Seconds out of the ring. The latest battle for the control of Auckland has begun. Maori tribes scrapped so frequently for the ownership of this precious isthmus that it became known as Tamaki Makarau, Tamaki of a hundred lovers.

Today it is Mayor Len Brown versus Prime Minister John Key. With the release of the Draft Auckland Plan, Auckland Council has thrown down the gauntlet to the Government.

Senior National Party ministers have long fought against Auckland's old regional growth strategy, based around a metropolitan limit designed to stop urban sprawl into the surrounding farmlands.

They claim it forces land and housing prices up and want it abolished - or at least made more flexible.


The new draft plan defiantly endorses the previous policy, declaring a top priority will be to "realise a quality, compact city", preserving "a large rural land mass both north and south of its urban heart".

It was a proud affirmation of past policy, and the Government wasn't best pleased.

On Friday, at a meeting between Cabinet ministers and Auckland councillors, sources say the ministers couldn't stop browbeating the councillors over the error of their ways.

"Quite intimidating and smalltown," said one.

Fronting the critics was Environment Minister and Nelson MP Nick Smith, backed by Transport Minister Steven Joyce and Whangarei-based Housing Minister Phil Heatley.

Mr Joyce let rip last November waxing lyrical about the quarter-acre section, saying the challenge for Auckland's spatial planners will be "not to impose their ideal Auckland on us, but allow for an Auckland that reflects the varied ways in which the people of our biggest city already choose to live".

He found it "amusing" that where density had increased it was not along transport corridors "where the central planners said it would", but instead "in the beachside suburbs". The comment was something of an own goal, suggesting that if the growth strategy restrictions on urban expansion were to to be relaxed, urban Auckland would spread inexorably up the coast towards Whangarei.

The proposed Auckland Plan prefers to build on the wisdom of the old plan. Around 6000 hectares of additional greenfield land will be set aside to allow for outward growth over the next 30 years.

This will cope with 25 per cent of the residential growth expected until 2040.

The other 75 per cent of growth will occur in existing urban areas. This will create a cityscape more like that of cities overseas we like to compare Auckland with.

Auckland's 2006 population was around 1.3 million. Then, 76 per cent of housing was standalone, 22 per cent was low-rise attached (two to three storeys) and 2 per cent mid to high-rise blocks. By 2040, with the population approaching 2.5 million, it's planned that only 58 per cent of dwellings will be standalone, 31 per cent will be low-rise attached and 11 per cent, mid to high-rise apartment blocks.

The plan also addresses the need for careful planning of the infrastructure and new housing required within the existing city "walls", as you would expect any such document to do.

When it is finalised in a few weeks, Aucklanders will be asked to comment. The issue is, what then?

It was this Government that forced through the legislation creating the Super City, and ordained that it should have an over-arching spatial plan to guide its future.

The Government wanted a strong single voice for Auckland. One with a plan. It has both. Will it never be happy?