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Unitary Plan lacks vision and balance

Mark Thomas – 

Unitary Plan lacks- Masthead Web

Councillors are now meeting to make decisions on the Recommended Unitary Plan.

I am concerned that it will not deliver the affordable housing the region needs quickly enough. I also agree with the Property Institute that the Plan lacks balance.

We urgently need new housing, but that is not all the Plan needs to deliver.

This new housing must be affordable, well designed and as Aucklanders know well, it has to be linked to fixing our infrastructure deficit.

Radically different 

The Recommended Plan is radically different to the one council consulted on and proposed in 2013. Rather than a ‘rules-based’ approach, it adopts much more of a ‘hands-off’ method.

As an elected member of Auckland Council, I have been very involved with the Plan’s development over the last four years.

It will take some time for both Council officials and market players to sort out how to apply the new Plan’s provisions – which further risks delaying new housing building.

A further problem is the Panel rejecting the principle that infrastructure provision /funding should be linked to land use planning. We see the problems caused by this approach all around Auckland.

The ‘heroic’ Panel house building targets of 18,000 per year have no prospect of being achieved without massive changes to Council’s budget and internal processing.

Shifting focus

The Council must shift much more of its budget into house building infrastructure such as transport, water and other community assets.

I have proposed to reverse (Auckland Mayor) Len Brown’s $100 million transport budget cut over three years and I want to ‘swap’ the value of some of Council’s airport shares and the port operating company into these growth assets if Aucklanders agree.

There are parts of the Plan that will not work.

The idea that we can fix Auckland’s affordability problems quickly by expanding into suburban Auckland is wrong. The Council’s first focus has to be in the areas where scale housing can be built more quickly.

My plans included ramping up plans in Council-owned areas such as Henderson, Onehunga, Manukau and Takapuna.

Fixing market failure

The Council’s proposed Unitary Plan also targeted 10% affordable housing being provided in developments greater than 15 units.

However, the Panel rejected this on the back of submissions from, among others, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

Yet this approach is comparable to what the government has done with its own affordable housing developments in Hobsonville and Weymouth. It was designed to fix a current ‘market failure.’

I would prefer that we reject those parts of the plan that will not deliver affordable housing more quickly and which lack balance. Officers confirmed to me that the ‘easy option’ is to return to the consulted notified plan option or the Council’s most recently agreed position at Panel mediation.

I believe that Councillors should reject the Panel’s affordability recommendations and return to that proposed by Council.

Inadequate research

I also believe the Panel’s decision to abandon the pre-1944 building demolition control overlay is wrong although understandable.

The Council did not do adequate job-researching this issue and confused its argument by attempting to change the definition of special character to historic character.

The big gains that Auckland needs to make in affordable housing will not be made anytime soon in the pre-1944.

Hence, I support rejecting this recommendation with the new Council committing to a properly resourced exercise to confirm what pre-1944 housing stock meets the special character threshold.

Better alternative

I also believe that the infrastructure planning recommendations of the Panel need a better alternative so we can plan for new housing that delivers better coordinated transport and other infrastructure.

In my growth policies released in June, I committed to accelerating affordable housing developments by increasing resourcing to Panuku Development Auckland, the Council’s development arm.

I have also urged the Government to fast-track its urban development authority proposal. However, I have flagged that if elected Mayor, I will propose a plan change to fix the specific rules that do not deliver an affordable, better balanced unitary plan, while getting on building more housing where this can more easily be achieved.

Mark Thomas is a candidate for the Auckland Mayorality. Website: www.markformayor.co.nz

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