Case Study

Te Ara Awataha Greenway Corridor Regeneration, New Zealand

Sector: Water; Built environment
Highlights: Community engagement, property protection, collaboration, ecological uplift, biodiversity
Project owner: Kāinga Ora
Project start: January 2021 – Ongoing
Location/s: Northcote, Auckland, New Zealand
Community impacted:  Urban
Hazards mitigated:  Flooding
Number of vulnerable people made more resilient:  5,860*
Case study provided: LEAD ALLIANCE on behalf of Kāinga Ora

*The immediate surrounding community covers 2.32 km2 and has an estimated population of 5,860 as of June 2023.

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Te Ara Awataha is the name gifted by mana whenua (Māori tribal groups) to a 1.5km blue-green corridor linking existing parks, the town centre, schools and homes in Northcote, Auckland. Piped underground for more than 70 years, Awataha Stream is being revitalised to create a shared walking and cycling path, native riparian planting, and play destinations for all to enjoy. Storm and wastewater systems have been installed that have already proved to be invaluable during unprecedented weather events in January 2023, encapsulating the project’s contribution to Auckland’s climate resilience.

About the Project

Northcote is undergoing major regeneration to provide new homes and better spaces for people and to sustain its exciting future. Te Ara Awataha is a blue-green corridor that conveys overland flows to reduce flooding in the nearby town centre, with a secondary amenity function to make it easy and convenient for people to walk, cycle, play and meet in Northcote. The corridor links existing parks and open spaces and was delivered through a collaborative partnership between key stakeholders to ensure the project objectives were met effectively within a very complex brownfield site (See Box X).

A project of the local community, the success of Te Ara Awataha lies in mana whenua partnership, collaboration and community involvement. The project three key delivery partners – Kāinga Ora, Auckland Council Healthy Waters, and Eke Panuku Development Auckland. This partnership works closely with local businesses, community groups, schools, residents and volunteers, as well as design partner Isthmus, WSP, and construction partner LEAD Alliance, which includes owner-participant Kāinga Ora, and non-owner participants Tonkin + Taylor, Woods, Dempsey Wood, Harrison Grierson and Hick Bros Group.

The Awataha Stream had been confined to an underground pipe since the 1950s, built over by roads, homes, a sports field, and Northcote town centre. During heavy rain, residents were known to kayak down roads, and flooding of homes was a severe problem. This also led to the degradation and disconnection between the natural taonga (a treasured object or natural resource), kaitiaki mana whenua (guardians) and the community.

The project team worked to mimic the original stream pathways with the LEAD ecologist, the landscape team from Isthmus and LEAD Alliance construction and civil design teams. They worked together to create an exemplar section of stream bed for the construction crew to emulate up and down its length. The construction phase saw the restoration and ‘daylighting’ (See Box Y) of the naturalised waterway, constructing a channel to provide fish passage and the ability to withstand significant rainfall events. Previously, eel and other aquatic life forms had to pass through pipes, so the design, materials and construction evolved to provide a rock-lined base with more natural, in-channel devices, such as riffles, to oxygenate the water and pools to provide places of rest. When the water was switched from the temporary pipes, it slowly filled up all the parts of the new daylighted stream bed and surrounding riparian planting, and was successfully restored to its ground-level home.

As the project developed, vital changes were made to the plan as poor ground conditions were uncovered and the complexities of the brownfield environment were more clearly understood. This, along with COVID-19 impacts, meant the project was approximately 9% over budget, coming in at NZ28m to date; the timeframe was also extended by eight months.

Te Ara Awataha is a long-term project, with the first stages (approximately two-thirds) complete and future stages planned. Key portions are complete at Greenslade Reserve, Te Ara Awataha school’s edge, Northcote Stormwater and park amenities. Future stages include Te Ara Awataha town edge, restoration of Jessie Tonar Reserve and Cadness Reserve, and a second stage of Greenslade Reserve Stormwater works.

