Gary Taylor: Bigger may be good for environment

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In proposing a single ruling council for the Auckland region - with six subsidiary councils - the commission has created a model that has both strength and consistency at a regional level and diversity and place-making at a local level.

The alternative of having more, smaller local councils framed more tightly around communities of interest is suggested as a possibility at a later stage.

Crucially, it proposes strengthened spatial planning - essentially mapping where development can take place and where conservation values should prevail.

Spatial planning will also enable optimal development of infrastructure. The present system is weak in this respect.

The commission wants the spatial plan to be long-term and to "identify the green and ecological networks of the region, and areas that should be protected from all development and their natural values enhanced".

It should have statutory clout.

This approach will remove parish pump decisions driven by parochialism and lead to greater consistency of environmental standards across the region.

Projects such as the Te Arai subdivision and the Whenuapai airport should find it harder to recruit support. There will be a moratorium on private plan changes.

Although it might seem counter-intuitive, bigger is better for the environment. The Auckland council will provide attractive career opportunities for policy-makers, planners, landscape architects, urban design specialists and scientists.

Its scale should lead to a more objective and professional approach to environmental management.

The report puts much emphasis on the need for sustainable urban form and is strongly critical of those who would do away with metropolitan urban limits. It accepts that intensification can be controversial but argues against urban sprawl. It proposes clearer boundaries between urban and rural.

It suggests an urban design council to monitor development quality. Special panels would oversee heritage protection and volcanic cones.

While the present community boards are being done away with, there will be special boards set up for the Auckland waterfront and the gulf islands. That should please Waiheke and Great Barrier Island residents. More integrated management is proposed for the Kaipara Harbour.

Instead of one district plan for each city just one plan would cover the region. The six local councils would have an important role in providing for diversity and local needs and would process building and most resource consents.

However the Auckland council would be able to call in projects of regional significance - a welcome proposal.

The commission proposes to retain appeal rights on the one district plan to the Environment Court.

Overall the commission's recommendations should improve the environment.

* Gary Taylor is a former city and regional councillor and is at present a director of the Auckland Regional Transport Authority, the Hobsonville Land Company and chairman of the Climate Change and Business Centre (Australia). The Environmental Defence Society is an environmental litigator and think-tank.

- NZ Herald

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