There are many great contradictions in politics, and there’s never enough time to explain them all. Certainly one of the greatest contradictions, though, has to be what some people associated with the ACT party have to say about intensification. The supposed ‘free market party’ seems quite scared of landowners’ rights to develop their land in the way they see fit – something you’d think would be more likely from the Conservative party.

Quoting a recent speech by David Seymour, the new ACT candidate for Epsom:

The people of Epsom do not want more traffic jams and a city closing in on them under Len Brown’s intensification plan.The funny thing about Epsom is that it was built well before modern urban planning.  Nobody planned the organic mix of streets between Mt Eden and Dominion roads.  The character villas were not part of a grand plan.  Ditto the crescents backing onto Cornwall Park, the historic Parnell Village, or roads that wind over the slopes of Remuera.

Len Brown and the central planners can’t stand the thought of a spontaneous urban form.  They must make their mark with apartment towers all over the electorate.

If irony were made of strawberries, we’d all be drinking a lot of smoothies right now (thanks, South Park). One of the major barriers to intensification is the zoning restrictions in inner-city suburbs, and yet David is appealing to his audience’s fear of an “organic mix” or “spontaneous urban form” arising in Epsom. Perish the thought.

Dick Quax, former ACT parliamentarian turned councillor, is also a chap who spends quite a bit of time raising concerns about intensification.

Don Brash, former ACT Party leader, has also gotten a lot of mileage arguing that we should remove urban limits, and conspicuously ignoring the restrictions which exist inside those limits. When pushed, he points out that he doesn’t have a problem with intensification… but that’s certainly not the message he’s chosen to focus on publicly.

As some of the other bloggers have pointed out before, the usual left-wing/ right-wing divisions that occur at central government level seem to break down, or behave in unexpected ways, when you get to the local government level. And I’d call this is one of the unexpected ways.

People at the supposed ‘right wing’ end of the spectrum often go on about the need to remove planning restrictions at the city’s edge, and how that will help housing affordability. They sing a different tune when confronted about restrictions inside the city boundaries. This ranges from the kind of rhetoric used by David Seymour above, to the more nuanced views held by Don Brash (but which he certainly isn’t at pains to publicise).

And yet, when urban economist Edward Glaeser was asked which the bigger problem for Auckland housing affordability was – urban limits or zoning restrictions in existing areas – he pointed the finger at zoning restrictions. Hmmm.

On the other hand, Penny Webster, another Auckland Councillor and former MP for ACT, has tended to vote with Len Brown on most issues, so it’s dangerous to generalise between different people. The general impression that we get from people most closely (and most currently) associated with the ACT party itself, though, is that intensification is a bogeyman to be feared, and – from David Seymour above – that it occurs because of council planning, not in spite of it. I leave it to you to consider whether, if we removed all planning restrictions  in both the inner suburbs and at the city fringes, Epsom and Remuera would stay the same with no intensification occurring.

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    1. What a strange article! There’s a reason why baby boomers own relatively valuable property: they bought it 10 or 20 or 30 years ago. Same thing happens every generation. My kids own real property too, just at a lower value at their stage of life. Some may choose to rent and invest elsewhere; their call. As for rates, it’s often argued that renters pay those too, albeit indirectly. So what’s his point?

      1. Actually, home ownership rates for those under 40 have fallen from 35.3 per cent in 2001 to 22.1 per cent last year. That’s a large drop. In the same period ownership for those over 65 went from 80% to 77%. That’s a small drop.

        Most people’s kids don’t own property, and with the increases in price over the last few years, they may never own property. If they can rent reasonable houses at reasonable prices that won’t be a problem, but I suspect that supply will remain constrained – and that any government intervention to address this problem will result in furious outbursts from the people who own property.

        1. I don’t dispute your figures, but it’s a lifestyle choice. I’m not talking about a mortgage-free first home in Remuera, or even a do-up in Herne Bay, but simply a family home in the outer suburbs, or maybe a flat in Onehunga. Pretty well all the children of my peers own a home too, even the single ones, in some cases as an investment. It’s a matter of forward planning, or delayed gratification if you prefer.