The project partners have aligned Te Ara Awataha to the Auckland Unitary Plan, The Auckland Plan and Te Tāruke-ā-Tāwhiri: Auckland’s Climate Plan, through the Unlock-Northcote programme and Northcote Development, which will see Kāinga Ora provide more than 1,700 new homes for the local community and the potential for Northcoteto be a low-carbon, transport-orientated town, with great walking and cycling connections, delivering around 750 additional new apartments.

Brownfield Land

Brownfield is disused or under-utilised industrial or commercial land and facilities that may be contaminated by low concentrations of hazardous waste or pollution and have the potential to be reused once cleaned up (remediated)[1].

Daylighting

Daylighting rivers or streams is the process of removing obstructions (such as concrete or pavement) which are covering a river, creek, or drainage way and restoring them to their previous condition. It removes artificial impediments and re-establishes rivers and streams within their original channels where possible or, where development is in the way, creates a new channel for the waterway. The resulting restored river or stream provides stormwater benefits as well as numerous aesthetic, economic, and environmental co-benefits.[2]

Achieved Outcomes

Socio-economic

The extreme weather events and flash floods experienced in Auckland in early 2023 highlighted the importance of the long-term resilience and high-quality assets that this project is providing for the community. The new stormwater infrastructure exceeded design expectations when put to a dramatic test, resulting in minimal damage to homes and businesses, as well as the surrounding environment and new amenities. Costly repairs and downtime for the community and the project itself were avoided without the ensuing devastating impacts experienced in other areas of the region.

This blue-green corridor reduces flooding, provides learning opportunities around water ecology, and more closely connects the community to this natural taonga. Daylighting the Awataha Stream also ensured water that would have previously put pressure on stormwater pipes was redirected through the stream channels. This meant homes on nearby Tonar Street (which previously experienced water flowing underneath homes during heavy rainfall) reported no damage during the flooding of January 2023.

The revitalisation of the suburban Awataha Stream has brought unparalleled new amenities and community connections to the area, including extensive upgrades to community facilities, such as parks. The provision of better walking and cycling connections and natural amenities for a growing town centre has bolstered the community. Stream restoration, water-sensitive design, provision for low-emission travel, and resulting educational opportunities all contribute towards Northcote’s climate resilience.

Environmental

As old concrete covering Awataha Stream was removed, new habitats were created that now support thriving and diverse wildlife. The project’s regenerative process to daylight parts of the stream boosts the mauri (life force, vital essence) and improves water quality allowing it to become a habitat for birds, insects and eels once more.

The project has also resulted in a major upgrade to Northcote’s stormwater and wastewater system. The sports ground and park of Greenslade Reserve now doubles as a stormwater detention basin, with the capacity to hold up to 12,000m³ of water (approx. five Olympic-sized swimming pools). Te Ara Awataha is now integrated into the upgraded Northcote stormwater network, restoring the area’s waterways to manage stormwater flows and protect surrounding homes. Another important consideration in the planning of the stormwater upgrade was the presence of native fish in the original streams; water passages have been incorporated into the new infrastructure, allowing fish to continue their natural migration and thrive in the now naturalised environment.

The original vision for Te Ara Awataha came from a group of local students during a workshop. They considered the possibility of the Awataha stream as a connected open space through the middle of Northcote… Now, not only is it a wonderful space for people to enjoy and an important part of the local stormwater network, it also a significant habitat for birds and other wildlife, including nationally threatened species like the kōkopu, kōura, and longfin eels.Mark Fraser, General Manager Urban Development and Delivery, Kāinga

[1] Defithttps://www.dia.govt.nz/diawebsite.nsf/wpg_URL/Resource-material-Building-Sustainable-Urban-Communities-Glossary?OpenDocument#:~:text=Brownfield%3A%20disused%20or%20under%2Dutilised,once%20cleaned%20up%20(remediated).

[2] https://nrcsolutions.org/daylighting-rivers/


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