It is too easy to panic politicians in election year, particularly in local body elections where the turnouts are usually low. It is easy to fill a public hall on local issues that are close to people's homes and may affect their property values, and it is easy for individual politicians to be persuaded that a packed hall represents a popular uprising.

That is what appears to have made some members of the Auckland Council change their minds at this late stage about the proposed Unitary Plan. Enough of them have changed their minds to give opponents of the plan a narrow majority if a vote was taken today.

The latest to have second thoughts, Sir John Walker, whose decision gives opponents 11 of the 20 council votes, says, "I'm on the residents' side. I don't want to see high-rise buildings towering over Auckland. I don't trust the town planners. They present one thing and change their mind and do another."

Auckland's Unitary Plan, setting out the type and scale of land use and buildings to be permitted in every part of the city, has been a long time in gestation and has been revised more than once in that time. The procedure has been very messy, resulting in a revision late last year which caught some areas unawares and left them with no further opportunity to object before the plan is scheduled to be adopted this year.


At the beginning of this long debate the council was justifiably criticised for trying to force the city's growth upwards rather than outwards but that debate was resolved long ago when the council agreed Auckland's projected population growth would require both.

Today, nobody is seriously against "intensification", including those who say, Not In My Backyard. The irony of that view is that a great many so-called Nimbys have already built intensive housing in their backyards. Subdivisions of sections for the maximum density of dwellings physically possible has put paid to most of the lawns and gardens of yesteryear.

In the eastern suburbs, where residents packed a public meeting in Kohimarama last week, the concerns seem to be more about process than substance.

People are justifiably aggrieved that the planners have introduced elements at the eleventh hour that allow them no opportunity to object. They raise concerns about the capacity of their roads and drains to cope with population growth but the real concern seems to be buildings of three storeys. Sir John said, "They might not be very high but I wouldn't want to live next to one."

Plenty of us live next door to a double storey house without concern. But one more storey has the citizens in revolt, or so too many council members fear.

Let's acknowledge the courage of those who are willing to defend the revised Unitary Plan and see it through. It may be easy enough for the mayor who is not seeking re-election, but not easy for Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse or council members Arthur Anae, Bill Cashmore, Linda Cooper, Chris Darby, Alf Filipaina and Calum Penrose. They have kept their nerve and put the city's housing needs before their electoral safety.