          1. Jonno, I think it’s a bit of a stretch to say that the number of home buyers under 40 has dropped by a third in twelve years because of lifestyle choices. Sure, that may be part of it, but it’s a big drop. Put another way, if we look at the things that constitute demand, I doubt that the ‘desire’ to own a home has dropped by a third; I think most of the decrease will be because of a falling ‘ability to pay’. Of course, the reasons for the falling ability to pay are numerous and often disputed…
            Interesting stats btw George!

  1. Oh, Mr Seymour is a real charmer. You should get your hands on the letter he sent out to those in his electorate….

    “Mayor Brown and his Council want to increase the population within the city limits by one million people, making Epsom much more crowded with multi-story [sic] apartment buildings. Much of this has been beaten back but pressure will not go away. Underground rail is viable in places such as London, Manhattan and Tokyo because they have high population densities, the rail agenda is necessarily an intensification agenda.”

  2. That’s the great and laughable irony isn’t it. The Unitary Plan is simply the removal or reduction in planning regulations in some parts of Auckland, those that argue against it are the ones arguing for ‘central planning’ and government dictation over the use of private property.

    Epsom sure wouldn’t look like it does if it were built under the current planning rules that the unitary plan aims to ease. Where are the minimum parking requirements, the setbacks from the street? How many villas have a five metre boundary setback and a site coverage ratio of 30%.

    That’s not to say that Epsom wasn’t planned, it absolutely was. Planners laid out the streets, designed the transport, let spaces for commercial development, installed street trees and drainage, etc. the real difference is they did it for a world without private cars and precious few road vehicles. The streets were planned as a compact walkable grid, transport was the tram on the main road at the top of your street, corner dairies were literally on the corner to maximise accessibility on foot from the cross streets, trees were used to shade the footpaths to protect the people walking there. Housing was designed to maximise land utilisation to prevent walk distances getting excessive in the age when people didn’t drive. All planned to the inch.

          1. Here is a couple of planned subdivisions that still exist. Notice on the first one the high density commerical plots planned along the main street next to the post office, and fronting the tram. Likewise down the side street they planned small, narrow residential plots fronting the tram with larger ones down rights-of-way behind them.


            On this one the same, little dense blocks fronting the main street with larger ones in behind. Note how the inset focusses on the proximity to the rail stations.


            This map showing the tram system and the street network clearly indicates the two were planned together. In particular you can see the multitude of little side roads leading to the trams on Manukau Rd, Mt Eden Rd and Dominion Rd. You can also see that the street network basically stops once you get beyond walking distance of the end of the tram lines.


          2. What these show of course is what we’ve been saying in the most part. Council need to do the area planning – roads, PT services etc, with developers taking over the actual building side subject to design guidelines. It’s not hard really.

          3. The second one (for the Remuera Road/Victoria Ave development), mentions the PT tram options, including that fact that a “pre-paid” PT discount of 25% over the equivalent cash fare was available. 3 pence cash fare, 2 and 1/4 pence when travelling on (pre-paid) ticket – I assume that was for a 16 trip ticket at 3 Shillings/36 pence).

            Maybe AT should read these old documents once and a while for an historic lessen on pre-paid PT pricing discounts from 1 hundred years ago as they seemed to have a handle on it back then?

        1. Crap council web site. What planet are they on. Can you post a URL that works, or provide some clue on how to navigate web site images?

  3. ‘The people of Epsom do not want more traffic jams’ but ACT will fight to ensure they get them. What a complete hypocrite. Auckland deserves a more intelligent Party on the right that actually argues the case for economic rationalism rather than this muddle headed attempt at populism.

    1. ACT argues long, hard and vociferously for less government involvement everywhere – except when they argue long hard and vociferously for more government involvement – seemingly only where it might impact them or their bank balance negatively – like the Government oly has a job to protect their “rights” above everything else..

      And they talk about the “looney left” with its “flip flop” policies, ACT (and Conservatives) have the flip flop policies too – they just have selective memory when it comes to this part of their manifestos – before after and during any elections.

