13 March, 2019
Preserving coastal track no walk in the park
The future of a hugely popular coastal track between Takapuna and Milford is set to be secured as Auckland Council negotiates with a property owner over purchasing his historic bach.
People have been walking through Paul Firth’s garden since 2011, when a wooden bridge was washed away in a storm.
At that time, the council found it had never been an official bridge and rebuilding would require a coastal consent, which required approval from all affected landowners.
Firth, now 74, withheld his consent because of concerns about the property, where he was born and has lived his entire life. However, he was happy for people to walk through his front yard.
The council’s plans were for a more exten- sive new bridge than the one that was washed away, in order to withstand storms, tidal surges and climate change, North Shore councillor Chris Darby said.
Auckland Council said construction of a bridge could be prohibitively expensive, because the stretch of coastline is a significant ecological area, and may not be possible at all.
Now, council representatives are in talks about purchasing Firth’s property, as a heritage site and to protect the walkway.
The cottage was built in the 1920s, and bought by Paul’s father, portrait photographer Clifton Firth, in the 1940s.
Clifton Firth and his wife raised their three children in the 110 sqm cottage, which sits on a 1072 sqm section.
Paul Firth still lives in “Firth Cottage”, as it is known, paying almost $11,000 in rates a year. The property has a council valuation of $5.25 million.
Recently, Firth says, he asked for a rates reduction in light of the fact the public are using his property as a walkway, but was turned down.
On a busy day, more than a thousand people would use the walkway, he says.
Council rules prevent it from reducing rates, and compensation would be more normal, Devonport-Takapuna chairperson George Wood said.
Safeguarding the walkway is a major project for the local board, something Darby describes as a “legacy challenge”.
People have used the walkway since the early 1900s to walk between Milford and Takapuna. However, numerous properties along the track have riparian rights and owners have allowed people to walk across their land, Wood says.
Wood and deputy chair Grant Gillon said council has been talking individually to those property owners about options for access across their properties.
Most recently, talks have focused on the possibility of purchasing Firth’s cottage.
Negotiations with Firth and others involved was complicated and sensitive, but the local board was hopeful of a positive outcome, Gillon said.
In addition, Auckland Council is negotiating with Watercare over an easement that would ensure the pipes that people currently walk over are not damaged.
In response to questions, the council pro- vided a statement saying there is no allocated project budget, as there are currently no plans to renew or develop a boardwalk along the coastline.
It said the local board’s role was to support council officers’ discussions with Firth, and ongoing efforts to inform walkway users about the route and the respect required to preserve it.
The coastline walk is not a formal walkway owned by the council, but rather crossed pri- vate property, Watercare assets and beaches, the statement said.
“The public has access to this shoreline walk thanks to the goodwill of local residents and Watercare.
“The council asks all walkers to please respect the privacy of local residents and their properties when enjoying this walk.”
This article originally appeared in the March 15 edition of the Rangitoto Observer. Download PDF.