Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Property-owners have a better plan


Auckland’s proposed Unitary Plan has been much talked about. No-one however (apart from this guy) has bothered to point out that planners’ plans only become a Plan if they restrict property owners from doing what they otherwise would.  The planners’ plans always and everywhere restrict private plans. Your plans. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t need all their planning rules to tell you what not to do.

Now the fact that capitalism even has economic planning, let alone the only possible kind of rational economic planning, is almost completely unknown [points out the sane and sober George Reisman]. Practically everyone under capitalism has been in the position of Molière's M. Jourdan, who spoke prose all his life without ever knowing it. The overwhelming majority of people have not realized that all the thinking and planning about their economic activities that they perform in their capacity as individuals actually is economic planning.8 By the same token, the term "planning" has been reserved for the feeble efforts of a comparative handful of government officials, who, having prohibited the planning of everyone else, presume to substitute their knowledge and intelligence for the knowledge and intelligence of tens of millions, and to call that planning. This is an incredible state of affairs, one which implies the most enormous ignorance on the part of the great majority of today's intellectuals, from journalists to professors....

Despite the comparative youth of their alleged profession, and cities for millenia growing up without them, no town planner anywhere seems even remotely aware that individuals’ own plans can be harmonised without them. Harmonised by price (there’s a reason houses overlooking water generally command a higher price; whereas if climate change really did causes oceans to rise, beachfront property should become cheaper); and harmonised by rights-based common law (dump raw sewage over my fence, or remove my land’s sun, air or support, and I may have an action against you.)

Every planner likes to think he’s the John Nash who laid out Regent’s St, or the Baron Haussman who laid out the Champs Elysee. or Pierre L’Enfant who planned the grand vistas of Washington DC – or Walter Burley-Griffin, who made the original comptition-winning designs for Canberra.  But they forget that the vast exanse of the great cities like London and Paris were built in their heyday not by planners, but by speculative builders. Virtually all of the Georgian London most of the planning ‘profession’ profess to admire, for example, were built on land leased by speculative landlords at a two-year peppercorn rate, by ill-resourced builders able to sell them at a profit within that time. *

Make the Auckland economic climate safe for spec builders again, and watch a similar explosion of activity happen here too.

And they forget too that they are neither Nash nor Haussman, neither L’Enfant nor Griffin. Instead, these sad souls are more like the sorry bureaucrats who butchered Griffin’s Canberra. These are people who live in the suburbs of Devonport, Ponsonby, Parnell and Grey Lynn – all designed before their alleged profession was even contemplated – and when they plan, they lay out places like Albany. And Manukau City. They hate your suburb; they hate decentralisation; but they do know what’s good for you: Albany.

Think of that when you ask these alleged planners to ‘plan.’

* It was quite a neat process, if you’re interested. John Summerson describes it in his Georgian London:

The speculative builder [was] the mainspring of London’s expansion for three-hundred years…the master-builder’s technique was this. He would sign a building agreement with the ground-landlord, preparatory to taking a building lease of perhaps sixty, perhaps ninety-nine years, with a ‘peppercorn’ rent for the first year or two.  During this initial period he would erect the carcass of the house – simply a brick shell with floors and roof – and offer it for sale. With luck, he would find a purchaser before the peppercorn period expired, so that his outlay on ground-rent was nil.  The customer would buy the house, finished and decorated to his own taste, for a lump sum and the lease would be made out to the customer’s name.

Everybody was happy.

The salient feature of the speculative builder’s operations is that he laid out very little cash. He carried out his building work by a species of barter [exchanging his labour on their houses for his tradesmen’s labour on his] and the land he built on merely passed through his hands on its way to the customer. It was reckoned [in 1747] that a man needed £100 capital to set up as a [speculative] master-builder… Bricklayers and carpenters led the industry in the peculative field, since theres were, of course, the biggest shares in the building of a house.

And of course, the great hereditary land-owners of London were the ones leasing out land at those peppercorns in the long-term expectation of the great wealthy estates that those places like Mayfair, Eaton Place, St James, Grosvenor, Bloomsbury Square became.

There is much to be learned from this …




  1. I would like to see you do an essay,PC, on what you think the future of all this planning bureaucratic power and insolence is. That is, will we become more subjected, and authority more authoritarian?.
    Will people gather together in some massive resistance in Auckland or anywhere, or do we just continue to write hopelessly of the hopeless situation. There must be a limit surely where we will have had enough.
    I am not necessarily thinking of storming the Bastille. Yes, that’s what I am thinking.
    But I would like to hear what you surmise as the outcome, or evolution of all this planning will over the next decade or so.
    I am glad I do not have son or daughter asking me to help buy home In Auckland . The failure as a family man would be complete.

  2. Pete. I would argue that the thing about the Unitary Plan isn't that its perfect, as you note its not, but that its better than what is there now and better than what most people expected. Don't let the perfect get in the way of the good. Given we are talking about the Auckland council the plan is good and better than what I feared they would do.


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