OPINION: Here we go again. [Stuff.co.nz 31st August]
Housing Minister Phil Twyford is heading down the same political path as Nick Smith by overriding Auckland Council planning, in this case the ink-barely-dried Auckland Unitary Plan.
The AUP took years and millions of dollars to develop and sets out a blueprint for Auckland’s development over the next three decades.
Following extensive public consultation, it attempts to strike a balance between leafy suburbs fearful of inner city high rises (brown field development, in planner-speak) and land bankers desires for a quick buck on the urban fringes (green field development, in planner-speak).
The fact that both groups are unhappy possibly indicates that a balance was found.
Councillor Chris Darby, who chairs the council’s planning committee, has often pointed out that the AUP makes provision for up to one million dwellings. There’s not a problem with land being zoned for development.
So why is the Government duplicating a pile of consenting and planning bureaucracy and trashing the Unitary Plan?
Twyford seems to be blaming Nimbys. Apparently, it’s Nimbys who are holding up development, despite everyone else saying it’s building capacity and the lack of money needed for infrastructure.
The AUP largely dealt with Nimbyism with sweeping zoning changes that are now seeing effect, and more than 12,000 consents issued in the 12 months – four times more what Nick Smith delivered with Special Housing Areas over four years.
With Special Housing Areas, all that seemed to happen is the land owners got directly in the minister’s ear, claiming if they were allowed to develop their land and the council’s pesky planning rules were ignored, then houses would magically appear.
It was a seductive message for a minister desperately looking for a simple political fix to a complex problem: the housing crisis.
The results not only haven’t delivered the tens of thousands of houses promised, the council has been left to sort out the resulting mess. A fine example is the Huapai Triangle SHA.
The minister plonked this into the middle of an area that council planners had already decided wasn’t ideal for development because of transport links. Never mind, we’ll make sure the infrastructure is there, the government said.
We’re still waiting. The cost of only one intersection related to this development has gone from $6m to more than $40m and construction is not expected to happen for another year or two, almost five years after housing construction started.
That money could have been better spent on other projects, as it’s not like the council is wallowing in unlimited transport funds.
Will vocal land bankers on the fringes of Auckland prove too much of a temptation for Twyford? Will there be yet more empty government assurances of infrastructure funding because the soundbite about how many houses being built will be more important that finding the cash to fund the surrounding infrastructure?
If the housing minister really thinks there is an issue with housing capacity, perhaps instead of repeating the control freak tendencies of the previous government, he could do two simple things.
The first is to amend the Resource Management Act to support the faster implementation of the Auckland Unitary Plan and deal with the issues he thinks exists with NIMBYs – something that would assist councils across New Zealand.
The second is to provide a lot more cash to the council for infrastructure funding. Don’t just stump up a bit of the money for light rail to the north west, leaving the whole project in limbo – front up with the whole lot.
How about handing back a portion of GST collected in Auckland to transport infrastructure provision? The Government could set up an NZ equivalent of Temasek, the Singapore Government infrastructure investment company.
What the Government shouldn’t be doing is overriding planning processes that took years to develop and setting up conflict with Auckland Council.
Friction between Government and the council is unhelpful. Both should be working together, not one overriding the other’s democratic processes.