Sally Hughes: Local consultation turns Nimbies into Yimbies

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Development in Ellerslie that are examples of what Auckland City may look like under the Unitary Plan proposal.Photo / Dean Purcell
Development in Ellerslie that are examples of what Auckland City may look like under the Unitary Plan proposal.Photo / Dean Purcell

Those driving Auckland's Unitary Plan process have put out a revised proposal for its Mixed Housing Zone regulations, calling the move a sign the council is doing what it always said it would do - listen to the people and respond to feedback on the plan.

While a step in the right direction, this can in no way be considered a substitute for the obvious missing ingredient all through this process - real consultation out in the open at grassroots level with communities of real people.

Recent comment in this newspaper has noted the same lack - questions are being asked about the private gatherings of invited "stakeholders", the absence of integrated plans for communities as they grow, the lack of connection to how density provisions will impact the character of communities, and the "one size fits all" planning approach that is unresponsive to local differences and needs.

Much of the concern at meetings on the draft plan all over the Auckland region has come from thousands of people worried about those very flaws and the spectre of haphazard apartment development being allowed with neighbours denied a say.

Council's refusal to release the reports on which it has based the intensification model and the rules around heritage won't allay any of their fears, and can only encourage mistrust of a blueprint for change being presented as the only way forward.

As communities continue to discover what's planned for them in a complex, multi-layered document, there's a perception that the full picture is still not being painted and they are being railroaded by a drastically compressed timetable. What takes a year or two in other cities facing the biggest change in their history is being pushed through in months here. Why the urgent need to upzone over half of Auckland all at the same time?

Most of the fear and doubt reflected in the public outcry, particularly over intensification, is a result of the council's "top-down" planning process, which has delivered onto the heads of Aucklanders a prescription for far-reaching change which they've had no opportunity to influence where it counts - at a local level and upfront.

There was a better way, exemplified by the person officially engaged to oversee the consultation process surrounding the Unitary Plan - renowned planner Professor Ann McAfee of Vancouver.

She took Vancouver through its Super City change with an award-winning "bottom-up" planning process which started a new plan with widespread community consultation on the big issues that worked through solutions over time.

It got major change effected with majority buy-in from the public - or, as she explains on the Vancouver plan website, it turned "Nimbyism" into "Yimbyism" (Yes in my backyard).

If the Auckland Council had adopted this approach, the upset people at the well-publicised "firecracker" meetings in the suburbs would have got what they wanted - a meaningful say at the start in where and how intensification would happen.

While she was in Auckland in February, Professor McAfee met several Character Coalition members (and a council staffer) to talk about the consultation process so far. She remarked that in fact the Auckland Council had "done the plan the wrong way round", saying they should have started with community consultation and written the plan from that. At its July 2012 meeting, the Auckland Plan Committee praised Professor McAfee's engagement to report on the quality of consultation here, lauding the community consultation done in Vancouver which fed into their plan. But the committee then noted none of that was going to be done for the Auckland plan, because of the fast-track timetable.

When the Mayor had a meeting with the Auckland 2040 group and the Character Coalition recently, he said he would not notify the plan if there was still significant unease and unrest in the community.

It's time to ditch the reckless timetable, put back the notification date, and give council officers a chance to look at the feedback properly, discuss it openly in workshops where all views are fairly represented, and reflect it in a revised draft plan.

If they don't, we'll end up living with the unsound results of a process that leaves people feeling disempowered and vulnerable, and so cannot deliver the community buy-in the council says is needed for the Unitary Plan to succeed.


Sally Hughes is convenor of the Character Coalition.

- NZ Herald

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