Thursday, 28 July 2016

Unitary Plan: Good news, bad news



Since 1:30pm yesterday, when it was released on the council website, every single person in this great little city of ours who is anything to do with land or building or housing has been huddled over their phones, tablets and computers finding out what our most learned lords and masters might be about to allow us all to do on our land. [Notwithstanding that “the very idea of a single long term plan for a 16,100sq km, largely rural region containing a rapidly growing and diversifying urban mass is flawed.”]

I speak of course of the Auckland Unitary Plan.  Written by planners, debated by bureaucrats, shredded by NIMBYs, and argued about by councillors, the “Independent Hearings Panel” yesterday issued its decree on all those deliberations that everyone fully expects to be voted into law on August 19. [Read it all here, if you have days to wade through it. It will take you 5 days. *]

Most of the commentary since release is simply talking its book, so I’ve most mostly just ignored it. [Although I had to laugh at Radio New Zealand calling up two people in Grey Lynn as their “couple of Aucklanders” to talk to.]

Lets start from the beginning. Every rule in a Plan is telling you something you can't do. If you didn't want to do it, they wouldn't need a rule to stop you; so every single rule is an imposition on your property rights. That makes it a plan to hinder your plan. [Maybe time to re-read ‘Capitalists Have a Better Plan.’]

At the same time, every one of your neighbours has the same property rights as you. And they probably have the same or similar expectations of peaceful enjoyment on their property as you do on yours. So that provides the only moral justificatinon for their rules.

Cities grow organically, or try to, reflecting the individual choies folk make in their own context. Planners prefer the shoehorn, making museum-pieces of the parts of cities they favour, and insisting other parts be cooked only to their own recipe.

So in the absence of genuine common law protections of your legitimate rights in your land -- protecting you and your neighbours rights to light and air and support etc., all or any of which can be negotiated between each of you to your own mutual satisfaction (setting up a network of delightful concatenations that help to build an organic city) -- the council's plan is the only thing you have in law protecting you from a new fifteen-storey glue factory next door.

And that's written by planners, well-paid busybodies well-schooled in the idea that they know best. 

So how does their proposed Auckland Unitary Plan shape up in protecting legitimate property rights while limiting the usual impositions on what you can do?

These are just my first impressions

  • The plan generally allows you to do more on your land. Good news. On some land a lot more, on most land a little more—and mostly without taking your neighbour’s sun. So mostly good news.
  • But almost everything you want to do now on your land will require the expense, delay and massive uncertainty of a resource consent. Bad news. Very bad news. So more folk will sit pat, either waiting for a knock on the door from a developer  with more staff and resources than they have to bust through all the hoops, or just putting up with what they already have, wary of putting their head in the planners’ noose. And meanwhile, more planners everywhere will find employment, and delude themselves they’re productively employed -- and your rates on these newly-intensified sites will go up. (Anf if you vote the vile Vic Crone, go up savagely!)
  • The so-called Taniwha Tax has been axed [listen here to the wailing], removing the need on some sites to apply to up to a dozen iwi for a “Cultural Impact Assessment.” Good news. Very good news. This may be thrown out the front door only to make its way in via the back (note for example “that sites of value to mana whenua should be disregarded until the ‘evidential basis of their value has been assembled’”), but sanity at this stage seems to have prevailed. You can probably thank all those so noisily opposed for that. (But eternal vigilance , people. Eternal vigilance.)
  • The blanket prohibition on looking sideways on pre-1944 “heritage” property has gone. Good news on the face of it, allowing these to be used and re-used much more imaginatively. But Heritage Overlays and the like still remain in many parts of the city (as of course do the provisions of the Hysterical Places Act) so there are still serious barriers in place to redeveloping or upgrading so-called heritage property.
  • The rural-urban boundary – the planners’ ring-fence surrounding Auckland and protecting land-bankers’ risk-free profits, has not been smashed. Only moved. So imaginative hamlet development or the like out south or west is still subject to a blanket ban. And as even Labour’s Phil Twyford recognises, “just moving the boundary encourages speculation and land banking to shift to the new boundary.  Only scrapping the boundary will lead to land prices stabilising.” So in the short-term it will

THERE ARE TWO WAYS for mine to gauge what the plan represents:

  • have the planners allowed folk to live as and where they want? in other words, are they Pro-Choice?
  • has the plan made it safe again to be a spec builder? in other words, are they Pro-Affordable Housing?

1.On the first: on the battle over Up or Out, or sprawl versus intensification (as the dichotomy is falsely labelled) the planners and Independent Panel have still cast most weight in the scales for up. Sort of. So in the issue of being Pro-Choice – by which I mean, letting folk live how and where they demand to – we’ve only moved a baby step at best.

2. And on the second: since its birth this city was largely built by small spec builders who bought a spection on spec, building a fine house, and the selling it t a happy family at a small profit. For the longest time now and for all but the top end of the market, that model has mostly been broken. We need to fix spec building to make Auckland affordable again. This plan still does not do that. It has made it safe to be a bigger builder or developer, with the staff and resources to weather the process and all the delays of any development. But all the small spec builders are still largely shut out. You can guess what that means for affordable housing.

Now, with all the regime uncertainty of waiting for the arrival of this long-gestating and much misunderstood Plan, there will be literally thousands of folk who have been sitting on their hands unwilling to risk a cent until they have some certainty. The plan’s release will at least guarantee an explosion of projects in the immediate pipeline.  But with every new project still an uncertain one, with all the delays of a resource consent involved in every one, we may not have the full explosion that the bid for affordable housing really needs.


* Hugh Pavletich makes the pithy point:

… "If I was to read this at normal speed, at about 200 words per minute, that would take me in excess of 55 days to read this Unitary Plan."
The report comes in several parts. It comprises two main overview chapters, published as separate PDFs, which tally 207 pages combined.
The 80 individual reports are each between 12 and 37 pages long.
Housing campaigner Hugh Pavletich​ is scornful of the sheer size of the Unitary Plan.
"If a plan is any more than a thumbnail thick, it is irrelevant because it is beyond people's ability to get their heads around it," he said.
But that's just what Auckland's councillors will have to do - they have until August 19 to decide if they accept the recommendations.
The above comment actually came from the late Owen McShane … God bless him.

1 comment:

  1. Apartments have always been hard to do (twice cost per m2,and corp body), and I suspect we'll see little pick up in those, and perversely they will spring up in cheap suburban sites before many more in the likes of Kingsland etc.
    The big change as I read it is the fully permitted 4 dwellings on most residential zones (and vast majority of land) - ie just a building permit needed. So spec builders will be in doing 4 small 3 storey townhouses on a 600-700m site, with no off street parking. There are good height to boundary controls, and in fact Auckland 2040 suggested the removal of density good light controls firmly enforced.
    Media/Planners fixated on access to CBD, but spec builders will work to satisfy real demand - school zones will still impact, but imho areas with good mway access eg new western link etc, will boom first, as suburbs there give good sized sections, at affordable prices and all the real job growth areas are Airport / south and north.


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