Standing room only on Stockade Hill

“Campaigners made sure their feelings came through loud and clear at Monday morning’s final Commission Hearing regarding Stockade Hill.

With dozens of placard-toting Howickians lining the entrance to the Fencible Room, clearly the call to show the commission the level of local support, and the depth of feeling, had worked.

These numbers were no-doubt boosted by the high level of activity by the Howick Ratepayers and Residents Association and the Stockade Hill Defencibles team. The group has been drumming up support on Picton Street over the last three weekends and via their Facebook page to keep the landmark’s 360-degree views.

The 200-plus crowd was so large that staff had to open up an adjoining room to accommodate everyone – but still only half managed to get a seat. The hearing suffered continual problems with an ineffective sound system which was either inaudible, giving off booming feedback or just not working. Much to the exasperation of all concerned.

These delays made an already agitated crowd impatient to get going. “If you’re waiting to start the meeting we’re all here” – commented one man, eliciting a round of applause that clearly irritated the chairman of the Hearing Commission who was attempting to get his microphone to operate. Shortly afterwards, with the goodwill in the room being tested by inaudible questions and responses, a five-minute adjournment was called.

When order – and batteries – were restored, the real business of the hearing began. The Commissioners (Heike Lutz, Angela Dalton and chair Robert Scott) commenced questioning the three Auckland Council representatives. Scott, in particular, probed Heritage Team Leader Tania Sorrell and landscape architect Melean Absolum about the significance of the 360-degree views, both from a heritage point of view and in relation to other council legislation, including blanket protection for limiting building height to 9 metres currently in place for volcanic cones.

When asked about the historic status of Stockade Hill, the panel responded that whilst the hill itself was protected, the views from and to the hill were not. There then followed a meandering discussion regarding what direction those inside the Stockade may have been looking to detect invaders – the answer was that no one really knew. The biggest reaction from the crowd came when Ms Absolum suggested that should building heights increase, the view would not be wholly lost as it could still be viewed through the gaps between the houses.

Clearly, there was a push from the Commissioners to seek clarification and interrogate what the interpretation of council legislation currently is, and how this may affect public views from Stockade Hill.

The hearing concluded, with the chairman thanking all attendees, remarking that this was an impressive turn out ‘double the size’ of the previous hearing and larger than any he has attended.

Later that day, the council emailed all submitters that the “chairperson confirmed that the panel is in a position to make a decision and had formerly closed the hearing”.

Now we have to wait for the outcome – hopefully not too long.”

Tracey Fox, member of the Stockade Hill Defencibles