1. The Unitary Plan took nearly five years from start to finish. How long did you expect it to take?
In the early days we thought it might take longer. We considered doing it in bits, perhaps starting in Rodney and working our way south. But the councillors decided in their first year that there was enough momentum to grapple with the really big issue of Auckland's growth in one plan.
It soon became clear it was going to be a massive beast, so we formed a separate team and doubled its size.
2. How are you feeling now the council has passed the Unitary Plan?
Relieved but also a genuine sense of a job well done. The scale and complexity of the project is unprecedented in New Zealand. I'm so proud of my team and the commitment shown by Aucklanders - it's a much better plan as a result of their input and the expertise applied by the Independent Hearings Panel. The bulk of the plan came into force on Friday but the old rules also remain legal until any appeals are resolved. So we're still in a transitional phase.
3. In what ways will Auckland be a better city as a result of the unitary plan?
This plan balances the need to grow in the right places while protecting the things that make Auckland special. Much of the debate around the Unitary Plan focused on housing issues. The plan does allow for a greater variety of housing, particularly close to public transport and town centres. It also creates opportunities for new housing and employment on the edge of the existing urban area. What hasn't received as much attention is the controls we've put in place to protect things like public views of Auckland's volcanic cones, significant ecological areas and sensitive landscapes. Over 100 places have been added to the heritage schedule.
4. You were born in Edinburgh and still speak with a slight Scottish brogue. Are you a Kiwi or Scot?
A bit of both. We moved to Wellington when I was 12. Dad got a job here as a printing engineer. I really didn't want to come to New Zealand at all.
I'd just started high school and had good friends. People warned us it would be like going back to the 1950s and to be honest it did feel a bit slow. The shops closed at noon on Saturday and the cars all looked old and rusty. I went to Newlands College up in the gorse hills and was harassed for a bit because my clothes and accent were different.
5. Did you always want to be a town planner?
I didn't know what I wanted to be. I started a music degree, dropped out and went back to Scotland for a year and had fun playing keyboards in a band with my old mates. We were very gothic - liked The Cult, Joy Division and The Cure. I studied architecture for a few years then went travelling, where I became interested in how buildings and public spaces fit together. So I did a planning degree in Auckland. I've been here 20 years now.
6. Do you support the Blues or the Hurricanes?
The Hurricanes. I support Scotland against the All Blacks too. You always go back to your roots.
7. You were previously Auckland's CBD planning boss. What are you most proud of in that role?
Getting the Wynyard Quarter ready for the Rugby World Cup. We changed the planning rules to take it from an industrial area to a vibrant mix of buildings, parks and streets. It sounds easy but it wasn't because there are some big players down there, all with competing interests, and you've got to work with them to get buy-in. There was also the Ports of Auckland, which was being affected by the oil companies leaving the tank farm, the marine industry and chemical storage companies. Most of my time was spent talking to developers, their consultants and at times their lawyers.
8. Did you work on the City Rail Link?
We did some early scoping work but it seemed like a pipe dream back in 2008. The CRL would never have gone through prior to amalgamation because the councils were too fragmented and we didn't have a single mayor to have serious discussions with central government.
9. Do the plans you write sometimes have different outcomes to what you expected?
Sometimes and that can be frustrating. It's disappointing how slow the Albany Centre has been to take off. We wrote some innovative and flexible planning rules, which developers like, but the GFC really hit Albany big time.
10. Councils seem to have a hell of a lot of plans. Why can't we just have one plan?
The new council inherited an incredible number of plans which we've definitely tried to reduce. There are three main plans you need to know. The Auckland Plan sits at the top and sets the vision for making "The world's most liveable city". The Unitary Plan sets out the rules for what you can do and where.
The Long Term Plan prioritises how we pay for it. Things start to get real when you set the rules and the rates.
11. What's next for you on the job front?
Once the unitary plan's finalised we'll need to work with our consents department to help them understand it and ensure a seamless transition. We're already developing plans for some of the new greenfield areas that have been earmarked for development on the edge of the city like Whenuapai. There's still a lot of work to be done. I'm happy to be able to play a role in continuing to shape Auckland's future.
12. Do you ever regret not having more time to spend with your wife and two sons?
I've tried to find the right balance. I'm certainly looking forward to spending more time with them now that we've reached this milestone.