Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Council's appeal on housing spurned

Opponents of building more densely in Auckland reject overture as ‘nutty.’
Last night, Richard Burton, of the community group Auckland 2040, said the idea was "nutty" and he would not participate. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Last night, Richard Burton, of the community group Auckland 2040, said the idea was "nutty" and he would not participate. Photo / Brett Phibbs

"Nutty." That's how one community leader describes the suggestion an independent group could help find a solution to the Auckland housing density debate.

The idea, floated by Council chief executive Stephen Town in discussions with the New Zealand Herald, had been suggested and rejected in council already.

But Mr Town said there could be another opportunity for council to engage with communities.

Mr Town's comments come amid vigorous debate over housing density that has caused division among some residents and damaged political relationships.

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Last week a majority of councillors voted to withdraw a proposal to rezone about 28,000 houses for more intensive housing from evidence to an independent hearings panel considering the city's Unitary Plan.

The idea of an urgent community process run by an independent working group was part of a wider motion to proceed with the housing density proposal, and was voted down by a majority of councillors last week.

Richard Burton, of the community group Auckland 2040, said the idea of an independent group was "nutty" and he would not participate.

"This is a kneejerk, face-saving solution," said Mr Burton, who has become the voice for property owners concerned about higher-density housing in the suburbs. The council should approve the Unitary Plan and if it believed there was a shortage of housing it should introduce a plan change with evidence and public consultation, he said.

"That is the proper way of doing it," Mr Burton said.

Yesterday, Mr Town said the thinking behind the idea was it might be seen as a more constructive and positive process independent of council.

Generation Zero spokesman Leroy Beckett said it was smart and necessary for the council to reach out to all sides to find common ground.

"The debate got very heated last week, and there is a lot of misinformation being spread that has got the public and some councillors worried about the council's proposal.

"We hope an independent working group will be able to cut through this drama and help councillors make the decision that is best for Auckland based on the evidence."

Last week's decision to withdraw the housing density evidence has led to a blame game in columns, blogs and social media.

"This is another case of council arrogance but this time it over-reached itself," councillor Mike Lee said in his Ponsonby News column.

Peter Nunns, writing in the Transport Blog, said the most likely outcome was Auckland continuing to build too few homes, continuing price rises, crimped opportunities for young people and social ills.

Last week's vote also drew warnings from Prime Minister John Key and Finance Minister Bill English that the Government will not rule out intervention to solve Auckland's housing problem.

Mr Key reiterated Mr English's comment that "all options were on the table" in dealing with the housing issue.

It was a growing city and needed to build "up and out".

Mr Town said the council had five months to find a solution to the housing density issue before making final decisions on the Unitary Plan.

But he said nothing could be done until the council heard from the independent panel taking submissions on the plan. It is to release recommendations in July for the council to decide on in August.

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