Update: 1 December 2023
The council’s Planning, Environment and Parks Committee considered an item relating to informal walkway public access on Thursday 30 November.
- Read the agenda items here.
- Watch the Planning, Environment and Parks Committee meeting here. (Public input).
- Minutes of the meeting will be available on the council’s website
Original story: 30 September 2023
IMPORTANT INFORMATION | Section of Milford to Takapuna Walkway is closed to public access
The Milford-Takapuna Walkway is an enjoyable coastal pathway walk along the beaches and coastline from Milford Reserve to Takapuna Beach. Along the route, and for many years, private property owners have allowed walkers to cross their private property. This access has been greatly appreciated, particularly as the route has been plagued by storm damage impacting on the pathways and boardwalks. A section of the walkway, which crosses private land, is currently closed. Here’s why.
While there is a public perception that the entire coastal walkway route is owned and maintained by the council, in reality the route crosses 72 private properties and has existed without any formal legal agreements for many years. The informal access across these properties has existed purely at the goodwill of the various property owners.
Before the formation of Auckland Council, the former local council began an upgrade programme. Both North Shore City Council and Auckland Council found that the significant costs and complexities of constructing a safe and resilient coastal walkway, that was future proofed against sea level rise and storm impacts, made a full upgrade almost impossible.
Instead, the council looked at what it could effectively do with the walkway on public land and began working with some of the landowners on plans for secured legal access. This was brought into sharp focus with a major storm event in early 2011 that washed away a significant section of the walkway, that was largely on private land.
From mid-2012 the council began progressing discussions with the owners of the Kitchener Road property (that is the site of the current closure).
Subsequent negotiations between the council and the owners (a family) to legalise the informal public walkway across the bottom part or the ‘toe’ of the property established that the owners were keen for the council to acquire the entire property, with conditions.
On the toe of the property stands a small bach-like dwelling that was built early last century and occupied by notable mid-century photographer Clifton Firth. More about this building later.
The conditions of sale required by the family included the council paying 50 per cent of the market value of the property (with the family gifting the other 50 per cent); restoration of the dwelling by a conservation architect at Auckland Council’s cost; use of the dwelling for a trust-run artist in residence programme and overall responsibility for all costs associated with the restoration, trust and ongoing management of the property taken on by the council.
The council obtained condition assessments of the land and buildings and valuations, but further negotiations have not progressed due to the conditions of sale sought by the owners and differences in property valuations between the parties.
A more recent option that the owners and the council have been discussing is for Auckland Council to acquire a public pedestrian access easement across the sea-side toe of the property. The conditions of sale for an easement required by the family included that the easement would be 1.5m wide, the council paying the equivalent of the outstanding rates on the property (around $70,000), the council building a physical barrier between the easement area and the rest of the property, and that we must remove the Heritage A scheduling from the property.
The primary owner, who resided at the property, died in 2021 before matters could be finalised and the council’s relationship with the family transferred to his beneficiaries. Informal public access across the property as part of the coastal walkway has continued in the absence of any legal provision.
Heritage status adds a unique layer
The Clifton Firth House is a scheduled historic heritage place in the Auckland Unitary Plan. It is a Category A historic heritage place, which is the highest category, and considered to be of outstanding significance.
Why? Modest houses, baches or ‘weekenders’ used to line this coastline and this is a surviving architectural example of how Takapuna used to be. Clifton Firth is particularly known as a portrait photographer and member of the North Shore’s artistic community. The rustic simplicity of his seaside home illustrates another aspect of his life and personal aesthetic.
The house’s shoreline setting and large pohutukawa in the garden are also notable features of the Milford-Takapuna walkway.
The Firth house was proposed to be included in North Shore City Council’s district plan heritage schedule. This was carried through to the new Auckland Council via a plan change (Plan Change 38) and subsequently included in the Auckland Unitary Plan. No submissions opposing including the house in either plans were received.
Weighing up the case for spending public money on a private property
Earlier this year council staff reviewed its previous instructions to negotiate with property owners against its open space provision and acquisition policies.
Having a well thought-out and policy-based approach in place ensures that the council applies fair and consistent consideration to these sorts of decisions, no matter where in the region it is spending ratepayer money. We must also consider the wider context, which in this case is the impact a tailored decision for one landowner may have on the expectations of the other 71 property owners along the walkway.
When assessed against our policies, it is difficult to recommend acquiring this property based on:
- Significant provision of open space already available in this area
- The steep terrain of the site offering few recreational or open space outcomes
- The state of the heritage building, cost of its restoration and upkeep, and no demonstrated need for its use as a retreat.
We must also generally consider the Milford-Takapuna Walkway in its entirety. This is not a wholly-owned or promoted council walkway and it presents significant health and safety challenges along its route that are outside of the council’s control to adequately manage – whether from an ownership or natural environment perspective.
Can the heritage status be lifted?
The process to remove a place from the heritage schedule would be via a council-initiated plan change at the council’s cost, or alternatively, a private plan change by the owners, at their cost.
Removing a place from the heritage schedule is a similar process to adding a place. It would require a heritage evaluation, stating why the place may now not meet the plan’s criteria and thresholds for heritage protection. It would then be subject to the plan change process, requiring planning analysis and (if council initiated) political approval for notification.
The plan change would then seek submissions and be considered at a hearing by a panel of independent commissioners. The panel would make the decision as to whether or not the place should be removed from the heritage schedule. This will depend on the submissions and evidence received from other parties.
What happened this week?
The council’s Governing Body on 28 September received a petition from the Takapuna Resident’s Association, with 5,121 signatures at the time of presentation, asking elected members to “achieve urgent resolution for continued public access to the section of the Coastal Walkway from Takapuna to Milford that crosses private property past the Firth Cottage and forms part of the national Te Araroa Trail”.
The property’s owners, who are entirely within their rights to do so, have established a fence over their land to stop public access through their property. This reflects their frustration at not being able to negotiate an agreement with the council that satisfies their conditions.
Walkers can take a safe detour using Audrey Lane, Kitchener Road, Hurstmere Road and Minnehaha Avenue to return to the coastal walkway (see map below).
Our teams continue to see whether a resolution may be reached. The Devonport-Takapuna Local Board and the council will consider reports which include the walkway issues this year.