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NZ - Their new dream home - right in the path of rail project

Sean Wang - Tuesday, July 17, 2012

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Excited homeowners moving into a new $10.5 million apartment block have been told it may be demolished for Auckland's rail-loop project.

Residents are still moving into the Tawari Mews in Mt Eden. The property - where apartments sell for between $388,000-$480,000 - are still being marketed online as "a haven amid the hectic pace of the burgeoning metropolis".

But the 24-apartment block is among 210 buildings in the way of the $2.8 billion project and the new residents are furious Auckland Council approved it, only for its transport arm to put their homes in the firing line of a scheme yet to win Government funding approval.

"Really smart use of ratepayers' money - not," said resident Brent Foster, after being told at a meeting with Auckland Transport and council officials that the railway corridor needed widening there for extra tracks and retaining walls.

The apartments are about 600 metres west of where trains will enter or emerge from tunnels starting 3.5km away at Britomart, but more surface tracks are needed for splitting rail movements at a new interchange station behind New North Rd.

Mr Foster said Auckland Council should have warned property developer Hughes Construction in time, leaving the site vacant and avoiding hefty extra financial cost and disruption to people's lives.

He and partner Caroline Lim moved in three months ago, after rent rises sparked a long search for a home of their own.

They thought Tawari Mews would be perfect, given its central location, leak-free concrete and steel construction, and sound-proofing including double-glazing.

With four storeys of apartments above two underground parking levels, it is still being marketed on a website as "a solid investment as well a great place to call home".

"All of us spent quite a bit of time finding a suitable property in the city fringe, and here they are, taking away a building which is not leaking," Mr Foster said.

"The opportunity of finding another property like this is almost nil."

A neighbour, Ella Wilson, moved in with her teenage son after searching for a secure property which she had hoped to call home for the rest of her life.

"This was supposed to be my last move. I moved in as soon as I could after I saw it. I thought this is it, I can do this, this is my house."

Ms Wilson cannot see why the extra tracks should have to go through the apartments instead of an old commercial building due for demolition on the other side of the rail line.

"I am all for progress but not at the expense of residents who have just found the most perfect place to live," she said.

Cameron Brewer, an Auckland councillor, said the council had to secure the route in just over two years.

"This timeframe puts them under considerable pressure to settle with the affected property owners and be keen to be seen as a good corporate citizen, not be seen trying to screw some big commercial players in Auckland.

"Rest assured, this all adds up to the ratepayer paying the top dollar, simply because the political arm of this council is in a desperate hurry to progress things," Mr Brewer said.

Auckland Transport spokeswoman Carol Greensmith said it would not have been possible to halt the apartments without obtaining a land designation, which the organisation hoped would be notified before Christmas.

The rail scheme had only recently been altered to include a surface interchange station between Dominion Rd and New North Rd, and geometrical constraints meant new tracks had to run through the apartments site to fit between two road bridges.

Nearby Kingsland Station was ruled out for a passenger interchange because it was too narrow.

Ms Greensmith said there was no right time to begin discussion with property owners, but Auckland Transport did so as soon it had a "foot-print" for the project, rather than wait until applying for a route designation.

It hopes to start property purchases in 2014, ready for a five-year construction programme to begin in 2015.