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A CLUE to an alternative to Auckland’s Unitary Plan

A CLUE to an alternative to Auckland’s Unitary Plan.

A commentary from….

David Thornton Writer Commentator on Local Government.

Former member North Shore City Council, Glenfield Community Board, Greater London Council.

Former RMA qualified Commissioner. Founder NoMoreRates.com.

[Has been widely published, reported, and interviewed in NZ media including electronic media]

6th May 2013

A Controlled Liveable Urban Expansion plan for the future of Auckland.

An Alternative to the draft Auckland Unitary Plan

Mayor Len Brown wants a quality compact city to meet a possible population growth of one million people in 400,000 new homes. And he wants that city to be the world’s most liveable city. His plan relies largely on increasing the current density in most parts of Auckland to accommodate 700,000 new residents in 280,000 new homes.

The balance of 120,000 homes and 300,000 people will be located outside the current city limits in presently rural areas and by expanding smaller towns in the wider region such as Warkworth, Wellsford and Pokeno. This represents a 70/30 urban/rural split, which could move to 60/40 according to the Auckland Plan and the draft Unitary Plan.

To achieve these figures the planners, with the approval of their political matters decided to re-zone the entire city – every piece of land in the Auckland region was rezoned. No one escaped the clutches of the population planners.

The Council was warned that rezoning on such a vast scale would provoke community outrage and huge political resilience would be required if Council was to achieve its goals.

Community response to this unparalleled level of intensification has been largely hostile, not simply against medium and high rise buildings, but at the obvious lack of provision for infrastructure in terms of roads, wastewater, stormwater, public transport, green spaces for play and a host of other services and facilities that one million more people would require and expect.

The draft Plan itself is a significant piece of work and there is general approval, and indeed plaudits, for the creation of one set of planning and development rules for the whole of the SuperCity. That set of rules needs detailed consideration in terms of development potential and impact – but the presentation format of these rules in the Plan should facilitate such consideration.

There is also admiration for the e-plan treatment for maps, with the various overlays illustrating sensitive resource management, environmental and heritage areas and influences.

So what is all the fuss about?

The initial concern may have been high rise apartment buildings all over the place – perceived or actual – the media publicity of which led to more people attempting to find out more about the Plan. That led on to increasing awareness of the sheer size of the Plan, and its complexity for residents generally.

The result of this response to the Plan has produced a call for more time to consider all the rules and implications which may flow if the Plan was notified and put into operation within three years. The Council will consider this call during May – but the Mayor and Deputy Mayor appear to be on different tacks on this issue.

The local politicians, and those who support and promote the Plan, are now challenging the disaffected and dissatisfied to produce their alternative.

So here is mine – it’s a CLUE.

A Controlled, Liveable Urban Expansion for Auckland’s future.

Before anyone screams ‘Sprawl’ – the Council’s own Plan calls for so-called ‘sprawl’, which it calls the RUB (Rural Urban Boundary), an expansion of the Metropolitan limits into greenfield rural areas. The Unitary Plan calls for up to 40% of population growth to be accommodated within the RUB and in expanding some existing ‘satellite’ towns.

While the Mayor says Aucklanders want a ‘compact city’ there is no data to substantiate that claim. Indeed a recent survey showed that Aucklanders, including younger Aucklanders, look forward to having their own home, not in apartment blocks, but in communities much like their parents did.

The planners will come up with all sorts of reasons for building compact cities based around a single ‘big city’ centre, thus following the pattern of many overseas cities. That pattern does not appear fit well into the ‘New Zealand way’. As this Unitary Plan’ engagement’ has shown there is strong resistance to the compact city model.

So how will Auckland develop with the CLUE?

Within the SupercCity are three main centres, Albany to the North (still growing), Manukau in the South (room to grow), and the CBD in the middle, ripe for brownfields redevelopment and greater intensification. Both Albany and Manukau have the capacity to encourage the development of considerable employment opportunities for residents within their respective peripheries and beyond.

These three centres sit astride the ‘Spine’ of State Highway One forming the backbone of the city-region – an observation made recently by a planning academic who opposed the single city centre concept.

This spine will be added to shortly by way of a western ‘by-pass’ – thus opening up the North-west areas of the city-region.

If there is a need to move quickly, to provide more and affordable housing, there is land available along sections of the Spine beyond the Northern and Southern centres and into and beyond the areas already identified in the RUB. Why not start urban expansion there?

Developers are already gathering beyond the city’s borders in the belief that buyers will come there to live in the ‘New Zealand way’.

And I would argue strongly that it may well be less costly to take infrastructure to the RUB than it will be to retrofit infrastructure in the piecemeal intensification envisaged in the wholesale rezoning pattern set out in the Unitary Plan.

The CLUE does not exclude high rise apartment building (that can already happen in the Metropolitan Centres) but controlled expansion into the RUB now would begin to offer genuine housing choice almost immediately.

By easing the valve on housing demand, and offering choice, the pressure would be off the Council to rush ahead with the contentious Unitary Plan in its present form.

The Council needs to hold back from implementing its wholesale rezoning within the current Metropolitan Urban Limits and allow a much longer period of engagement on a neighbourhood by neighbourhood basis. This process will undoubtedly throw up areas within the urban boundaries which could be redeveloped in tandem with the provision of all expanded core services and community facilities.

A controlled approach to development and redevelopment to meet population growth will allow a new Auckland to evolve which will reflect the changing choices and preferences of Aucklanders as they travel through the generational changes of their lives.

What Auckland does not want is this insane approach of rezoning, in one fell swoop, every piece of property in New Zealand’s biggest and most important city.

Don’t throw the Unitary Plan away – use its format to produce a living Plan following this CLUE.

And listen and respond to what the people are saying.

End

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