Editorial: City blueprint good point of reference

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Auckland City. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Auckland City. Photo / Brett Phibbs

One city, one plan, one rates bill ... the second element of Auckland's mantra of amalgamation was always going to be the most important. A single plan, looking forward 30 years, would aim to shape just about everything that will happen or needs to happen to make Auckland what it could be. The plan has appeared. In its final, ring-bound form, it is an impressive volume that will attract interest wherever it is displayed and deserves a longer shelf life than these windy documents normally enjoy.

It should interest the whole country. As the plan notes, Auckland is one of very few cities in the world that generates more than a third of its nation's GDP. The Government looks to Auckland to accommodate 60 per cent of the country's population growth, which is expected to add a million people to the city in the life of the plan.

It is the Auckland Council's aim to accommodate 60-70 per cent of those people within the existing urban area, a slightly lower proportion than was proposed for public discussion.

The finished plan contains a much more precise programme of land to be released for housing both inside and outside the present urban limits, though it prefers more intensive development.

The council claims public endorsement of its overriding aim to contain the city, restrict further coastal sprawl and protect the rural qualities of the region. The council is less confident of popular support for higher population densities within existing communities but immigration and internet recreation are reducing demand for big sections with back lawns.

Instead, people are building much bigger houses, if they can afford to own a house at all. The plan forcefully records Auckland's unaffordability for young home seekers at present but a city council cannot do much about it. Housing is just one measure of social inequality of concern to the "super city's" first council. "The gap between those who have and those who don't is growing by the day," writes mayor Len Brown. "This is not a society Aucklanders want, nor does it augur well for the future."

His council's priorities are reflected in the order of chapters in the plan: People, Maori, Arts and Culture, Recreation and Sport, all come before Auckland's Economy. Rural Auckland precedes Urban Auckland and the familiar plans for infrastructure and public transport.

Apart from a very expensive inner city loop, which the mayor believes will do wonders for a slow, surface railway, the plan is not guilty of grandiose projects. Mr Brown's ambition, a "liveable" city, is described as one "where all people can enjoy a high quality of life and improved standards of living, a city which is attractive to mobile people, firms and investors, and a place where environmental and social standards are respected". By international standards Auckland could claim that definition now.

The plan looks solid but it is not written in stone. It is accompanied by a schedule of annual implementation updates, three yearly evaluations and six yearly reviews. The mayor and council will change countless times before 2040 as will elements of the plan. Despite that, the exercise looks worthwhile. The document will be a point of reference for most issues likely to arise.

Its worthy intentions and high-minded planning rhetoric will frequently put council actions to shame. Indeed, the day a copy was presented to the Herald this week, we reported new house designs that seemed hardly in keeping with the heritage around them. Plans can be quickly forgotten but Auckland will be better if the council lives by this one.

- NZ Herald

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