Don Stock: Unitary Plan short-changes those of us expecting a liveable city

A street in Glenfield. Photo / Doug Sherring
A street in Glenfield. Photo / Doug Sherring

The Unitary Plan is a disappointment. This was an opportunity to create a set of rules that would guide Auckland's long-term future development towards the goal of being the world's most liveable city. Instead, we have a document that focuses almost exclusively on solving the short-term problem of supply.

It is critical, of course, that the Unitary Plan makes provision for sufficient land to accommodate Auckland's growth. But liveable cities do not come about just from providing capacity; other factors such as quality, functionality, style and character are even more important if we are to guide development in a positive direction. The Unitary Plan, however, has stripped out any such provisions.

The Unitary Plan will allow much more land to be made available, but effectively allows developers to determine whether this land is developed in a way which enhances Auckland's liveability or not. This is an opportunity lost.

When faced with balancing a range of competing factors, the independent hearing panel has clearly come down on the side of quantity rather than quality. And we can understand why they might have chosen this route. Auckland has a major housing shortage. The lack of available land has severely constrained the building of new houses, which has led to price increases and has locked many out of the housing market. Social and political pressures to fix this have been immense

But the Unitary Plan is intended to be a long-term plan to guide the future. It has an important role in helping to solve the current housing shortage, but its prime role is to guide Auckland's development over the next 30 years.

It looks to me as though the panel has overlooked this requirement and been panicked into trying to solve a housing shortage above all else.

It has ignored the principles of democracy and natural justice by denying communities any say in the radical upzoning introduced outside the public consultation process. It has removed any requirement for good design in developments. It has removed any protection for old buildings. It has removed minimum sizes for apartments. It has removed requirements for off-street parking. In short, the Unitary Plan does nothing for Auckland's long-term future other than supply land. The headlines are about 18,000 new homes being built each year for the next seven years.

This is particularly disappointing because the panel did not have to panic. It confidently predicts that 18,000 new homes will be built each year for the next seven years, but it is naive to think that this will happen simply because it has made land available.

With a slower build rate, a less radical approach could have been taken that would have supplied sufficient land to meet demand while still preserving the rights of communities to influence the development of their living environment.

The panel could have retained and enhanced measures to ensure quality development rather than just development.

It could have created a Unitary Plan to deliver on the promise to create the world's most liveable city.

Instead, it has merely ensured that enough land is available to support Auckland's growth. That is a pretty weak outcome from a massive five-year effort. I think we have been short-changed.

Don Stock is chairman of the Mission Bay Kohimarama Residents Association.

- NZ Herald

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