25 Jun 2013

Mark Donnelly: Draft plan needs more than tinkering

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Written by: Mark Donnelly
Photo: Michael Craig
Published: The New Zealand Herald – 25 June 2013

'Let's up-zone as much as we can' is a real concern.

‘Let’s up-zone as much as we can’ is a real concern.

We’d all feel better if Len Brown reined in planners and got experts’ advice on how the city goes forward.

Recent comments by Mayor Brown seem to indicate his current thinking is that a bit of tinkering with the Unitary Plan will be enough to appease us. He needs to realise the draft Unitary Plan is fatally flawed and tinkering will not fix it.

He needs to make a bold break. I suggest he takes charge and moves beyond his planners and sets up an external panel of experts across a range of fields: planners, developers, architects, the retirement industry and community groups to get this back on track – a Mayoral Task Force.

The Government should be a participant as well, to regain confidence in the process, and back away from its draconian, anti-democratic interference.

He should empower the task force to be bold, and come up with the best tools to achieve quality outcomes. The draft Unitary Plan must be much more than a rule book written by the council enforcers.

It looks as though Len Brown and his supporters are held hostage by their planners – who have failed to apply evidence, reason and the best planning tools.

And that he and his supporters have failed to provide adequate governance on behalf of the wider community.

The draft Unitary Plan doesn’t meet our basic planning needs. Namely, is this plan an evidence-based, well-founded document that is in step with people’s desires and likely future decisions, and does it use the best available tools to achieve its desired outcomes? In my view, on all these counts it fails.

The draft Unitary Plan was not evidence-based – only now do we see the council commissioning reports on relative infrastructure costs. And we see a staggering disconnect between the council and Watercare on the stormwater and sewage systems’ ability to cope.

This lack of adequate evidence for the proposed changes damaged the plan for many.

People also saw that the approach was a very broad-brush, “let’s up-zone as much as we can” and a return to previously failed infill policies. They could see it hadn’t been tied into the council and council controlled organisations’ infrastructure plans, or wider infrastructure such as new or expanded schools. Apart from limited structure plans for new rural urban areas, the plan didn’t have the proper tools to master-plan local intensified areas.

Consider the old Waitakere Council plans for New Lynn – an overall plan for the rejuvenation and intensification of an area, involving co-ordinated multi-party actions, and a specific plan change.

Infrastructure such as roading, trenching the rail corridor and a new station were incorporated. Everybody can see and understand the obvious benefits of this master planning approach.

To see the flaws we just need to look at Mt Albert. There we also have a rundown town centre ready for rejuvenation, with advantages of a low rail corridor relative to much of the town centre, a great surrounding suburb, good schools and the thriving Unitec.

Without a proper master plan and co-ordinated infrastructure, including building over and containing the rail corridor, an opportunity for Mt Albert will be lost, and low quality railside developments will occur. This will become yet another example of failed planning.

The question the mayor and his supporters must answer is why for Mt Albert, and all the other centres across the region, is it now deemed good enough to just up-zone and walk away? Why don’t these areas deserve the quality planning that New Lynn received?

A Mayoral Task Force would offer an opportunity to use the expertise available outside the council and it would allow the mayor to respond to the flaws in the draft plan.

I personally would hope to see more status quo in the first plan, as well as immediate initiatives to deal with the inadequate supply of build-ready sections, including flushing out land bankers with a one chance rezone option.

It would incorporate good master planning tools that can be rolled out via subsequent plan changes, in co-ordination with funded infrastructure plans and agreements with central government, thereby allowing staged developments. It would also bed in roles for local boards to enhance community participation.

There are big issues to solve here not just in wasted resources into non- productive council processes, and mis-allocation of even more costs into housing, but also the actual outcomes must compete with competitor cities.

If we work to find the most efficient, quality-focused approach, we will no doubt intensify in some areas, but at its core should be a bottom-up, quality-based approach, and not a percentage target. Lazy up-zoning will just see more slums along rail corridors – is that really Len Brown’s vision for Auckland?

Mark Donnelly is a former Auckland City councillor, with strategy and planning committee involvement. He was also a member of Mayor Brown’s Mayoral Task Force on Eden Park.

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