So once again we reach that point in the roller-coaster ride that has been the Unitary Plan were we have no idea what will happen. Councillors will vote today on whether to withdraw the council’s submission on zoning and remove their ability to be involved in the hearings process over it – it’s frankly absurd we’re even in this position. Without going over everything again, I thought I would highlight a few good comments and articles recently about what’s happening.
Yesterday Simon Wilson from Metro Magazine wrote an open letter to councillors calling on them to show leadership. He notes that while the process has been messy, backing away now would undermine all of the work over many years.
We get it. It’s pretty tough, being a city councillor right now – at least, if you’re a councillor who has supported the Auckland Plan (AP) and its vision for a liveable city, and you’re standing for re-election. But you have to do better than we’ve seen from you – all of you – in the last three months.
However, as you go about fixing this, please, please, do not indulge in rhetoric – or take any material steps – to undermine the whole Unitary Plan. Remember, despite the noise of protest right now, we already know that most Aucklanders want the city to grow up as well as out, especially in town centres and along transport corridors.
There were a number of Op-eds over at the herald
This one by Jason Krupp from the NZ Institute talked about the impact of preventing young people from being involved in the housing market.
Research by the Grattan Institute clearly shows that locking young people out of the housing market saps productive capacity.
That is because it restricts their access to the inner city services nexus, which is vital to increasing human capital.
And he also raises the issue of the impact of density constraints on house prices.
Research shows lifting density constraints tends to decrease capital value but increase land value and residents are better off on a net basis.
Another study examined the housing market in the San Francisco metropolitan area in the late 1980s and early 1990s, which was characterised by artificially restricted supply and high house prices. As a result, demand for housing was weak and home ownership rates low – a situation strikingly similar to Auckland today.
When the US economy contracted in 1990 the most restrictive property markets were hit hardest. In California, San Francisco and Marin County saw prices fall by 3 per cent and 5.3 per cent in a year, while less supply-constrained areas further north saw only a 0.4 per cent dip.
Phil Eaton from the Property Council and who held no punches in a press release on the matter last week has continued in the same vein in this piece. Phil might represent commercial developments but it’s quite refreshing to see parts of our business community so unequivocal on issues like sprawl and the high costs it imposes.
We now have many decades of indecision and lack of master planning to make up for.
This unfortunate period has given us suburbs without appropriate infrastructure, the wrong housing typologies for what most people need (mostly too big), a shortfall of close to 50,000 dwellings and insane house price escalation.
We are only just getting the planning in place for a connected public transport system. We must start now, not next year or the year after. No more backward steps. There seems to be a lack of acknowledgment that in the next 15 years we need to fit a city the size of Wellington into Auckland.
Visualise a map of Auckland, then increase its geographical coverage by a third and you will see the sort of trouble we will be in if we do not create options for smart, intensive housing.
Imagine the motorways that will be required to get people from home to work because of sprawl. Efficient housing and public transport will not be feasible with massive urban sprawl. We will all pay for that inefficiency.
The councillors who have come out against density proposals are aiding the Nimby mentality of baby-boomers who will leave behind an intergenerational legacy of social injustice and inequality.
There will never be Auckland suburbs covered in ghetto apartments. Fewer than 6 per cent of suburbs will have apartments with more than three storeys.
Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse was a bit more subdued in saying:
And we already know current plans cannot supply the 400,000 extra houses needed to accommodate one million more people over 30 years. Issues about natural justice and property rights have been raised but I am equally concerned about social justice and the rights of tens of thousands of people who don’t own property.
Economist Shamubeel Eaqub coined the term “Generation Rent” and the Property Council of New Zealand, community housing providers and this publication have all called for solutions that increase housing supply, choice and affordability. It’s an issue too important to play politics; this must be a cross-party and an all-of-Auckland approach.
She also noted that the government are calling for much more intensification than the council is.
The Ministry for the Environment’s submission, endorsed by the Cabinet, calls for zoning of higher densities in areas that are market-attractive – areas, frankly, where zoning is most controversial.
This is interesting when you consider what the outcomes could be should the councillors vote to withdraw the evidence. She made this comment on twitter last night.
Councillors plan to remove council submissions from UnitaryPanel hearings on zonings. Good move guys, leave it to Govt to rezone. # owngoal
— Penny Hulse (@PennyHulseWest) February 23, 2016
The government through the the likes of the Minister for the Envrionment, Housing New Zealand and other ministries have called for significantly more intensification to be allowed in the Unitary Plan and in the areas where there is currently the most opposition. The council withdrawing their evidence and position leaves the hearings panel much more open to views of other submitters. That likely gives more weight to the likes of the government submissions. There would be quite some irony – and perhaps not such a bad outcome – if by withdrawing their evidence the councillors opposing the plan ended up enabling even greater intensification than they’re opposing now. As Penny says, this would be a bit of an own goal. It also goes to the heart of this debate, do the councillors want the council being involved in the process or having the process happen to them.
There’s another even scarier scenario. Given the importance addressing housing supply in Auckland is to the national economy, if councillors start to block the Unitary Plan could the government start to think about replacing the council with commissioners as they’ve done to Environment Canterbury? I suspect it would be too politically fraught but it wouldn’t surprise me if the thought was starting to cross their mind.
Puketāpapa Local Board Chair Julie Fairey put together this good and simple illustration of one area in her area showing what is allowed currently under the existing Operative Distract Plan, under the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan and under the changes in the December submission. As you can see in many cases the zoning is still lower than what is currently allowed.
I wonder what the outcome would have been if the council had been more clear and the Herald more responsible in its reporting about how what was proposed compared to what actually existed. Instead the Herald has been more interested in manufacturing controversy by showing pictures of apartment towers next to single houses when talking about changes that allow for more two and three storey dwellings.
On the other side of the debate the was this absurd piece from ACT MP David Seymour containing many of the fallacies we’ve come to see from those pushing for unfettered sprawl. Included in there is Demographias use of average density to portray Auckland as denser than New York
Auckland is already denser than New York, and most American and Australian cities. The 1.6 million people in Manhattan may live cheek-by-jowl, but not the other 20 million inhabiting the wider urban area.
This was addressed to a degree by Thomas Lumley at Statschat and another good post on the issue is from Nick here a few years ago. In short it is explained by this image. Each dot represents a set number of dwellings and each box has the same number of dots in it. That means that overall they have the same level of density but they would both feel like very different cities to live in.
In the end it seems Seymour didn’t like living in an apartment so no one else should. It’s always funny when politicians claim to be about letting people make their own decisions and letting the market decide then then turn around and advocate for restricting options and dictating what can be done.
I hope sanity prevails today and the councillors don’t put the future of Auckland at risk. I guess only time will tell now.