Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Q+A on Auckland’s densification [updated]

Yesterday’s Horrid reported on the horror of the Unitary Plan’s densification of Auckland with this headline and picture:


It inspired some questions …

Q: Are Auckland’s mountains about to get covered in multiple multi-storey apartments and townhouses?
A: No.

Q: So why would a newspaper struggling for circulation use that pic with that headline?
A: You just answered your own question.

Q: Oh. Right. But the rest of the best suburbs will soon be swarming with high-rise apartments and town houses that will virtually be blotting out the sun?
A: Three storeys.

Q: Pardon me?
A: The new rules would increase the densities in these suburbs, but the height allowed for is virtually what the current District Plan’s height limit allows for now. As even the Horrid’s report itself confirms, “New rules mean around a dozen suburbs will be rezoned to a ‘mixed-house’ zone to allow for townhouses, studios and apartments of up to three storeys.” See. Three storeys.

Q: Oh. So why would … ?
A: Yes. You just answered your own question again. Horror stories sell newspapers. (They hope.)

Q: But there is a real problem, isn’t there? This is all being done in secret. It’s being done by stealth!!!!
A: But you know about it, don’t you?

Q: Well, yes. But Richard Burton, of the Auckland 2040 community group, says Aucklanders “are blissfully unaware of the new rules that will change the city.” He says, “the Unitary Plan - a new planning rulebook for the Super City - was turning into a farce, with the council making fundamental changes without any public process.”
A: You got that from the Herald too, didn’t you.

Q: Yes. I did.
A: You don’t need to be a fan of the public process to recognise that there has been one. A slightly-skewed but still quite extensive one. The original proposed Unitary District Plan was issued with all sorts of proposals, allowing many more high-rises than this latest proposed Plan doe,s and anyone who wanted to submit was able to, and invited to; and anyone who did can still be part of that process now if they want to.

Q: But these changes weren’t part of the original Plan! So how could they be part of the process?
A: Well, no, but many of the changes were signalled in that first Draft Plan. So you could have commented if you want to. And this is the process required under all plans written under the Resource Management Act. So perhaps your problem is with this Act -- that takes away your property rights and essentially makes them subservient to some random faceless council planner?

Q: Yes, that’s it! That’s it exactly !!  I hate that Act!!!!
A: Do you. Do you really? So did you vote for either of the major parties last election?

Q: Yes. Yes, I always do. They keep us on the straight and narrow.
A: Then you voted for the very parties who wrote, introduced, and continue to support the Resource Management Act. So you voted, and keep voting, for planners to have that power over your property rights.
Suck it up, big boy.

Q: But I voted for them to have power over other people, so they wouldn’t fart in my backyard.
A: Karma’s a bitch, huh.

imageQ: And my wife voted for ACT’s David Seymour, and he reckons this is an abomination too. He says, “The proposed intensification programme has enormous implications for congestion, community character, and the shape of school zones.”
A: Well, yes it does. But no city is preserved in aspic, is it. As it grows and develops according to demand, it will and does always change. And you really think just because he’s Epsom MP and needs to talk to his base that the abomination of school zones should constrain the freeing up of housing zones?

Q: Freeing up?
A: Well, you surely must agree that if you can do more with your property than the rules previously allowed, that that this represents a freeing up? There is a hell of a lot of garbage written about the Plan, and much to bitch about, not least the fact that the Resource Management Act does give planners the power to override your property rights. (As ACT’s previous leader eventually recognised.) But since property rights do give you the right to do what you wish on your own property—with only the ‘side constraints’ of recognising that your neighbours have the same rights, common-law rights to things like light, air, support and the like—this does represent a freeing up. Just a little. But it’s there.

Q: But Seymour says, “It’s a betrayal of young people in its assumption that they can never own a house and must live in apartments.”
A: It doesn’t make it compulsory to live in an apartment. But it makes it more possible for land-owners to build them should young people want to – or need to. And while there’s plenty more that could be in the Plan to help make houses more affordable – such as freeing up much more land around outside the Metropolitan Urban Limit, and making it possible to easily add a granny flat–oh, and just recognising property rights in general, if that were actually possible under the RMA—it would help to bring down the price of all accommodation at the margins, so all housing generally would be cheaper by virtue of these apartments (should they be built) than without.

Q: But Seymour says, “There's nothing free market about the council coming in and overriding your expectations about the character of your street to impose a grand plan on the city because it suits what planning schools were teaching 20 years ago.”
A: And it’s said that ACT’s David Seymour believes in property rights—that he understands the market process ...

Q: Excuse me?
A: Well, you do realise don’t you that these new rules don’t make it compulsory for land-owners to build three-story apartments on their property. It simply makes it possible for them to do so if they see demand for them.

Q: But nobody wants them!
A: Then nobody will buy them. So nobody would build more.

Q: …
A: So in this case an accident of planning lore has meant today’s Plan might free up land just a little from the iron grip under which planners have constrained it. Mind you, it’s not like they’re allowing people complete freedom of choice about where and how to live, more’s the pity. It’s not like they’re fixing the model for spec building, without which housing is never likely to be affordable ever again. And under this new plan you will now require a resource consent for anything more aggressive than mowing your lawn, so so-called “private planning consultants” graduating from those planning schools will be made independently (yet undeservedly) wealthy. Yet about these iniquities I hear no complaints at all from any direction.

Q: But I have rights in the existing character of my street!
A: Well, you do, in a sense. Yes. And there is a simple process by which those rights might be recognised even as the character changes. But as long as you keep voting for the Resource Management Act, that process is made all-but impossible.

Q: But, but … the value of my own house will plummet!! Ian Wishart says so!!!!
A: You’re taking advice from Mr Conspiracy now? How would the value of your land plummet if the new Plan allows you to build more on your site rather than less.

Q; But he says these multi-storey high-rises will block out the sun.
A: We’re back to that misreporting in the Horrid again, aren’t we. . .

UPDATE: Covering much the same territory as this Q+A, but from someone who does love planning, is this otherwise sensible piece at Transport Blog pointing out that Three Storeys Does Not Equal Highrise.

  • “Are we really down to the stage of scaremongering about three storey townhouses, a housing typology found frequently overseas and even in many parts of Auckland already? In fact for a city like Auckland three storey townhouses are perhaps the ideal missing middle of the housing.”
  • “So what’s really happening? The answer is much less secretive and much less alarmist than the herald like to make out.”
  • “The real betrayal of young people is by those who have opposed any change to the city, especially in the area of housing where prices have been pushed up or some people have been pushed out half way to Hamilton.”


1 comment:

  1. I do not recall the RMA being an election issue in 2014, let alone being debated to any extent by parties or candidates.

    Keeping Kim Dotcom, Colin Craig, and other extremists out of power was a far greater reason to vote National - and save the country - than the RMA. I doubt the RMA was on anyone's mind as they looked at their ballot paper, felt pen in hand, and ticked the National box.

    Mr David Seymour sums it all up in his weekly newsletter today by saying it is all about votes - 61 to be precise - and lamenting the trumped up deal with the Maori party.


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