Since first talked about back in 2013, the Unitary Plan has been like a roller-coaster ride. There’s been the hope and anticipation for a better future for Auckland as the cart climbs a steep hill followed by that brief micro second of confusion before you realise you’re falling as groups opposing housing pipped up and were egged on further by one sided reporting from the Herald. Then came the twists and turns of the debate before that feeling of weightlessness as you go through a loop waiting for the councillors to make a decision. After catching your breath for a second there was then the smaller and less intense second stage as the process was repeated. Then just as you thought the ride might be coming to an end it throws a few last unexpected twists and turns at you. And that’s where are now, right in the middle of latest saga the Unitary Plan has seen.
The current issue stems back to December when the council released its evidence and updated residential zonings as part of the hearing process. I wrote at the time.
As part of the hearings process the council are allowed to make a final submission in response to the issues raised by the public. They say they are currently confirming their position on a range of topics and one of those is zoning. Taking into account a range of factors, the council is suggesting some changes to the zones in the plan that determine what can be built where. It’s these changes which have had the Herald and a number of councillors worked up. The factors include
- the submissions and evidence
- the interim guidance on some topics from the hearings panel – such as on viewshafts and heritage controls
- further analysis of the zones i.e. fixing inconsistencies
- amended infrastructure plans such as the addition of light rail on the isthmus
This doesn’t mean that the Unitary plan is being changed just that the council are saying that based on the evidence and updated information they think some changes should be made. The independent panel hearing the Unitary Plan could rejected them outright or go completely the other way and say they don’t go far enough then recommend significant increases.
Overall the changes weren’t all that much. Those that did move generally only changed by a small amount and combined 78% of all residential areas were still limited to two storeys while a further 17% was limited to three storeys.
The Herald through Bernard Orsman along with groups opposing housing have even gone the absurd level of calling three storeys ‘high-rise’. One of the funny things of it all is that in suburbs where most of the opposition originates the size and scale of buildings that the opposition groups oppose are quite prevalent, just as single houses which they seem quite happy with.
What’s changed recently is following a meeting in Kohimarama – and I suspect a lot of lobbying of councillors over the summer break – supposedly a majority of councillors want to withdraw the councils evidence.
Auckland Council’s proposal to rezone thousands of homes for more intensive housing and apartments has lost the support of a majority of councillors, with councillor Sir John Walker today speaking out against the changes.
“If the mayor wants my vote we are going to have to come to a compromise,” said Sir John, who did not spell out what that solution would be.
“I’m on the residents’ side. I don’t want to see high rise buildings towering over Auckland.
“I don’t trust the town planners. They present one thing and change their mind and do another,” said the Olympic gold medallist.
Sir John said he supported calls to withdraw the changes, which see large swathes of suburban Auckland rezoned for multi-storey buildings, terraced housing and apartments in the council’s latest submission to the Unitary Plan.
Under the “out of scope” changes to zoning, meaning no residents asked for them in the proposed Unitary Plan, there is no formal right of reply for affected property owners.
Sir John’s position means 11 of the 21 councillors want the council to withdraw the out of scope changes from the Unitary Plan process.
The other 10 are Cameron Brewer, Cathy Casey, Chris Fletcher, Denise Krum, Mike Lee, Dick Quax, Sharon Stewart, Wayne Walker, John Watson and George Wood.
It seems that there’s also a degree of personal preference clouding decision making with Sir John also saying
Eight years ago he sold up and moved to a lifestyle block in Bombay “where you can’t build a single house”.
Sir John said the city should stick with low rise housing.
Why ruin the city with three-storey apartments? They might not be very high but I wouldn’t want to live next door to one
Now the majority claimed by Orsman is just on paper and the council haven’t actually formally voted to withdraw their evidence. We’ve also seen Orsman claim a lot of times in the past that the Unitary Plan was in the balance only to be easily passed by the council when they actually voted. To withdraw their own evidence would be incredibly stupid in my view as it would remove them from debate leaving it just up to what others had submitted and there were a lot of submissions calling for much more development to be allowed.
There were some very good responses to all of this yesterday which are worth covering.
Todd Niall at Radio NZ wrote this excellent piece pointing out that the Unitary Plan is a blueprint for the next 30 years and that the council need to take account all of those who will be living here in 30 years, not just those making the most noise now.
The debate and political anxiety comes as the deliberations near the end – the 30-year development blueprint for Auckland, the Unitary Plan, is due to be finalised by September.
It will eventually reshape much of Auckland’s residential landscape, with more of it looking increasingly city-like and less suburban – more multi-level and less like any other New Zealand city.
The heightened discussion poses a challenge for Auckland councillors. Should they heed the cries of the loudest of their constituents, or the ambitions of the quietest?
In short, who should have the dominant voice in shaping the future Auckland ?
The Herald got in on the act in its editorial.
It is too easy to panic politicians in election year, particularly in local body elections where the turnouts are usually low. It is easy to fill a public hall on local issues that are close to people’s homes and may affect their property values, and it is easy for individual politicians to be persuaded that a packed hall represents a popular uprising.
Plenty of us live next door to a double storey house without concern. But one more storey has the citizens in revolt, or so too many council members fear.
Let’s acknowledge the courage of those who are willing to defend the revised Unitary Plan and see it through. It may be easy enough for the mayor who is not seeking re-election, but not easy for Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse or council members Arthur Anae, Bill Cashmore, Linda Cooper, Chris Darby, Alf Filipaina and Calum Penrose. They have kept their nerve and put the city’s housing needs before their electoral safety.
If only they’d taken this stance all along we probably wouldn’t be in the mess we are right now. Alas I suspect we’ll back to business as usual with scaremonger articles soon.
The Property Council which is a lobby group for developers held no punches in it’s press release over the issue. Good on them.
Property Council is appalled with Auckland councillors who have withdrawn their support to rezone Auckland suburbs with the capacity for more housing and apartments.
Auckland Branch President Phil Eaton says soaring house prices are creating systemic social injustice, inequity and major economic risk.
“Let’s be absolutely clear about this. The councillors who have withdrawn their support to rezone and upzone suburbs to allow for more houses have done so at the expense of Aucklanders, because they want to come back after the local elections.
“Now, Baby Boomers have essentially locked an entire generation out of their own homes. Young people and families will never be able to work and live in Auckland, and ‘Generation Rent’ is the
legacy these councillors will leave behind.
“Local politicians must ditch their “Not in My Election Year” mentality and do what is right by all Aucklanders, not just some.”
Scaremongering by local politicians has residents believing their suburbs will be covered in high-rise apartments, when realistically less than 6% of suburbs will have apartments with more than three storeys: up just 1% from the previous version of the PAUP.
So where does that leave us. Councillor George Wood posted this the other day showing a briefing on Thursday.
We’ll be waiting to see what happens following Thursday. This is one roller-coaster I’d be happy not to ride again.