29 May 2013

John Palino: Council hasn’t tried hard enough

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Written by: John Palino
Published: The New Zealand Herald – 29 May 2013

Tomorrow is the deadline for submissions on Auckland’s controversial draft Unitary Plan. Today, a would-be mayor, a resident and two planning experts put their views on what Aucklanders need and want, here’s the perspective of mayoral candidate John Palino.

The council's Unitary Plan holds the key to how Auckland will be developed.

The council’s Unitary Plan holds the key to how Auckland will be developed.

Someone forgot to tell me how bad Auckland is.

I really like Auckland. I like it so much I have chosen to live here.

But, trying to decipher the Unitary Plan, one could almost be forgiven for thinking there’s not another person in Auckland living here by choice.

What I have found is that almost every single provision, stipulation, direction, rule and requirement seems unified by one objective – to fundamentally change Auckland.

There are some things I think Aucklanders would like addressed including congestion, the cost of housing, access to public transport, rates increases and environmental quality which are all issues that need attention.

But current policy seems much more focused on throwing the bathwater out with everything in it rather than nursing the baby.

Residents, on the other hand, heeding the call to become more engaged in community decision making, have turned out in their thousands to provide feedback on the Unitary Plan. And in all the meetings I’ve been to, that message is exactly what you’d expect – people like their city, communities and region.

They recognise the pressures to grow, but also want to retain that which they value.

What a shame that these same residents weren’t asked what they wanted their communities to look like over the short, medium and long term two years ago before the Auckland Plan was being developed. If the community was engaged, a truly spatial vision could have been developed which represented the views of individual communities.

And if, instead of studying foreign cities, decision-makers had assessed the actual costs of urban expansion in different parts of the Auckland region versus urban intensification in different parts of Auckland City, we might know what infrastructure needs the city has and where.

Does anyone know how much it will cost to service an intensified North Shore with wastewater compared with the cost of growth at Albany?

What about whether traffic will still move in Botany with 18-storey apartments or how large schools can grow before the last blades of grass are consumed by classrooms?

Surely this is the measure of whether we can afford intensification or expansion, yet nobody knows the answers to these questions, because the work has not yet been done.

The only completed empirical work on the provisions broadly set out in the Unitary Plan has been horrible. Auckland Transport modelled the assumed densities in the Unitary Plan with all the new investments, such as the city rail link. In 2041, the Auckland set out in the Unitary Plan will have worse congestion than today. A 34 per cent increase in traffic is unacceptable.

And yet we still speak of “the world’s most liveable city”.

Imagine if we combined a firm understanding of what Auckland’s many diverse communities want with an understanding of what it would cost to meet their needs. We could now be refining a collection of plans supporting each of Auckland’s communities, rather than fighting over a single plan for a third of New Zealand’s population.

But this is an opportunity missed, not lost. The Mayor of Auckland now has the option to heed the concerns of residents, do the hard work and come back with a plan with strong community support.

We have a huge growth challenge in our city, but with that challenge we have an equally great opportunity.

We have up to a million people coming here. Wellington and Christchurch combined aren’t that big. We can build New Zealand’s second largest city right here in Auckland. We don’t need to retrofit communities that don’t want retrofitting. We can build a brand new city with all the amenities people want. A smart, sustainable city. A city with no cars, a city with only cars. We can do whatever we want, but we must first find out what we want and we must nurture the support of affected communities.

Maybe the people of Manukau are willing to embrace the benefits of growth – new apartments, new town houses, new restaurants, bars and nightlife, all built around a shopping centre with a new library, new community hall, new park and light rail. Maybe they could see that this development would bring jobs and opportunities to their young.

But maybe they’re happy with their community. That’s fine, don’t force it upon them; look for other opportunities.

The Council simply has not tried hard enough to find homes for new residents or to generate support from existing Aucklanders. We must do better and there are alternatives.

Someone is forgetting to tell us how great Auckland can be.

John Palino is a candidate for mayor of Auckland at the October election.


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