      Talk about hypocrisy…

      1. I’d say the real reason for the usual suspects’ resistance are twofold, and both involve property prices: snobbery, in wanting to keep the ‘riff raff’ out; and anti-competitive cartel practices, in having a vested interest in the housing bubble. They don’t seem to understand that the vast majority of shoebox apartments have been backed by private equity, junk bonds and/or finance companies (many of which have already gone under) which would be politically inclined to back ACT. It’d be fun to see their reaction if somehow Donald Trump decided to build something sky-high in Auckland, given they want to see the back of the RMA, but will invoke it when it suits them.

        It seems that all private property rights are equal, but some private property rights are more equal than others.

  4. Act speaks for 1 in 100 voters. Let’s not let fools set the agenda.

    I’ve always enjoyed the illustrated historic posts, so some more would be welcome.

    1. Well you might believe that ACT “only” have a 1% reach, but you are no doubt well aware that because of the electoral gerrymandering the National Government did with Rodney Hide and John Banks the last two elections for an ACT MP in parliament, this has resulted in ACT and their “foolish” policies having far more than a 1% reach electorally. more like 47% reach – 46 times more than they are entitled to by share pof party votes cast.

      And as a result of the 1% ACT party gaining power, we have had the present Supercity half-wit born and thrust upon us, including CCOs like AT, ATEED to name a few under performers and all, a “Productivity” review of housing that has pinged all the obvious suspects (“too much red tape”) without any real answers. A “productivity” review of NZ versus Australia with even less actual ideas (“too much red tape”, “too much tax”) or answers than the Housing one, a roll back of RMA protection on those green leafy trees that in large part make suburbs like Epsom the crown jewels they are. Along with reoval of all Urban limits to allow building of houses when and where any land holder decides.

      And they want even more of a rollback on Developer Contributions to ensure that any future leafy suburbs will all be located at the extreme outskirts of the city and will be provided with infrastructure and transport at the expense other people and not the developers.

      So, yeah, lets have a true sense of perspective on which inmates, and how many of them are actually running this Asylum eh?

      1. And this 1% just happen to have all the right connections and fat enough wallets, to exert an influence way out of proportion to their actual numbers.

        1. It’s nothing to do with connections or fatness of wallets, it’s purely down to the law. Thankfully that law hasn’t provided any additional benefit for the current parliamentary term and is unlikely to provide benefit in the next term, in that Act doesn’t look like it’s going to get the necessary 1.2% of the party vote to entitle it to a second MP.

  5. Freedom should include the ability to choose your mode of transport,and not be totally dependent on the motor car. Intensification increases this freedom. Wake up ACT, get with the programme.
    ACT politicians are more likely to become grandfathers if their teenage children don’t have to drive cars and expose themselves to the dangers of road accidents. Intensification is self-preservation.

  6. Fantastic post. The ACT party is only a proponent of the free market when it suits them, just like all political agendas.

    The highly desirable inner suburbs are a result of the free market. If the people of Epsom do not want apartment buildings in Epsom, they need not sell their properties.

    Jamie Whyte recently pointed out David Cunliffe’s use of democratic tyranny with his “regional growth plans”. This announcement shows the hypocrisy of the ACT party, alongside National, Labour, the Greens and all the rest.

  7. For a politician the issue is simple. Supporting intensification has a downside: the fears of the NIMBYs. Supporting fringe sprawl has no downside, except maybe the sighs of a few nostalgic vegetable farmers who can be safely ignored.

    Being ideologically consistent has nothing to do with it.

    It’s all about framing. Don’t waste too much energy attacking dinosaurs. Focus on what you see as the good alternative and frame it as a positive vision for a better city for everyone. If it’s consistent with right wing values about property rights and reducing regulation, so much the better, but that’s not the main point.

  8. I was pleased to see my speech at the recent ACT conference get some attention on Transport blog, even if not with the way it was interpreted. The post tried to argue that a party of the free market should support allowing intensification of suburbs in the Epsom electorate. That post, lots of tweets directed at me after it, and comments beneath the post followed the same theme.

    I’m as free market oriented as the next politician, in fact far more than most. I’m opposed to so called industrial policy, to messing with the money supply, introducing new taxes, and transfer spending that seems to be targeted at particular voting blocks rather than improving overall well-being, setting up more government companies, among many other government mischiefs proposed primarily by Labour, the Greens, and New Zealand First.

