Mark Donnelly: A sledgehammer update to planning

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Aucklanders need to study and understand unitary plan proposals very carefully.

Aerial view of Auckland City, Auckland. 19 April 2012 New Zealand Herald Photograph by Brett Phibbs
Aerial view of Auckland City, Auckland. 19 April 2012 New Zealand Herald Photograph by Brett Phibbs

Auckland's Unitary Plan takes a sledgehammer to decades of agreed zoning and the property rights of Aucklanders, with reportedly 56 per cent of properties rezoned for intensification.

We need to look at the ramifications to our communities, such as bursting school rolls, the irresponsible lack of new green space and parks, and the impacts on infrastructure for these rezoned areas.

Also to be considered is the immediate impact of such large scale rezoning which will see developers cherry-picking opportunities - much as the "sausage flats" damaged parts of Mt Eden.

The plan is an enormously complex, multi-layered document, which weaves site specific zoning with broader city-wide land use rules.

It also removes many land uses from a proper and full review of environmental impacts by classifying them as Restricted Discretionary, which limits the review of impacts and will flow on to reduced notifications.

I urge people to take the time and review elements that will impact on them.

The starting point is your area map, and understanding the different zoning and overlays.

Then too you need to understand the rules in section 4 and impacts of neighbouring zones. For example, four- storey apartments can have shading impacts over a wide area and a business zone will have different use and activity rules which can spread impacts on to residential areas.

As examples, if you're in a Heritage Overlay area, you need to understand the specific rules such as demolition controls which have been weakened to Restricted Discretionary, and rely overly on economic cost considerations.

If you are in or near a "Mixed Housing" area, you need to be aware of the density rules, especially the unlimited number of dwellings where a developer acquires two adjoining sections.

A select committee has been in Auckland to hear our concerns on the Government proposals to process the unitary plan.

This is the first important step for our communities.

First, they must not allow the whole unitary plan to have immediate effect.

Then we need a fair and workable hearing process. We will have to cope with large numbers of submissions, covering all the multi-layered elements of the unitary plan, followed by cross-submissions which complicate issues further.

Given the city-wide ramifications of many decisions, there is a high risk of errors, or decisions which lead to less than desirable environmental and amenity outcomes.

The proposed removal of our right of appeal removes the normal checks and balances in this process.

We must be able to appeal decisions which we believe have created poor environmental outcomes.

We must contact our local MPs and let them know the proposed legislation goes too far.

The Government bill puts the council firmly in the driving seat - while removing our right of appeal, it allows the council to reject a hearing decision.

So a community could win on an issue at the hearing, and the council could reject and force us to re-argue on appeal.

While I understand and sympathise with the Government's wish to assist on housing affordability issues facing Auckland, they mustn't lose sight of the vast amount of changes to existing property rights contained in this plan.

Auckland already has an affordable supply of apartments for those who want them, and plenty of areas that can have new apartments.

We don't see that many being developed as the market is already meeting the demands of that sector. Affordability issues are based around couples wanting a normal Kiwi lifestyle as they consider starting a family.

The Government should consider a two-tier approach to the hearing process.

Where the panel is given the power to prioritise the hearing around new areas which will release sections for development, and additional commercial areas supporting job growth. These decisions should take effect immediately.

The Government could also have the Environment Court prioritise this first tier if any challenges result, although decisions are likely to be less complex than rezoning of intensified urban areas which will no doubt attract many contested submissions.

With this approach there is also an opportunity to prioritise sustainable developments where developers provide infrastructure such as stormwater and sewage treatment on site, minimising impacts on council infrastructure.

It may also be an opportunity for land bankers to work with the hearing panel, prior to any future council "betterment"or land tax grab.

The Government also has an opportunity to support these areas with clearly planned additional schools.

Auckland is already one of the world's most liveable cities - and for any plan to succeed it must mirror the housing desires of Aucklanders.

While the Government could follow Sydney's recent bold lead in land provision, it must also ensure that the process it sets up allows us to protect our local communities and our residential amenity, which is what for many of us actually makes our great city "liveable".

Mark Donnelly is a former Auckland City Councillor, with Strategy and Planning Committee involvement.

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