Federated Farmers continue to oppose sprawl

There are some interesting comments yesterday from Federated Farmers in a Herald op-ed. While much of the piece was related to farm emissions their relation to the ETS, something we wouldn’t blog about, there was also some interesting comments on land use policy.

The New Zealand Initiative think-tank argues that because less than 1 per cent of New Zealand is built upon, fears of using up all our farmland are grossly exaggerated.

Should not the first question be what percentage of New Zealand is suited to pastoral farming?

You see, about 12.3 million hectares is in pastoral farming out of 26.8 million hectares.

This is the same criticism I have had of people who claim NZ is only 1% urbanised so it won’t matter if we sprawl a bit more. Put simply not everywhere in NZ is suited to farming and/or urban development. The areas most suited to urban development i.e. generally flat, also tend to be those most suited to farming because as beautiful as the mountainous areas of the country are, we can’t really farm them or build cities on them. The article continues

In other words, only around 46 per cent of New Zealand is suited to pastoral farming and as Mark Twain famously opined: “Buy land, they’re not making it any more.” Landcare Research has also pointed out that Auckland’s urban growth between 1990 and 2008 has seen 4.1 per cent of its best farmland go under tarmac with another 35 per cent lost to lifestyle blocks.

What we need is more efficient urban land forms, the reuse of old industrial sites next, with greenfield sites becoming the last and not first resort.

We also need to take the lids off our cities. Only by building more compact cities will the cost of inner city rail loops be truly justified.

I think the lifestyle block issue is a very serious one being perhaps the worst of each world, land that is not urban but that is no longer practical to use for large scale farming, effectively becoming extremely unproductive. However I don’t agree that we need a more compact city to help justify the City Rail Link, in fact my understanding is that the way our transport and land-use models are set up, the greater the amount of sprawl around the rail network the greater the patronage predicted. This is because historically the rail network has performed better at attracting commuters making longer trips. It was perhaps one of the great ironies that the government pushed the council to adopt less a ambitious intensification target in the Auckland Plan but by doing so they unknowingly boosted the case fore the CRL. But of course that doesn’t mean I think we should have substantial amounts of greenfields development just to justify the project.

This isn’t the first time we have heard Federated Farmers make these comments, back in January we saw a similar op-ed while in April we saw them backing the councils Unitary Plan. Even so it is good to hear them continuing to push this. An example of just how much land different growth options would require is below

Sprawl options 1

Federated Farmers back the Unitary Plan

A few months ago we saw an op-ed piece from Federated Farmers supporting growing Auckland primarily through intensification rather than sprawl. While it did have a few odd comments in it, overall it was very positive however clearly driven from a fear about the loss of more prime agricultural land to development.

Since that time we have had the government make a decision regarding the RMA process that the Unitary plan will go through. The issue is that normally a plan like the Unitary Plan would take years to implement as it goes through the notification, submission, and undoubtedly appeals processes. To address this, the council has requested that the government make the unitary plan operative as soon as it is notified in September. The government has denied that and instead has set up a process to fast track some elements with some of the more controversial elements going through an EPA process which is similar to what we saw happen with Waterview.

While the EPA process will undoubtedly be faster than the status quo, the council is still pushing for the plan to become operative as soon as it is notified. This flared up again recently after housing minister Nick Smith waded into the debate threatening to bust open the urban limits as a way of addressing housing affordability. The Unitary Plan does actually propose opening up more greenfield land and so the debate between the Mayor and Nick Smith seemed to twist to whose plan would see land freed up fastest with Len Brown saying that giving the Unitary Plan legal effect when it is notified would fastest option.

Skip forward to today and it seems that the council has received some fairly strong backing for its stance from Federated Farmers.

Farmers have swung in behind Auckland’s Unitary Plan having immediate legal effect and Federated Farmers is to tell Parliament’s Local Government and Environment Committee Select Committee that tonight, when the Committee meets in Auckland to hear submissions on the Resource Management Reform Bill.

“Metropolitan Auckland’s past failures to address growth issues properly has resulted in flow-on effects for rural Auckland,” says Wendy Clark, Federated Farmers Auckland provincial president.