    That doesn’t make me an anarchist, though. We are social creatures who are stronger together and most things that we do are governed by the expectations of others and the need to get on with them. Whether it’s customs and traditions, informal agreements, common law, government regulation, or private contracts, we are constantly bargaining with each other to get on better. This is the context in which free markets exist.

    When it comes to intensifying existing suburbs, changing their character, this bargaining applies. Nobody argues that if you own a piece of land you are entitled to do absolutely anything you please regardless of the consequences for your neighbours. Once you accept some level of expectation about neighbours’ behaviour in the bundle of rights that we call property, the argument is not one of principle, but one of degree. Where is the balance between what you can do on your own property and what rules you must follow because you expect your neighbours to follow them in return? There is no right answer about where exactly property rights begin and end, they always involve expectations about surrounding property. Property values are driven by their surroundings.

    The push back against the Unitary plan, and the feedback I get from residents in the Epsom electorate suggests that people in central Auckland place a high value on the existing character of their communities. They have bought into a certain set of expectations about surroundings and whether they use the common law, private covenants, or regulation to protect them is moot. The point is that people have a reasonable claim which the proposed regulatory change would violate.

    Free markets always exist in the context of property rights, without property rights there can be no exchange. It is perfectly consistent to believe in free markets and think carefully about what property rights are. Actually, it’s essential.

    Some other comments surrounded mobility and congestion. I argued that greater density will lead to more intensification. The counterargument is that people will get out of their cars and take public transport given enough density. The evidence is that while obviously density reduces auto use it does not reduce it by as much as it increases the concentration of people in an area. In fact it is pitiful. More people driving in the same space means congestion. (Reid Ewing & Robert Cervero (2010) Travel and the Built Environment, Journal of the American Planning Association, 76:3, 265-294)

    The reason may be something that I see regularly around the electorate. Most people are not at home waiting for their children to cycle home. Most have multiple appointments in different places juggling work, kids’ activities, shopping and socialising. This trend has been summed up well by Clive Forster

    …there is a mismatch between the strategies’ consensus view of desirable future urban structure, based on containment, consolidation and centres, and the complex realities of the evolving urban structures. In particular, the current metropolitan strategies do not come to terms with the dispersed, suburbanised nature of much economic activity and employment and the environmental and social issues that flow from that, and they are unconvincing in their approaches to the emerging issues of housing affordability and new, finer-grained patterns of suburban inequality and disadvantage. Overall, the paper contends that current metropolitan planning strategies suggest an inflexible, over-neat vision for the future that is at odds with the picture of increasing geographical complexity that emerges from recent research on the changing internal structure of our major cities. (Geographical Research June 2006 44(2):173–182)

    So intensification will equal congestion.

    All of that said, housing affordability is an issue close to my heart. Given the challenges of intensification, and the evidence that shows it is land supply which is the real constraint on the supply of housing, I can’t take anyone seriously who complains about housing affordability but doesn’t want the city to grow.

    A transport blog should champion the benefit of transport, the ability to access more places and spaces in less time. That includes more land for housing. The post about my speech seems to be arguing for accessibility of existing options rather than mobility to reach new ones, which is its own kind of irony. As the poster said, if only irony were strawberries.

    1. The issue is that congestion still ensues, even if we build out. Many of those people want to work in the city still. More people anywhere = more congestion. Take a trip on the Northern or Southern motorways. Mt Eden Rd is jammed with vehicles that mostly come from outside your electorate (or those driving their kids to school – a ridiculous idea especially in secondary school ages). It is our total reliance on the private motor vehicle that creates the congestion in the suburbs surrounding the city.

    2. Those are you arguments? Pure sophistry with no substance. The same tired rubbish that has been rolled out and torn apart on this blog 100 times? Congestion = bad. Intensification = bad. And thats it.

      This city is one of the most auto dependent cities in the developed world. We are not talking about a city that needs some tweaking around the edges. We are talking about a city that has a major transport problem that will not be solved by just sprawling the city out.

