A tad trampled on

MARNIE HALLAHAN
Last updated 05:00 22/02/2013
NST Walkway

WRECKED: The remains of the Black Rock bridge.

NST Walkway
BEACH TRAIL: Long-time Thorne Bay resident Paul Firth wants better communication from Auckland Council who want to use his land for the new Milford to Takapuna walkway.

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Thousands of people walk through Paul Firth's front garden on a sunny weekend.

They are making their way from Milford to Takapuna and back and it's been this way since a fierce storm busted the Black Rock bridge that forms part of the coastal walkway two years ago.

Mr Firth has opened up his garden so the runners, walkers and beachgoers still have access, planting giant sunflowers to brighten up the detour.

But these days he watches with a tinge of frustration.

Behind the scenes, Mr Firth's beachfront property, which has been in his family since the year he was born, has become the final stepping stone in Auckland Council's plans to upgrade and widen the walkway.

The upgrade is a priority project for the Devonport-Takapuna Local Board with almost $1 million put aside in the next two years, and a further $950,000 down the track, according to the long-term plan.

But throughout negotiations Mr Firth feels council officers have brushed aside his unease about plans to create a three-metre wide easement through his property.

"They've mostly been nice but really it's just a job for them. For me it's my life and my home, they don't seem to get that. Some of the trees I planted when I was at school, my brother's urn is buried in the garden. This is a very special place for me."

He says in the end it's not really about compensation or money.

"It's about them appreciating that I've been here for a long time and I have a deep affection for this place."

But when you're talking about a slice of Milford's most sought after real estate, money does come into it.

Mr Firth received a letter from the council stating its latest offer a few days before Christmas.

The council agreed to the 68-year-old's design requests to incorporate a penguin sculpture to represent those that nest nearby, educational signs about the rare volcanic rock and shells decorating the concrete.

But the big ticket items, including a rates holiday from the strip of land abutting the sea that the walkway will cut off from the rest of his property, are a no-go.

So too is provision to build a one-storey garage on his land - which he'd like to do some time in the future.

And then there are the dollar signs. Mr Firth won't disclose what he has been offered for the 50 square metre easement that will cut through the seaward side of his property.

But he says friends in the legal field have advised him that the offer is less than half what the land is valued at according to the council's own valuations.

He was also offered a small one-off rates relief payment as compensation for the two years his land has been used by the public.

"I appreciate them agreeing to my design ideas but that's all the easy stuff.

"It's not as though I'm asking for any ridiculous financial favours, just fairness."

The council could've had things back the way they were in a few months for a fraction of the money if it had just built a replacement bridge, Mr Firth says.

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"But they want to make it flasher and wider and now this has been going on for two years.

"It's not going to be a walkway any more it's going to be an adventure trail they say."

Negotiations with Mr Firth are the final hurdle for the council after agreements with about 28 other property owners have been reached.

Council project manager Ian Murray says officers have been working with landowners during the past eight months to secure walkway access over private property.

Once there is agreement with Mr Firth the council can apply for resource consent to build the new section at Black Rock, which is the first priority, he says.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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