Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Bernard Orsman: Zone backtrack a black mark against leaders

Scuttling housing density plans is a black mark against Auckland Mayor Len Brown. Photo / Dean Purcell
Scuttling housing density plans is a black mark against Auckland Mayor Len Brown. Photo / Dean Purcell

The Unitary Plan, the planning blueprint to shape the future of Auckland, is an almighty mess.

Last night's vote to scuttle housing density plans is a victory for democracy and another black mark against the Len Brown-Penny Hulse leadership.

Mayoral candidate Vic Crone hit the nail on the head when she said the Unitary Plan further undermines Aucklanders' low trust in the council after the port debacle and a sneaky 9.9 per cent rates rise.

Phil Goff, another mayoral candidate, said the main game turned into alienating residents' quality of life and value of their properties.

Either Goff or Crone will probably have to deal with the mess that will spill over to a new mayor and council after October's local body elections.

To recap, late last year a proposal was hatched to rezone thousands of homes in the city's leafy suburbs for intensification. No-one was consulted or had a formal right of reply under the Unitary Plan process. A handful of councillors passed the changes behind closed doors.

When the Herald reported the new zoning maps in December, community groups rose up. About 660 people attended a public meeting in Kohimarama this month, one of the biggest public meetings on a local issue in 20 years.

Instead of listening to the community, Brown did his usual trick and hid behind the "legal process". A belligerent Hulse blamed misinformation and got captured by legal niceties, which consumed more time at yesterday's seven-hour meeting than the actual political debate.

Brown is stepping down in October, but Hulse's days of deputy mayor are surely numbered by this latest botch-up. It is time for a new critical eye to steer the Unitary Plan, someone like Chris Darby, who read the alarm bells and eloquently pointed out it was the process, not the merits of intensification, at stake.

There are lessons for the likes of Generation Zero, the climate change youth group that painted the debate in terms of young people versus Nimbys and the old guard. As one community leader noted, ageism was a low blow and no different from sexism and racism.

The youth lobby has played the ageism card twice now in the Unitary Plan process, and lost both times. They need to start engaging with property owners instead of slagging them off.

Last night's decision also sends a strong message to the Unitary Plan hearings panel that any recommendations it makes must speak of a fair go or they will be dispatched.

As for the plan itself, Brown says it will be passed by August. No one seriously believes the issues will be settled by then.

- NZ Herald

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Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Super City reporter Bernard Orsman has been covering local government issues in Auckland since 1998. He covered the Auckland City Council beat through the Christine Fletcher, John Banks and Dick Hubbard terms before turning his attention to the creation of the Super City. Bernard was previously based in the Press Gallery at Parliament for nearly six years. He joined the Herald in 1990 after a stint on New Zealand News UK in London. Bernard studied politics and mathematics at Victoria University before graduating from Wellington Polytechnic School of Journalism.

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