Say one thing for the new Super City council running Auckland. It has obvious capacity to deal with more than one major issue at a time. While the immediate, small picture of Auckland is of a city establishing itself and ensuring it can cope with infrastructure overload from the Rugby World Cup, the Auckland Council's substantial apparatus has been busy developing its big picture plans for the next 30 years.

The city fathers and mothers expect Aucklanders to be able to multi-task as well. This Draft Auckland Plan and three substantial sub-plans on economic development, the central city and the waterfront are open for public submissions only until October 25, two days after the World Cup final. In the gaps between rugby matches and gathering at Party Central, ratepayers should take time to focus on Auckland's future. The combined documents are best read at a city library; they are too big for a sensible assessment on a screen and when printed take almost an entire ream of paper, on both sides.

In a nutshell, the Auckland Plan wants to compress the city's growth within new boundaries, catering for between 700,000 and a million more people in higher-rise residential zones along public transport corridors. Inevitably, land costs would rise as supply is restricted. This column has argued before that some urban sprawl will be needed to contain demand pressures and that those who choose to live in the spreading regions ought to pay for the spread of services to them.

The plan puts much stock - perhaps too much - on Mayor Len Brown's signature policy, an underground City Loop rail link which would turn the Britomart station into a through-tunnel and place three more stations up Albert St and to the Karangahape Rd area. The inner-city loop would cost about $2.5 billion and is already frowned upon by central government. The view that it is a cornerstone relies on it allowing more trains to bring more people to more places in the city centre more quickly from more densely populated accommodation on transport corridors. It has the air of an "if you build it, they will come" approach to planning as there are many reasons why Aucklanders will continue to drive their cars and live away from high-rise transport routes.


Still, the Government's undermining of the rail loop is overdone. If Aucklanders decide they want and need an underground city railway, the city's leaders ought to have the steel to ask residents to pay for it irrespective of central government disapproval. Ministers, Prime Ministers and Governments come and go.

If the incumbents will not help, subsequent national leaders with an ear for the Auckland zeitgeist may do so.

Elsewhere, the plan sensibly hints at a cross-harbour tunnel rather than a second bridge, albeit in two decades from now and without rail to the North Shore - and compiles a multitude of projects, new and old, for making the downtown waterfront a vibrant, attractive people place. Its focus is much more than bricks and mortar, it is also seeking input on social and Maori issues, the environment and a specific drive to improve South Auckland's future.

Setting a vision for Auckland as the world's "most liveable city" is an enormous undertaking. The city's residents now have the enormous challenge of shaping that vision for themselves.