Penny Hulse: Quality housing for all at heart of council plan to guide city's growth

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Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse replies to critics of the Auckland Council’s latest proposal on the Unitary Plan.
Hundreds of eastern suburb residence attend a meeting to discuss the council's rezoning of homes under the Unitary Plan. Photo / Dean Purcell
Hundreds of eastern suburb residence attend a meeting to discuss the council's rezoning of homes under the Unitary Plan. Photo / Dean Purcell

Auckland needs more homes, built more quickly than before without compromising quality.

Since the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan was notified in 2013, Auckland has changed dramatically. Our population is booming. A housing supply shortage of between 20,000 to 30,000 homes is severe. House prices have shot up, renting options are dire and more expensive with many Aucklanders drowning in debt.

A recent Demographia Housing Affordability Survey says Auckland housing is now less affordable than Los Angeles. It's a problem now. Our children, young families and elderly are locked out from owning homes and from quality, affordable housing.

And we already know current plans cannot supply the 400,000 extra houses needed to accommodate one million more people over 30 years. Issues about natural justice and property rights have been raised but I am equally concerned about social justice and the rights of tens of thousands of people who don't own property.

Economist Shamubeel Eaqub coined the term "Generation Rent" and the Property Council of New Zealand, community housing providers and this publication have all called for solutions that increase housing supply, choice and affordability. It's an issue too important to play politics; this must be a cross-party and an all-of-Auckland approach.

The problem is getting worse. It's not all right that over 200,000 Aucklanders live in overcrowded housing.

The council recently put forward a proposal for zoning to the Independent Hearings Panel, a statutory body appointed to hear public submissions and make recommendations on changes to the Unitary Plan. The main change increases land zoned Mixed Housing Urban from 11 to 17 per cent of residential land. This allows Aucklanders to build more quality housing, up to three storeys in some areas close to town centres and along improving transport links.

It means greater varieties of housing choices - from low-level apartments, terraced/town housing to houses on smaller lots - providing more affordable options. It does not propose wholescale changes scattering "high rises" across suburban areas. Over 75 per cent of residential land in Auckland will be a maximum of two storeys. It also does not mean people can just build what they want.

The Unitary Plan has rules significantly raising the standard of design council requires of any new development.

The council is following a statutory process, where proposals are no more than its current position for independent hearings. No changes to zoning and no decisions have been made. Over two months the Panel will thoroughly examine zoning evidence from council and many other submitters, some who have called for more intensification than council's proposal.

The Ministry for the Environment's submission, endorsed by the Cabinet, calls for zoning of higher densities in areas that are market-attractive - areas, frankly, where zoning is most controversial.

Where so-called "out of scope" changes - those based on no direct submission - are proposed the Panel will decide how to treat these. We welcome their guidance.

Further public submissions were not a decision council could make. The legislation established by the Government did not allow for this.

The panel's hearings process will thoroughly explore all evidence and matters of "out of scope" changes in accordance with natural justice principles. The Panel reports back to the council in July. All councillors will then make final decisions based on its recommendations.

Auckland's choice isn't between growing or not growing. It's between having managed growth with investment in infrastructure and amenity, shaping how growth occurs and making it work or unmanaged growth with costly sprawl and inappropriate development.

We have a plan to manage growth - a balanced and robust plan that provides housing options many Aucklanders are asking for and indeed looking forward to.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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