There are many great contradictions in politics, and there’s never enough time to explain them all. Certainly one of the greatest contradictions, though, has to be what some people associated with the ACT party have to say about intensification. The supposed ‘free market party’ seems quite scared of landowners’ rights to develop their land in the way they see fit – something you’d think would be more likely from the Conservative party.
Quoting a recent speech by David Seymour, the new ACT candidate for Epsom:
The people of Epsom do not want more traffic jams and a city closing in on them under Len Brown’s intensification plan.The funny thing about Epsom is that it was built well before modern urban planning. Nobody planned the organic mix of streets between Mt Eden and Dominion roads. The character villas were not part of a grand plan. Ditto the crescents backing onto Cornwall Park, the historic Parnell Village, or roads that wind over the slopes of Remuera.
Len Brown and the central planners can’t stand the thought of a spontaneous urban form. They must make their mark with apartment towers all over the electorate.
If irony were made of strawberries, we’d all be drinking a lot of smoothies right now (thanks, South Park). One of the major barriers to intensification is the zoning restrictions in inner-city suburbs, and yet David is appealing to his audience’s fear of an “organic mix” or “spontaneous urban form” arising in Epsom. Perish the thought.
Dick Quax, former ACT parliamentarian turned councillor, is also a chap who spends quite a bit of time raising concerns about intensification.
Don Brash, former ACT Party leader, has also gotten a lot of mileage arguing that we should remove urban limits, and conspicuously ignoring the restrictions which exist inside those limits. When pushed, he points out that he doesn’t have a problem with intensification… but that’s certainly not the message he’s chosen to focus on publicly.
As some of the other bloggers have pointed out before, the usual left-wing/ right-wing divisions that occur at central government level seem to break down, or behave in unexpected ways, when you get to the local government level. And I’d call this is one of the unexpected ways.
People at the supposed ‘right wing’ end of the spectrum often go on about the need to remove planning restrictions at the city’s edge, and how that will help housing affordability. They sing a different tune when confronted about restrictions inside the city boundaries. This ranges from the kind of rhetoric used by David Seymour above, to the more nuanced views held by Don Brash (but which he certainly isn’t at pains to publicise).
And yet, when urban economist Edward Glaeser was asked which the bigger problem for Auckland housing affordability was – urban limits or zoning restrictions in existing areas – he pointed the finger at zoning restrictions. Hmmm.
On the other hand, Penny Webster, another Auckland Councillor and former MP for ACT, has tended to vote with Len Brown on most issues, so it’s dangerous to generalise between different people. The general impression that we get from people most closely (and most currently) associated with the ACT party itself, though, is that intensification is a bogeyman to be feared, and – from David Seymour above – that it occurs because of council planning, not in spite of it. I leave it to you to consider whether, if we removed all planning restrictions in both the inner suburbs and at the city fringes, Epsom and Remuera would stay the same with no intensification occurring.