Government moves to shove aside Auckland Council and Unitary Plan and effectively do what it likes on the Unitec housing project will be met with some disquiet in Mt Albert.
The plan, unveiled by Housing Minister Phil Twyford, is to set up an urban development authority (UDA) in Auckland that will control 12 to 15 major housing developments.
Mr Twyford says the UDA will become “the planning and consenting authority” for those developments. It will “be able to over-ride the Unitary Plan” and will “have access to all the planning and consenting powers” currently held by council for those development areas.
One of the first to fall under the authority’s control will be the Unitec site where the plan is to build up to 4000 homes on 29 hectares over the next six to eight years.
As the Herald reports, the Government wants more houses built, more quickly, and doesn’t believe the council has the planning processes in place to deliver.
The council has its own views on that and won’t be wildly excited about its loss of authority, though Mayor Phil Goff – a former Labour leader – concedes that “in principle the council’s got some sympathy”.
Such a broad proposal – still to be endorsed by Cabinet and requiring special legislation – will concern many local people, especially those living in the quiet culs-de-sac that could end up busy through-roads.
There will also be worries over the design and final density allowed, and questions asked about the fate of the long-promised Integrated Traffic Assessment (ITA) the council demands to require road improvements to meet the impact of any development.
Auckland Council, iwi and private developers will be involved in the set-up phases of the UDA developments. But basically the Twyford plan will give the developer – the Government – the right to over-ride planning rules applying to everyone else and issue its own consents.
“We have to do this, because if we don’t our kids will never be able to afford to live in this town,” the minister told the Herald.
The proposal doesn’t quite fly in the face of commitments given to Mt Albert people by its MP, Jacinda Ardern, who has promised the Unitec development will be “gold standard”.
But it removes a whole layer of accountability and introduces a “trust us to do the right thing” element where the potential for a stylish and pleasing urban development could be sacrificed in the race to build more homes.
In an interview with the Herald’s Simon Wilson, Mr Twyford said the council had already demonstrated it could not produce enough new housing fast enough.
“It’s too close to the vested interests, like Nimbys [“Not in my backyard”]. When it came time for tough and necessary decisions to create the Unitary Plan, too many councillors headed for the hills.”
The talk of Nimbyism will annoy many Mt Albert people who support the concept of a major development on the Unitec land but, not surprisingly, are anxious about its impact on their community.
Mr Goff warned about “attacking Nimbys”, making the point that “Nimbys can be negative or good. They can be the people who stand up for heritage, lifestyle, greenness, things like that. I think we should be careful not to generalise.”
He said Mr Twyford had “indicated people will have several opportunities for input”, but it was the council’s role to “protect the right of citizens to have their voices heard”.
Sir Harold Marshall, representing the Mt Albert Residents’ Association (MARA), says Mr Twyford’s revised process “has both obvious advantages and dangers”.
“The advantages are the streamlining of process and an earlier start to the project. The danger is the potential loss of the checks and balances from the council planners and the local community under the Unitary Plan.”
Sir Harold adds:” Principal among these is the concern over traffic implications and the ITA which was a bottom line for the development in its approval by the Unitary Plan Independent Hearings Panel.
“We look to the minister to ensure that in his streamlined process provision is made to ensure that these checks and balances are maintained. An ITA is essential and the sooner the better.”