CHANNEL FEATURE: Interview
Channel Interview: Chris Dickson, thinking about the future
Port Takapuna - Chris Dickson's recipe for Takapuna's future
Takapuna locals will have seen quite a bit of World-renowned yachtsman Chris Dickson recently. The born and bred (ex-Westlake Boys) Shore lad has spent a great deal of his life travelling around the world sailing, but is now settled in Auckland and is the owner of both residential and commercial property on the Shore. He is currently living in one of his properties in Takapuna with his wife Sue and two daughters while his family home is being renovated. He is on Takapuna Beach most days walking the dog and often enjoying the local cafes. He loves it. Dickson has always been forthright in his views and his ideas for the development of Takapuna and the North Shore are no different. He calls it his 100 year vision for the area. Aidan Bennett sat down with Dickson in mid November to listen to his ideas and concepts.
Chris Dickson is an interesting interview. As those who followed the recent America’s Cup on local TV would know he can talk. But he is well worth listening to and his futuristic ideas for Takapuna have been on his mind for some time. A friend had told me about these ideas, so I was keen to learn more.
“I have spent my life around marinas and beaches all over the world, visited some great waterfront cities that work – such as Sydney, San Diego, San Francisco, and I see so much potential with what we have right here in Takapuna and wider Auckland,” explained Chris Dickson. “The interface of land and water has attracted people for thousands of years and will continue to attract into the future. What we have with Takapuna is unique and could once again become a major draw card for Auckland City tourism, as it was 100 years ago, as well as enhancing the environment lifestyles.
“When I was young Auckland was a city of half a million people. Eventually there will be over three million so we need to think outside of the square. I love the changes Auckland has made in the Viaduct area and believe we have potential to do something similar in Takapuna. To take advantage of the water that’s all around us. I started thinking about the possibilities about 10 years ago when the second harbour crossing was first being talked about seriously. Auckland is still a very young city and we need to keep planning for what it will look like in a 100 years. I quite like the principle of the Unitary Plan, but we need to make sure we are using our natural assets as part of these long term plans.”
Chris Dickson’s ideas initially appear to come from left field but having listened to him I think they are interesting to say the least. In essence he advocates digging out the harbour area on the Barrys Point Road side of Takapuna to create a Viaduct-like waterfront area.
“By creating a marine gateway via the unused and silted up waterway beside Barry’s Point Road we could double the attraction of Takapuna by becoming both a seaside and a harbourside destination, while at the same time creating an attractive transport alternative for tourism, commuters and day trips across the harbour. Most people won’t realise how close Auckland harbour is to Takapuna, mainly because the population has never been big enough to warrant looking out the back door. The Unitary Plan is a reminder that Auckland has changed and needs to plan ahead. Northcroft Street is a direct link from the Harbour to central Takapuna. There are direct links from Como Street, Huron Street, Byron Avenue, Bracken Avenue and Tennyson Avenue also to the Harbour and central Takapuna, although again, most would be oblivious to this.”
Dickson, who spends time in this area, says there is a natural inlet about 400 metres wide and a total water area of one and a half hectares on the Takapuna side of Esmonde Road. In historic times this was an open inlet with a jetty and direct ferry access to Auckland City. A combination of silt run off from early development, and the inappropriate (and he says illegal) closing of the channel by in-fill for Esmonde Road has resulted in there now being no boat access and only one to two metres of water at high tide as well as an infestation of mangroves where previously there were none. His concept is to dig out four metres of mud and silt to provide up to five metres of depth at high tide and two metres at low tide. His plans would also involve lifting Esmonde Road with an overbridge similar to that built at Sylvia Park, This would allow for suitable sized ferries (like those used up the Paramatta River in Sydney) and lower profile craft to access the area.
“We could create a mini Viaduct area – Port Takapuna – at the bottom of Northcroft there should be a ferry terminal, and the other streets that lead to this area should all have an enhanced interface with the harbour.” adds Dickson. “In addition some harbour front retail and cafes to support the terminal, as with Devonport or Manly terminal in Sydney. Enhanced harbour-side residential appartments like the Viaduct (or Gulf Harbour) instead of outdated state housing. There are ample examples of successful waterfront developments worldwide to draw on. I believe it would be a very special place, very unique, and would enhance Takapuna as a destination, and would further equip our city for the future.”
Chris Dickson’s plan doesn’t stop there. He has also thought about where all the dredging’s can go.
“The sandstone cliffs off the East Coast Bays and those around Takapuna are eroding at a rate of two metres every 100 years, according to Auckland Council’s Tonkin and Taylor ARC report of 2006. Where once there was land, now there is water. Lets advance 50 or 100 years, add a bit of global warming and the resulting sea level rise, then go and have a look at any of the East Cost Bays cliffs and you will get the picture. We need to work with nature, draw a line in the sand and again enhance the land/water interface. Doing nothing is a dumb option.”
“I believe a practical solution would be to use the dredgings’ to reclaim areas at the bottom of these cliffs and again create some very special public parks and amenities – which can serve a double purpose. Protecting the cliffs from erosion by stopping silt run-off and enhancing our lifestyles by creating new recreational areas, walkways, cycleways, parks and beaches with a continuous walking/riding link in front of every East Coast Bays cliff from Devonport to Okura. Re-claim some land. Put in solid rock breakwaters, create some great new beaches and inlets. Again there is nothing original in this, go have a look at Tamaki Drive. What was done on the city side 100 years ago can be done so much better on the Shore today. The North Shore is a natural. Tamaki Drive is a huge attraction for Auckland residents. A modern day equivalent, but focused on foot and bike access, parks and barbecue areas, beaches and recreational boating areas. A more modern example of what I am suggesting is the area between Honolulu and Waikiki in Hawaii. They’ve made beaches and inlets and remember there is nothing natural about the world’s most popular tourist destination – Waikiki Beach.”
“How about we ditch Milford as a marina and make it the wetland it used to be and build a new marina off Kennedy Park? If Takapuna Beach motor camp is a great thing then how about repeat it in a few other areas as part of this exercise?”
While Chris Dickson is advocating this Port Takapuna idea as part of a 100 year plan, he believes much could be a reality in 20 years and done cost effectively by integrating with required infrastructure projects. He says this type of development is happening all over Auckland, his examples being the new beach and parks at Onehunga next to the motorway on Manukau Harbour. The removal of all the mangroves in an area next to the Southern Motorway – south of Otahuhu, The Tamaki River frontage, removal of sewer line and installation of a new beach at Hobson Bay in Remuera, the digging out of Judges Bay in Parnell, The Outboard Boating Club on Tamaki Drive, the Viaduct and Tank farm on a grand scale in Auckland City as well as Tamaki Drive of course.
“All this has happened or is happening in other parts of Auckland, yet for some reason, the North Shore has been largely left out of this equation. The disappointing thing for me as a born and bred Shore boy is I have witnessed this area going backwards in my lifetime despite the stunning natural environment we are blessed with. In the early 1900’s Takapuna was a huge tourist attraction for Aucklanders and it is time it was again. The Unitary Plan means it is now time to make some bold moves for the future.”