Dark Forces at Work in Auckland Plan

The unitary plan, which gives effect to the non-statutory Auckland Plan, is akin to a laundry-type list of goals and “feel good” aspirations. The government has every right to feel that the Auckland Council is being less than honest with the people of Auckland. Mayor Len Brown has been forced to admit that he got things terribly wrong when he claimed last month that there are 15,000 sections within the Auckland urban footprint on which housing construction can begin “right now” Last October he put the number at 18,500.

It is clear that both Mr Brown and his deputy Penny Hulse, are unhappy with the governments reaction to the draft Auckland Unitary Plan released last week. Mr Brown does rely on officials to give timely and accurate advice. But while a number of councillors and knowledge-able property developers questioned the figures provided to the mayor, he accepted the advice he was given without question because it suited his ideological perspective. According to the mayor and his deputy there are “dark forces” within the government trying to discredit their directives on where and how AncIdanders should live? By all accounts Ms Hulse has told Housing Minister Nick Smith that he doesn’t understand the council’s proposal. Mr. Brown has written to Prime Minister John Key asking him to change his position that the plan should go through a rigorous submission process before it becomes operative. Against the background of the appalling discrepancy between the initial figures and the reality of available housing land, the government has rightfully asked what else in the plan is based on myth and driven by leftist ideology

I can tell the government that the unitary plan, which gives effect to the non-statutory Auckland Plan, is akin to a laundry-type list of goals and “feel good” aspirations. The Auckland Plan is required by legislation to be evidence-based to support the council’s decision making. It is at this point at which the plan becomes unglued. There is no evidence that Auckland can accommodate the 280,000 additional dwell-ings required. There is no evidence presented that some further peripheral extension to the metropolitan urban limit (MUL) will have a detrimental effect on rural agriculture or horticultural production. There is, however, evidence available that a more compact city leads to greater traffic congestion. The third annual INRIX National Traffic Scorecard showed that the world’s most congested cities are high density European centres such as Milan, Brussels, Paris and London. Despite having sophisticated public transport systems these cities have per-formed poorly compared to low density cities. In fact, 21 of the top 25 most congested cities are in Europe. These cities all have higher population densities than Auckland and suffer massive traffic congestion.

The cost of congestion in Auckland is estimated to be $1 billion a year. This cost will only increase with more urban crowding. Ms Hulse made much of promoting the draft unitary plan as a positive for children. She held up her grandson and declared: “We are building a city for him.” She should read a study, Achieving a Healthy Home Environment, by Flinders University Adelaide. It contains data that shows high-density living and the lack of a backyard is not conducive to children living a fit and healthy lifestyle. A consultant paediatrician, Dr Nicola Spurier, who headed the study, reported that South Australian children with big backyards were less likely to be overweight and inactive than those with small courtyards. It seems to me the “dark forces” in this debate reside in Auckland rather than in Wellington.

Source: National Business Review

March 29 2013 08:48 am | Tim Manning

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