      You are proposing that we become the Houston/Atlanta of the South Pacific. That is not a future the young people of NZ want only Baby Boomers who wont be around to try and solve the problems that creates – problems Houston and Atlanta are already having to deal with like lack of social mobility, pollution, and destruction of the urban environment.

      1. Did you read it?

        For example how is “…place a high value on the existing character of their communities. They have bought into a certain set of expectations about surroundings..” “tired rubbish”?

        It’s a very valuable point. I am sure you will be the first persons protesting when the government compulsory acquires someone’s back garden for a new government project, what’s the difference?

        1. The compulsory acquisition crap is ridiculous when the number of urban projects that actually do that are extremely minimal – and when ACT is in support of a government which is quite happy to do compulsory acquisition – when it’s related to motorways through poor urban or any sort of rural areas!

          1. To clarify, the compulsory acquisition argument is pure scaremongering, on the line with “there will be slum towers next to your villa” stuff. It may give you some votes with the tired, old and scared rich folks, but that’s a sad market to hunt votes in.

        2. Pete, I read it in great detail and yes that is tired, emotional rubbish.

          I was hoping for some actual substantive, intelligent arguments but was instead confronted with the same tired sophistry. That being “we support private property rights, except where it would be politically unacceptable”. If the ACT party wants to head down the line of saying that there is a social bargain to be applied then why does that not apply to other areas of social or economic policy? It only conveniently applies to an issue that the sole electorate in which ACT has a chance of winning is passionate about. It shows ACT has no principles.

          His arguments are only one step from the NZ Herald “Little old lady will have garden ripped away from her by Unitary Plan” propaganda headlines we saw during the “debate” on the plan.

          David said, “Nobody argues that if you own a piece of land you are entitled to do absolutely anything you please regardless of the consequences for your neighbours.” – well sorry but that is exactly what libertarian theorists would argue within the context of the common law and tortious remedies. I know that because I was a pasionate libertarian when I was younger and came to my senses over “-isms” of any kind.

          And good luck with pursuing those lines of torts and common law (which I suspect every few people actually understand and just bandy those words about as a cure all). If David wants to suggest that we all rely on private covenants, then let’s go. As a lawyer who deals with those fairly regularly, they are rarely enforced and the cost of doing so is prohibitive, exactly why the RMA and planning in general was first introduced. Us lawyers however will be laughing all the way to the bank.

          “I am sure you will be the first persons protesting when the government compulsory acquires someone’s back garden for a new government project” – Exactly the kind of emotional, unsubstantiated rubbish I am talking about. Those occasions are very rare and only for major projects, like the CRL or a motorway and the requirements under the Public Works Act are onerous. You are suggesting that rezoning areas for higher intensity is the equivalent of compulsory acquisition, which is just dishonest and lazy trolling.

          1. I ma all for high density housing. I am also all protecting what people invest in

            I didn’t say it was equivalent to compulsory acquisition. I just made the obvious point, no one likes to have their home ripped out from them, or the neighbours totally changed. We are not talking a bad paint job on the house next door here are we!

            David makes valid and emotional points, they are not tired

            No one has any answers to make the majority happy, but lots of hatters…

          2. How is stopping density protecting what people invested in? The price of the land will go up, not down. So their investment, in the financial sense, is enhanced not threatened.

            What you mean is that you think people should be able to stop the character of their neighbourhood changing and keep out “undesirables” – i.e. rich, white baby boomers only please. And they should be able to do that by stopping their neighbours building something on their land that does not interfere with the enjoyment of their own land. That is an invasion of private property rights and a libertarian based party like ACT should be fighting so hard against it. But it doesnt because that would threaten their political future.

            If you relied on torts, you would never get anywhere with these arguments as you would never be able to show damage to your land. Especially if there were some 4/5 storey height limits. In fact, you would have a major problem as the developer of the multi storey dwelling could possibly show that it would increase property values in the area.

            “I just made the obvious point, no one likes to have their home ripped out from them, or the neighbours totally changed” – Again, noone is having their own ripped out from under them – emotional, sensationalist clap trap. And you are assuming that high density will lead to less desirable neighbours. Why do you assume that? Has that been your experience of living in high density? It hasnt been mine. Have you ever lived in high density housing areas?

