Brian Rudman

Brian Rudman is a Herald columnist looking at Auckland and national issues

Brian Rudman: Costly reality of waterfront housing wipes out diversity promise

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The redevelopment of the old waterfront tank farm gives Auckland's leaders another chance to doff their cap to the egalitarian myth. Photo / Dean Purcell
The redevelopment of the old waterfront tank farm gives Auckland's leaders another chance to doff their cap to the egalitarian myth. Photo / Dean Purcell

The story goes that postwar migrants sailing into Auckland used to ask who lived in the new houses along the ridge above the waterfront drive with the million-dollar views.

They were told they were state rental houses, built for the workers, who thought they were in paradise. The redevelopment of the old waterfront tank farm gives Auckland's leaders another chance to doff their cap to the egalitarian myth. But news that the cheapest apartments in the first tranche of residential land to be opened up at Wynyard Quarter will be priced from $500,000 upwards suggests otherwise.

It's as though our Labour Mayor Len Brown and Waterfront Auckland chairman Sir Bob Harvey, a former Labour Party president, are taking the same line when it comes to "affordable" housing that Prime Minister John Key did with the Government's Hobsonville redevelopment site in his electorate: Not in my backyard.

At Wynyard Quarter, the selling price for the smallest apartments, on what will be leasehold land, will start at $500,000, with small town houses beginning at $850,000 and larger ones well in excess of $1 million.

How this fits in with Waterfront Auckland chief executive John Dalzell's promise to create a greater diversity of housing and residents than in other parts of the waterfront is difficult to ascertain.

It also contradicts the official Waterfront Plan 2012, which says the city is "committed" in its residential strategy to "promoting diversity of household types (across cultures, ages, demographics, incomes, skills and lifestyles), and providing choices in accommodation in terms of housing sizes, typologies, price points and tenures."

The accompanying sentiments expressed in the plan are admirable.

"The provision of reasonably high levels of affordable housing throughout large-scale urban regeneration projects, located within or adjacent to market price housing, is common internationally. Unless there is some kind of intervention to encourage the provision of ... affordable accommodation in general, the market is likely to deliver a majority of prestigious apartments."

It does admit that while Auckland Council "provides policy support for increasing housing affordability and the supply of housing, there is no regulatory, and limited funding support in this area". In other words, the plan is hot air. The residential component of Wynyard Quarter won't be any different from the rest of the waterfront.

The plan for the area is for a worker population of 12,000 to 15,000 and a residential population of 2500 to 4000. Good planning principles would dictate that a proportion of these workers live within the precinct. This would be convenient for them, and for the council - less pressure on transport infrastructure. But at these prices only the managerial classes will be able to afford the mortgages.

What a lost opportunity at a time when the council is on a crusade to convert Aucklanders to the joys of intensive housing. It has the big problem of leading the horse to water. The ongoing leaky homes fiasco, and the ugliness of many past CBD apartment blocks, has made many Aucklanders suspicious of anything new when it comes to housing.

Wynyard Quarter would be an ideal place for the council to create a showcase for intensive living. Conduct an international competition and seek advice on innovative ownership and financing models as well to ensure "location" and "depth of pocket" are not the only gatekeepers for the new population of Wynyard Quarter.

The risk is, if it's left to the market, we'll end up with an Omaha-in-the-CBD, a semi-ghost town, full of rich people's "baches", only occupied when their absentee-owners swan in from down country or overseas.

The redevelopment of Wynyard Quarter was initiated prior to amalgamation by Auckland Regional Council, with the underlying imperative of creating sufficient long-term income to fund the gaping mouth that was Auckland public transport. There was little scope for experimentation or bold thinking.

The broader funding base enjoyed by Auckland Council following amalgamation has removed this albatross from Waterfront Auckland's neck.

Sure, it's still expected to make a commercial return, but it also now has extra freedom to turn some of the purple prose of the waterfront plan into reality. The latest announcement is not encouraging.

- NZ Herald

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