand Institute of Architects Auckland Branch and civic lobby group Urban Auckland whose support proved the gravity of the case. “All three groups took this case extremely seriously and Ryman fully engaged in mediation” says Rea.
“And the result sends a clear a message to the council that the approval under the Unitary Plan of Ryman’s initial plans was wrong. Ryman had absolutely no incentive to come to the table with good design. They didn’t have to, council approved exactly what they proposed”.
The intensive development of five other precincts on the Devonport peninsula is afoot, and while the society fully understands and appreciates the implications of a growing population that includes an elderly population bulge, loose planning controls that allow poor quality design and inappropriate development to proliferate will be under scrutiny.
The mediation process has resulted in significant design changes to the scale, height and configuration of the proposed buildings on the site. Most significant changes are at the western end of the site (buildings B02,B03 and B04), which results is a generous, sunny, sheltered, largely level internal courtyard and the reorientation of the main care building B01. The Ngataringa Road frontage has also been changed to improve streetscape, but as architects involved have noted, it is still a Ryman Village with its rather dated and clumsy architectural form and style, and the perimeter fence has no openings for pedestrian access to and from the site....
It remains a gated community - this is despite changes internationally and here in New Zealand where retirement communities are a much more integrated part of the urban environment - offering retirement lifestyle choices which are part of the wider community, rather than apart from it.
There is still water to flow under the bridge with this project, and hopefully Rymans will consider carefully what has happened, not least because I understand Rymans have purchased a development site at Hobsonville Point. The Hobsonville Land Development Company will want the best design to compliment what has already been achieved there, and won't support the rough and ready and rather careless approach that Rymans have demonstrated in Devonport.
But they did what they did in Devonport because they could.
As Rea notes in the DPS media release, “... the result sends a clear a message to the council that the approval under the Unitary Plan of Ryman’s initial plans was wrong. Ryman had absolutely no incentive to come to the table with good design. They didn’t have to, council approved exactly what they proposed.”
Good planning provides for local aspirations and takes a collaborative approach. This did not happen here, and the responsibility for that rests firmly with Auckland Council. No amount of subsequent urban design sticking plaster will cure the fundamental failures that this episode exposes in Council's systems for handling applications that will result in urban intensification.
Few existing communities have the oversight and protection of something like the Hobsonville Land Development Company to maintain and ensure implementation of a coherent vision and spatial plan and gradual creation of interlinking and complete communities. Foreshadowed Urban Development Authorities could improve the planning situation - but this is unlikely if their main purpose is to accelerate and streamline intensive residential development.
Some might criticise me for too fondly remembering the past. But I rue the day that Devonport lost its local community board, and their role in assessing resource consent applications. Their knowledge of local communities and local geography were regularly applied to improve outcomes and to effectively integrate new buildings and developments into existing environments. That sort of planning work was abolished with amalgamation. But it could be re-introduced. Local Boards could be delegated roles and responsibilities in local planning. At the very least this would provide checks and balances and would re-introduce collaborative approaches to planning, and allow for the expression and influence of local aspirations. Urban designers and urban design panels are no substitute for this planning.
Auckland Council's Unitary Plan provides for intensification. However the absence of planning around implementation which incorporates local aspirations and takes a collaborative approach will, in future, inevitably lead to the construction of more gated and separate urban enclaves in Auckland - because that will be the easy option for developers. And they will be resisted by local communities, just as the Devonport Rymans project has been, putting people through the cost and pain of appealing, mediation and environment court proceedings. There is a better way.