Brian Rudman 's Opinion

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Plans aplenty to freeze the brain

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Auckland Mayor Len Brown. Photo / Richard Robinson
Auckland Mayor Len Brown. Photo / Richard Robinson

So many plans, so many visions, so little time. Mayor Len Brown has given us just a month to absorb his latest truckload of "aspirational" plans for the city and provide feedback. It takes me back to my university exam days. Question 1. Auckland population will increase by 1 million over the next 30 years. What should we do? Read accompanying material and discuss.

Even my computer was soon pleading for mercy. Two and a half plans loaded on to my desktop and it was waving a white flag claiming its virtual memory was dangerously low. Then it froze. By this stage my head was hurting as well, the cynic in me starting to suspect that back at city hall, our masters were anxiously praying for an epidemic of such brain freeze.

After all, while officially encouraging public feedback, Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse admits that if just 3000 of Auckland's 1.3 million citizens heed the call to consult and front up in person to make submissions, the system will be overwhelmed. To meet the mayor's tight deadline of finalising the plans by December, there won't be enough hours in the day to hear that many submitters.

My suggestion is that for all but the most determined, consult via the council website. It has an online questionnaire, singling out the main "aspirations" raised in the draft plans, and provides space for a response to each.

Up for final sign-off by December is the overall Auckland "spatial" plan, the city centre masterplan, the economic development strategy and the draft waterfront plan.

Having lived with Mayor Len's visions for nearly two years now - election campaign period included - Aucklanders will be familiar with the general thrust of the plans. They echo the mayor's desire that "transformational shift", not just "incremental change", is needed to make Auckland the world's most liveable city.

Eyes might roll at the hyperbole but it's what helped to sweep him into office with a comfortable majority, as well as his commitments to an inner-city rail loop, a grand wall of Auckland to prevent the ever-sprawling Super City despoiling the rural hinterlands, more jobs, better housing and improved public transport.

As victor, it comes as little surprise that his aspirations are now firmly embedded in the various plans. It's also hard to see the submission process altering this grand vision. Hopefully though, submitters may have more success when it comes to nibbling at the edges.

When the first incarnation of the city centre masterplan emerged a month ago, I expressed disappointment that it did not address the problem of the downtown bus station - or, more to the point, the lack of one. Meaning that for hours each day, the interface between sea and CBD was dominated by a fleet of noisy, diesel-belching buses. The draft report continues to ignore the issue, but I live in hope.

The future of Queens Wharf needs revisiting too. During his campaign, Mayor Brown opposed the wharf becoming the main cruise-ship terminal, favouring opening it up as a public space. However, the draft waterfront plan accepts the combined Auckland Regional Council and Government plan of 2009, which involved buying the wharf from the port company for $40 million to create the Rugby World Cup "Party Central" and a cruise-ship terminal.

The new waterfront plan involves not just converting the historic Shed 10 building into a terminal but also extending it to eventually cover the length of the wharf.

There's also a proposal to build a large saltwater swimming pool on the west part of the wharf. That's if or when the "temporary" Rugby World Cup Cloud building is finally removed.

With Shed 10 eventually occupying the full eastern side and swimming baths taking up an unknown proportion of the remaining wharf, the dream of a downtown wharf promenade is fading fast.

Of the many other issues the various plans throw up, it's encouraging to read the mayor acknowledging that in opting for the compact city model for a population that will grow by 700,000 to 1 million by 2040, "we need a radical improvement in the way we design and build our city".

By that, I'm hoping he refers not just to city design, but housing design and codes as well. But that's a detail for another day. Now get reading.

- NZ Herald

Brian Rudman

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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