Sudhvir Singh: Don't let the old guard strangle Auckland's future

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Auckland urgently needs more housing choices if we are to address our acute housing affordability crisis. Photo / Dean Purcell
Auckland urgently needs more housing choices if we are to address our acute housing affordability crisis. Photo / Dean Purcell

Auckland urgently needs more housing choices if we are to address our acute housing affordability crisis and provide the kind of living spaces that our diverse and ageing population needs. That's why the Unitary Plan, a Government requirement which provides the framework for where future development can take place, is so important.

Groups that have always been opposed to a quality compact city, such as Auckland 2040, are once again trying to water down the Unitary Plan through opposition to a few small amendments to the plan's proposed zoning laws.

These groups, representing a small but well organised number of existing homeowners from certain suburbs, have now chosen to poke holes in the process of agreeing on the plan. But this is just the latest argument they use to disguise the fact that they just don't want our city to develop at all - a recklessly irresponsible position when we are faced with both a housing affordability crisis and the exciting economic and social stimulus of close to one million new Aucklanders arriving in the next 30 years.

Groups opposed to Auckland developing more vibrant neighbourhoods have tried to make out that councillors have full control of the Unitary Plan. But in the process that the Government has established, the Auckland Council is now simply one submitter to the Independent Hearings Panel.

The proposed zoning adjustments in the council's submission to the panel are in keeping with the submissions made on behalf of groups like Generation Zero, Government agencies including Housing New Zealand, community housing providers, public health groups and professional architecture societies, all of whom have argued for more housing choices in existing suburbs.

Indeed, the hearings panel itself has signalled that increasing density is likely to be required to meet Auckland's challenges, and they have the scope to amend the plan based on the feedback and advice they receive.

In its submission, the council needs to show leadership in accounting for the views of all Aucklanders. Facing ever-increasing property prices, Auckland's young people have been content to compromise on size, preferring smaller properties near to what's important to them rather than being isolated on large sections on the urban fringe.

That is why the the selected areas that will allow for some apartments and new housing are extremely important. They are where young people may be able to buy their first home, or where housing providers can build affordable rental accommodation.

If the council was to further restrict development, as groups such as Auckland 2040 suggest, this would further degrade housing affordability and incentivise traffic-causing, climate change-inducing urban sprawl.

The fears conjured up by opposition groups - of soulless, towering apartment buildings destroying once-leafy suburbs - are simply scaremongering. In fact, in the council's submission, only 6 per cent of Auckland outside the CBD could potentially have apartments of more than three storeys, while 78 per cent of our city would still be limited to no more than two storeys and a further 17 per cent limited to three storeys.

Opposition groups also forget to mention that the zones that do allow for terraced housing and apartments also have significant controls such as setbacks, landscaping and outdoor space requirements - controls that those opposed to density helped write earlier in this protracted process.

Indeed, the majority of these suburbs already allow for these type of developments under existing plans. Instead of attempting to stoke unfounded fears of the development of a dystopian, overcrowded city, these groups should instead join us in ensuring we have ambitious design and quality standards.

When the mayor and councillors gather to discuss the council's submission on the Unitary Plan today, they need to remember that the plan is for all Aucklanders, not just an exclusive group of existing property owners who would prefer our city to be a museum rather than a vibrant place to live and work. If we do not see leadership from the council, we will continue to allow an old guard to have a stranglehold over Auckland's future.

Dr Sudhvir Singh is director of Generation Zero, Auckland.

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- NZ Herald

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