23 Apr 2013

Unitary plan process marches on as Wood slowdown motion lost

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Written by: Bob Day
Published: The Bob Day Property Report – 23 April 2013

Auckland Council’s informal consultation period on the unitary plan won’t be extended beyond its scheduled 31 May deadline after a motion by Cllr George Wood to do that failed at today’s council meeting held in Orewa.

After a 2-hour debate, Cllr Wood’s carefully constructed reasoning for an extension won some support but was defeated on the voices – no close margin this time after several close division calls in other unitary plan votes.

In its place, an alternative from deputy mayor Penny Hulse was quickly approved, again on the voices. Cllr Hulse has headed the council’s Auckland Plan committee and has battled unsuccessfully to change Government minds on key aspects of the unitary plan process, including making the plan take effect immediately it’s notified and shortening the .

Cllr Wood based his motion on 2 points:

  • A high level of community concern and misgivings as to the adequacy of the current consultation process, and
  • The extremely tight timeframe between the close of submissions on 31 May and the need to submit the section 32 report to the Ministry for the Environment 60 working days before the plan’s notification date.

Cllr Hulse proposed, instead, that staff update the Auckland Plan committee in May on the process to follow the present feedback period, including further engagement opportunities on key issues like the rural-urban boundary and on elected members’ workshops to review & consider feedback over the following 3 months. “The timing of notification will be considered once this further work has been done and will be discussed during the workshops phase,” she proposed.

Cllr Hulse said later that could mean the plan wasn’t notified until after the October local body elections, but she saw that as no great issue. She told the council she’d never been tied to having the plan notified in September.

She agreed to Cllr Wood’s suggestion that they drop “on key issues like the rural-urban boundary” from her recommendation.

Mayor Len Brown said the present informal feedback period wasn’t formal consultation, but 6 months had already been added in consultation time and there’d be plenty of time later for the community to be consulted. Formal submissions will follow notification, for which the council wanted to shrink the timeframe, against Government wishes.

Cllr Wood said his concern at the timeframe & process was sparked by the appearance at a unitary plan hearing of property consultant Jon Maplesden, who’d done a study for the council on how much land was actually available for new housing. Added to that were the concerns of Milford resident groups about possible highrise development at the village’s centre, Devonport Heritage chairwoman Claudia Page’s suggestion that the unitary plan needed a digest covering all the local rules and a presentation yesterday by Seattle community development champion Jim Diers: “He talked about nimbys (not-in-my-back-yarders), which he said were created by top-down planning, which wasn’t the best way to plan. When you’re doing community planning the best way is bottom up.”

Cllr Wood said ordinary people would face a difficult task in hearings, “something akin to the Environment Court”, pitting them against “deep-pocketed developers who have legal representation…. I believe we have to look at legal representation very closely. .. I’ve got very real concerns that people will be disappointed with outcomes…. This is nothing like what communities have dealt with in the past.”

The mayor said: “The community has been asking for a plan, Wellington asked for a plan and we’ve got it. It’s about us being prepared to work through the challenges… We’ve been out there for the last 12 months at least discussing this with our community, and I’ve loved it, including some of the stuff that’s come over the barricades, because people love their communities. But by & large I think people are in comfort with this. We’re not just talking height, but how we build this place.”

Other councillors’ views

Cllr Des Morrison was “absolutely delighted by the engagement, by the stimulation it has driven across the region,” and was looking forward to redesigning the unitary plan based on public input. He compared the determination to get this plan in place quickly with the former Franklin District Council’s work on plan change 14 – “started 12 years ago, still not operative. I still think September is attainable [to get the new unitary plan notified], but if I believed quality was falling short I’d join you [in wanting it deferred].”

Cllr Cameron Brewer favoured deferral: “Public concern is growing, not abating. We’re seeing packed community halls like Auckland hasn’t seen for a long time. We’re seeing & hearing from a less than impressed public also via newspaper columns, on talkback radio & letters to the editor. Not only are they concerned about the plan’s content but the process, with a lot of frustration over the quality of information, the many errors that have been acknowledged, the limited number of hardcopy maps and the workability of the website.

“Let’s err on the side of caution. I say let’s also extend the informal public engagement timeframe beyond 31 May as some members of the Character Coalition have suggested to me. Let’s get out better information, more information, and let’s just give the public a bit more time…. Let’s make sure this is a consultation phase, not a propaganda phase.”

Cllr Brewer said some councillors & staff told the council “preliminary discussions with the likes of our stormwater department, Watercare & Auckland Transport show intensification can be accommodated and, in fact, a lot of the capital investment required is already budgeted for in the long-term plan. Well, some of us can’t see it. What we can see is a report written 18 months ago that $9.9 billion was needed to upgrade Auckland’s stormwater system over the next 50 years. However, in the final long-term plan, $768 million is budgeted for stormwater capital projects. That’s less than 10% of what is needed, with only a minority of that allocated to ‘growth’. Not to mention the agreed $10-15 billion transport funding gap that remains completely unresolved.

