An open letter to the Auckland Council
The future of Auckland is suddenly at stake. If our 20 city councillors and the mayor panic in their emergency meeting tomorrow, they could undo all the good work of the last five-and-a-half years.
We get it. It’s pretty tough, being a city councillor right now – at least, if you’re a councillor who has supported the Auckland Plan (AP) and its vision for a liveable city, and you’re standing for re-election. But you have to do better than we’ve seen from you – all of you – in the last three months.
Late last year, you proposed changes to the Unitary Plan (UP), which is the blueprint that says what can be built where: the UP is the document that enables the AP vision to be realised. Your changes allow for more density in some suburban areas but they do not give potentially affected residents the chance to be consulted (which is why they are called “out of scope”).
What were you thinking? Citizens are up in arms about that, and they are right to be. The out-of-scope proposals are anti-democratic. For legal/technical reasons it will not be easy to fix this, but that cannot be an excuse. You must fix it, and quickly. If the blueprint for the future of Auckland is not a democratically produced document, it will not stand.
However, you have a bigger duty too. Fiasco though it is, you cannot allow the current situation to destroy the whole project of building a better Auckland.
Let’s remember, the Unitary Plan is a moderate document. It proposes that future growth in Auckland will be 60 per cent up (more density) and 40 per cent out (more sprawl). That is not a recipe for destroying the fabric of the suburbs as we know them.
Citizens could be forgiven for being confused about this, the way some of you councillors have been carrying on – goaded by a few pressure groups and the NZ Herald. Some of you have always opposed more density – at least in the suburbs where you live. Some of you have had the nerve to say you support the concept, but your record speaks more loudly: you oppose every move to bring it about.
As for the Herald, it continues to imply the out-of-zone changes affect most of us, which they don’t. And it continues to publish photos of little cottages overwhelmed by tower blocks – when the argument is actually about three-storey townhouses. It’s both irresponsible and just plain stupid.
As you councillors already know, your proposed out-of-scope changes to the UP do not affect the 60:40 split. In fact, they have been proposed because your officials told you even that 60:40 split would not have been achievable under the existing UP. All they mean is that the borders between some zones would be shifted over a street or two, to enlarge the denser areas a little.
The overall impact is measured and relatively discreet. Of the 413,000 properties in Auckland, only seven per cent are subject to out-of-zone changes. But if it’s our street, that’s irrelevant. If we’re in that seven per cent, we should have the right to a say, and that’s what you wanted to deny.
As you go about fixing this, please, please, do not indulge in rhetoric to undermine the whole Unitary Plan.
However, as you go about fixing this, please, please, do not indulge in rhetoric – or take any material steps – to undermine the whole Unitary Plan. Remember, despite the noise of protest right now, we already know that most Aucklanders want the city to grow up as well as out, especially in town centres and along transport corridors.
Most of us want a greater focus on public transport, and welcome the advances that have been made. Most of us love the fact that our waterfront is opening up, our hospitality and entertainment sectors are flourishing, and our city is becoming more ethnically diverse. We love that all this is happening because the population is growing, and with it our economic opportunities. Growth brings new businesses. Growth brings jobs. Growth brings the demand for a vision.
Most of us also understand that, handled badly, growth could lead to terrible outcomes, especially in housing and transport. A choked city; the misery of far-flung dormitory suburbs; the blight of bad urban planning. If the whole UP is thrown out, which some councillors and candidates for council are now proposing, that is what we will face.
And yet, if the growth is handled well, with a coherent plan to make the city denser where it can be denser, we will all benefit – from the increase in jobs, from having more recreation options, from having more choice about where and how we might live. From what it means to live in this sparkling city by the sea.
That, at heart, is what this debate over the Auckland Plan and the Unitary Plan is all about. It’s time for you to articulate that and to champion it. It’s time to show some leadership.