Phil Eaton: Endless sprawl is not an option

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Further indecision will only intensify city’s social inequality.
We need a plan that allows for 400,000 houses in Auckland, 280,000 of them within the urban boundary. Photo / Supplied
We need a plan that allows for 400,000 houses in Auckland, 280,000 of them within the urban boundary. Photo / Supplied

Don't be fooled. The Nimbys are in full force, hiding behind the lack of process exhibited by Auckland Council as a reason to stop greater intensification in Auckland.

Forget it. We've had that debate.

We need a plan that allows for 400,000 houses in Auckland, 280,000 of them within the urban boundary, not greenfields. End of story.

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Yes, the council bungled the process for the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan. But the reasons for this are born largely in the political sphere where the original Unitary Plan (as notified) was watered down thanks to pressure from council politicians who would not support the well-planned intensification required to meet the objectives of the original Auckland Plan.

Council officers reported late last year that that plan would deliver only around 95,000 dwellings within the urban boundary. It is so far short of the target it is laughable.

Regrettably, when the original Unitary Plan was being prepared, the planners did not have the ammunition to fight back.

The council is now developing a tool to help interpret how the proposed Unitary Plan will be converted into housing. I cannot overstate how important this tool is - the council urgently needs to validate, test and peer review it, using the best resources available.

To be the great city we want it to be, Auckland has a long way to go to make up for the seven disparate district plans that governed our part of paradise for far too long. We now have many decades of indecision and lack of master planning to make up for.

This unfortunate period has given us suburbs without appropriate infrastructure, the wrong housing typologies for what most people need (mostly too big), a shortfall of close to 50,000 dwellings and insane house price escalation.

We are only just getting the planning in place for a connected public transport system. We must start now, not next year or the year after. No more backward steps. There seems to be a lack of acknowledgment that in the next 15 years we need to fit a city the size of Wellington into Auckland.

Visualise a map of Auckland, then increase its geographical coverage by a third and you will see the sort of trouble we will be in if we do not create options for smart, intensive housing.

Imagine the motorways that will be required to get people from home to work because of sprawl. Efficient housing and public transport will not be feasible with massive urban sprawl. We will all pay for that inefficiency.

The Auckland Plan is the guiding document we should be measuring progress by. It was published, ratified and agreed by all and brings together housing, roads, public transport and infrastructure.

Off the back of it, local and central government, with the private sectors, set plans in place for growth in schools, community centres, sports fields, retail centres, offices and factories.

There will be sacrifices. We are seeing reports of people who have just purchased a property in a leafy suburb to find it up-zoned. But development in these areas will not happen overnight. To progress we need change, and standing still is not an option.

The councillors who have come out against density proposals are aiding the Nimby mentality of baby-boomers who will leave behind an intergenerational legacy of social injustice and inequality.

There will never be Auckland suburbs covered in ghetto apartments. Fewer than 6 per cent of suburbs will have apartments with more than three storeys.

Many overseas examples of intensification and great design have created outstanding outcomes - look no further than Melbourne or Sydney. This fear is unfounded.

Stop hiding behind the process. The overall wins for our paradise will far outweigh the losses. We are in desperate need of leadership that provides bold and brave decisions which outlive the lifespan of an election term.

Phil Eaton is the president of the Auckland branch of the Property Council.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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