I think reasonable people could disagree about the Independent Hearings Panel’s recommendations on the Auckland Unitary Plan. In fact, a large number of generally reasonable people have spent a lot of the last two years disagreeing about the appropriate shape of the plan.
That’s all part of the democratic process. It doesn’t necessarily produce a perfect outcome on every issue, but on average it’s pretty reasonable. I expect that people will continue to critique, relitigate and change various pieces of the plan – that, too, is part of the process. We should welcome the ongoing debate.
What is not tenable at this point, however, is to criticise without being concrete, or to insist that we reject the entire plan and go back to – what? Those are not meaningful positions to espouse at the end of a multi-year planning and hearings process with many, many opportunities for community input. Nor do they offer anything positive for solving Auckland’s housing crisis, which is turning families out into the street for want of a home.
Brian Rudman’s column on the Unitary Plan recommendations in last week’s NZ Herald was, unfortunately, an example of a substance-free critique that doesn’t add much to the discussion. He writes:
There’s a cargo cult hysteria erupting over the magical cure-all abilities of Auckland Council’s proposed unitary plan, as revised by the Government-appointed hearings panel.
A broad church of true believers, including such odd bed-fellows as the Sallies and property developers, seems convinced the panel has discovered the holy grail which will conjure up affordable housing for all. They’re now ordering councillors to abdicate their responsibilities and tick the recommendations through unread.
Named the Coalition for More Homes, they’ve written to councillors thundering, “the time for deliberating is over, the process has been followed, it’s time to get on with it”.
At the risk of suffering elder abuse, dare I point out they are wrong. Like them, I’m shocked by the housing crisis. But I’ll be equally shocked if our elected representatives suddenly panic and get swept along with the mob’s obsession with housing at the expense of all the other ingredients that go into making a world-class city.
So what does Rudman want? It’s not at all clear. He certainly doesn’t think that councillors should adopt the Unitary Plan as is – hence his use of hyperbolic phrases like “cargo cult hysteria” and “the mob’s obsession with housing”. But what does he want them to do instead? Should they:
- Vote to accept some of the IHP’s recommendations, and reject others? (If so, which ones?)
- Vote to refuse all the recommendations, and default back to a completely different plan? (If so, which plan?)
In the absence of clear suggestions about what specific parts of the Unitary Plan he thinks are unacceptable, and how he thinks the city should proceed, Rudman’s column doesn’t add anything positive to the debate.
To be fair to Rudman, he does offer two or three specific examples of things he doesn’t like about the IHP’s recommendations. For instance, he really doesn’t like the approach they’ve taken to development on a volcanic cone in Papatoetoe:
Like despoilers from another age, the panel has also rezoned precious Crater Hill, on the edge of the Manukau Harbour at Papatoetoe, as suitable for up to 575 houses, either inside this privately owned volcano or on its outer slopes. This, at the request of the owners.
Geologist Bruce Hayward says Crater Hill is the second best preserved of the southern mountains after Mangere Mountain. It is ranked eighth most valued volcano in a report supporting Auckland’s attempt at World Heritage status for the volcanic field. Says Dr Hayward: “Welcome to the new world of more housing subdivisions, no matter what the cost.”
This is a perfectly reasonable view to hold. It’s fine to not want Auckland’s maunga to be built on. After all, they are an iconic part of the city’s landscape.
But piecemeal objections are not a good reason to call for rejecting the entire Unitary Plan. Binning the plan and starting again from scratch would be expensive and risky, due to:
- The cost of throwing housing development into limbo while we restart a very long planning and hearing process – in the middle of a housing affordability crisis
- The time and money that council and submitters will have to waste repeating the same exercise – probably with a similar result
- The risk that Auckland Council will be sacked and replaced by commissioners – I can’t see how that would enhance local democracy.
If that’s not what Rudman wants – and I hope it’s not – then he needs to clearly explain what he does actually want to see from the Unitary Plan and from the council’s decisions about it. The same goes for all critics of the Unitary Plan: Rather than carping about the plan in general, they need to play a constructive role and articulate what specific things they’d like to be changed, and how they think we should go about changing them.
What do you think is good about the Unitary Plan? What do you think could be better?