Hard News by Russell Brown

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About the King's Arms (updated)

Last week, 36 new parts of Auckland were designated as Special Housing Areas. Among them was a relatively small one, the Newton Cluster, which  comprises two titles in Karaka Street, currently home to a gym, and the nearby property at 59 France Street – which is currently the busy and well-loved live music venue the King's Arms Tavern.

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UPDATE. From an apparently knowledgeable source:

Maureen has no intention to sell at this point. The council can't do shit as she owns the land outright ... Maureen's furious at the council.

This obviously has a very major bearing on what's below. This seems really, really strange.

UPDATE 2. I spoke to Kelly McEwan, the director of development at Urban Collective. Short version is that they seem to have wanted to get a SHA designation before the development controls change, and this was the last chance.

UPDATE 3. The SHA criteria require that the landowners' views be sought. I'm pretty sure Maureen knew about the application.

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We should probably start with what this doesn't mean. Specifically, it doesn't mean old Auckland Council is demolishing the King's Arms. It means that the owners and developers have applied for the properties to be registered as an SHA, which, in return for undertakings about affordable housing and design quality, offers them a fast-track consenting process. SHAs are a joint intitiative by the government and the council to encourage the building of new housing in a city that doesn't have enough of it.

It also means that the Save the Kings Arms petition you might have signed doesn't make a lot of sense. The council can't save the King's Arms because it's not the council seeking to redevelop the properties, it's the owners.

According to records, the building at 59 France Street, Newton, is owned by the same people who have owned it since 1993: James Sclater, Susan DeGuara and Maureen Patricia Gordon – aka Maureen from the King's Arms. They are also the shareholders in the King's Arms business, PG Gordon Limited.

I presume they have an agreement with Urban Collective, the developer who sought the the SHA designation for the properties. The entry on the council's SHA information page says this:

The development at 59 France Street South is for approximately 60 new apartments over 3 years. The affordable homes within the development will be priced at between $450,000 and $675,000.

The apartment development will also provide a mix of housing types, matched to current shortages, including smaller one-bedroom units and larger two-bedroom units.

The land is currently occupied by a two level commercial building and car park. It is zoned Mixed Use under the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan, which was notified on 30 September 2013.

Urban Collective are pleased to be included in an SHA noting that there is an intention to have the first residential housing ready for habitation by 2019, with the entire development completed by 2019.

The affordability of $450,000 one-bedroom apartments might be debated, but there's no doubt this is an area where a lot of people want to live , and the kind of development to which the Unitary Plan is oriented. It's intensification via brownfields development. It'll presumably look something like Urban Collective's other Newton development, The Citizen.

It's worth noting that this is also an area where many more people used to live, before the motorway junction built in the 1960s forcibly displaced as many as 30,000 residents and radically changed the character of the area's commercial strip, Karangahape Road. So in that sense, Newton is going back to what it was.

We wouldn't be caring so much about it all, were it not for the fact that this particular SHA means the closure of a music venue that is important to a variety of local scenes and as a venue for several tiers of touring artists. When we lose it, we'll lose something really important.

The King's Arms dates back to 1900, which means that it's covered by a pre-1944 demolition overlay which makes the demolition of the building a discretionary activity. So it will be the subject of a resource consent application which the council may approve or decline. The building itself may be preserved in some form, but I don't think that its current status as a music venue can be protected if that's not what the owners want to do with their property.

But it is entirely appropriate for we members of the public to ask the council to preserve the cultural character of the area, especially given that  the Karangahape Road Plan, which encompasses France Street, emphasises the area's "role as the colourful entertainment and creative fringe of the city centre."

The loss of the KA is a blow to that vision for the area and we need to hear about how the deficit will be redressed. That may mean the council providing incentives for a new venue, perhaps on Karangahape Road itself. A beer garden might be a bit much to hope for, but K Road, especially with its forthcoming City Rail Link station, is where rock 'n' roll ought to live.

It's possible that the redevelopment has been on the cards since improvements to the venue itself – at one point there was a plan to increase capacity by moving the bar to the back of the room – seemed to go off the agenda several years ago. It's understandable: as Maureen told Sarah Stuart in 2014, "you can't go on forever", and the property, purchased for $564,000 in 1993, is worth millions of dollars now.

So bashing the council for the fact of the redevelopment doesn't make sense. Petitioning the council about retaining and creating cultural infrastructure does.

You should feel free to politely contact members of the Waitemata Local Board to express your concern. I'll ask Vernon Tava for a response and update this post if and when I receive one. He's a good guy, so I expect he'll be keen to respond.

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