“Let’s buy some time and get some concrete assurances that our neighbourhoods, Auckland Transport & underground infrastructure providers can in fact cope with the proposed residential intensification, and that there is adequate budgetary provision going forward. Adequate infrastructure is a major concern raised at the meetings I’ve attended in the Orakei ward. It’s not just about height.”

Cllr Hulse insisted that, “contrary to what’s been said, some of us haven’t made up our minds. Let’s be really clear: We’re still considering feedback, have still got the opportunity to go back to our communities. When we notify this plan we’re going to be notifying the best possible plan.”

She said “just because we’ve got nervous at a few community meetings” wasn’t a reason to slow the process. In the meantime, heritage wouldn’t be protected… heritage isn’t protected and many other issues the new plan had been set up to address wouldn’t be addressed, “not the least being the lack of affordable housing. The longer we dither, the longer these issues are not addressed.” Cllr Hulse said the plan would leave “93% of Auckland unchanged”.

Cllr Sandra Coney said the process so far had been the wrong way round, before the public feedback period even began: “There was a lot of upfront consultation. It seemed to be every supermarket owner & developer in town and one environmental person. I think it would have been better to go to our communities first up before going behind doors with every developer.”

On the contents of the plan, Cllr Coney said: “I still have issues about the quality of intensification, much of it is going to be a permitted activity and more likely to be the low-level activity that people don’t like, and I have an issue with the degree of sprawl. I have an issue that the council is still advocating that the plan is implemented on notification…. which could be very disempowering for communities….

“I think what’s needed in the unitary plan is some significant changes, [dealing with] the disconnect between the regional policy statement & layers, the relationship between the layers. We’ve adopted this new approach and even the planner s don’t understand how it’s going to work. How we’ve treated open space – I don’t think we’ve got that right. And when we come to retrofit open space it will cost us dearly and we won’t have the money to do it.

“Kind of reluctantly I feel it should blow its course. Not the least of my concerns is the ability of the staff to do the work in the limited timeframe available. There’s such an amount of work to be done. One, we don’t want mistakes because we’re affecting people’s major assets, which are their homes, and 2, we don’t want mistakes because we’ll lose control of the plan.”

Cllr Dick Quax went back to reports & studies leaving him still with serious doubts that Auckland would have the capacity to provide for the estimated million extra inhabitants in 30 years: “The change we’re proposing for Auckland is the biggest change it will go through in its history. The mayor said not for 10 but for 100 years, and therefore it is important we get it right.”

Cllr Quax said theD4 report in 2011 determined there was probably enough capacity for 200-280,000 dwellings within the metropolitan urban limit: “They said that would meet huge community resistance to try and get in that type of intensification. There has, there is huge community disquiet about the level of intensification, not just about height but about bulk & scale. And we still haven’t done the analysis.

“I spoke to someone the other day, an urban planner & economist, and his view was there was probably enough brownfields in Auckland for 120-160,000 dwellings, so we’re making plans without the information required. I’ve making a LGOIMA (Local Government Official Information & Meetings Act) request for work by Land Solutions. I’m entitled to see things that are driving things of huge community concern.

“Some people see it as an attack on the New Zealand way of life, and I think some of them are right. They are concerned about congestion… the loss of biodiversity, the loss of open space….

“There’s been a myth that somehow apartment living is affordable living, apartments will provide affordable housing. Building apartments is twice as expensive – $6000/m² to build an apartment, $3000/m for a stand-alone home. We’re telling people we’ll put you into a 45m² shoebox, but what you’re going to pay for that is 6000/m² compared to a standalone home where you’re going to pay 3000/m².

“They’re starting to understand what this plan means for them, their children & their grandchildren going forward. Auckland will become a city of 2 halves, the haves & have-nots, very soon we will be down to 50% ownership, and that is a transfer of wealth from the have-nots to the wealthy in our community.”

Cllr Penny Webster was in favour of continuing the present programme: “It will be a tragedy if we don’t get this notified in September, or whenever we’ve got it right. We’ve had thousands of people at meetings and thousands of input. This is the Auckland problem, we always back off when it gets too tough. Auckland could never agree and we always backed off when it got difficult.”

But, while Rodney’s former mayor saw enthusiastic input, Papakura’s former mayor, Callum Penrose, saw continuing uncertainty despite his community being “planned out, meetinged out”: “We had 2 parts to this. Uniting Auckland was number 1, number 2 was the unitary plan, which my community know nothing about. Those that build our communities and have not been involved in this know nothing about the unitary plan.”

While councillors Hulse & Arthur Anae dismissed scaremongering about people losing their houses to forced purchase, Howick councillor Sharon Stewart assured the council speculation was rife: In our community right now, happening today, we have people door-knocking & approaching people wanting to buy up property in streets which they think are quite desirable. There are consortiums going round buying up land, even if they’re not living in the country, buying up land and that is something very concerning out there for some of our communities.”


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