Miles Brown: We can't keep city in glass bubble

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Auckland must change to adapt to the population growth that's essential to its prosperity.

Terraced housing like that in parts of Botany Downs will help Auckland meet its density targets. Photo / Martin Sykes
Terraced housing like that in parts of Botany Downs will help Auckland meet its density targets. Photo / Martin Sykes

With only days remaining before submissions close on Auckland's draft Unitary Plan, we should all take a deep breath and try not to panic. Hasty decisions and fear of change will not help our city's future.

Discussion must turn to a realistic, evidence-based conversation. We cannot place a glass bubble over the city and guard it from change.

The first draft of the Unitary Plan attempts to do all things for all people. But there is no single right answer.

It tries to achieve several desirable but conflicting outcomes, such as protecting heritage across large areas of the city whilst seeking to maximise density in development. Something has to give.

Blanket character overlays discouraging large parts of Auckland from development will add an extra compliance burden to the development of housing in areas where there is market demand. Development needs to happen where people want to live.

The protection measures also affect business areas in need of maintenance and refurbishment.

Areas including Dominion Rd, Parnell Rise and Ponsonby Rd will be affected by earthquake strengthening requirements. Many buildings will require significant upgrades made more complex by the blanket heritage protection measures.

The Government is reviewing building standards. Make no mistake, Auckland will not be immune to this policy change.

Property owners need the flexibility to manage the buildings that make our city function. Offices, industrial facilities, retail strips and malls are the infrastructure of business in New Zealand. There is no doubt the council's targets for density are in serious jeopardy thanks in part to the backlash against intensification. We must not allow those resisting change to damage the potential of our city to grow.

Development has stalled over the past five years - a flow-on effect from the global financial crisis. First and foremost, we need to get development moving and allow young people the chance to live in their own home.

The plan needs to encourage quality intensification; well-designed terraced housing will help achieve density targets.

Clear yet flexible guidelines which encourage innovation, efficiency and quality urban design are crucial.

The proposed height limits for housing in residential areas are nothing new - the majority of these are from Auckland's former district plans.

It is worrying that certain areas in Auckland are not open to welcoming in new residents.

The Unitary Plan needs to achieve density targets - if certain areas are no longer viable for increased development, then further areas on the city outskirts must be developed. Appropriate greenfield land must be opened up and enabled.

And let's not forget about business land.

We need to ensure there are appropriate provisions for the development of business land to service increasing demand. We need offices, factories, distribution centres, supermarkets and shopping malls to cater to this new growth.

Auckland has to be prepared for population growth. There is no doubt people are migrating from around New Zealand to urban areas. We cannot build a wall around the city and keep people out.

If this plan ignores market realities, it will not succeed.

The city must change if it is to be a desirable, thriving place to live, work and enjoy in the future. Population growth is essential to the prosperity of Auckland.

The Property Council has advocated for some time on the need to realistically manage increased population growth and achieve density as prescribed in the Auckland Plan. We are prepared to work to help achieve this goal.

When you submit your views on the Unitary Plan, do not forget we wanted and voted for a unified approach to city planning five years ago. Now is not the time to put the handbrake on change.

Miles Brown is the Property Council New Zealand's Auckland branch president.

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