Penny Hulse: Plan will boost Auckland's growth

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Council is working with Govt to speed implementation and ensure consultation.

A compact city will mean communities with stronger local economies and more customers for more local businesses. Photo / Brett Phibbs
A compact city will mean communities with stronger local economies and more customers for more local businesses. Photo / Brett Phibbs

This month, Auckland Council is starting extensive engagement on the region's new planning rulebook - which will set out where and how our city grows for years to come.

It will determine how we protect our wonderful environment and built heritage and how we improve urban design.

This rulebook, called the Unitary Plan, is the next step in bringing the region together, replacing the various district and regional plans of the old councils with one document focused on delivering the vision of the Auckland Plan.

The plan's role in protecting our environment, character and heritage, while helping meet our growing housing needs, is clear. Perhaps less obvious is just how essential it will be to our economy. And that's important, because our economy needs action, fast.

Yes, there are many excellent, productive businesses across many industries employing many highly-skilled people throughout our region.

But consider a few basic truths. Our GDP per head is three-quarters that of Sydney or Melbourne: we're each generating nearly $10,000 less - every year. We lose too many talented workers overseas. Business growth is held back by too little space.

And our city's sprawling layout and choking congestion means too much of our time and productivity chugs out of exhaust pipes on motorways.

On top of that, our shortage of affordable homes means too many families are spending too much of their money on rent or mortgages rather than seeing that money circulating through the productive economy or invested in new businesses.

So what can we do? Plenty.

A simple example. A refurbished train station will benefit existing homes and businesses. But if we enable more homes - and a wider choice of housing - near that station, along with more business development, more retail and other local facilities, then the bang gained from our buck will be far greater.

And that's what we're looking at, right across the city. Auckland Council has planned the biggest infrastructure investment in the city's history, in everything from regional transport to local community facilities. As we develop the "compact city" that Aucklanders have asked for (loud and clear, through 18 months' consultation on the Auckland Plan), we'll ensure more people and businesses benefit from each piece of that investment.

It will mean "communities with stronger local economies: more customers for more local businesses, more people closer to more jobs, more sustainable facilities and livelier neighbourhoods.

We need to ensure land is available for development, with an extra 1400ha of business land needed over the next 30 years - the equivalent of 46 rugby fields a year. So one of the commitments we made in the Auckland Plan is to ensure an average of seven years' forward supply of land, zoned and with bulk infrastructure in place.

All the evidence shows that bringing businesses closer together boosts productivity. Having related industries side-by-side stimulates the exchange of ideas and innovation, which itself creates more jobs and higher-paying jobs, while more attractive locations will be a magnet for further growth. This in turn will boost our city's competitiveness in global markets. Our ongoing partnership with businesses is therefore essential as we develop the plan and then seek to implement it.

Then there are the other benefits of a simpler, consistent set of planning rules: less cost, less time and less hassle. Around 20,000 pages of existing plans - many more than a decade old - will be replaced by one, user-friendly online e-plan.

And, meanwhile, the economic boost from a building industry expanding from 2500 homes a year to our expected growth demands of nearer 13,000 - will be huge.

So we need to get on with it, but we also need to be smart. Which is why we want all Aucklanders to play their part, to help ensure the Unitary Plan protects what makes our city special, while delivering opportunities for growth. We are working with Government to find ways of speeding up the plan's implementation and ensuring people can contribute. The last thing Auckland needs is for the plan to be held up in long legal processes where those with the deepest pockets tend to do best.

We have been developing the plan over the last 18 months, with input from businesses, environmental and community organisations, technical experts and other stakeholders.

This month begins a year of wider engagement. The intensive burst of workshops and forums over the next couple of months - with significant input from the local boards - will test the plan before its draft release in March, when we'll be consulting right across the region.

I cannot stress just how important it will be for Aucklanders to have their say.

This is our chance to ensure the Auckland our children and grandchildren inherit will not only be more inclusive, sustainable, vibrant and beautiful - but also stronger and more prosperous as a result.

Penny Hulse is Deputy Mayor of Auckland.

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