Geoff Simmons wants Auckland to just get on with the Unitary Plan, says there are no loss of 'rights' involved, the 'heritage' claims are a smokescreen, and the delays kneecap tomorrow's heritage

By Geoff Simmons*

The inevitable has happened; the NIMBYs (not in my backyarders) opposing the Unitary Plan have turned to legal redress to prevent change. The likes of the Character Coalition claim that the Unitary Plan process “trampled on people’s rights”, but this is completely wrong. The Unitary Plan is in fact increasing the choices available to all Aucklanders, including existing homeowners. It isn’t perfect, but we should just get on with it.

There is no loss of ‘rights’ here, just increased choice

First up, let’s deal with the obvious bit of misinformation floating around; nobody is going to force an owner to move or demolish their character home. Home owners have the choice to keep living where they live as long as they want to.

Generally speaking the Unitary Plan is increasing the choices people have over what they can do with their own property. If you want to build yourself a new home on the back section and sell the old one to pay off the mortgage, you can. If you want to bowl the lot and retire on the proceeds you can, and if you just want to stay undisturbed, good for you.

Much is being made of the loss of Auckland’s heritage. The Character and Heritage Coalitions claim wealthy inner city suburbs are ‘threatened’ with increased density. The owners are distraught their million dollar views are going to be lost. Sorry, but views are not part of your property right; if you don’t believe me have a look on your LIM.

Heritage schmeritage

These claims of heritage need a little perspective. Firstly Auckland isn’t that old. Every city has bits that are relatively old, but that doesn’t automatically grant them ‘heritage’ status. Secondly, heritage is still protected by the Unitary Plan. The pre-1944 overlay that everyone harks back to was actually intended as a temporary measure to allow the Council to undertake the heritage assessment.

If you want to continue to live in a bungalow filled suburb, you can. You will be generously compensated for your precious land in central Auckland and you can move to the city fringes or another city entirely. You can even afford to shift your current house there if you like. Heck, you can probably afford to shift your neighbours’ houses too if you like looking at them so much. And if you can’t afford that (what have you been doing with your untaxed capital gains I wonder), you can always take a trip to MOTAT to soak up the heritage there.

Of course, if we want restore Auckland to its true heritage status the first thing we should do is get rid of the motorways and restore thriving inner city neighbourhoods instead. But we can’t do that without decent public transport, which we can’t do without intensifying development. Even better, let’s remove people altogether and restore Auckland’s true heritage: the moa.

Kneecapping the creation of a world class city

We are so worried about today’s heritage of yesterday that we are kneecapping the creation of tomorrow’s heritage. That’s why it’s important to support quality building and design now. All we need to do is put the same effort into ensuring medium density housing is done well that we currently put into preventing it happening.

The whole of New Zealand needs Auckland to be a successful world class city, and it can’t do that without productive people. The trouble is that these people have nowhere to live. The refrain that people should move to the regions is the epitome of economic illiteracy – a more realistic prospect is more of our young people moving to Australia. Even without current levels of internal and external migration, Auckland’s population will continue to grow naturally.

In short, the Unitary Plan is not reducing choice, it is increasing it. If you are lucky enough to be part of Auckland’s landed gentry, you now have exponentially more choice. This is quite the opposite of young people whose only option to get on the housing ladder currently is to live in Pokeno and spend 3 hours a day commuting.

These houses out around the Bombays may be cheaper, but once you include infrastructure costs, transport costs and congestion, they are more expensive overall. More sprawl cannot solve Auckland’s woes. There is already enough sprawl in the plan to threaten the remaining productive land and environments on the city fringes. The amount of medium density housing in the plan is the absolute minimum the city needs to allow for future demand. It can’t be compromised any more.

Let’s get on with it.

Geoff Simmons is an economist working at the Morgan Foundation. This article is here with permission and first appeared here.