Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Auckland set it up, knock it down

The Government seems intent on sabotaging a Super City baby that it now sees as a Frankenstein monster.

Environment Minister Amy Adams seems unsure about the unitary plan. Photo / Geoff Sloan
Environment Minister Amy Adams seems unsure about the unitary plan. Photo / Geoff Sloan

It would be great if Environment Minister Amy Adams could make up her mind about Auckland's new draft unitary plan.

Last Friday, after its unveiling, she rushed out a statement embracing it, gushing how she wanted to "acknowledge the huge amount of work that Auckland Council has undertaken to get the draft plan to the current stage".

Yet the day before, she was in the headlines threatening to smash one of the pillars of the new plan, the rural urban boundary.

She talked about setting up a new Crown agency to breach this planned barrier against accelerated urban sprawl into surrounding farmland.

Her displeasure echoed that of her colleague, Housing Minister Nick Smith, who is claiming that the plans to contain Auckland's spread are "killing the dreams of Aucklanders" by driving up house prices.

What both she and Dr Smith are ignoring is that their heavy-handed threats are aimed at destroying the "dreams" of a large majority of Aucklanders who voted for Mayor Len Brown and his promise to plan a new super compact city, not a super sprawling city.

Recently, Dr Smith, wearing his Conservation Minister hat, decided he was the expert when it came to driving tunnels and roads through wilderness land in remote Fiordland. The land is under the control of his department, so his decision to play emperor at least involved land over which he is the titular monarch. But Auckland is different.

The Auckland Super City, home of a third of New Zealand's population, is the creation of the present National Government. It was created to give effect to the Government's desire to develop a 21st century form of local governance for the population and economic power centre of the country. Reorganised and amalgamated Auckland would be entrusted with governing itself in partnership with the Government.

But from the inaugural election in 2010, the Government has treated its Auckland baby as some sort of Frankenstein-monster changeling. Things got off to a bad start when Aucklanders had the temerity to elect Labour man Len Brown as mayor, rather than National/Act veteran John Banks. Ever since, it's been downhill.

When it's not South Islanders Smith and Adams knowing best about Auckland's needs, it's South Island-based Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee, telling us the inner-city rail loop doesn't stack up and to do what any good South Islander would do and take a loss-making highway instead.

Labour's spokesman on Auckland Issues, Phil Twyford, says Mr Brownlee mocked the city rail link in Parliament recently, comparing it to an ill-fated monorail project on the television show The Simpsons.

Mr Twyford asked why the Government seemed to be at war with Auckland. A fair question. Even National's natural allies in Auckland, such as the Chamber of Commerce and the Employers and Manufacturers Association, enthusiastically advocate the rail loop, but to no avail.

With the unveiling of the draft plan, the main battlefront has shifted from the rail loop to the vexed issue of land supply for new housing. Dr Smith does admit the problem is complicated, but that doesn't seem to get in the way of his Government's desire to sabotage the plan by blowing holes in the city limit wall.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's recent report on housing affordability in Auckland highlights how questionable this tactic would be. For instance, the bureaucrats argue, "the main reason for the current low level of housing development is the overall economic situation facing the sector".

In launching the draft plan, Mr Brown harked back to the lengths the Government went to to set up the Super City, complete with "one council. once mayor, one vision, one plan".

He also outlined how 15,000 people had made submissions to the plan and many others were engaged through public meetings, online forums and involvement with local boards. He said the response was "loud and clear ... they don't want unconstrained urban sprawl that would turn Auckland into another Los Angeles".

The new plan reflects this desire. Yet as it now enters the formal period of consultation, the Government continues to sit on the sidelines, threatening to derail the very process it put in place, with talk of setting up Crown agencies to sabotage the process. Why doesn't it trust the democratic process it put in place?

- NZ Herald

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Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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