This was originally a post from several weeks ago but given that the election campaign is nearing its final stages, I thought I should re-post it
Continuing my commentary as we lead into the 2013 Local Government Elections, today I am going to take look at John Palino’s Unitary Plan policy. For those who are not aware of him, John Palino is pitching himself as the centre-right ‘opposition’ candidate to Len Brown in these upcoming elections. You can see his website here – palinoformayor.co.nz .
I am not going to quote the introduction as that is not very interesting, but you can look at the full policy here.
Planning From the Bottom Up
In order for the Unitary Plan to be the right plan for Auckland’s many communities and foster the support it needs to be a success, it must be developed by all of us. I want all the residents of Auckland to get involved in developing the Unitary Plan and I want the rules for individual communities to be developed by those individual communities. I want every local board, every suburb and every neighbourhood to feel unique and feel represented by the Unitary Plan.
Right, let’s stop here. He’s proposing that individual communities develop their own plans. While this may sound good, it’s actually completely unworkable.
The Unitary Plan needs to be a coordinated effort. A lot of people seem to (somewhat unfortunately) have a conservative, anti development, NIMBY side to them. Letting individual communities do their own planning is bound to cause trouble, as it means that communities can simply opt out from having any intensification. This is great for serving the narrow minded interests of vocal complainers, not so great for the best interests of the city.
Achieving the required number of 400,000 additional dwellings will be next to impossible without central planning. I agree it is very important that residents and local boards are involved in the Unitary Plan process, but final say should remain with Council. Palino’s proposal completely ignores what possible future residents in the area may think, which is unfair. The main desire that future residents have is affordability and convenience, and that may not always fit with the ‘quarter acre dream’.
But for that to happen we have to completely turn around the Council’s approach. Over the past three years, the recommendations of the Royal Commission have been set aside and the Auckland Council has followed in the footsteps of its dysfunctional predecessors by rejecting early, considered and genuine community involvement in planning for Auckland. Instead of local communities determining the look, feel and future of their neighbourhoods, townships and suburbs, the Council alone determined a one-size-fits-all approach to the regional growth of 1.5 million people for 30 years. Before engaging with any local communities, the Council declared at least 60 per cent of new development would occur in established, distinctive and irreplaceable neighbourhoods.
If you’re a candidate without a decent policy platform to stand on, resorting to scaremongering seems to be the only option. “Rejecting early, considered and genuine community involvement”. “One size fits all”, blah blah, blah.
Is Palino serious? The version of the Unitary Plan released in March was a pre-draft (something Council communications probably could have made clearer, but someone running for Mayor should really know this). Engaging with communities was exactly the idea. Release some plans, and then go through an informal feedback process. The feedback will then help the planners shape the final draft which will be notified for a formal submission process shortly.
The idea of having a ‘first-draft’ and running a round of feedback before formal submissions were called on is not something Council were required to do. They chose to. By releasing the draft plan as a whole first, it allowed people to see an overall plan for all of Auckland, rather than a higgledy-piggledy approach of consulting before any context was given. The Untiary Plan has actually been very heavily consulted on. 20,000 people placed feedback – probably a record for any local government issue ever.
This is not local democracy and it has to stop. People across Auckland are really hurting from their experience with the Unitary Plan. They feel left out, disempowered, frustrated and threatened.
Shock horror! Scare tactics at its worse! What was wrong with the consultation process? The feedback was listened, is currently being processed, and changes will be made! What more could you ask for?
If local communities want development because they see the benefit of employment, activities and better public services, then let’s do everything we can as a region to ensure they get it. But if those same communities are satisfied with their current circumstances, happy with the level of public ser- vice and want to retain qualities that may be compromised by growth, then as a region we have to be equally committed to protecting their values.
I fundamentally disagree with this. Residents don’t own their neighbourhood, they are not the only people who get a say about what they want. The UP process has shown that people will resist any form of development. Having local communities block out other people from living in their neighbourhood is going to limit housing supply and drive up prices. Change is good, and ultimately the planners at Auckland Council know better than most of the NIMBYs out there. They know that change will ultimately benefit all Aucklanders. Remember that a developer cannot force a resident to sell up if they want to redevelop, that would only happen if the owner agreed to sell, a point not well articulated during this debate.
