Links to the past

Text by John Adam. Images from John Adam and Auckland Council Libraries.

Landscape historian John Adam places on record some of the rich heritage to be found in environmental reports.

The previous article [Landscape Architecture Aotearoa, Spring, 2016] focused on the New Zealand career of British communist planner, Arthur G. Ling who visited here over two decades from the mid 1960s presenting lectures and official reports on the reform of the tourist industry.

Supporting this reform were international tools such as Visual Landscape Assessments [VLA], Environmental Impact Reports [EIR], and the Master Plans [MP] that were readily adopted by self-employed consultants and government appointed immigrants and young Lincoln College graduates, such as Harry Turbott, Frank Boffa and Helmut Einhorn.

Einhorn wrote and or contributed to several of the first tourist parks and national park master plans that illustrate the new ideas that focused on specific landscapes such as Wairakei Tourist Park, Mount Cook and Milford Sound.

Two bibliographies that illustrate the depth and diversity of environmental concerns of the age, now rare reports, written through the 1960s and 1970s are Nancy Ellis (1975) The New Zealand Environment 1968-1974: A Bibliography published by Nature Conservation Council, Wellington; and MC Holm (1976) A Guide to Environmental Law in New Zealand published by the Commission for the Environment.

Background to modern environmental anxiety – November 1959 “Delegates representing twenty five organisations at the scenic reservation conference yesterday unanimously supported a resolution proposed by the ‘Travel and Holidays Association’ which called for the establishment of a nature conservancy armed with statutory powers and responsible to Parliament...”

(‘Nature Conservancy Sought’ New Zealand Herald,  25 November, 1959) 

The arguments for this generation’s environmental reform were led by both Mr J Newman, president of Travel and Holidays Association and Dr John T Salmon (1910-1999), senior lecturer in biology at Victoria University Wellington, who had the year before returned from a Carnegie Travelling Fellowship in the United States, and is known as the author of the classic Heritage Destroyed: The Crisis in Scenery Preservation in New Zealand.

The following year, the Government had been further pressured to establish the first state-run native plant nursery in Taupo to grow plants to restore the nearby heavily modified hydrodam sites and catchments.

Two years later followed the establishment of the Nature Conservation Council.

1. Environmental Impact Reports

The first two EIRs were published in 1973. The Onehunga Bay Motorway EIR was a report written for the Onehunga Borough Council by self-employed landscape architects Harry Turbott and Brian Halstead with detailed motorway scheme options. The second EIR had a significant contribution from Frank Boffa as part of the 1973 Greenlane Regional Road Environmental Impact Study by JASMaD.

Twelve years after the EIR report of Turbott and Halstead was written and subsequently absorbed into the government policies including public submission and auditing practices the project received a National Annual Environmental Award in February 1985. The original plaque still stands in a corner of the park.

None of this history making action in 1973 and beyond about the work of Turbott and Halstead was acknowledged in the considerable literature generated by the recent Onehunga Bay - Naumanu Reserve developments. Announcing the award in 1985 the Central Leader wrote: Concerned at the probable loss of Onehunga’s last recreational link with the sea, the [Onehunga Borough] council of the day commissioned Auckland landscape architect Harry Turbott and Brain Halstead to produce an environmental impact report on the motorway.

The 1973 report was a key document in deciding the future of Onehunga Bay. It addressed the loss of the bay’s boats and swimming amenities and arranged other things suggesting a pond be built behind the proposed motorway causeway.

A councillor involved from the beginning, Dr Arch Hugill, says the Ministry’s [of Works] original plan involved filling in the bay to provide playing fields.

But the council of the day considered the borough had sufficient of that sort of active recreational facilities with Waikaraka Park and other fields.

 (Bay Project takes Award. Central Leader 19 February 1985.)

Published in 1973, this was one of New Zealand’s first EIRs

Published in 1973, this was one of New Zealand’s first EIRs

Turbott and Halstead’s 1973 EIR was not mentioned in the 1985 award for the Onehunga Bay Project

Turbott and Halstead’s 1973 EIR was not mentioned in the 1985 award for the Onehunga Bay Project

2. Visual Landscape Assessment

Some of the history of New Zealand Visual Landscape Assessment was published in 1973 by Gary Blake and Hillary Carlile, scientists with the soil and water division of the Ministry of Works.

Their case study was carried out using what they referred to as a ‘U.S. System of assessing aesthetic properties of a landscape…’.

Their field study was twelve river sites in northern Northland and were published as: ‘Can We Quantify Our Landscape?’ in, Soil & Water, December 1973. They applied the United States ecologist, Aldo Starker Leopold’s (1913-1983), landscape classification which adopted ‘uniqueness’ parameters of ‘physical, biological and human interests’ that were then considered ‘objective’ and importantly ‘eliminating personal bias’.

Blake and Carlie said Leopold devised the VLA technique that culminated in the environmental impact statement written before a development project began.

From national parks,rural and coastal waterways and contested urban roads, environmental reports were commissioned that lie forgotten in library basements and archives that reveal modern insights of seeing New Zealand beyond the picturesque.

3. Master Plans - Advocating the employment of landscape architects.

During 1964 Myron D. Sutton from the Dept. of Interior, National Parks, Washington DC. visited New Zealand leading a group of American tourists ‘sponsored by PAN AMM (sic)’.

Myron visited the Tongariro National Park and met VP McGlone who was the newly appointed chairman of the Tongariro National Park Board. Sutton discussed with McGlone that 1972 was to be celebrated as the centennial of Yellowstone National Park and that was the same year New Zealand’s Tongariro National Park reached 50 years.

Their discussions dwelt on the idea of preparing a master plan for Tongariro National Park tentatively to be named ‘Plan 72’ to be written over the years from 1964 to 1972.

An Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives of NZ reported about National Parks in 1969 and 1970 [C-1, P13 and P21] explaining that Sam P. Weems came from the National Parks Service Division of International Affairs based in Washington DC on a six week ‘study tour’ with a NZ government brief to report on all of our National Parks.

The 1969 report said that “…the Tongariro National Park Master Plan had been a valuable guide [Page 13]” meaning that there was a planning document already in circulation before Weems visit and that would have been that initiated by Sutton and McGlone.

Then in 1970 an AJHRNZ park report said that plans were underway for both Mount Cook and Urewera National Parks that incuded planners and landscape architects – including Helmut Einhorn (Mt Cook) and Harry Turbott (Urewera). One of the planners associated during this decade was WA Robertson who wrote that:

“…The first major step in overall planning in New Zealand parks occurred when the Tongariro National Park Board produced its master plan in 1964.”

This plan was an impressive document and served to highlight the need for planning in National Parks. Its production provoked considerable thought about the need for planning and co-ordination of park activities and the consequences that could result without it.”


From national parks, rural and coastal waterways and contested urban roads etc. environmental reports were commissioned that lie forgotten in library basements and archives that reveal modern insights of seeing New Zealand beyond the picturesque. They provide a primary resource that could be applied to conserve these potential modern heritage landscapes.

The public record that retains the names of the historic designers, community groups and politicians who supported the landscape projects deserves serious recognition.

Heritage, LandscapeNZILA