“Delaying the implementation of Auckland’s Unitary Plan for as much as three or four years will result in added costs for Auckland’s rural ratepayers. It will also hinder the resolution of metropolitan Auckland’s all too obvious housing issues.

“Federated Farmers generally supports the Auckland Council’s stance for when the Unitary Plan should come into effect.

“The land use rules in the Unitary Plan should have immediate effect on notification. We do not believe there should be a long delay before these rules come into effect, as is being proposed by the Government.

Perhaps even more positive are the rest of comments which are below and even include a good potential solution to the impasse that exists between the council and the Government.

“In the lead up to the release of the draft Unitary Plan we have found Auckland Council consultative and collaborative. Agreement has been reached between rural industries, environmental groups and the Council on some of the potentially “hot potato” issues for farmers.

“That is why Federated Farmers Auckland is confident that the concerns we still have will be addressed one way or the other before the Plan becomes fully operative.

“We are using our submission tonight, to highlight provisions we have concerns about especially those relating to environmental management. This is much wider than farming and could trip up Auckland’s wider economic development.

“It is not well known, but these have immediate effect on plan notification under both the Bill as promoted by the Government and under the Council’s proposal.

“One possible compromise might be for the plan to have legal effect within a fixed timeframe after it is notified; say three or perhaps six months. This would give the Council the opportunity to redress any glaring problems that might arise by way of a variation.

“But any compromise should apply to the plan as a whole and not just to the land use rules”, Wendy Clark concluded.

Good work Federated Farmers, it is pleasing to see such a major group backing the Unitary Plan and doing so in a constructive manner.

Yet interestingly at the same a group of councillors from different sides of the political spectrum have written to the Prime Minister and Environment Minister Amy Adams telling them to ignore calls for the plan to come into effect upon notification. Councillors Christine Fletcher, Sandra Coney, Mike Lee, Wayne Walker, George Wood, Dick Quax, Cameron Brewer, Sharon Stewart, Calum Penrose have all signed the letter below:

I write this email to you on behalf of a number of Auckland Councillors who are concerned that you understand that the lobbying by Auckland Council for fast tracking the draft Auckland Unitary Plan (AUP) by giving effect to the plan on notification is not the unanimous view of the Auckland Council.

There are growing numbers of councillors, across the political spectrum, welcoming the decision by Government to take time to ensure there is careful analysis and good process for the AUP, understanding that weight and credibility must be given to the hearings process over the coming three years. We agree that the hearings panel must be allowed to do its work before, not after, these massive changes take legal effect.

Given the importance and complexity of this plan, Council and Government owe it to Aucklanders to ensure the plan is both credible and deliverable. The draft plan is meeting fierce community opposition as people begin to come to grips with the detail of proposed development and the fact that there is no guarantee of essential infrastructure to support the development.

The Government is right to stand firm on its concerns that the position advocated by the Mayor and Deputy Mayor of Auckland Council, do not provide adequate recourse for Aucklanders to seek full and impartial review of the council plan.

The plan has been rushed to meet electoral deadlines, meaning it is ill considered and has the capacity to cause massive social disruption for generations to come if it is rammed through. As a member of the original working party on the Unitary Plan I can confirm that insufficient time was allocated to major issues. Taking a long term pro Auckland perspective it will be far better for Auckland to work with legacy council plans until such time as the AUP can be proven to be properly considered.

The Auckland Unitary Plan should not be given effect on notification.

We are very happy to supply further information if required.

Federated Farmers want Auckland to have better PT

This piece from Federated Farmers slipped out a couple of days ago. It includes a few odd solutions and urban myths, that show they don’t fully understand urban/Auckland issues, however it is still quite important in that it shows they are at least heading in the right direction. The background to it seems to be that they are sick of urban sprawl, especially in Auckland taking over farm land. Anyway, here is their piece in full

Sunday, 30 December 2012, 11:19 am
Opinion: Federated Farmers
Lets take the lid off our Cities

New Zealand is a big country – at 268,000 square Kms we are bigger than the United Kingdom; we are 67% the size of Germany, 72% the size of Japan. Our coast line is longer than both mainland USA and mainland China. Our economic zone is more than half the size of Australia. But these countries have far greater populations than we do. Demographics drives a lot in any country, any economy.