            I would trade in my red neck, rural mind-set, auto dependent neighbours in a medium density neighbourhood for the kind of people who like density in a heart beat. Change is inevitable and happened in Epsom before and people survived it. It will happen again.

          3. I wonder what the farmers in Epsom or Mt Eden thought when these planners wanted to split the land up and build houses there? The horror!

          4. Wasn’t think about money at all. People invest and live somewhere for the character of the area (people, view, sound level, amenities), not the money. If you want money is housing, buy some rentals in an undervalued suburb, not Epsom?

            Lived in rural, burbs, and city, seen the world, got adult children, lived a bit, not ignorant. Switch from living from rural to city a few times a month, I don’t own a car

            Go watch the movie “the castle”, you are missing the point of what people live for

          5. The area is listed in the Unitary Plan as a historic area and when combined with the Design Guide there is actually very little to worry about. Why wont people take the time to actually read what is in the UP?

          6. The vast majority of the electorate has a two storey height limit. There are a few limited areas where you can build up to three storeys. The only place where you can build above three storeys is Newmarket – which has limitations due to volcanic viewshafts.

            This is what David Seymour calls anarchcy.

      2. “We are talking about a city that has a major transport problem that will not be solved by just sprawling the city out.” And I thought we were the 3rd most liveable city. We must be doing something right.

        1. Thanks to being very lucky in our natural environment and having a very nice, safe society – though inequality is slowly eroding that.

          Transport was the main thing that is dragging us down in those rankings. We were something like 53rd for transport and urban form. Definitely a “could do better”.

          Do you really believe AKL doesnt have a transport problem? All I ever hear is people complaining about how terrible it is to drive a car in AKL. But at the same time people seem to think we should make it easier to drive a car. Crazy stuff.

    3. Oh dear. And this man will be in parliament via a cynical gerrymander. Ironically, given the supposed ‘small government’ philosophy of his party he will be able fund further sophistry as above at our expense.

      Essentially he is saying that doubling down on auto dependent urban form in Auckland through extended poor quality sprawl will ease congestion. And black is white and up is down. I understand that he will have met hysteria about the UP in his electorate but instead of addressing that unreason with logic and analysis he has taken the easy and cynical road of nodding soothingly then heading of to come up with the absurd post justification of the resultant policy hypocrisy we see above.

      1. I am not too fussed about these silly arrangements the parties make as it doesn’t usually affect proportionality. It just gets them past the 5% threshold which only exists to stop the Nazi party in Germany and had no relevance here. I dont understand why the others dont game it as well. They could create a Labour Electorate Party and a Labour Party Party. Even then this lot would probably still manage to lose.

  9. Thanks so much for stopping by and giving such a detailed reply. Is it a much more nuanced and sensible point of view than we suggested. Of course much easier to do that than in a political speech. I guess to counter the UP did not propose high rises in the electorate, and low rise apartments won’t necessarily change the character more than large 3 storey houses. There is also issue that mandating large sections means market demand for smaller properties unable to be filled, and people may be willing to pay a location premium for the inner city or certain neighbourhoods.

  10. “I can’t take anyone seriously who complains about housing affordability but doesn’t want the city to grow.” Your post is about how you don’t want your patch of city to grow. Either you don’t take yourself seriously or your comment “housing affordability is an issue close to my heart” is lies?

  11. …sorry, maybe not lies – maybe when you say “housing affordability is an issue close to my heart” you mean it is of great concern to you that more affordable accommodation may occur near your constituents and you’ll do all you can to stop such horrors?

  12. “The push back against the Unitary plan, and the feedback I get from residents in the Epsom electorate suggests that people in central Auckland place a high value on the existing character of their communities. They have bought into a certain set of expectations about surroundings and whether they use the common law, private covenants, or regulation to protect them is moot. The point is that people have a reasonable claim which the proposed regulatory change would violate.”

    This applies equally to people who live in rural areas on the city fringe, so why are you less concerned about them?

  13. Councils must by law balance the desires of current residents with the needs of future ones. The good folk of Epsom don’t have a right of veto, no matter how entitled they may feel to one or how many people reinforce that by telling them fairytales.

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