Why Auckland’s draft unitary plan is daft

SUBMISSION ON DRAFT UNITARY PLAN

– By Peter Verschaffelt.

Before making what will unfortunately be a highly critical evaluation of the inappropriately called Unitary Plan for Auckland I think it important that I outline my credentials and experience in the hope that, however slim, there may be decision-makers with the ability to step back and have another look at what they are doing.

I say inappropriate because it is not a plan which will unite the people of the city but further entrench already deep divides between the haves and the have nots which must be clearly evident to anyone not wearing blinkers.

Firstly, I believe the fundamental premises on which the Plan is based are wrong and that it is not just a matter of ‘tutuing’ with the detail as this review intends.

So in the hope that even at this late stage I may be taken seriously: my credentials.

University studies in the social sciences, and in particular sociology has led to a life-long interest in how communities function which has been reflected in the careers paths I have chosen. Paths which have direct applicability to this submission and the manner in which I believe Auckland should move forward.

Many years for example spent as a business and political journalist, including working at senior levels for the New Zealand Herald, Radio New Zealand, Television New Zealand and Iwi radio stations has given me a firm understanding of how economies work as well as the consequences of good and bad social policy decision-making.

Such experience was invaluable when I spent four years as Auckland City’s Communication Manager and as such was part of the Council’s planning team when decisions at the base of the Unitary Plan were being made. I was also a member of the small project team which built the $205 million Britomart railway station.

From there I spent a similar period as part of Housing New Zealand’s Assets Team which undertook nearly a billion dollars worth of multi-million dollar housing projects in Auckland as well as major infill housing across much of the city. I was responsible for community liaison and in particular explaining and gaining community support for the projects, necessary for the gaining of consents under the Resource Management Act, a piece of legislation I had considerable familiarity with having previously spent four years setting up and heading the Coromandel Peninsula anti-mining group Watchdog. This group’s successful activities actually led to a shift in planning procedure in this country away from legislative decree to a consultative and consensus approach. I have also worked as a consultant to the Ministry of Maori Affairs (Te Puni Kokori) on Papa Kaianga housing projects and communication issues.

Today I am a pensioner living in a Housing New Zealand village previously owned by Auckland City, which is currently under threat from redevelopment. During much of my working life in the city I have been a commuter, both into the city from Torbay and at another time I made the daily rush hour grind between the inner city and Manukau. Today I am a cyclist,  a regular user of public transport (both buses and rail), and spend at least an hour every day walking around city streets and reserves with my dog.

So the perspective I bring to this analysis is not just theoretical, as I suspect many of the submitters will essentially be presenting however well meaning, but highly practical based on wide and varied personal experience. As such I would hope it is listened to because I believe with the Unitary Plan we are heading in an irreversible direction which will have huge negative consequences for the city and its people for generations however idealistic and well-meaning its proponents are, which is something I don’t doubt.

And yes there are some good points in the plan such as its, I believe genuine, endeavour to protect heritage but even such noble aims must be weighed against the overall direction which I believe will create both a physical and social ‘abomination’ which I do not believe is too strong a word.

Let me explain.

INTENT OF THE UNITARY PLAN

As said the whole intent is wrong. It is predicated on the belief that creating a Metropolis on this isthmus is a wise idea. That creating another essentially Asian mega city here is a sound idea and that the planner’s job is to ensure this happens in an ordered and well organised manner rather than as piecemeal hotch-potch.

The projections in population growth which underlie the Unitary Plan are testimony to this and cannot be denied for there is no way they would be realised within the times frames suggested without major immigration. It is first and foremost this underlying premise that this is a good idea that needs to be challenged. Having worked as a teacher of English to Asians, mainly Chinese and Korean, for some years I believe that as far as immigrants go they are excellent, being generally law abiding and of fine character so I would not want my objection to creating another Asian city here to be seen as in any way racially motivated. It is not. But realistically Asia is the only place the projected volumes will come from.

