Entrenchment cost the Council
The vote last Wednesday with the Unitary Plan had exposed some fatal flaws in how the Council approached the rezoning of the residential areas. The vote has also opened back up some opportunities with the Metropolitan Centres that I mentioned here: Focus Returns to the Metropolitan Centres And Transport Corridors After #UnitaryPlan Vote.
Simon Wilson of Metro Magazine wrote in his The miserables of Kohimarama piece his own the situation on Wednesday. If I am looking at where things will ultimately end up I’d say the East have lost in the wider scheme as have most of the 13. However, for now a fatal flaw was revealed in the Unitary Plan processes that will have consequences right through until the recommendations come back in July.
From Wilson’s blog:
Proceedings kicked off with the mayor inviting Penny Pirrit, the council’s head of planning, to explain the background. This infuriated a lot of people right away. Councillors have held workshops, there have been briefings and meetings, report after report, and any number of discussions. Did anyone need the recap?
In the public seats there was laughter every time Pirrit mentioned “due process”. There was lots of heckling. “We don’t care about all that,” someone called out, and there was more laughter.
The problem was this: Pirrit couldn’t say, in simple unambiguous language, what the consequences would be if the council withdrew its proposals or adopted some other course of action. She tried to do it, and many councillors cross-examined her on it, but none got a clear answer.
Cr Wayne Walker suggested that there was expert evidence the out-of-scope proposals were not needed. Pirrit didn’t say yes or no to that. She said “It’s not about the numbers” and they were acting on the principles established for them by the council. They had submitted a plan for “integrated, comprehensive neighbourhoods”, and if they took some parts of it out the rationale for the rest would be undermined.
That kind of answer just went nowhere. Was she suggesting the plan couldn’t be changed in any part or it would all fall to pieces? Was she saying they couldn’t amend their proposals or the whole UP would be unworkable?
Len Brown asked her to “think laterally”. She didn’t respond. It was a strange request at that late stage.
After Pirrit and other officials had spoken it was the turn of members of the public, and then some of the chairs of the local boards. Then Pirrit and her colleagues were recalled, and still they couldn’t give clear answers. Frustration mounted.
Cr Cathy Casey said nobody should be surprised the controversy had erupted, and she was right. What on earth possessed the council sub-committee to think they could sneak something like this through? And how was it, given the enormous amount of time council officers had spent on this, that they had not worked out how to give clear, satisfactory answers to the questions they were being asked?
It was an epic fail. The council’s chief executive, Stephen Town, sat at the head table through all this, two along from the mayor, and didn’t say a word the entire time. His officials were dying in front of him, but he didn’t step in.
And the mayor himself, the lead advocate for the Unitary Plan, had also not ensured the political process was clear and democratic. He may be retiring at this election, but he still has a job to do, and ensuring the credibility of his own programme is at the very heart of it.
When it got to 6pm, Cr Mike Lee exploded. “We’re the councillors,” he railed. “We make the decisions, and after four hours we haven’t even started our debate!” That was true too.
The planners were literally hung to dry while the CEO and the Chief of Strategy went absolutely silent through the entire affair. The matter on the rezoning was decided at the Unitary Plan Committee back in December. But if you want to trace the matter back to its true beginning you go back to around August when the 051-Centres Zones topic was before the Hearings Panel (the Residential Zones would be heard several months later). Back then the Council Planners were pushing for a position called the Centres-Plus objective. The idea was to concentrate higher density growth around the Metropolitan Centres, some of the Town Centres, the heavy industrial complexes and major transport corridors like Lincoln Road.
Okay this is fine with submitters like myself pushing for even more intensification in the Metropolitan Centres. This is where the Super Metropolitan Centre concept would come about with Manukau and later Albany.
The premise of the Super Metropolitan Centre was that the South and the north-west would be taking the brunt of population growth (this would be confirmed in the ATAP reports: Transport Minister and Auckland Mayor Present Transport Accord. Questions Asked #AKLPols). Consequently with the South it would become very hard to funnel all those people into the Isthmus through the Otahuhu-Mt Wellington bottleneck where all the jobs were apparently going. Auckland Transport also knew that situation as well and set about an objective of 80% of southern commuters not going further north than Manukau and the Airport (Future of Transport in Southern Auckland). As a result Manukau would step up to an even larger role than a Metropolitan Centre (thus the Super Metro) and be worked in taking a larger proportion of job creation to keep the South closer to home.
Last August/September I presented my case of the Super Metropolitan Centre to the Panel. The Panel were interested in how the concept would work especially with the growth in the South and the bottleneck further north. Sadly the Council planners were dismissive and entrenched in their evidence against the Super Metropolitan Centre saying it was not needed and there was enough latent supply for Manukau to handle business and residential growth and the growth in wider Auckland (on the presumption that upzoning the residential zones would work).
Fast forward to September-October 2015 with the Residential Zones
It was concluded very quickly that the 2013 notified version of the Unitary Plan would present a shortage of up to 280,000 homes through the life of the Plan. Modelling ordered by the Panel would also show that nine of the ten Metropolitan Centres would be deemed non-viable to build housing creating an even bigger shortfall. The planners decided as a result that more upzoning across the City would be needed rather than trying to deal with either the Centres or get new residential zones in to allow higher density developments in a select few areas (around the Centres and rail stations).
With that entrenchment in mind from the Planners you can work out how December and last Wednesday would and did play out.
We are now back to a situation of being short with the amount of housing going to be needed. That said the attention back towards the Centres also returns given Mayoral candidates Goff and Thomas have both stated we need to focus there.
And so be it after the Council planner entrenchment has led to this cluster-turd that the City could have avoided all the way back in August. The City Centre focus that people have warned Council about is as of last week dead. If the Council tries to upzone the Isthmus again (Council, not the submitters) even the South and the West will start getting very cranky even with Development Auckland starting renewal programs in both areas.
Simply put at this point in time the bulk of the Isthmus has said no. I am inclined to leave them to it and focus attention to other areas of Auckland more willing to do their part. This includes downscaling investment on the Isthmus including Light Rail and divert those resources to the South and West given that is where the growth is going to end up (as well as the Isthmus no longer to contain the population to make LRT viable). If you want irony with Housing New Zealand pushing for major upzoning in Mangere which makes heavy rail from Otahuhu to the Airport more viable than previous. With attention also focusing to Manukau again it makes Light Rail from Botany to Manukau then to the Airport viable in the long term as well.
In concluding remarks the Planners were effectively shot then hung out to dry on a very public display last Wednesday. That hung and courting can be boiled down to Planner and even Unitary Plan Committee entrenchment that had alarm bells sounding back in December with even earlier warnings in August that both parties played deaf too. In the long game though it is the eastern suburbs that have gotten themselves done and at the receiving end of what is yet to face them.
Those mid rises the Isthmus so feared will still get built their way. The Resource Management Act is an enabling document not a prohibitive one. Developers will still build those five storey apartment blocks in Orakei even if it means a few more hoops to jump. It just means that retirement village for the golden oldies out that way just became that little bit more expensive than what it would have been if the activity was permitted (and controlled).
For the South and West though it is time to get serious with the Metropolitan Centres getting the attention they deserve rather than the lip service Council planners have being giving them currently!
My Evidence to the Panel on the Super Metropolitan Centres