24 Feb 2016

Auckland housing density meeting on agenda

6:54 am on 24 February 2016

It's hard to envisage a happy ending to today's extraordinary Auckland Council meeting on its housing density proposals.

Part of a housing development in the Tamaki area in Auckland.

Part of a housing development in the Tamaki area in Auckland. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

The 2pm meeting will debate whether the council should dump it's slightly upzoned view on housing density, when it goes before the Unitary Plan Independent Hearing Panel.

A report going to today's meeting says the upzoning in the December 2015 position - whereby an increase in housing density is permitted in new zones - affects 14 percent of residential properties, with half of those changes reflecting submissions it has received.

An unprecedented defeat for the council leadership and staff is possible, thanks to a near-toxic mix of internal and external politics and damaged relationships.

The new revised council stance was unveiled in December and lodged last month with the panel, which will weigh it up against the views of hundreds of other submitters.

Some councillors and interest groups branded this undemocratic, and demanded the council re-open consultation with those whose properties face a proposed higher-density zoning.

The meeting will also consider a staff report which recommends sticking with the higher density position released in December.

Taking a one-dimensional view, none of this is a problem.

The panel can accept or reject whichever view of the world the council submits, depending on its merits.

So, why the fuss ?

The fuss - which risks the meeting descending into something resembling a matinee at Rome's Colosseum - is how each of the disaffected councillors deals with any of the following that may apply in their case:

  • A feeling council planning and legal staff have forced them into a corner they would rather not be in.
  • A genuine belief that property owners, and only property owners should have an extra round of input.
  • Surprise at how the Unitary Plan process has turned out because they have not understood it.
  • A genuine belief the proposed level of intensification is too much or too soon.
  • The degree to which they've been influenced by lobbying from those against intensive housing.
  • Their view on the government's insistence that the Unitary Plan being completed by October
  • The role of some broken relationships between councillors, and between councillors and staff
  • An eye on local body elections which will be held within two months of final decisions on the Plan
  • The Unitary Plan panel chair ruling that late new submissions cannot be made, and that it would decide on whether the council's new evidence is "out of scope".
  • How they will be affected by some passionate contributions in the meeting's public input session.
  • How well they understand their ability or lack of, to reject the panel's recommended Unitary Plan in July.

Some councillors believe 11 of them, out of 20 plus Mayor Len Brown, feel strongly enough to demand the withdrawal of the council's December 2015 stance, and revert to the 2013 position.

The decision by Mr Brown to defer the call for a vote from last Thursday's meeting to today's and to allow public input may have let a rebellious genie out of the bottle, and it's not clear that buying the extra time to hold councillor briefings has worked.

One councillor has described the state of internal relationships as being at an all-time low.

Whichever way it goes, nearly half of the councillors may emerge defeated and angry, and even the winners may harbour frustration at their colleagues, or council staff.

It's a challenging environment for some of the biggest decisions the Auckland Council has had to make on where it stands on shaping the future of the city.

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