We have to get over this small country mentality and mindset and back ourselves more. Some are simply having the wrong discussion – is growth good? Yes it is. The question for New Zealand is not about weather we grow, but how we grow.

Human capability is critical to all parts of our community and economy. In most parts of New Zealand, except Auckland, the population is flat or in decline. And like all the other slow growth indebted countries, we also have an aging population. There are not enough people to produce the exports, provide the services, pay the taxes and build a future at first world income levels. We simply need more people.

But we need to be smart about it, in two ways

First, we need to take the lid off our cities. When driving along Manakau Road to come into Auckland CBD from the airport, it seams like the tallest building is a corner dairy. We should stop building out and start build up. Perhaps Manakau road needs to have 200 -300 buildings 8 – 30 stories tall, and then run a mono rail down the middle to the airport. Wellington is doing a pretty good job of “Mahattanising” on its Te Aro flat around Courtney Place. Surely Auckland is capable of similar. With forecast of another million people, there simply needs to be more density of population per square km.

This would mean

1. we stop gobbling up productive land – we’ve already lost 30% over the last 30 years to urban sprawl and the conservation estate – now 35% of NZ.

2. It means Auckland might have some chance of becoming a green or even an international city. Right now Auckland it has no chance of doing either. It’s a series of little low level villages. It simply cant be compared to Paris, Singapore, New York or London. The strategy seams to be to spread it out all the way to Taumarunui. It needs less traffic congestion, more public transport, better utilization of resources, more integrated and diverse communities. To do this it simply has to go up, not out. Public transport will never work unless there are far more people in far less space.

3. And it means more affordable housing, so home ownership becomes a reality, not just a dream. Instead of 3 bedrooms on a 400 meter section you might have 20 to 120, which would make the land component per bedroom somewhat less in theory.

Secondly, we need to be smart and spread the population growth across the country. This means investing in networks such as broadband, water, science, roads, public transport, energy and housing right across the nation, not just Auckland. It’s important for New Zealand that Auckland is successful absolutely, but Auckland is not New Zealand, it is but one part of New Zealand.

So we need to increase our population in smart ways and we have got to stop thinking like a small country. Taking the lid of Auckland is an obvious next step.

I’m just going to list a few of my thoughts on the piece.

  • It is all very well quoting the physical size of the country but it would probably be more useful to think about things from the amount of productive land. A large amount of the country is rugged and or covered in bush that is unsuitable for either farming or urbanisation.
  • I think they have generally been smart not to fall into the trap of suggesting that we try and curb Auckland’s growth and force people out to the regions but instead seem to recognise that if we want to get more people into other places then we need to make them more attractive. Indeed they even seem to recognise that a Auckland growing isn’t a bad thing and is probably needed for Auckland to become more internationally competitive.
  • Coming from the background of not wanting more urban sprawl they correctly point out that for Auckland to handle its growth, it will need to get denser however this is also where they make their biggest mistake. Suggesting that the solution requires turning Auckland into a version of Manhattan with 8-30 story apartment blocks all around the place is simply ridiculous. Spreading the growth out through a lot more medium density development (e.g. terraced houses and low rise apartments) would cover off a large proportion of the forecast growth for the next 30-40 years, possibly longer.
  • I did find it really interesting and positive that they actually linked higher densities to helping improve housing affordability issues that the city has.
  • On the issue of PT, more density will help but it isn’t the necessity that they state. Much better PT is already on the way in the form of the new bus network along with some of the other projects going on at AT.
  • I admit I did have a little laugh at the suggestion of a monorail down Manukau Rd but perhaps the positive side is it means they at least support some form of rail to the airport

All in all I think this is actually quite positive from Federated Farmers and seeing as they support rural interests, perhaps the rural/urban divide isn’t as great as it thought to be. It would be good if perhaps the Chief Executive of Federated Farmers had a word to his brother about this.