Otahuhu emerging as favoured locality

1:10 PM Tuesday June 21, 2016 Paul Charman

Sturges Park boasts historic concrete work, huge pohutukawas and playing fields set in a volcanic crater. It is also a popular softball venue.

Following years of neglect, Otahuhu — which is just 13km from Central Auckland — is coming into its own as a place to live and do business, says Mangere-Otahuhu Community board chairwoman Lydia Sosene.

Commercial developments such as The Hub precinct, at 225 Great South Rd, are playing a big part in this process and Otahuhu has also benefited from Auckland Council investing heavily in local infrastructure,” she adds.

With responsibilities including local planning, Ms Sosene cites the example of the council’s investing $31 million into the Toia Recreational Precinct, in Fairburn Reserve, Mason Avenue.

This includes a new library; an aquatic centre with toddler, learning, lap and bombing pools; spas and a sauna; an outdoor water play area and a community teaching garden. Toia also has an upgraded fitness centre plus a range of spectacular artworks.

“But perhaps not a lot of people yet fully understand that a $28 million project is underway to make Otahuhu Bus and Train Station a key station in the new public transport network, planned to be introduced across South Auckland later this year.”

Ms Sosene says the new facility will incorporate the existing train station, linking the rail platform with two new bus platforms and a terminal building via an elevated concourse.

It will provide a high-quality, modern facility, with architecture reflecting local and historical narratives and bring better connectivity between bus and rail networks.

The total cost is being funded by Auckland Council and the New Zealand Transport Agency.

“It will have covered bus platforms for passengers moving between bus and train services; improved facilities and access for cyclists and pedestrians, plus safer separation of buses, trains, pedestrians and cyclists.”

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Ms Sosene points out that Otahuhu’s housing stock comprises many solidly built brick-and-tile or weatherboard homes of classical design, including a substantial number of rimu railway cottages.

“Much of the housing stock was not part of the leaky building troubles of the 1980s-on. And many of these homes sit on large-sized sections.

“It’s great to walk around Otahuhu and still see lovely flower and vegetable gardens tended by these mostly Polynesian residents.”

Ms Sosene says the council is determined to encourage better landscaping and planting of reserve land; refurbishment of Sturges Park has already been a boon to the local community.

“Every Aucklander should see this lovely park, boasting historic concrete work, huge pohutukawas and playing fields within a volcanic crater.

“But while Otahuhu has come a long way, in a sense we’re really only getting started. The council has committed more budget for improving streets for better quality design around the Town Centre precinct.

“The area has its share of social challenges and homelessness, made worse by the city-wide housing crisis.

“At Otahuhu the bread-winners in many families earn the minimum wage and so they have been priced out of the housing market, unable to compete with property investors from outside the area, who are buying up the housing stock.

“Above all, we need more opportunities for our young people, which includes local employment, and to that end we’re working on being more of a destination — rather than merely a thoroughfare — for folk moving to and from Auckland Airport.

“We hope the future will comprise all the best of what has gone before, such as by exploiting the historic canoe portage crossing — across the narrowest part of the North island — with yet-to-be-designed (tourist) pathways along this significant route. As a new generation of home owners move in, attracted by cheaper housing, we'd like to see the unique elements of the vibrant polynesian community retained. Otahuhu has many challenges but its future looks bright,” says Ms Sosene.

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Lydia Sosene, Mangere-Otahuhu Community board chairwoman