23 Oct 2012

Mark Donnelly: Do Aucklanders have fewer rights?

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Article written by: By Mark Donnelly
Published: The New Zealand Herald 23 October 2012

Two years into the Super City and its CCOs, and we’ve seen the “local” taken out of local government. And now the minister of that portfolio, Amy Adams, has announced Aucklanders are to have lesser rights than other New Zealanders and lose our normal statutory rights under the Resource Management Act. All in order to ram through Mayor Len Brown and his council’s compact city philosophy.

The minister proposes a “one step” process where the Government appoints a board, and as Aucklanders we will lose our right of appeal. But in a bizarre twist the right will remain for the council, tilting the playing field firmly in its favour.

The minister also seems to be relying on Auckland Council to ensure “community involvement” in order to prepare a better unitary plan. Having been through the Auckland Plan process already, I have no faith in this council’s consultation, especially when we hear that Mayor Brown is already talking of non-negotiable “bottom lines” – that is not true consultation.

The unitary plan is not a meaningless planning document. It affects all our properties and what we’ll be allowed to do on our own land, and also our wider community area.

The Auckland Plan has already signalled major up-zoning for intensification. While you may not intend to knock down your own house and build apartments if you are rezoned, your risk will come from developers obtaining neighbouring properties to do this.

To allow for this intensification, the council’s unitary plan would need to remove the various height-to-boundary, shading/overlooking and tree protections currently in place. You risk a four-storey slab of concrete wall on your boundary!

The rezonings will likely turn decades of planning rules upside down, based on a mayoral mantra of “up – not out”. This leaves many of us facing the prospect of further shonky developments in our areas. In my part of the city, Mt Eden, the Auckland Plan has already seen us lose the heritage protection which previous growth strategies had guaranteed and we now face up-zoning, and commercial and apartment expansion. This will be on an ad hoc, site-by-site build, reminiscent of the “sausage flats” debacle which some inner city areas have already suffered.

In fact in our area we’re already seeing commercial interests doing backroom deals with the council to rezone residential to commercial.

The Governments proposed one-step board process will put a huge strain and costs on communities. For a community there may be hundreds of issues, from up-zoning to light controls, parking, heights, traffic, noise controls etc, covering a wide area. This would be their one chance to protect their amenity, and would no doubt entail costly experts.

The one-step process is also flawed because of the small pool of experts in New Zealand in a range of areas such as noise, traffic, heritage and so on. Council and commercial interests will engage the best of these, and due to the professional conflicts communities may well find they can’t get access to experts at any rate.

The one-step process forces all issues to be dealt with, rather than waiting for what comes out of the normal plan hearing process, and then selectively appealing those issues which are crucial after seeing the Hearing Panel’s decision, its reasoning and the full evidence.

Most disappointing in the minister’s announcement is that the Government has seen fit to remove our right of appeal, but leaves it in place for the council! So if a community does win at the first stage, council can drag them through it all again.

The simple solution was to merge existing plans, with all existing residential and commercial zoning and rules in place. These were site-specific at any rate, and are what people have based decisions on when buying properties – their “contract” with the council if you like. The unitary plan could have dealt with a few region-wide rules that would provide immediate benefit, particularly for economic growth, and maybe some areas that crossed old council boundaries. Subsequent to this simple, quick unitary plan, intensification areas could be dealt with in a considered and proper master planning process. To try and do this in a single big-bang approach is planning folly.

Aucklanders need to wake up to the risks we face, and tell the Government, Len Brown and his council we don’t accept lesser rights than anyone else. The smokescreen of possible delay in effecting the plan is just that, and no justification to remove our rights. This is all about the council’s attempt to bulldoze through huge changes to our communities.

Mark Donnelly is a former Auckland City councillor, with planning committee involvement. He is also president of the Eden Park Neighbours’ Association.


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