23 May 2013

Christine Rose: No wonder Aucklanders are angry

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Written by: Christine Rose
Photo: Greg Bowker
Published: The new Zealand Herald – 23 May 2013

Rush over Unitary Plan means residents feel they don’t have a say in future of city, writes Christine Rose.

Large tracts of Auckland land from Westgate to Waimauku may be fast-tracked for new housing, with limited notification for developments and no appeal when a decision is made.

Large tracts of Auckland land from Westgate to Waimauku may be fast-tracked for new housing, with limited notification for developments and no appeal when a decision is made.

Population growth, transport problems, housing shortages, and inequality are realities of the Auckland region now, so it’s timely we debate how to address these challenges for the future.

However, the Unitary Plan and new Auckland Council-Government housing accord are much less conversation or debate, and much more dictatorship. The Unitary Plan is unwieldy, almost illegible, full of planner-speak and, in many cases where significant growth is proposed, incomplete. Community meetings have been tightly orchestrated, with little real chance for the public to engage the substance of proposed new rules. No wonder people are angry.

Most Aucklanders appreciate the need to accommodate our growing population – future generations, migration inside New Zealand and the world seeking a better life in what’s already a pretty “liveable city”.

The rush to release the plan and vast amounts of land in a short timeframe prevents proper engagement and deliberation on the process and destroys confidence that it’s not a fait accompli foisted on us by the council and Government.

Threatened Government fast-tracking of consents and removal of RMA protections compound our fears.

The housing accord, the back-room deal between Government and council which accelerates both intensification and greenfields development, heightens concern over loss of community voice and residential and rural character.

Many Aucklanders see positive benefits from increased housing choice. High-quality apartment and medium intensity living next to efficient transport have a real role, especially as fuel prices increase and communities change. And rural living will continue to attract those who can afford it.

Instead of allowing a conversation among current residents and forward-looking young people who will otherwise struggle to find affordable housing, the draft plan and the housing accord have led to fear, uncertainty and distrust in both the process and in those promulgating the plan.

It has pitted young against old, developers against residents, council against Government, and the council/Government against the people. What’s also being fought out are class battles as poorer people facing a housing shortage seeking affordable apartment or higher-density living are pitted against older elites in established suburbs. Local autonomy has been pitted against centralised power, sprawl is pitted against staged and well-timed intensification. Our city’s past form conflicts with aspirations for a better, more efficient future.

The Unitary Plan and the housing accord can also be seen as part of a wider agenda to accelerate urban sprawl. The former Metropolitan Urban Limit (MUL) has always been anathema to free-market proponents. Conveniently, the local government reform that removed the Auckland Regional Council also got rid of the MUL. In its place is the new RUB, the Rural Urban Boundary. Never before in Auckland’s history have the goalposts been shifted so radically. Thousands of hectares of land on the city’s periphery are now proposed for a swathe of “urgent” development.

Much of the land to the west of Auckland, previously important horticultural land and greenfields, including around Whenuapai Airbase and from Westgate almost to Waimauku, may be fast-tracked for new housing.

Those affected will have limited opportunity for further engagement. Environmental constraints are not considered. Notification of development proposals will be limited, decisions made by a council-appointed “independent panel” and there will be no appeals. We’re right to be wary of those who want to drive bulldozers through good planning, and through our communities.

Christine Rose was a councillor on both Rodney District and Auckland Regional Councils 1995-2010. She was a deputy mayor and chaired the ARC’s transport and urban development committee.


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