Can Nick Smith override the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area Act?

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Len Brown Nick Smith

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The politics of the Auckland Housing accord are concerning.  

It came out of huge pressure being applied on Auckland Council by the Government.  Either Auckland was to expand its borders or it would lose some of its planning powers.

This was never a Central Government decision.  Under the conventional hierachy Auckland was to be responsible for the urban form that it aspired to.  The legislation creating super city required Auckland Council to as a matter of urgency create a spatial plan.  It was intended to address trends over the next thirty years and provide for Auckland’s economic, social, environmental and cultural well being.  An ideal Auckland in the future had to be described and the means of getting there mapped out.

The problem is that current growth trends are clear.  If they continue Auckland will have up to a million more residents by 2030.

The City has two options, either keep spreading or consolidate.  Auckland Council has chosen a hybrid.  It is intended that sixty percent of any growth occurs within existing city limits, the rest in greenfield areas.  This was a decision for Auckland to make and it went through an extensive consultation with the Auckland Region to decide on this document.  

It appears that the Government, concerned at rising disquiet about the affordability of housing, decided to blame Auckland.  In an astounding outburst Nick Smith said in March that his intention was to break the “stranglehold” of Auckland Council’s policy of containing urban sprawl, a policy he says is “killing the dreams of Aucklanders” by driving up house prices.

This appeared to be calculated.  To continue the belligerence Bll English has recently come out with the line that the Government cannot allow 20 Auckland planners to wreck the country’s economy.  I hope this comment has been met with a strong response from Auckland Council protective of people who are with integrity doing their job.

This is the background to the formation of the Auckland Housing Accord.  You really get the impression it was signed with Len’s arm shoved firmly up his back.  

Then the Government introduced the Housing Accords And Special Housing Areas Bill.  When you read both documents you have to wonder at the good faith on the part of the Government.

noted previously that under the accord the parties were bound by the terms until six months after the notice to withdraw had been given and that the accord proposed a regime where Auckland Council would propose a special housing area and the parties would jointly approve any proposal.  The Government would have a veto only.

Under the bill if Nick Smith throws his toys out of the cot then as soon as he gives notice to withdraw from the accord he can propose any area to be part of a SHA.

Another area of concern is that any developments authorised by the accord have to be areas identified in the Unitary Plan.  The  Housing Accord Bill though appears to be much wider than this.  Under section 16(2) Smith has to “have regard to” current boundaries, the current district plan and any proposed plan “to ensure that the boundaries of the proposed special housing area are clearly defined in the Order in Council and easily identifiable in practice”.  The Minister must not recommend unless he is satisfied that with appropriate infrastructure the area could be used, there is evidence of demand, and there will be demand for housing in the proposed SHA.

This means that Smith has to note the contents of the plans and consider them when making a decision but he does not have to follow them or the objectives of either plan.  As long he has made a robust decision to do so he could decide to have high rise apartments in Titirangi Village or in the foothills.  The existence of the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area Act will not stop him.  I raised this as a nagging possibility previously.  Now after having given it some thought I am seriously concerned.

The bill in its current form gives the Minister the power to completely undermine Auckland’s desire for a compact city form and propose development in areas totally unsuited for this.  Such a centrally directed power that usurps the aims and aspirations of Auckland’s communities is the sort of thing you would expect to see in North Korea.


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