If the planners believe that such a population influx is inevitable and not something we the citizens of Auckland can stop even if we wanted to, a contention with which I actually disagree, then they must say so upfront and I challenge them to do so. A matter I will address further in the second part of this submission.

Also having worked at Nga Whare Waatea in the South Auckland suburb of Mangere, and lived nearby in recent years, I have a strong appreciation of the huge cultural benefits the Pacific Islands community has brought with immigration, but we should not in any way underestimate the difficulties and personal alienation, and sense of anomie, experienced by many of these immigrants and their offspring.

And whatever one’s view on this let us be under no misapprehension that the predicted population influx in the Unitary Plan could come from anywhere but Asia – if it indeed matters where they come from.

Because as the Rod Stewart song of the 1960’s said “People are people whatever they have for breakfast” and that’s the problem – not their ethnicity nor origin. It’s simply the sheer volumes of additional people projected and the impact they will inevitably have that has the planners struggling to find space to accommodate them, and the only space they can realistically go with their blinkered thinking, is upwards.

Overwhelmingly people already resident in highrise community after community across Auckland don’t want that, however much the Unitary Plan advocates tell them they do and ‘how nice it’s going to be’ and that it can be done with some degree of finesse.

Yes, there will be some demand for intensive inner city living particularly from essentially childless young people. And yes, immigrants from Asia may feel comfortable with it, but however attractively it’s painted, with images and impressions from places  where it works, the great majority of Aucklanders don’t want it. Any argument that attempts to suggest non-objection to the Unitary Plan indicates happiness with it is plainly deceitful. I suggest the silent majority like myself to this point, purely believe their objection would be a waste of time and this is not tantamount to acceptance.

SO WHO ARE THE WINNERS AND LOSERS?

Unquestionably there will be existing landowners who stand to gain, some substantially, particularly those in areas designated for high rise development. However to realise the gain from the increase in the value of their property, which could be far less if a future government introduces a Capital Gains Tax on private property, they will need to sell. And if they wish to buy again in the city any capital gain they’ve made will be neutralized.

The developers and the builders also stand to make good profits as will associated services from the bankers and financiers, architects, planners etc. to the lawyers who will be rubbing their hands at the potential conveyancing fees.

The providers of materials and goods and services not only during construction but of ongoing infra-structure will also be supporting major growth. Particularly those such as supermarkets, liquor outlets and other retail services who have existing operations providing goods and services in areas being targeted for growth.

Likewise the City Council itself will be looking towards increased rates revenue.

And jobs will be created not only during construction but in the ongoing provision of goods and services to the greater population, but to what extent this pool of labour, particularly during the construction phase will be drawn from the New Zealand workforce and to what extent it will be indentured is debatable. There is a body of evidence that shows Asian people for example will trade with fellow Asians. And if the Christchurch model where one company, in that case Fletchers, is given a lead role in letting contracts and hiring of labour it’s likely that, as is happening in Christchurch, much of the labour force will come in from overseas countries where pay rates here allow them to earn more than they’d be making back home but less than New Zealanders require to make relocation for work viable. Many Aucklanders employed will on the whole have to travel considerable distances to work and face considerably higher rentals where they do live as the population influx pushes letting costs up, again the Christchurch example.

The Government too stands to gain from a greater population base, not just in terms of income tax but from GST also.

Some would even argue that one of the reasons New Zealand has fared relatively poorly in terms of Gross Domestic Product growth over many years is our small population which does not allow economics of scale, making costs higher here, so that in a way everyone in New Zealand would benefit. However this is a hotly debated contention among economists with the infrastructural costs of providing for the increased population offsetting the gains.

That’s the upside of a Plan designed to facilitate a rapid population escalation.

I contend the downside makes the desirability of such growth highly questionable, if not down-right stupid.

Firstly for every existing land-owner who realises a capital gain there is likely to be a number of others, particularly those neighbouring areas of considerable WOULD YOU LIKE TO READ MORE OF THIS STORY?

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