Editorial: Affordability key criterion in grand plan

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Auckland city. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Auckland city. Photo / Brett Phibbs

The 30-year city plan now adopted by the Auckland Council has not arrived with the fanfare of the draft that was issued for public discussion. That may have something to do with the Government's announced intention to rein in the range of activities councils can pursue. It was, after all, the Government's decree that the Super City it created should be ambitious. But clearly the creators did not envisage an Auckland Plan that would devote its first chapters to the city's social welfare, education and climate change before it turned to matters of transport, services and land use.

The adopted version is more mundane than the draft. It has taken to heart the only elements of the draft that aroused much public interest: the plan to contain three- quarters of expected population growth within the existing urban area, and the allowance for the port to reclaim more of the harbour. The containment aim has been relaxed a little, to 60-70 per cent of the growth within existing boundaries, and the port will no longer have the blessing of the plan if it applies for further reclamation permission.

But it's hard to credit a 30-year plan with significance in planning decisions of any kind. Inevitably, it is a document of the present, reflecting the character and priorities of the present council and especially its mayor. The plan is necessarily basic in its aims for "the world's most liveable city" but phrases such as that might not survive the next mayor, let alone even 10 years of its 30-year scope.

Within the next decade, local government will surely rebel against the extent of planning Parliament has legislated for them to do. Besides the 30-year monster, the Auckland Council is obliged to produce a "Unitary Plan" for land use and resource management, a "Long-term Plan" outlining its intended projects and activities for the next 10 years, then it is supposed to help the 21 local boards write a development plan for their district. At the same time, the council's subsidiary agencies for the waterfront, the city centre and economic development are drawing up their own plans which must conform to the Auckland Plan.

Not many busy, practical, public-spirited people stand for election to local bodies to spend their available time discussing long-term hopes and visions that nobody would strongly oppose. They stand with specific projects in mind, only to discover nowadays that they are not supposed to make concrete, contentious decisions. These are for staff to resolve in the name of the principles the elected members have agreed.

The false distinction between planning and implementation is a current fad of management theory that will probably not last much longer, certainly not far into the life of the Auckland Plan. Another fad will supplant it, hopefully one that encourages purposeful candidates to run for councils.

The reforms announced by Local Government Minister Nick Smith just before he quit last month should help bring the focus of councils back to the needs of the present.

While the changes to the Local Government Act will encourage more amalgamations along Auckland lines, it will also direct the enlarged councils' energies to building, in Dr Smith's words, "good local infrastructure, public services and regulatory functions at least possible cost to households and business".

The possible cost of the 30-year visions is one of the vagaries of the Auckland Plan now adopted. Some council members thought it important. The mayor thought a line that affordability is a key principle would cover their concern. That is the plan in a nutshell. Token words.

- NZ Herald

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