Dear Independent Hearings Panel of Auckland

Dear Panel,

So Auckland Council wants a compact city. They’ve spent millions trying to make it happen.

Firstly the Auckland Plan with its $500,000 printed brochure, and all those pretty utopian pictures of high rises that nobody is going to build.

Now it’s the Unitary Plan. The rule book. Which isn’t going well for Council.

The Council prepared shoddy evidence to justify their compact city and has been fighting to instil a draconian city limit (Rural Urban Boundary).

As day turns to night so the evidence prepared by Auckland Council has turned out to be so far wrong – it might as well have been written by seven year olds using crayons and glitter on crepe paper.

In opposition to Council there is a band of experts for the property industry and local NIMBY groups whose evidence is much much better. And they are smashing the Council.

How’s that happening?

It’s simple things you see.

Proving how much land is available to build apartment buildings on is useless if it is theorised by pseudo geographer economists using a feather quill. Theory is meaningless.

Theorising how much will happen because you have zoned the land doesn’t for one second mean that the land will suddenly redevelop, if at all.    

Because it’s not about zoning. Zoning is just step one. Zoning is merely permission. Permission doesn’t mean that anything will happen. Plenty of Auckland is already now zoned for apartments and isn’t changing. Like Onehunga for example. Still old factories and panel beating yards two decades later. Have you ever wondered why?

For a start – if Council wants to have a compact city with a defined hard boundary and almost no greenfield subdivision growth – then Council has to be absolutely correct that intensification will occur. Because turning off the greenfield tap has high risks associated with it. Thus Council can’t be glib with evidence and it can’t just say that the compact city will happen. It has to provide much stronger evidence than theory and prove it.

And that’s the hard part to prove.

Proving Auckland will change requires complicated modelling to ascertain what is feasible to develop. Councils don’t typically understand development. Councils actually and foolishly believe they lead development. It’s actually the other way around.

To prove a compact city can be achieved also requires assessing how quickly it will change. Ponsonby, Parnell and Eden Terrace have been zoned Mixed Use for 5 story apartments for 10 years and Business 4 before that since 1991 with apartments permitted. The rate of change had been tiny. New Lynn had been a planner’s oasis with no height limit and only one building has gone up. Why is that?

There is a reason – existing buildings and houses are good. People use them and there is no real impetus to change them.

Tenure and the value of buildings on land hold back any redevelopment. It’s often better and easier for investors and owner occupiers to do nothing – riding capital gain – than to take a risk and develop. Or to do tart ups.

And that’s all before one considers if there are that many people out there with the capital and experience to do the redevelopment Auckland Council is dependent upon. A cottage industry of small time builders isn’t exactly going to jump to apartment buildings.

Besides – the banks all hate development so it’s highly unlikely that a cultural shift to risky investment and development is going to happen soon.

So IHP – the fact is – Auckland Council can’t prove that the compact city will change. With or without zoning. Because zoning is largely meaningless. And because of that Council can’t win against a tide of experts who just know better.

So is it time to slay the Council and set up Auckland with more greenfield growth so that things can be done and homes can be built.

I’d suggest that 20 years of trying to make Aucklanders live in apartments has accounted for not much. It just doesn’t work forcing people who want something else.

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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

To read Cam’s previous articles click on his name in blue.