24 May 2013

Debunking Unitary Plan myths

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By Joseph Bergin
Published: Auckland Now / North Shore Times – 24 May 2013

Whether it’s some people seeking to cause anarchy or genuine concern and misinformation, whenever plans are put out by Auckland Council for consultation the proverbial ‘Rumour Mill’ gets struck by a Kansas-styled tornado and we all end up somewhere down the yellow-brick-road. I have seen this happen again and again, but the Unitary Plan is the first time I’ve seen so much of this coming from the council itself.

Like many others, I have huge concerns over the direction of this document. Continuing with the analogy, there seems to be a whole lot of houses falling from the skies on some pages of the plan and plenty of those landing on top of each other. My own community is being told to take a whole lot more intensification than the infrastructure could possibly cope with, from Sunnynook and Milford, to Belmont and Bayswater. This isn’t helped with the constant press releases and frankly untrue comments coming out of politicians’ offices and the council machine.

For example, in response to outrage over proposed heights in Milford, the council turned around and said that the majority of housing in Auckland will be only two-stories… Typical blocking tactics. Some council politicians in all of this play the role of the scarecrow magnificently; running around claiming everyone else is wrong because of some piece of paper a fake wizard gave them which tells them they have a brain. So, while some are content to run around crying ‘lions and tigers and bear’ (oh my) I think we all need to realise that three myths in particular are standing between us and a future we can all buy into:

Myth #1: This is a Generational Issue.

Rubbish! I talk to plenty of people my age who want the same kind of lifestyle their parents have now and I talk to plenty of baby boomers who think apartments might be right for them. It’s really quite sad that some people are content to put different age groups against each other.

Myth #2: The only way to fit more people in is to go up.

While I agree that there needs to be medium density in some of our centres, plenty of amazing cities around the world have done this without building past two or three stories in the suburbs as a rule. We don’t need to go much higher than that on the Shore.

Myth #3: It’s too late to change anything.

In many ways the worst myth of all. I know as well as anyone else that this body of work needs to happen. But nothing is set in stone, we need to be able to take on the feedback and do another round of consultation before the draft stage progresses.

Maybe it will take a bit more to bust these myths but I think the public know what’s right for their city and they know how to get there without going somewhere over the rainbow.

But hey, what do I know?

» Joseph Bergin is a born and raised Shore boy and the youngest elected member of the Auckland Council. Sitting on the Devonport-Takapuna Local Board, he has a history of working with grassroots youth not-for-profits on the Shore.

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By Richard Hills

Aside from the myths and scaremongering, over the past 11 weeks of consultation I have had a positive experience talking with our community about the Unitary Plan. The best part was consulting in partnership with our Kaipatiki Community Facilities Trust and their community camper in our local parks, town centres and a few times at the Birkenhead and Glenfield markets. I only had three or four people who were really negative about the plan, but hundreds who were fairly happy with the direction, had ideas to add and saw it as crucial to our future, a few older residents even said they were submitting on behalf of themselves and their grandchildren.

It is a shame those politicians who are against the plan didn’t come to these campervan consultations to see all sides of the debate.

Two great non-council run meetings I engaged with were the North Shore Community and Social Services forum, well-attended by organisations and people from around Shore. The other; a Generation Zero meeting at Auckland University, where more than 150 young Aucklanders attended to show their passion for the plan for greater housing choices within their own communities, public transport options and stopping urban sprawl.

I’m not going to beat around the bush, the myths and scaremongering seem to have come from local politicians who are on the election campaign trail, that’s fine, but it is actually our job to plan for the future, give some solutions, and help make sure people submit and are included in the debate, not roadblock Auckland’s future by scaring people.

Council can’t demolish your house and this is a 30-year rulebook for future growth not a three-year project. We also can’t stop people living longer, having babies or moving here – we will grow.

Some say it is moving too fast, but to me that is an odd stance to take as no decisions have been made and this is the first time ever a council has taken this approach to allow pre-draft submissions to help shape the plan. Then council will go out again later for the usual statutory consultation submissions and hearings like all the old district plans were done.

From what I’ve been told, heritage is more protected then before, with heritage protection overlays in Birkenhead, Northcote and all buildings built before 1944. Some say that it can be taken away later, but why would council want to do that? The community wouldn’t let that happen and neither would I.

The mixed housing is permitted at two storeys, but like you can under the current rules build an attic or a basement or a third storey. You don’t have to ask your neighbours under the old rules or under the new rules. As long as it fits rules like height in relation to the boundary, and you don’t block the sun or shadow your neighbours then your consent will be approved. If you look around Northcote and Birkenhead areas especially from the motorway, or Takapuna beachfront and Bayswater there are three storey homes everywhere already. My parents built a three storey split level house in Glenfield 15 years ago with a non-notified consent. To build an apartment you need to buy several sections, demolish existing homes and have a wide road frontage, then abide by design rules, it’s not a walk in the park. But if you do, people will live there if they choose and that’s a good thing I would have thought.

This is such an important document, it will let people who grow up here stay in this area, it will let people like my parents hopefully retire here if they have a well-designed smaller place to live and allowing another family to move into their house. People living alone can live within our communities and not feel isolated. Urban sprawl in the plan still allows for 160,000 new dwellings, which in my opinion is a lot of productive land gone and the costs of extending and maintaining roads and water and public transport costs the ratepayer so much. Plus the personal cost of travel and social cost of isolation will cost us more in the future if we don’t plan properly now. So allow even more sprawl would mean disaster for Auckland.

Please submit for or against and add new ideas. I will be doing the same: ShapeAuckland.co.nz

» Kaipatiki Local Board Member Richard Hills, born and bred in Glenfield, is responsible for the Youth, Community and Social Development and Events portfolios. He works part-time as a Community Health Worker, predominantly working with young people across wider Auckland.


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