COMMENT:

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!

A couple of months back, Housing Minister Phil Twyford was slagging off Auckland Council for getting "too close to the vested interested, like Nimbys" when it drew up its key planning document, the Unitary Plan.

Nimby's – short for 'not in my backyard' - being the Minister's derogatory put-down of any Aucklander seeking to ensure future development of their city isn't left solely to the tender mercies of developers, speculators and, dear I say it, Housing New Zealand.

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Twyford further complained back then that "when it came time for tough and necessary decisions to create the Unitary Plan, too many councillors headed for the hills".

To counter this, he would set up a Housing and Urban Development Authority which could override the Unitary Plan and the planning and consenting powers of local elected councils nationwide.

Now he's released details of this draconian new planning overlord, and surprise surprise, in the driver's seats will be Housing New Zealand, Auckland's largest residential landlord and owner of over 1,400 hectares of the city's valuable residential land.

If ever there was a vested interest when it comes to Auckland's planning controls, it must be Housing New Zealand.

Housing New Zealand highlighted this during the years of protracted hearings and appeals it was involved in during the Unitary Plan hearings.

It complained in its original submissions that it had the potential to build 39,000 new dwelling units on its existing land, but that the proposed unitary plan would restrict it to only 19,000 new dwellings.

It fought to weaken the proposed protections for both built and natural heritage and to water down the building height restrictions protecting the city's iconic volcanic cones.

The viewshafts, it argued, were causing "a potential capacity loss of 1150 units" to Housing NZ and 24,500 to developers citywide.

Having emerged less than triumphant from this lengthy judicial process, Housing NZ is now getting a second chance, thanks to its very own Minister who is handing Auckland to them on a plate and being told to do their best – or worst! As long, it seems, as you give him lots of houses.

The Unitary Plan is the result of years of toil and debate and compromise. It is Aucklanders shiny new, self-made road map to the future development of our city. But because his Housing New Zealand bureaucrats from Wellington didn't get their way, the Minister wants to give them powers to override the bits in the plan they don't like.

In a paper to Cabinet colleagues, the Minister has the cheek to talk of "the importance of working in partnership with local communities" and only invoking his draconian new powers in cases where there is "the realistic potential to deliver tangible public benefits".

But his list of said benefits such as "volume of housing supply" and "social outcomes" is worthy, but narrow.

It falls very short of the all-embracing aims of the Unitary Plan. This begins by declaring itself to be the guide to "how the people and communities of the Auckland region will manage Auckland's natural and physical resources while enabling growth and development and protecting the things people and communities value ... "

Of course we all want more affordable housing. Most Aucklanders will be happy the present Government is finally doing something about it. It's great too, that someone is finally expanding on the one-stop-shop urban development authority model, which previous governments dabbled with at Hobsonville.

But you don't have to trash the Unitary Plan, along with the Auckland councillors and the thousands of other participants in the lengthy process that saw it emerge, from the individual submitter through to the judges settling the final appeals.

Apart from anything else, housing statistics suggest something must be going right. In the year to September, consents for new Auckland residential builds were up 25.5 per cent, to 12,945. The August year was even better, with consents granted for 12,959 new homes, the highest yearly total since the June 2004 year.

Twyford is seeking a partnership with Auckland Council. Accusing councillors of going soft on Nimbys and creating an un-elected housing authority with the power to over-ride Auckland's planning rules, seems a strange way of going about it.