Dick Quax: High density urban housing never been embraced

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Part 10 of the Auckland Plan "directs" that "280,000 new dwellings will be constructed within the Metropolitan Urban Limits". Photo / Doug Sherring
Part 10 of the Auckland Plan "directs" that "280,000 new dwellings will be constructed within the Metropolitan Urban Limits". Photo / Doug Sherring

The Auckland Council Unitary Plan will propose the Auckland urban region is transformed into what the mayor describes as a "quality compact city".

The plan gives effect to the Auckland Plan which points the way forward for the entire region. Part 10 of the Auckland Plan "directs" that "280,000 new dwellings will be constructed within the Metropolitan Urban Limits". It has been claimed the intensification directive has as much science behind it as the annual directives for Stalin's tractor factories.

Aucklanders have never embraced the kind of concentrated living arrangements envisioned in the Unitary Plan. At the end of the 19th century Aucklanders, tired of overcrowding and the associated pollution in the downtown area moved further out for a better lifestyle on a small plot of land, usually less than 500sq m in size rather than the mythical quarter acre of urban legend.

But the "problems" the council says it is trying to fix are as mythical as the prevalence of the quarter acre sections. For example it is a myth that Auckland is a vast spreading, low density city that is more spread out than Los Angeles. The Auckland urban area within the 2010 Metropolitan Urban Limits covers just 531sq km. The population living within is close to 1.4 million. This gives an urban density of about 2600 people per square kilometre.

As a comparison with Australian cities Sydney, the most densely populated, has 2100 people per square kilometre, Melbourne 1600, Perth 1300 and Brisbane 1000. Vancouver, a city which local government politicians and council officials love to cite as a shining example of good urban development, accommodates just 1600 people for every square kilometre.

The question remains, if Auckland is already a compact city why is there a need to cram an additional one million people inside the present urban footprint?

Surely eyebrows will be raised when people read the council's Draft Unitary Plan Information Pack and discover that the planned population density will "be less than 10,000 people per square kilometre". Cairo, Baghdad and Hyderabad are among cities that have population densities of less than 10,000 per square kilometre and they are not counted among the most liveable cities in the world.

Recent history shows that urban intensification, especially in the form of high rise apartments, is not embraced by local communities. In 2000 the Auckland City Council tried to force multi-storey apartments on the Panmure community. This was angrily resisted at the time. On another occasion, when the former Auckland Regional Council decided that Panmure, once again, should accommodate more intensified living there was another outburst of opposition. Howick was designated as a growth node by the ARC in 2005 and again the community gave notice that this would not be accepted. The designation was quickly withdrawn. In Orewa, the plans for a high rise apartment were opposed by the local community and the Environment Court agreed that intensification in the area was unwarranted. In Browns Bay in the late 1990s a beachfront action committee successfully fought an eight-storey development all the way to the High Court and now finds that it is proposed that six-storey apartments will be permitted.

The massive intensification required to meet the goal of one million additional people within the entire urban region will be met with universal opposition.

We can expect a tsunami of protest when people in Browns Bay, Mt Eden, Botany, Pakuranga and Avondale realise their leafy suburbs may become a distant memory as high rise apartments replace trees and parks.

Dick Quax is an Auckland councillor for the Howick Ward.

- NZ Herald

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