Auckland Unitary Plan: 'I unashamedly love it'

9:55 am on 28 July 2016

Opinion - The recommended plan for Auckland's future land use planning is bold, visionary and pragmatic. I love it, so should the champions for Auckland and fairness in society.

A group of independent commissioners have done what the Auckland Council could not. They have planned for over 400,000 new homes by 2041 - the amount likely to be needed. The previous plans had been grossly inadequate, hampered and stymied by local and special interest groups.

This will remove the constraints to housing supply that have disproportionately affected the poor, vulnerable, young and renters. There have been obvious impacts on housing affordability, but also (over) crowding, increased stresses for social and emergency housing providers and homelessness.

Housing supply isn't a magic cure for these ills, but it is a critical part of it.

Auckland

Photo: 123RF

Why I love it

I unashamedly love the recommended plan. There are details of policy that I don't, but as a whole, it is what Auckland needs.

It actually plans for projected population growth. This is the single most important aspect of the plan.

It finds balance between going up modestly around transport corridors and nodes (around 70 per cent of the land use) and going out (30 percent increase in the boundary).

It rightly assumes that people can walk more than 200m to public transport and allows greater densification, on a larger radius, around bus stops and train stations.

It allows for flexibility for minor dwellings of up to 65 square metres, which may bring back the granny to the backyard.

It retains heritage and character, but removes arbitrary rules, like all houses built before 1944 needing a demolition consent. Old, cold and mouldy is not heritage.

It strengthens provisions for public spaces and protecting the environment.

I don't like that there are still minimum parking requirements. It adds to congestion and undoes some of the good work on densification. I am disappointed to see no inclusionary zoning, which would have required some social and affordable housing in larger developments. But these are relatively minor quibbles, which we can pick up in the future.

Economist, Shamubeel Eaqub, outside his rented home in Auckland.

Shamubeel Eaqub outside his home in Auckland. Photo: RNZ / Kate Newton

The politics of me

Already everyone is poring over maps to see what it means for their house, neighbourhood or business. A selfish interest is natural and also misses the point of a regulatory tool like the Unitary Plan. This is a regulatory tool that plans for the future and tries to balance the needs of the entire community and environment, even future generations.

The loudest critics will be the same old (literally and figuratively) people, who will lament growth, change and progress. They are persuaded by fear mongering of forests of apartment towers in 'their' leafy suburbs, and loss of 'character' in the neighbourhood (what other people can do with their houses).

They are robbing their children and grandchildren of a city that will be functional, efficient and thriving. They are so engrossed in their politics of me, they cannot, and will not, see the vision and spirit required to build a great city.

The task ahead

The task ahead is massive.

If the recommendations are adopted, there are impending monumental tasks which will need leadership from the next elected council and central government.

The sheer scale of the house building that is possible under the recommendation - around 16,500 homes a year - will require a significant increase in house building capacity - around 7000 houses built a year in the last two decades.

This requires a comprehensive plan to maintain quality and monitoring - we cannot afford another leaking building fiasco.

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Photo: Supplied

We will not have enough construction workers. Immigration can play a role, but training and apprenticeships should be the priority. Encouraging and supporting prefabrication and modular housing will add immediate scale and improve productivity and safety in the sector.

Infrastructure financing remains unresolved. Targeted long term bonds need to be back on the agenda. Local Government NZ has started a conversation on local government financing, this needs to reignited.

If councillors reject these recommendations in part or whole, the public and media should hold these councillors to account on how their alternative plans will meet this demand. Failing to plan for likely growth would be a dereliction of their duty.

Voters in the upcoming local body elections should look closely at their local representatives' vote on the Unitary Plan as judgement on their fitness to govern.

Auckland has been sleepwalking for decades. The recommended plan is a delight in that it actually plans for Auckland's future as a global city.

* Shamubeel Eaqub is an economist, author and commentator who was formerly part of the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research think tank.