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Sale of old library could safeguard coastal walkway

Flagstaff Team

On the route… Paul Firth in front of the cottage purchased in the 1940s by his father, portrait photographer Clifton Firth

A bid to buy a property to secure public access to the Takapuna-to-Milford beach walk where it crosses private land at Black Rock is being advanced by the Devonport-Takapuna Local Board.

Board members agree that buying 9 Kitchener Rd would safeguard the popular walkway for future generations, but are split on how any purchase should be funded.

Board chairman Aidan Bennett said the “window of opportunity” to buy the land and cottage should be acted upon to create a public reserve and potentially a writers’ or artists’ retreat. “It’s a little gem and would make a fantastic park for this community.”

Money from the intended sale of the former library building at No 2 The Strand, Takapuna, could fund the purchase, he said. “This is an example of us using assets to create future assets for the community.” Three councillors who oppose the sale of the old library building – declared surplus by Auckland Council this year and set to be disposed of by council development arm Panuku – want other ways of funding the beach property purchase explored.

Bennett said the council did not have surplus money for purchases, but given the unoccupied property at No 2 The Strand was an endowed building, proceeds from its sale would be available to spend in the local-board area.

Member Toni van Tonder said the dilapidated library was just sitting there and was set to be sold. “This is our opportunity to do something.”

Since a wooden bridge boardwalk over rocks was washed out beyond repair in 2011, the seafront property at 9 Kitchener Rd has been crossed by up to 1000 people a day, thanks to the good graces of its occupant Paul Firth, whose family has owned the land since the 1940s.

Another private owner might not allow this, jeopardising future access to that section of the track which is now part of Te Araroa, the country-long walkway.

The board was told that Firth wanted to strike an agreement to sell and have the land made available for the enjoyment of future generations.

His sister Ann, who died several years ago, had a co-share of the property and her wishes were said to be that it be held in trust for the people of Auckland, with the intention that the cottage be used as a writers’ centre.

A new pathway down to the coastal track from near where Hurstmere Rd curves into Kitchener Rd could be created. This would allow easy access to Thorne Bay to the south or along to Milford.

Board deputy chair George Wood said Firth, now in his mid-70s, was keen to see the matter settled. “He is being very generous in his discussions.” Wood seconded a notice of motion by Bennett that urged council staff begin talks with the Firth family lawyers to explore sales options.

Wood said: “One of the reasons I joined this board was to secure access across this property for the future.” Bennett commended his efforts.

Jan O’Connor, Ruth Jackson and Trish Deans, who oppose the sale of No. 2 The Strand, cautioned against presuming the wishes of the estate of Ann Firth. They advised also against discussing property matters in a public meeting.

Jackson said it was never good for funds to buy a property being dependent on the sale of another. “It creates a property purchase chain where you don’t need one.”

No development needed to take place until funds allowed, said Bennett. He called for a confidential briefing from Panuku to update the board on sales matters.

“As a local board we need to embrace these opportunities and prepare for the future, not just hold on to fixed ideas and old assets,” he said.

No. 2 The Strand, along with other properties and reserves the council is keen to look at selling, is currently subject to High Court proceedings by a community group, Save Our Shore Public Spaces, seeking to halt the sales. The council has filed a defence, agreeing to consult over it.

Decisions rest with its Finance Committee, although local board preferences over asset “optimisation” in Takapuna will be discussed further in February.

This article originally appeared in the 22 January 2021 edition of the Rangitoto Observer.

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