It appears that Len Brown is up to his sneaky and furtive tricks again and is trying to avoid the full weight of transparency of the Environment Court.
What Auckland Council has proposed is an improved consultation designed to front-end public input in relation to one of the most significant planning documents, the unitary plan. That plan will set the rules and conditions for growth applicable for the next decade at least. The unitary plan is the big daddy of planning documents because it sets up the process that allows for new communities to be built to cater for future growth.
During the Auckland Plan debate the council’s proposal for a 75:25 intensification vs greenfields ratio was widely attacked as being completely unrealistic. Unless Aucklanders scale down their housing expectations a 75:25 ratio would lead to a new house being built on every current house to cater for growth over the next 30 years.
What Aucklanders have been waiting for is the draft unitary plan, which all things being equal could be debated and then (if necessary) challenged in the Environment Court.
However it is now apparent that the Auckland Council are trying to exempt the draft unitary plan from merit-based appeal to the Environment Court “… to ensure that the Auckland Plan can become effective as soon as possible, with the associated benefits for delivery of the quality compact city, supply of business land and economic growth, supply and affordability of housing, environmental and heritage protection“.
Firstly, the only so-called benefit of Len Brown’s Auckland Plan is high-rise apartments in neighbourhoods like New Lynn and Papatoetoe, and insufficient greenfield land for new homes and businesses. As a result the price of land will increase further, and Auckland will suffer a wealth drain as capital and workers respond to anti-market planning by taking their money and skills to places like Tauranga, Hamilton, and Australia. Secondly, Auckland Council’s balance sheet continues to deteriorate with spiralling levels of borrowing and debt in order to pay for infrastructure that is demanded by a very small group of people.
The tragedy is no one has yet told Len that his attempt to avoid accountability through an independent Environment Court might be common place in some jurisdictions (e.g. Sudan or Equatorial Guinea), but it is completely unacceptable in New Zealand. Len’s mayoral powers do not (at this point) extend to include immunity from appeals led by Aucklanders who care about preserving the form and heritage of their neighbourhood.
Len Brown knows his command and control economics and dopey compact city “vision” won’t stand the scrutiny of the Environment Court, so he has asked the government to screw the scrum in his favour.
No other council has the benefit of a free pass when it comes to the court. Len shouldn’t think he is so special.
I am reliably informed that Cabinet is supposed to be considering Len’s wet dream tomorrow.
We have been advised by Ministry for the Environment officials that Cabinet will be considering on Monday a proposed letter to Mayor Len Brown setting out its proposals for the process for hearing and resolution of the Unitary Plan. If agreed by Cabinet, this letter will be sent to the Mayor on Monday afternoon.
The Auckland Development Community is concerned that this government actually has the strategic stupidity to submit to Len’s desires.
Amy Adams has some career defining decisions to make tomorrow. If she submits to Len she will be alienating every developer in Auckland. She will be placing a permanent roadblock in her path to the 9th floor. She will have lost credibility and access to future donors in doing so.
While it might be tempting for the MP for a rural south island seat like Selwyn to be the point of least resistance for Labour’s man at the Auckland Town Hall, that does not mean the National government should relegate Aucklanders to second class citizen status. The promise of a front-end consultation is no substitute for an independent and objective appeals process.
David Carter got sucked in by Len and gave him a free pass on rates. Amy Adams needs to man up in Cabinet, tell Len to HTFU and expect all his socialist plans to be scrutinised by the Environment Court just like any other council in New Zealand.
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