He finishes with:
I am going to lead a revolution in local decision making in Auckland.
No you’re not John. You are proposing a plan that will return to the ‘dark ages’ of having disjointed Councils without any combined plans or vision. The supercity is delivering much better outcomes for Auckland, and Palino is proposing ruining all the synergies we get from it.
So let’s move on to the “Action” section:
I am going to revise the Unitary Plan and the process by which it is developed. In my first week as May- or I will initiate a new process to engage local communities. I am going to hand responsibility over to local boards to manage engagement processes and develop individual, fit for purpose plans for each of our distinctive suburbs, centres and neighbourhoods. Local resident and business associations, working collaboratively with local boards, will be responsible for developing their own vision for their local area and then working with Council technical experts to work out how we can best accommodate our region’s many aspirations and desires.
“In my first week as Mayor” – sounds like Mitt Romney’s “in my first day in office” promises.
I will make the Unitary Plan development process an iterative one. As the vision for our local communities is revised by those communities, I will direct Council officials to provide expert technical advice on where we have capacity for growth in our region and where environmental, infrastructure or other constraints preventing it. As community plans evolve, I will feed in technical information so that communities un- derstand the costs and the impacts of their decisions. Together we can harness the Council’s technical expertise with resident’s local expertise to attain the best development outcome for our region. This doesn’t have to be a litigious or confrontational process.
Unfortunately as we have seen, the obstructionist NIMBYs who will complain about sort of change (like the ones I came across at the Herne Bay Residents Association meeting) have a habit of ignoring any sort of “technical expertise” offered them. They believe that they are always right, and are unmoved by facts or new information. “Local expertise” for some seems to translate into “My property is the best and everyone needs to live like this and I don’t want any nasty Asians and their shoebox apartments in my neighbourhood”.
And as we develop the Unitary Plan together, I’m going to investigate phasing growth. The current prac- tice of permitting growth to accommodate 30 years of development from day one is going to result in rapid redevelopment of some communities beyond their expectation and leave others waiting for op- portunities. Our infrastructure will not be able to cope in the first instance and in the second we will have capacity sitting idle, wasting limited Council resources. I’m going to channel growth into areas where there is local support and capacity, when there is local support and capacity.
I hate to say it, but the answer must surely be ‘leave it to the market’. If a development goes ahead, then Council planners would already have determined that it complies with the planning regulations. Developers are going to go ahead if they believe there is demand and they are the ones taking the risk. If there’s no market for intensified development in an area, then it won’t be built! All the UP is doing is allowing for the 400,000 new dwellings that need to be built in 30 years, if they get built all in less than 30 years, then that’s because they had the demand. Remember the zoning, is allowing for development, not saying that it will happen. All this fuss about “infrastructure being inadequate” is a red-herring because planners are not going to let a development happen without there being the infrastructure being there.
He concludes by saying:
We have three years from notification to get the Unitary Plan right. We must complete the Plan in that time to give our residents and businesses certainty about their property and rights. I am committed to giving our businesses confidence and getting agreement around how Auckland develops. I believe in the people of Auckland and I believe that we can work together to seize the opportunity created by the Unitary plan.
For as long was we do not have people to call Palino out on this mainly rubbish policy, it is clever politics by Palino to buy the votes of the reactionary NIMBYs out there. He could have gone further, but chose not to so that he could pass off as a moderate. But this policy will not work and will be disaster for Auckland. As I blogged about yesterday, Palino may be a “decent bloke” but he is out of touch. His plans will cause great discomfort with the Council planners who have worked hard on the Unitary Plan and will hold back essential housing supply to cater for Auckland’s projected growth. Auckland is a big city, and John Palino clearly is not the guy who can offer Auckland the strong, decisive leadership (I think that was one of Banks’s slogans in 2010!) that we need.
Len Brown for Mayor!