Toxic and divided environment leaves City without an effective voice
Today is likely to end up where those who proceed in an anti-democratic manner will have the numbers to withdraw the Council’s evidence thus the Council itself out of the Rezoning topic of the Unitary Plan Hearings. Given rezoning is the primary lynch-pin to how the Unitary Plan and Auckland Plan will be executed having the Council removed seems a backward step. To place an own goal without Council at the Hearings effectively the Government will rezone Auckland for us without us present.
Government has submitted to the Unitary Plan itself through the Ministry for the Environment (endorsed by Cabinet) and Housing New Zealand in which both have called for even MORE intensification than Council has asked for in its evidence to the Panel. In fact Council is actually pushing back on the Housing New Zealand areas which you can read below:
Without Council present the City in itself has no voice to support or challenge the Government submissions which means own goal for the NIMBY Councillors right off the bat.
However, a more pressing problem has emerged and that is the now ineffectiveness of the Governing Body of Auckland Council.
From Radio NZ:
Auckland housing density meeting on agenda
It’s hard to envisage a happy ending to today’s extraordinary Auckland Council meeting on its housing density proposals.
The 2pm meeting will debate whether the council should dump it’s slightly upzoned view on housing density, when it goes before the Unitary Plan Independent Hearing Panel.
A report going to today’s meeting says the upzoning in the December 2015 position – whereby an increase in housing density is permitted in new zones – affects 14 percent of residential properties, with half of those changes reflecting submissions it has received.
An unprecedented defeat for the council leadership and staff is possible, thanks to a near-toxic mix of internal and external politics and damaged relationships.
The new revised council stance was unveiled in December and lodged last month with the panel, which will weigh it up against the views of hundreds of other submitters.
Some councillors and interest groups branded this undemocratic, and demanded the council re-open consultation with those whose properties face a proposed higher-density zoning.
The meeting will also consider a staff report which recommends sticking with the higher density position released in December.
Taking a one-dimensional view, none of this is a problem.
The panel can accept or reject whichever view of the world the council submits, depending on its merits.
So, why the fuss ?
The fuss – which risks the meeting descending into something resembling a matinee at Rome’s Colosseum – is how each of the disaffected councillors deals with any of the following that may apply in their case:
- A feeling council planning and legal staff have forced them into a corner they would rather not be in.
- A genuine belief that property owners, and only property owners should have an extra round of input.
- Surprise at how the Unitary Plan process has turned out because they have not understood it.
- A genuine belief the proposed level of intensification is too much or too soon.
- The degree to which they’ve been influenced by lobbying from those against intensive housing.
- Their view on the government’s insistence that the Unitary Plan being completed by October
- The role of some broken relationships between councillors, and between councillors and staff
- An eye on local body elections which will be held within two months of final decisions on the Plan
- The Unitary Plan panel chair ruling that late new submissions cannot be made, and that it would decide on whether the council’s new evidence is “out of scope”.
- How they will be affected by some passionate contributions in the meeting’s public input session.
- How well they understand their ability or lack of, to reject the panel’s recommended Unitary Plan in July.
Some councillors believe 11 of them, out of 20 plus Mayor Len Brown, feel strongly enough to demand the withdrawal of the council’s December 2015 stance, and revert to the 2013 position.
The decision by Mr Brown to defer the call for a vote from last Thursday’s meeting to today’s and to allow public input may have let a rebellious genie out of the bottle, and it’s not clear that buying the extra time to hold councillor briefings has worked.
One councillor has described the state of internal relationships as being at an all-time low.
Whichever way it goes, nearly half of the councillors may emerge defeated and angry, and even the winners may harbour frustration at their colleagues, or council staff.
It’s a challenging environment for some of the biggest decisions the Auckland Council has had to make on where it stands on shaping the future of the city.
Given the breakdown in the Governing Body and now the fact all the Mayoral candidates would support the same anti-democratic action of withdrawing Council out of the Unitary Plan Rezoning Hearings a choice now has to be made and made by the Government.
Following comments by Finance Minister Bill English last week (Bill English to Auckland: Stay the Course with the #UnitaryPlan. Consequences Otherwise) the Government must weigh whether the inaction of the Governing Body in concerns to Auckland housing will have a detriment effect to the national economy. Ministers Smith and English along with the Reserve Bank have basically said any inaction from Council on housing (and in effect the Unitary Plan) will have detriment effects to the economy as well as the Government.
With today in the minds of the Government the choice becomes this:
Remove the Governing Body of Auckland Council and install Commissioners immediately to remove the inaction on housing and the threat to the economy. Environment Canterbury is already the precedent in this Government removing a Council and install Commissioners so it can be done legally. Given the housing situation is more of a threat than the circumstances around ECAN installing Commissioners would a more justifiable act even to the electorate as a whole.
The question is would installing Commissioners onto Auckland Council hurt National? No. Not with the Opposition weak and those south of the Bombays (and also in Auckland) getting extremely cranky with the inaction over housing (that flows on to other aspects of the economy). Those in the Blue Seats of Auckland would never vote against their Party as well especially for a Red one.
So it is with reluctance but for the sake of the City and even the national economy if the vote in withdrawing the evidence thus Council out of the rezoning topic of the Unitary Plan Hearings I call on the Government to install Commissioners to replace the Governing Body immediately through until the 2022 elections. The toxicity pointed out in Todd Niall’s article above, the threat to the national economy through inaction on housing, and the anti democratic moves by Councillors trying to force a withdraw can not be left unchallenged by the Government.
History to be made – for all the wrong reasons.