Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: U-turn one in eye for intensification god

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Councillors finally moved to rethink rezoning plans, and it’s about time, too.
I tremble at the Property Council's call for a "bolder and braver" solution to the problem of fitting a population the size of Wellington into Auckland over the next 15 years. Illustration / Bromhead
I tremble at the Property Council's call for a "bolder and braver" solution to the problem of fitting a population the size of Wellington into Auckland over the next 15 years. Illustration / Bromhead

It's taken an election looming to finally jolt Auckland's Rip Van Winkle councillors out of their long torpor and do what politicians are supposed to do. Govern.

Unrest among home owners in old isthmus Auckland has finally galvanised their elected representatives into overturning the controversial rezoning proposals championed by the bureaucrats and Mayor Brown from the south and his deputy from out west.

It comes as no surprise that criticism from the Government, despite its bullying of Auckland to solve the housing crisis, has been remarkably muted.

After all, it was their people who were in the forefront of the revolt. People like Desley Simpson, chair of the Orakei local board and wife of National Party president Peter Goodfellow.

The Government's bedfellows in the Auckland Chamber of Commerce also backed the uprising, chief executive Michael Barnett, on the eve of the reversal, calling the council's rezoning plans "irregular and undemocratic", adding that "destroying the special character of Auckland by further compacting well-established inner-city suburbs would be stupid ...

especially when it was clear that there are large areas of Auckland's south and west seeking to intensify and grow".

It's hard to disagree. I live in a heritage-protected area which is unaffected by the revised rezoning plans, so can hardly be smeared as a Nimby for supporting this revolt. But as the details of the super-charged intensification proposals unfolded, my unease grew.

The fury of the Property Council when their development hopes were thwarted reassured me my trepidations were justified. They were "appalled", we were told, by the councillors' revolt, which would create "systemic social justice, inequity and major economic risk".

The thought of landlords and developers lying awake at night worrying about "systemic social justice" beggared belief.

I did know that major developers, including the Government's Housing New Zealand, and city planners had been pushing for a relaxation of planning controls across the isthmus, in particular the relitigation of the precious volcanic cones viewshafts.

That was enough to get my alarm bells ringing.

These planning devices have been developed over the past 50 years to protect, for future generations, a network of views to and from our iconic volcanoes.

Like the regional parks, they were established by far-sighted Aucklanders to preserve the essence of this city. Now, in the name of the God Intensification, they are expendable.

In this context, I tremble at the Property Council's call for a "bolder and braver" solution to the problem of fitting a population the size of Wellington into Auckland over the next 15 years.

I also find it hard to trust council officers and developers that only award-winning, affordable apartment blocks that everyone will want to live in - or alongside - will be built.

In Monday's Herald, Unitec urban design experts Dushko Bogunovich and Matthew Bradbury revisited their alternative approach.

Instead of squeezing apartment buildings on to parks and golf courses, felling mature trees and doubling the size of motorways, they proposed a linear city, stretching initially from Wellsford and Helensville to Pokeno and Orere Point and possibly further.

Not random sprawl, as some are clamouring for, but carefully planned growth as occurs in Europe, along a single transport corridor, serviced by high-capacity, high-frequency transit.

Professor Bogunovich has been submitting reports and papers along these lines for years - so far to deaf ears. But now the reality of trying to crowd 400,000 new homes on to the isthmus over the next 30 years, as many as possible into established suburbs, is starting to hit home, maybe his linear city's time has come.

Destroying the enviable environment that keeps Auckland near the top of assorted world liveability charts, in pursuit of some planning goal, is a bit like the quip about the operation being a complete success, shame the patient died.

It's not as though intensification will even deliver affordable new housing. Auckland Council's chief economist, Chris Parker, destroys this dream in a recent report.

The median house price in metropolitan Auckland is 10 times greater than the median household income. He says the ideal ratio should be three to one.

Even with improved building efficiencies and a spread of housing designs, the best he can promise is a price-to-income ratio of five to one by 2030. Back to the drawing board, anyone?

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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