Rob Hutchison: Council must be bolder on future

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Development needs to be smarter and faster to build truly liveable city, writes Rob Hutchison.

Development should respond to the qualities of each site - not use an arbitrary one-size-fits-all model. Photo / Supplied
Development should respond to the qualities of each site - not use an arbitrary one-size-fits-all model. Photo / Supplied

There's a Maori proverb that says "Whaia te pae tawhiti kia tata, whaia te pae tata kia mau" which means to live with "One eye on the work immediately before us, and the other on the distant future".

For Ngati Whatua Orakei this whakatauki represents the aspirations of the hapu. It is also the basis of our broad support for the Auckland Council's draft Unitary Plan. But in building a new future, we believe the council can and should be bolder.

As mana whenua or guardians of the central Auckland area, Ngati Whatua Orakei is right behind the council's desire to protect the sustainability of our natural resources and the heritage of Tamaki Makaurau. We agree with the council that this will come from developing a compact city, one that is built up, not out.

It is time for the Auckland Council to be brave and make tough decisions that allow for intensification. But it must be high-quality development.

We need to be more intelligent and seize the opportunity in front of us. We believe it's a lost opportunity that the majority of sites near public transport corridors have not been zoned for terraced housing and apartment building - the highest density zoning. We encourage the council to make this change.

Intensification isn't just about getting more height; it's about being smarter with what we have. We want to see development that makes best use of the natural environment, local knowledge, creates homes with amazing views, and allows for innovative amenities and open spaces for recreation and bio-diversity. We also want to see development which reflects our unique Maori culture.

Ngati Whatua Orakei provides land and/or homes for around 100 families in a vibrant close-knit community on the land surrounding the hapu marae at Orakei. By 2030, the hapu plans to provide housing opportunities for as many of its 6000 people as possible. These opportunities will only be doable through joint decision-making and a streamlined process. The right zoning will be critical and Ngati Whatua Orakei must be treated as a partner in this process.

Ngati Whatua Orakei, like many large landowners, is well placed to develop new housing, for its own people and to support social housing in Tamaki Makaurau. But under the current draft plan, we won't be able to make best use of a lot of our land. We haven't yet decided what we will build on the land. But as we work through this we want the chance to make the most of the options we have. We may look at apartment developments, we may not. Either way, we do not think it is fair, or in Auckland's interest, for any landowner to be restricted by an arbitrary "one size fits all" model.

Development should respond to the qualities of each site. The draft Unitary Plan doesn't differentiate between smaller properties of 1200sq m and larger properties of over a hectare. Our land is mostly over a hectare. In terms of development opportunity this is too restrictive. There is much greater potential to achieve successful development on larger sites without affecting your neighbours. The draft plan will remove this opportunity.

The council can't sort out Auckland's housing problems by itself but it will play a major role in making this the most liveable city. It says Auckland needs to be building 13,000 dwellings a year. We agree, but current levels are well below that at only 2500 a year.

To make this happen Auckland Council will have to explore innovative ways of reducing consenting time and costs.

Waiting for up to five years for sign-off on major projects is too long. Auckland doesn't have the time to waste. Council plan changes, resource consent fees, building consent fees and reserve and development contributions, make it difficult to invest. Every home owner or hopeful landlord will benefit from a new way of thinking. The draft Unitary Plan gives us hope but also leaves us wanting more.

Ngati Whatua Orakei has lived in central Auckland since the 17th Century and we want to see the ahi kaa or "home fires burning" for centuries to come.

The Auckland Council has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sort out this city's immediate problem - housing - while keeping an eye on the distant future - creating the most liveable city. Let's hope they're able to keep both eyes open.


Rob Hutchison is the chief executive of Ngati Whatua Orakei's investment arm Whai Rawa. He is a former valuer-general and former chief executive of North Shore City Council.

- NZ Herald

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