Written By: - Date published: 1:45 pm, August 7th, 2016 - 59 comments
Categories: auckland supercity, local government, national/act government, political alternatives, Politics - Tags: auckland, deregulation, NACT, neoliberalism, unitary plan
Rodney Hide must be sleeping well, because Auckland’s proposed Unitary Plan will deliver all he and his NACT patrons ever hoped for.
For decades, the Auckland Region has been a motley collection of badly led and bickering councils that have allowed strategy and development at local and regional level be dominated by greedy developers, incompetent or disempowered planners and borderline corrupt practices.
Hide’s reforms transformed this into one badly led and bickering council but changed little else. Meaningful new powers that addressed issues such as urban development powers, revenue shortfalls, speculation, land-banking and a lack of coherent strategy were absent.
In case of the unlikely event that unity and purpose should ever emerge in the Council, the core operations were structured into Council Controlled Organisations (CCO’s), out of reach of democratic control and accountability and run by independent technocrats (you’ll see a pattern emerge here).
However, a crucial power that remained with the elected Council was planning – effectively a veto given its lack of consensus. This defined the constraints that even the CCO’s must work within, thus constraining developers and land-bankers with public opinion (democracy) and red tape (quality), both of which hindered headlong intensification and sprawl (profit). NACT donors and supporters remained unimpressed!
Clearly something had to be done! Rather than risk the prominent factions, e.g. ‘millennial’, ‘boomer’,‘nimby’ or even the ‘homeless’ (ie. all voters) finding common ground (politics) in their desire for high quality intensification (via, say, a democratically accountable Urban Development Authority that could clarify a regional strategy and be self-funded by capturing the rise in value due to re-zoning), the solution must be deregulation, slashing red tape.
Over-regulation should not be confused with over-administration. Auckland has long been badly administered, but insufficient, poor quality and ‘light-handed’ regulation produced the stock of leaky buildings that remain largely unacknowledged as the key contributor to the current urgency of Auckland’s housing crisis. If the buildings were not leaky and the builders now focused on new building rather that repairs, many more dwellings would have been built over the last decade. Similarly, our dire development outcomes compared to other cities stem from under, not over, regulation, badly administered or not.
Nonetheless, for NACT the only solution was clear – the one so beloved by neoliberalism. Inefficient democracy should be supplanted by unaccountable ‘independent’ technocrats, best qualified to make the right decisions (if you think about it, There Is No Alternative). ‘Independent experts’ have been long used by council (planning decisions) and Government (Rebstock) to safely deliver predetermined outcomes.
Such a process avoided scrutiny of the Plan’s strategic assumptions and the National Government’s role therein (eg. tax, regional, population and migration policies, or lack thereof). It could also be guaranteed to turn the process into a zero-sum game, polarizing interest groups and co-opting some into supporting illogical positions (Gen Zero?). Those most affected by the housing crisis played no role at all.
Neither Nelson St’s low quality slums nor ad hoc infill of leafy suburbs are necessary components of high quality intensification. Clearly, many alternatives are available. All seem to agree with the intensification of transport hubs. Given appropriate Council powers, the shortage of housing can be addressed with some large, visionary but discrete projects. These do not require adopting the proposed plan and its philosophy in its entirety.
Ultimately, the effect of the ‘Independent Hearings Panel’ has been to magnify Auckland’s (and New Zealand’s) democratic deficit, exaggerate the sense of crisis and emphasise our lack of vision. It’s made some key players happy (developers, speculators, land bankers and Gen Zero), but offers little that hasn’t failed elsewhere or in Auckland previously.
The Panel’s findings can be distilled to one universal prescription – deregulation – which will further enrich NACT’s mates but is certainly not going to produce a liveable city for the 21st Century. Simply, deregulation got us into this mess in the first place and its further pursuit will be a disaster.
The Council should reject the Plan in its current form, cherrypick those aspects consistent with a democratic and liveable city and sheet home the responsibility for the lack of a coherent strategy to those that created the mess. Wake up, Rodney!
Concerned of Auckland