"It's not just about building houses"

This was the catch-cry from the Mayor of Auckland as he discussed the Unitary Plan and the recently announced Housing Accord at a meeting with practitioners last week. Over 100 resource management and property practitioners had a unique opportunity to hear and talk to Mayor Len Brown and Dr Roger Blakeley at the ADLS event held at Auckland’s Northern Club on Tuesday 2 July.

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The Mayor described the last week as “the most significant in the history of Auckland in the last 150 years”, following the Government’s approval of the inner-city rail link. “Last week delivered what the [Supercity] amalgamation was all about…the Prime Minister brought the plan together by agreeing the investment in our infrastructure and agreeing with the Unitary Plan”, he said. The Mayor described the outcome of 2 ¼ years of discussion as proving Auckland is “a city acting in unity with the nation and [in] a compelling position to pursue the Unitary Plan”. He said the Government’s statement was “an absolute game changer” as it reflected key parts of the Unitary Plan, effectively telling Auckland: “You’ve got a green light - get on with it”.

The Mayor also talked about the impact of the recently announced Housing Accord (discussed in Law News Issue 20, 5 July 2013), with its commitment by the Council and the Government to introducing interim measures to provide for a mix of greenfield and brownfield housing development. As the Unitary Plan doesn’t come into effect until 2016, the Accord states that “in the intervening period it is agreed that additional tools are needed to facilitate housing development and affordability in Auckland”, laying out ambitious targets.

The Mayor argued, however, that “it’s not just about building houses”, saying the Council had delivered a housing plan amid much expectation “that we should deliver houses tomorrow. Auckland is growing at 2% per annum and we need to manage and adapt to this growth”, he said, adding this would require “Planning well, researching well and being resilient about a plan [before] following it through”.

Both speakers highlighted the unprecedented level of public engagement that had taken place over the plan, pledging to listen to the views that they had received in 23,700 separate submissions, while acknowledging that “we need to go through changes without compromising the overarching design [of the growing city]”.

The Council is in the process of considering the views received and is working closely with local boards, including some represented by lawyers who were present at the event. Shale Chambers from Chambers Craig Jarvis, who Chairs the Waitemata Local Board, was one such lawyer in attendance, and he noted that concerns did still exist, particularly with regards to planning applications, but said he could also “reinforce what the Mayor says, that there is a large area of consensus on what the concerns are and hopefully the community will be happy with what comes out”.

Rounding off, the Mayor asked “What is the hurry? – Auckland is outstandingly successful at not hurrying anything. All the current plans are well past review...The whole process of the Supercity is to allow us to turn Auckland into a truly international city... It is paramount and a matter we need to address with some focus”.

A number of the lawyers present had detailed questions for the Mayor regarding the effects of the Housing Accord and on whether there was sufficient building experience and resources to meet the standards and timing expected by the Plan and the Accord.

Dr Roger Blakeley, Auckland Council’s Chief Planning Officer, talked about the effects of the Plan itself one year on from its development in 2012. He noted that the Auckland Plan had started as the Mayor’s vision that Auckland become the world’s most liveable city, and had been adopted by the Council and then by the city.

He highlighted key achievements such as the Callaghan Innovation, Wynyard Quarter Innovation precinct and the National Health Innovation Hub, as well as Auckland’s winning the best sports city award in 2012 after London, its focus on skills and early learning, the Mayor-led trade initiatives, ultra-fast rural broadband and a Convention Centre, all of which strongly support tourism in Auckland.

In discussing the effect of the Housing Accord, Dr Blakeley noted that “the challenge has made our eyes water a little”, while he said that approval for the City Rail link with enhanced “Park and Ride” bus provisions would need to be implemented by 2021, otherwise it could delay Auckland’s ability to enhance economic growth and development.

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