Paul Little at large

Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: Ghetto mentality is taking over

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Housing is coming this way.
Housing is coming this way.

Sometimes it's hard not to feel this Government is doing anything other than having a laugh: it defends our rights by making it easy to spy on us; protects our environment by encouraging more mining; secures our future by selling our assets, and now is making it easier for people to find somewhere to live by creating suburban ghettos.

The 11 special housing areas are anything but. They are, instead, the worst possible solution to Auckland's housing needs. And let's not call it a housing crisis. That label introduces a note of hysteria which makes people happier to accept inferior solutions: "We have to do something. There's a crisis on."

The SHAs announced by Housing Minister Nick Smith - with mayor Len Brown alongside him, nodding enthusiastically but presumably dying inside - are more like two SHAs plus some cosmetically appealing scraps.

Of the 6000 new dwellings the SHAs will provide, one third, 2000, are at Kumeu and another 1000 at Pukekohe. Only the other half of the allotment could be described with any accuracy as being in Auckland.

What Nick Smith calls "freeing-up land supply" others might call raping the landscape. Many people in Kumeu and Pukekohe are there solely because they decided they did not want to live in Auckland. Craving freedom and space, and able to afford it, they upped sticks and headed to the sticks. How ironic that the city is now coming to them.

When the debate over the Auckland unitary plan came to rest on the issue of medium-density housing, the Government had the perfect opportunity to support the mayor's vision for a more compact, environmentally sustainable city with a population density that would support finer civic amenities. Instead it decided to support the subdivision industry.

When suburban sprawl first started gobbling-up open land in the 1950s it came to a halt at geographic boundaries. Inevitably, pressure will grow to fill up the open space between the isthmus and the SHAs.

Maurice Williamson - Minister for Building and Construction, former Minister of Transport - leapt on the census shock discovery that Auckland may not grow as fast as predicted to slam the city's modest public transport ambitions. But growth is either so out of control we need to make more property developers rich; or so under control we don't need more public transport. You can't have it both ways.

As the GCSB Act moves into place, expect to be reminded patronisingly that if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to worry about. But imagine you walk out to your letterbox and find a stranger reading your mail. You would be mightily annoyed. But that's what the GCSB Act allows. Still, at least with the person at the letterbox you know your privacy has been violated. With the GCSB Act you'll probably never find out.

I trust that in years to come when young people study media frenzies they will look back on the Great Auckland Berm Furore of 2013 as the quintessential exemplar of fusses about nothing. Four days of frenzy have been followed by a blissful silence punctuated occasionally by half-hearted attempts to get more blood out of this stone of a story.

- Herald on Sunday

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