Concerns council 'bowed to wealthy' over Unitary Plan

Councillors me yesterday regarding disunity over the Unitary Plan. (Newshub.)
Councillors me yesterday regarding disunity over the Unitary Plan. (Newshub.)

Aucklanders calling for affordable homes in the city say the council has turned its back on an entire generation of residents.

But the Housing Minister says the council's decision to drop its intensification proposal isn't the end of the process and its importance shouldn't be overstated.

Auckland councillors yesterday voted to withdraw the city's most recent plan for greater housing density, in favour of a less ambitious proposal set out in 2013.

The unprecedented defeat for Mayor Len Brown came after an outcry from some residents, who said they hadn't been consulted before the decision and feared the plan would harm the character of some of Auckland's leafy suburbs.

Council cut itself out of process

Sudhvir Singh, spokesperson of long-time advocates for the Unitary Plan, Generation Zero, says the most recent developments are a "bizarre" turn of events.

"It's actually quite bizarre, this is a council plan where development can take place over the next 30 years, and as a result of yesterday the council have pulled its own input into that plan. So now it is up to an independent hearings panel appointed by Government who's going to determine what the zoning looks like."

Economist and Generation Rent author Shamubeel Eaqub agrees and says the decision showed the council was incapable of making vital change.

"We know what the solution to Auckland's housing crisis is: it is to have more housing, and a big part of that was density. And this process has taken the council out of providing evidence on density."

He said the council had bowed to wealthy land owners in leafy suburbs at the cost of a younger generation who would be stuck renting.

"The baby boomers and landed gentry have won. They have said, 'we like to have expensive, single-storey villas in central Auckland instead of the progressive change needed in any city that's growing'."

Government-appointed panel to make final decision

But Housing Minister Nick Smith told Radio NZ this isn't the end of the matter, and the council vote only reflected what it would submit to the independent panel making the decision on the Unitary Plan.

"They still have to deliver a Unitary Plan that is able to meet those growth requirements."

But he said the council's submission could now be undermined compared to all other submissions to the panel.

"The Auckland Council's position now becomes something of a nonsense ... If you look at their submission there is a mismatch between the amount of housing allowed and the amount that is required."

Mr Eaqub said he was not optimistic, about the independent panel providing the intensification that was needed.

"One can hope. And the panel is made of people who are experts in this area. But ultimately politics will decide what happens."

That sentiment is matched by Mr Singh.

"We cannot allow any further delays to the implementation of this plan, as Auckland urgently needs more housing supply, particularly smaller housing choices close to public transport and town centres."

Newshub contacted the council today to ask what yesterday's outcome would mean for Aucklanders and its submission of the Unitary Plan.

In an email response it said it was examining the implications of yesterday's resolutions, but wouldn't comment further as no spokesperson was available.

It says an update can be expected in the coming days.