Unitary Plan divides Aucklanders, politicians

Auckland (Getty)
Auckland (Getty)

Wednesday's release of the possibly final text of the Auckland Unitary Plan has divided opinion.

After two years of hearings, a Government-appointed panel yesterday delivered its recommendations on what changes need to be made to Auckland Council's proposed version of the plan, which maps out how Auckland will grow over the next few decades.

The panel surprised many by recommending more intensification than the council was looking for, but also calling for the rural-urban boundary to be expanded 30 percent, letting the city sprawl a bit further out.

Whichever way it grows, it's recommending making space for 422,000 new dwellings over the next 25 years, with about two-thirds of them being built within the existing urban limits.

Some, like mayoral candidate Victoria Crone, say the panel has got the balance "about right" between growing up and spreading out.

"With three-quarters of a million people coming to Auckland in the next 20 or 30 years we do need to respond, and this is a start."

Her primary concern is there isn't enough intensification around transport nodes - bus depots and train stations - and that could lead to congestion.

Mark Champion from the Employers' and Manufacturers' Association says not enough attention has been paid to improving public transport.

"We're not also completely convinced that the areas of development that have been earmarked for the Unitary Plan in terms of residential development are going to be linked up to where the jobs are going to be."

Ms Crone is also worried that apartment developers won't necessarily have to provide car parks. But youth activist group Generation Zero says this is a feature, not a bug.

"It means the apartments can be much cheaper," spokesperson Ryan Mearns told Newstalk ZB.

"It costs about $50,000 car park with an apartment, so by removing a car park you can save a lot of money and it allows people to get on the property ladder."

Other parks residents fear might be at risk are the kind people use to play sports and walk their dogs. North Shore resident Jason Cordelle believes the sports fields at Unsworth Reserve have been rezoned for housing.

"That's something I am getting a little bit passionate about, so I'm certainly going to be looking at what our rights are as residents of the area, and whether or not there's anything we can do about it at all."

But he might not have to do anything. Auckland Council told Newshub the sports fields were recently purchased to ensure they wouldn't be turned into anything else.

"Because it has only been purchased recently, the recommended zonings haven’t had a chance to reflect this rezoning yet."

Ms Crone says many residents across the city will be wondering if there's any more they can do, if they don't like what the panel has recommended.

"It's basically presenting 30 years of growth without enough consultation or without Auckland being able to understand, well if my park is being taken away here, where else am I getting living spaces?"

There's consensus across the political spectrum Auckland needs more housing to alleviate the city's growing affordability. Ms Crone's rival for the mayoral chains, Phil Goff, says intensification needs to be tackled carefully.

"If you're going to have intensification, we don't want high-rise slums. What we want is quality intensification where you've got proper infrastructure. If you don't have transport to intensification, you just make congestion worse."

His current boss, Labour leader Andrew Little, says there are two big problems with the panel's recommended version of the Unitary Plan - firstly, it keeps the rural-urban boundary.

"It's still arbitrary and it's still going to make prices of land arbitrarily high," he says.

There's also no requirement for developers to ensure they're building accommodation the average person can afford to buy.

"The Unitary Plan could have made a commitment on having a certain proportion of the massive numbers of extra houses they need to build to be affordable houses. They make no commitment at all, and appear to have done that on the advice of Government departments - MBIE and Housing NZ."

ACT leader David Seymour has also criticised the retention of the boundary.

"They have retained a ratio of the vast majority of homes being built inside the existing urban footprint. That's the policy we've had for the last 20 years which led to the shortage of housing."

Auckland Council has until August 19 to decide whether it accepts the recommendations.


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